Colorado’s schools might be some of the most underfunded in the country — but last week, Denver Public Schools was one of eight districts in the nation to be recognized by the National Council on Teacher Quality as a Great District for Great Teachers. This is the first year of the Great Districts for Great Teachers awards, and the council chose DPS after a rigorous evaluation of the districts’ data, policies and teacher input.
“There were multiple measures used to determine which districts were great,” explains Debbie Hearty, chief human resources officer of DPS. DPS excelled in five criteria that research suggests connect to effective teaching: compensation, professional support, effective management and operations, career and leadership opportunities, and support services for students. In particular, though, DPS was cited for its teacher leadership opportunities and principal support.
“The quality of our teachers is the single most important factor in the success that we have for our kids,” says DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg. And obtaining national recognition for standout leadership hinged on redefining roles that had been in place in DPS for over a century.
In 2013, DPS flipped the script on an outdated model that puts a principal in charge of coaching an instructional staff of up to thirty teachers while simultaneously addressing parent concerns along with discipline, budget and building issues. “That model wasn't going to get us where we needed to be,” says Boasberg.
After identifying fourteen pilot schools in its district, DPS launched a new model called Teacher Leadership & Collaboration — TLC for short — which allows DPS’s most successful teachers to coach and work with other teachers in their schools.
TLC doesn’t look the same in every school because — through trial and error — district leaders have learned that the model works best when individual schools get to design a customized program tailored to their unique needs.
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Teacher-leaders are chosen based on their effectiveness in the classroom. Once identified, these leaders will coach other teachers by providing feedback, helping create lesson plans, and modeling how to give instruction. Teacher-leaders still spend half of their day teaching classes.
The TLC model has been a success. Eighty-nine percent of teachers who work in TLC schools rate their teacher-leaders as effective or very effective leaders. The program, Hearty says, has “really been embraced across schools in Denver.”
“As of next year, we expect to have 400 teachers in the teacher-leader role,” continues Hearty, noting that the program will be implemented in nearly all of DPS’s schools for the 2017-’18 academic year.
“Schools in our district today don't run like they did a hundred years ago. And for our kids facing a future in the 21st century, that's good news,” says Boasberg.