Unleashing Teacher Leadership with Joshua Barnett

Ross Romano: [00:00:00] Welcome, everybody. You are listening to the Authority Podcast on the BE podcast network. Thanks as always for being with us today. We're talking teacher leadership. So it's a, an important conversation. If you are currently in a school leadership role, principal, assistant principal, looking to empower your teachers, if you're a teacher who is currently in leadership and you're looking for some new teachers.

Tips and strategies or a teacher who's interested in taking on more of a leadership role. There's going to be pieces here for all of you. And we'll talk about the positive impact that a good teacher leadership structure can have on schools, on administrators, on teachers, on students. My guest today is Dr.

Joshua Barnett. He is the CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, [00:01:00] NIET. which is a national non profit based in Phoenix, Arizona, which has trained over 35, 000 teacher leaders across the country over the last 20 years. Before becoming CEO, Josh served as COO, and before that, a Senior VP of Research and Evaluation for NIET, and prior to that was in the higher education space.

Josh's research work throughout his career has explored how to improve educator quality in all schools for all students by addressing two related issues. examining how teachers and principals are evaluated and how resources are distributed to and used in schools. So he's the author of this book, Unleashing Teacher Leadership, a Toolkit for Ensuring Effective Instruction in Every Classroom.

It's a co publication of NIET and ASCD. Josh, welcome to the show.

Josh Barnett: Thanks, Ross. Thanks for having me.

Ross Romano: Broadly speaking, to kind of contextualize this for everybody, because everybody sees. You know, what's happening in their own schools, but like, what's the state of teacher leadership [00:02:00] nationwide how many schools to, to kind of the best of the information that you have some type of a structure, or even if it's informal, but kind of what's the lay of the land?

Josh Barnett: I think in traveling around the country and in this role working across the nation, I get an opportunity to visit with lots of schools or lots of different states. I think what most districts, right, what system leaders would say is that they think, well, we have some level of leadership team at our school.

We've got someone leading a professional learning community. We've got something going on that's supporting educators or helping them, I think, right, is sort of what most system leaders would say and if we were sitting in their office, in their hallway, but I think what our focus is very specifically, what are we asking them to do?

And so candidly, right, it's sort of, the idea of if you ask folks, do you have gym equipment at home? Many people would say, yeah, yeah, I've got it. But if you ask them how much do they use it and to what degree do they [00:03:00] use it, well, then you might get a different answer. And so that's really what brought us to this book and to this opportunity is to make sure we were going to provide not only the necessary space to have these positions, but what do I do if I am a teacher leader?

And then also, what do I do if I'm a school leader or a system leader? How do I support them, build them, and grow them to improve opportunities for all students? And that's what we wanted to really bring together in this work.

Ross Romano: Yeah. Does it seem like the gap between how much teacher leadership is happening now in schools and how much you'd like to see is it a lot of just a lack of know how, not that much will and interest, lack of perceived capacity to pull it off?

Josh Barnett: I think that's a great question. I think, again, if we were talking with system leaders, or as I've had a chance to share with them over the last 20 years and hearing back from them, I think there's a very common message, right, that we hear from system leaders, state [00:04:00] departments even, around staffing challenges for recruitment and retention and rewarding educators.

So, maybe let's think about this in a couple of observations. First is, we know not enough talented people are going into the profession and choosing education as a career overall. So when we look over the last decade, particularly in, in teacher enrollment it's been declining and that's before the pandemic, so it's not all at the foot of the pandemic necessarily.

So teacher supply appears to have leveled off some number of years ago, and we also know more recently. That data tells us that educators who are even in the profession are struggling with, should I stay in the profession? And so, if the pipeline is diminishing to a degree, and we're looking to try to figure out ways to solve that, But educators are also looking for reasons why they should stay.

Those are the ones that have already chosen to be in. So the [00:05:00] problem existed prior to the pandemic. It seems like it's continuing. We wanted to really look at and try to think, how do we recruit educators, but also how do we retain those who are already in the profession? And more specifically, maybe to your point, as you were, you're talking about what's the driver of that shortage.

And I think maybe we could think about that in a couple of different things. One, certainly you hit on, which is that lack of support. So let's think of maybe there are five drivers to those shortages. One is a lack of support or isolation in the classroom. We know that's particularly salient for novice teachers or new teachers who are coming in.

