Email Status

Volume 30, Number 5
September/October 2014

Teacher-Led Professional Learning


The landscape of professional learning is changing rapidly. In recent years, many initiatives have emerged that allow for teachers to learn in new ways that transcend traditional models of professional development, in which teachers typically attend off-site workshops and courses led by outside experts. Teacher leadership and teacher-led professional learning are certainly not new concepts. However, dwindling funds for outside trainers coupled with the widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards, new models of teacher evaluation, and new standardized tests are prompting administrators to turn to teacher leaders in order to build and sustain professional development projects that address these very challenges and initiatives.

The Content-Area Reading Initiative (CRI) in Brookline, Mass., is an example of a multiyear teacher-led initiative that is showing positive results as a model for teacher-led professional development. Funded collaboratively by Brookline Public Schools, the Brookline Education Foundation, and the Brookline High School 21st Century Fund, CRI was designed from the ground up by teachers and leaders at Brookline High School who were looking to improve literacy-focused teaching and learning across the curriculum. The broad goal of CRI is to support high school content-area teachers in designing, implementing, and refining effective disciplinary literacy instructional practices. This goal aligns neatly with the requirements of the Common Core—that all content-area teachers build students’ reading, writing, and communication skills in content-specific ways.

For the first two years of the four-year project, teachers from three departments—English/language arts, history, and world languages—applied to participate, and six teachers were chosen from each department to form three department-based teams. A unique facet of the CRI model was the choice to have each departmental team choose its own leader, who was provided time (a course release) and support (a small stipend and consultation with university partners) to take on the role of guiding each participating team of teachers as it developed and incorporated new disciplinary literacy practices. Notably, these teacher leaders were not yet experts in the use of strategies to build students’ content-area literacy. As such, they were also learning alongside the teams of teachers they led. Two years into the project, participating teachers report that they have learned new ways to approach instruction, have experienced their most significant learning in collaboration with colleagues, and have developed a newfound appreciation for the role that disciplinary literacy instruction plays in their content areas.

As university partners who supported the development of new disciplinary literacy and collaborative learning skills and who gathered data to document the trajectory of the project, we believe there are four specific ways this model leverages teacher leadership and encourages instructional reform: by developing leadership from within, increasing teacher collaboration and risk taking, keeping the focus on professional learning, and building momentum for larger initiatives.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    R. S. Barth. “Teacher Leader.” Phi Delta Kappan 82, no. 6 (2001): 443–449.

    R. S. Barth. “The Time Is Ripe (Again).” Educational Leadership 71, no. 2 (2013): 10–16.

    L. Darling-Hammond and N. Richardson. “Teacher Learning: What Matters?” Educational Leadership 65, no. 5 (2009): 46–53.

    J. Ippolito, M. Charner-Laird, and C. Dobbs. “Bridge Builders: Teacher Leaders Forge Connections and Bring Coherence to Literacy Initiative.” JSD: Journal of Staff Development 35, no. 3 (2014): 22–26.

    J. Ippolito, J. F. Lawrence, and C. Zaller, eds. Adolescent Literacy in the Era of the Common Core: From Research into Practice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Education Press, 2013.

    L. M. Parise and J. P. Spillane. “Teacher Learning and Instructional Change: How Formal and On-the-Job Learning Opportunities Predict Change in Elementary School Teachers’ Practice.”  Elementary School Journal 110, no. 3 (2010): 323–346.