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Why Teacher Leadership?

Teacher leader preparation represents a career pathway for educators in the Illinois professional educator license.

A primary objective of the Institute for Teacher Leadership (ITL) is to formally prepare teacher leaders and continue to support their development of leadership knowledge, skills and dispositions throughout their careers.

At the time of inception for the ITL, there were at least five major reasons supported by demographic data and teacher shortage reports that highlighted the need for more well-prepared teacher leaders in our P-12 schools.

Teacher leaders are needed in every school. Ideally, schools need a cadre of teacher leaders across grade, team, or department levels to support strong distributive leadership models and professional learning communities (PLCs). Formally prepared teacher leaders assure better support for our P-12 students as well as for the new teachers entering the profession.

Teacher leaders are especially needed in Title I schools, which are schools with a high number of students from low-income families.  Teacher leaders are skilled in multiple essential practices for improving instruction school-wide, as summarized by the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (October 2007). Thus advanced study in teacher leadership enhances school-wide leadership, student learning and instructional quality because teacher leaders support:

  1. Improving teacher quality
  2. Improving student learning
  3. Ensuring reforms are implemented
  4. Recruiting, retaining, motivating and rewarding accomplished teachers
  5. Providing opportunities for professional growth
  6. Extending the principal’s capacity
  7. Creating a more democratic school environment, which also retains excellent teachers and improves student learning outcomes

Teacher leaders also are needed to support current educational reforms and high-quality teaching, especially as P-12 retention rates continue to be problematic. In Coming Up Short Finding Good Teachers (2009, Illinois School Board Journal) McCaw and Mummert reported that because as many as 3 in every 5 new Illinois teachers leave the profession in the first year, school districts, especially those with geographic or specific content area needs, will continue to face teacher shortages even with reductions in the number of teaching positions due to financial constraints. McCaw and Mummert proposed a nine-point solution to retaining teachers in Illinois districts.

Five of these points are directly related to the need for more teacher leaders in every school because teacher leaders know how to:

  1. Respond to rapid changes in school reform
  2. Recruit a diverse and high quality teacher pool
  3. Sustain professional development and support teacher retention
  4. Direct teachers into areas of high need
  5. Support high quality new teacher mentoring programs

Teacher leaders are especially needed in our high poverty schools, and this need is expanding across the state. According to the Illinois State Report Card, a majority of teachers have a master’s degree, but high poverty schools are less likely to have teachers with master’s degrees, thus fewer teachers with teacher leader endorsements. High poverty schools are more likely to have teachers on emergency certifications and courses that are not being taught by highly qualified teachers (e.g., science classes being taught by teachers without sufficient science content coursework). Therefore, P-12 students across Illinois are increasingly in need of the specialized teacher leadership knowledge and practices.

Developing teacher leaders will continue to be challenging as the teaching profession becomes one of mostly beginners. Ingersoll and Merrill (2010) identified four major national trends in examining teacher shortage:

  1. “Ballooning” numbers of teachers entering the profession
  2. Increase in the numbers of beginning teachers (“greening”)
  3. Steep increase in retirements (“graying”)
  4. Preponderance of females entering the profession

Illinois statistics reflect these national trends. When considering the number of new teachers entering the profession along with the number of teachers about to retire, Ingersoll and Merrill stated that the crisis was actually a shortage of experienced teachers. “For many schools and school systems, a scarcity of veterans will mean fewer teachers able to provide mentoring and leadership” (p. 7).

For more information on Teacher Leadership Endorsements in Illinois, visit the Illinois State Board of Education website.

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