We also know there's a lack of collaboration that can happen in, in, in this profession to a degree. You sort of get your key, you get your room number. And that's a pretty bad professional experience. Third, we know that commensurate compensation is not always there, particularly for what other folks are looking for in a professional opportunity.

And that's both driving existing people [00:06:00] out and not recruiting people in the right way. And then fourth maybe is leadership opportunities, right? It's a very level, it can be a very level profession, and so we want to look at and see what are the opportunities to create opportunity to grow and to expand and to take on additional roles and responsibilities.

And maybe a fifth option there would be a lack of recognition for excellence, right? If there's not much advancement or differentiation in the profession, then we're not often celebrating excellence or acknowledging it. And so, with a pipeline challenge, and with some of those lack of lack of issues, lack of recognition, opportunity compensation, collaboration, and support, that leads to an inevitable conclusion.

What can we do? What is a solution that's out there? And for 25 years, we've been focused on trying to find the right path for that solution. What's going to fuel change? We know invariably that teachers are the most important in [00:07:00] school factor. So how do we support teachers? And we believe the greatest support mechanism for them is teacher leaders.

And teacher leaders create. Improvement in student performance, improvement in teacher effectiveness, but most importantly, also create opportunities for teacher retention, because teacher leaders who are available in the school directly refute These things we just talked about, they address lack of support and isolation, they directly address lack of collaboration, they create differentiated opportunities, they create compensation levels, and they create recognition levels.

So we just fundamentally believe that this is an opportunity for us to transform the profession in the right way, and it also is available, as you said in your first question how can we do this? It's not tearing down facilities and changing new buildings and doing a lot of things. It's creating the human infrastructure to support educators.

And we've seen the power of what happens when we build educators in the right [00:08:00] way.

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Ross Romano: Yeah, I think this is a, I mean, this is a piece worth spending more time on because this is one of the critical and existential challenges, right? Facing education is, the educator shortage, teacher shortage the ability to recruit and retain an adequate number of qualified professionals into the field so that we can continue to make progress as a system.

And and listeners I think probably heard me talk about this before, but I've. Explored this topic a lot, talked to people in all different roles across districts and kind of the reasons why educators or teachers were leaving the profession was, came down to two big ones, right? Core leadership. That's, Pretty common across any profession, right? People leave their [00:09:00] company because of poor leadership. And the second one, basically, I no longer feel like I am making a difference. Right. We're so resource constrained that I'm no longer, my students are no longer succeeding, and that's the reason I got into this.

And there's no reason to be there. And you can see, in both of those cases, how having a better approach to teacher leadership can make a difference, right, by having teachers actually become part of leadership, then they can have more influence over what's happening in the school, not feel like All of the quote unquote leadership is just something that's being done to them.

But also being able to contribute to decisions that will increase the impact they can have and not feel as though they're just Stuck in their classroom able to operate only with a lot of restrictions. And particularly for those teachers who we especially. One, which is we want our best teachers to keep teaching, right?[00:10:00]

If somebody's vision and goal is that they want to move into administration, then they should be supported in that. But there's many, many teachers that what they want to do is teach what they're great at is teaching. And in too many cases when there's not any way to have meaningful teacher leadership.

There's a feeling of, well, I have nowhere to go right now at this point, right? I'm kind of stuck in between. I've been here for 10 years, for 20 years. I have a lot to contribute. I have no interest in going into administrative position, but how can I scale my impact? How can I, how can we have better collaboration, as you said, and all of those things.

And it's all the things that are in the control. of the people working in those buildings you referenced. compensation. And I kind of speculate the compensation is pretty far down the list of reasons why people leave the profession once they're in it, right? It's definitely a reason why certain [00:11:00] people choose not to enter it.

I think it's also just as much of a reason why certain people choose to enter the profession, right? I think there was just a report out this week as we're recording this, that the average national teacher salary surpassed 70, 000 for the first time, and that's, of course, highly variable across states, but it's something that you know what you're getting into, and For certain people who really care about the mission of the profession, and they know that there's a pathway there toward certain predictable outcomes towards stability then that's a reason why this is a good thing.

Other people that perceive it as poorly paid they never get in there in the first place, but once you're there that's a reason why I think some administrators want to point blame and say, well these are things that are out of our control. But realistically, it's the human factors, right?

That are [00:12:00] why people choose to stay either in their school or in the profession entirely. But yeah, so what are, can you maybe speak even a little more to the experience of teachers who are introduced to teacher leadership for the first time, maybe introduced to the possibility of it for the first time in schools where It hasn't previously been part of it and how that changes maybe their perspective on what's available to them, what their, what the job is and what they're able to do.

Once it's in place.

Josh Barnett: Yeah, well, you touched, I mean, you hit a lot of excellent points. And obviously, as you said, a lot of those things are from the leadership component, the support component we talked about. From our perspective, right, over the last 25 years, our focus has been on designing. Essentially, an evidence based professional learning opportunity that, as you said, identifies those educators focuses on the [00:13:00] educator as the lever of change, as the opportunity, and most importantly, as that within school factor, and that the return on investment of building the capacity of individuals who are in those schools, because as you said, it varies widely across the nation, If we work with rural and remote districts in Alaska, and urban environments in Phoenix, and New Orleans, and Indianapolis, and rural districts across Arkansas and Tennessee, and all across the country, you've got to be able to grow the individual that's sitting in that classroom teaching the students in that community.

And you've got to provide opportunities for them to grow, and they will help contextualize every other initiative. That a district, a state is looking to do when we build the human capital in those locations. They are the ones who will help unpack the curriculum. They are the ones who will help make sense out of what needs to be provided for every individual student and every individual class.

So, [00:14:00] essentially, again, the teacher leader becomes the person who can help. Address the context, the setting ensure that all students are improving, narrowing equity gaps and other things that are happening and ameliorating that leadership differential that you talked about. Because if we can create leadership teams, right, it's not about the Unicorn Principal who's transforming the school in a putting it on their back and making it happen.

That's unlikely to happen across 100, 000 different schools we have. But when we want to scale improvement and raise the tide of opportunity for students, then a lever of change has to be something that can reach into every individual classroom. And again, have that return. And our belief is that intentional, sustained, high quality investment in the educator, in the individuals who are in those places, that's when you're going to see a direct response and result for that.

I [00:15:00] think the other thing that you touched on is essentially, right, why is this an issue if we've kind of got this dispersed around the country and we think we have it in place? How can this book help me, right? As you said, how can it help me contribute and know what's going to be, whether I'm in a formal or informal capacity as a leader.

What we know is that schools are continuing to try to access how to grow their educators professionally. And the challenge to scaling professional learning and teacher effectiveness, frankly, I don't think it's because we don't know what works. It's really a challenge to us doing it, and we say that right in, I think, the first chapter, right?

And right in the opening, we talk about, we know if we would invest in the individuals, That that is the most efficient and effective resource for improving and continuously upgrading the quality because the people, unlike a technology investment or even a curriculum investment [00:16:00] that's going to have a new resource every two to three years, the person, they are growing, they're scaling, they're improving their ability, they're going to help adapt the tools, the resources, the technology, the curriculum, all of the, all of those materials, And by investing in them, that's how we're going to see the consistency and the perpetual upgrade of opportunity.

The last thing I guess I would touch on is as you said earlier about the principal or that support system, without teacher leaders, right, most industries we would, we don't have a scenario where we would put 30 to 60 individuals depending on the size of the school with one lead, and then that person is supposed to ensure that there's success across every one of those individuals.

But we've set this odd structure up in education that frankly we have an opportunity to change. Where we create leadership teams, and that becomes a pathway, as you said, to the principalship. And what we've seen is the individuals who take on those [00:17:00] leadership roles of coaching others, and coaching adults is different than teaching students.

But coaching other adults allows them to become instructionally focused school building leaders. And then once they have that piece under their belt, they're much more effective and efficient in how they lead a school, transform a community, and create opportunities for all students.

Ross Romano: Yeah. So, you referenced the coaching piece there, and that leads into defining what a teacher leader is. Like, what, what's a teacher leader supposed to do?

Josh Barnett: Now, I think that that's the great question, right? Because then it's, everyone could say, well, I think I helped, other individuals in my building. So does that put me in that space? I think again, we've tried to define it in a clear capacity where from a practical standpoint, We see teacher leaders, again, as that most effective and efficient resource for improving opportunities, and for that, you have to create a structure, have to create a system where there's some roles that they [00:18:00] can take on in a formal way, so sharing materials, lesson plans, manipulatives with your grade level team and your next door neighbor, obviously, yes, that's a grade level leader, that's a teacher leader.

Coaching and providing feedback to an additional teacher is a grade level leader. But what we believe foundationally and what we have seen return the largest investment is when you give those opportunities by compensation, autonomy, and professionalized roles, you create an opportunity for individuals to step out and have that time release to provide formalized opportunities for roles.

And as you noted sometimes, quite often, the best teacher leaders are those that you have to coach to leave their classroom. Because the best, most teacher leaders want to stay connected to students, and that's why when you want to go into administration, you see that divide. And a lot of great educators don't necessarily want to become administrators.

But they can [00:19:00] become teacher leaders where they have fluidity to take on that role for a year, two years, three years as an instructional coach, as a teacher leader, as a mentor, a master teacher and then they keep on their teacher license and they can return back to the classroom. They may still teach a class, they may teach three or four classes and have half time release or part time release.

But negotiating that opportunity allows them to stay directly connected to what's happening in the classroom. And also, they stay connected to what it means to teach every day. We in the, at the lead in of I think Chapter 3, we have a Chief Academic Officer who quoted in, in her quote, and she's the Chief Academic Officer of the largest district in Louisiana at this point, but she noted that when you're a teacher leader, it not only means you're a leader of teachers, But it also means that you're a teacher who is a leader, meaning that teacher leaders want to have that broad leadership impact, but they absolutely do not want to give up teaching in [00:20:00] a classroom.

And I think, Ross, to answer your question, that's the teacher leader. The teacher leader is someone who does not want to give up that classroom feel because they know that they need that in order to effectively coach other educators.

Ross Romano: Yeah. Yeah, that's a critical piece, but sort of part of what you touched on there is a similar concept to what we talk about sometimes with principal leadership, which is you gotta get out of your office, you, into classrooms you have to Show your face and get around the school a little bit to be effective.

You have to see what's happening. You have to get a first hand experience of what's going on. Talk to people and particularly if you want to be an instructional leader, similar for teachers you don't have to figuratively leave the classroom, but you might have to like literally leave the classroom every now and then to be a true leader, to have that piece of it.

But it's only going to happen if there's some form of infrastructure. Do teacher leadership programs, should they always be formal? [00:21:00] Is there a place for informal programs? If so, what would that might maybe look like?

Josh Barnett: Yeah, absolutely. And I think just what you said about principals, right? It's great to be a principal and lead the building, but it's hard to do if you don't leave your desk. And that's part of the role is being out there, being aware and being knowledgeable. I think that's what we see the most successful teacher leaders have is that super fuel, if you will, to a school system, right?

That they have many overlapping benefits that they can bring into that structure. They can meet the demand for dispersed leadership or distributed and hybrid leadership roles because principal sometimes can't be the one who says, everything to that individual teacher and can't provide that information and feedback or doesn't have Knowledge and awareness and access to all those things because they do have other things they need to do but they can also expand the instructional experience and expertise around the school to have that reliable coach that's [00:22:00] available.

And that's the key piece is the availability to where if if Ross is serving as a teacher leader in my school, and I think I'm an okay teacher, but I know that I've got a lesson coming up that it didn't go as well as I wanted it to last year. And I just pop by and say, Ross, could you stop by my room when we do this year, because I need you to see this lesson, not just the schedule when you're going to walk through my room, but I actually want you to help me with this very specific thing, where you got to have release time to have availability, so that you can come and see that particular moment at that particular time when it's necessary.

But let's go back a step further. Why did I even know to come to you and ask you to come to that building? And that's the culture of coaching that we have to set up in a school environment, right? Is that I have not only someone to go to and that person has flexibility and release time to be able to come and respond to me, but I've also set up a culture where it's not a do it yourself mentality.

Right? I [00:23:00] can step door, step next door and ask for a cup of sugar. I can talk to my neighbors. There's an environment of collegiality and an approach of consensus amongst the school that the teachers welcome and are open to feedback from mentor, master, or instructional coaches, assistant principals, principals, district level folks.

And what we see in the most successful schools. It is that environment. It is that sense of collegiality that is being built up by the teacher leader to improve opportunities for those all teachers. And so again, think about the lack issues we talked about earlier. If we can set that structure in place, that removes that isolation and increases opportunity, increases collaboration and increases opportunities for advancement and all of those different things.

One other thing I would touch on here, I think is, as you said, do they need to be formalized roles? I think, again, you want to create an opportunity where they have time to do that. [00:24:00] So that's availability. But the other thing that we see great teacher leaders do by availability, which means they need to have that autonomy to get out of their building or out of their classroom, they need to have flexibility to do so, is they need to have an opportunity to strategize about what's needed in the school.

Which means they have to have opportunity to analyze the data, talk to the different teachers, review student work, because it's not just, right, Ross, how do I feel things are going in this classroom or in this grade level? I want to know what the data is telling me. Give me the artifacts. Give me student work.

Give me data from the formative assessments, the summative assessments. And if I don't have time as a teacher leader to review the data, review strategies that will work in this building, in this classroom, in this grade level, then really what we're doing is, right, we're creating an opportunity where we say, yeah, absolutely, you can be a teacher leader, but you're going to need to do that on the weekends and after hours, and that's not really a fair approach [00:25:00] going back to the issue we talked about earlier piling more work onto existing teachers is not the solution we're looking for.

We don't want to take the best and brightest and simply overwork them out of the profession. And that's why I think it's important that we acknowledge that creating that opportunity for those formalized roles is really important in order to get the results we talked about for teacher retention. And again, that's how we drive and attract people into this profession and create opportunities for teachers who might otherwise leave.

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Ross Romano: So how does a teacher get involved in teacher leadership? And who who is influencing that? Is it our school leaders identifying and recruiting them into it? Is there a space for teachers to kind of self identify or what can that look like?

Josh Barnett: I think that's a great question. I mean, I think it's both. Right, what we see is in some instances where certainly almost every school across the [00:26:00] country particularly, let's say, an elementary school will have a grade level leader and a high school might have a a subject area leader or middle schools will split the difference depending on how they're configured.

And so you will have individuals who serve as that lead, and you might provide that person, depending on the sense of the school a release time or a class or two. But what we would encourage is to stop and think about what are they doing with that available time and how's it being structured? And so if there's release time and there's grade level meetings, what's happening during that meeting?

And going back to what we just talked about earlier is the principal able to attend each one of those meetings to set a motion and be led by that grade level leader or master teacher or instructional coach? And is that instructional coach bringing back observation data from the week or the month?

couple of weeks that they've been walking through the building, right? Because think about then what's driving all those different [00:27:00] components right? On a sports team, right? You would film, practice, and then you would go and watch the film and talk through the film of what happened and where everyone was and make sure that everyone was in the right spot and flag and slow motion each person.

And there's a coach for each one of the areas. And we'll do all of that in order to have a sports team. But in an instructional capacity, why won't we provide the right release time and the right opportunity and the right infrastructure to similarly set up at that type of head coach, numerous assistant coaches who are instructional leaders in this capacity who are supporting this.

And then they have the opportunity to walk the building, do those learning walks, talk with teachers, and they're drawing back very specific instances of that time. So it can be. Within the context of an existing structure where they have an instructional leadership team, they have a PLC, someone's leading that, it's just making sure that all those things are aligned.

And right that we [00:28:00] don't get into what can happen too often in some of those water cooler conversations as we're talking about just things in the building or things that are happening on the weekend during that, that, that moment. But if we don't set that structure up, and we have a person who's leading it, and we've given that person who's leading at the time and flexibility to have seen what's happening to draw on data.

And to bring that data back and say, Ross, I was in your class last week. I really want you to bring the student work from that student you were supporting because that's such a great example. Well now, I've given a very specific thing that I know is coming to the next meeting. And I know in that meeting we're going to talk very specifically about what you did.

And that's what we've spent 25 years honing in on is the how to replicate that. And again, that's really why we wanted to put this volume together is to make it a resource. For educators who are looking for that and to answer your question again about if you're a school leader or a system leader or a teacher leader [00:29:00] looking for what can this look like, why we wrote it with very specific vignettes and scenarios that cut across if you're in a formalized role, it could look this way.

If you have an informal structure, it could look this way.

Ross Romano: Yeah, and so if we want to identify and then develop effective teacher leaders, right? Like what are the key competencies and what would that development look like? Is there first from the kind of principal's perspective, right? As far as identifying like who, who has some of these things already maybe, but then what are we trying to develop to make sure this works?

Josh Barnett: Yeah, I think if the question is, again, like you said, how can it work and how do we identify who, who wants to take on those types of roles? Even if we provide them. So, right, if you, as you said it's, if we can get the system to create them in the right way, we can get the alignment to be in place.

We can get the school leader out of the office and working [00:30:00] around that. What's the right infrastructure for the coaching and support for the individuals in these types of roles? And what we've seen. Most specifically is that those individuals need to be supported in a couple of key ways.

One, they have to be excellent teachers themselves, right? And how do we define excellent teachers? And ultimately that means they have to move students. Right, so excellent teachers move students, and they need to be regarded as excellent educators themselves. And it doesn't always mean that they have been in the school the most amount of time, or that they've been in the profession the most amount of time.

It means that they are gifted at educating. They're individual students in teaching and learning, and so they are instructionally high flyers themselves. It also needs to be individuals who have the ability we referenced earlier about coaching adults. There's some folks who are very good educators, but they're not [00:31:00] the best at breaking down how they do what they do.

And I want to go watch them. But that doesn't mean I want them standing in the back of the room explaining to me what's happening. I need them to be in the front of the room teaching the kids so that we can bring people into their building, into their classroom. So, I think being able to break that down and coach others is a second key component.

Also They have to be able to understand and have that mindset that all students can learn, right? They have to have an equity opportunity and mindset that they know as an educator themselves. They have the ability to move and advance high flyers medium performing students, and students who might be a little bit behind and need some additional support.

They can differentiate their instructional capacity. And support each one of those students so they have that mindset that makes a great teacher leader because that's what you're going to see populated around your school. And then finally, I think that they have an opportunity to not only eliminate those learning [00:32:00] gaps, implement the last thing I would say is implement new strategies.

Is they're also thirsty, right? They're looking for new opportunities. They're looking for new instructional materials and they can become the filter. For By which, again, as I mentioned earlier, district initiatives or state initiatives or even school based initiatives flow through these teacher leaders because they're the ones who can distill it and ensure it happens in each one of the classrooms, right?

When I get the new curriculum or the new material or the new policy from the principal or from the district office, I need to know who I'm going to go to, and that person is the one that's going to actually help me understand what's going on, or tell me, you know what Josh, you don't need to worry about that right now, that's going to happen in the spring, don't, and then, and that, that gave me the allowance to not worry about it, because I know you're worried about it, I know you're the go to resource, So I think those are some of the key things that we would see make effective teacher leaders.

Again, candidly, as we said earlier, it's not always the, it's [00:33:00] not always the individual who's advocating and pushing for and saying, I want to be the leader. We talk to system leaders and school leaders around the country. Sometimes the best teacher leaders are the ones you have to approach a couple of times over and convince them that they need to take on this role.

And that's okay, but as you said through your question, knowing what to look for and knowing those individuals to seek out, that's where we can really see an opportunity to get the right people in the right position.

Ross Romano: Yeah. And so I want to talk about who, whose benefits from strong teacher leadership, right? And really look at it from school leaders, teachers, and students, and talk specifically about those three groups. Let's talk about school leaders. Like, if you were to break it down, like, what are the ways that the school leader, principals, right, assistant principals, people in administration how do they benefit from having good teacher leadership in their school?

Josh Barnett: Well, I think a couple of very [00:34:00] specific ways, right? I mean, first and foremost, being a principal is is almost. If not, almost. I mean, it's an impossible job, right? I mean, you are leading a group of hundreds of students, maybe thousands of students, particularly at a high school level. You could be leading three or four thousand students.

You're running a multi million dollar business, basically, with thousands of individuals. You're running a flagship institution in many communities where you are might be the largest employer. You are also running something where you have events going on all the time in your community at the school building, right?

From football games, which the entire community might show up to any other athletic event that you might need to be at. And so you are constantly needing to be in different places usually more than one at the same time to deal with issues. And all the while, you also might have crisis issues that you've got going on in your school building that you've got to be able to deal with.

So I think the first and foremost thing that teacher [00:35:00] leaders help with is threefold, I would say, for school leaders. First, they give them a distributed leadership opportunity. They have other people that have that flexibility and autonomy to count on. And they know that those individuals are focused specifically on instructional excellence, which allows the principal to focus on running the building.

And that allows them to have that delicate balance of knowing every teacher is being supported, every teacher is getting the right materials, and that new curriculum we're rolling out, preparing to roll out, or just rolled out last year is being supported around the school building. Student data is being analyzed, so all of those things are happening.

That gives me great peace of mind as a principal. So I think that distributed component is the first thing. The second thing I would say is they help build capacity of all of the existing personnel in the building, right? They know that they're going to get support. They know that they're going to get coaching.

They know that they've got a go to resource. So [00:36:00] it helps me have more confidence and knowledge that the other teachers across the building and the other individuals working in the school are getting coaching and support from someone else. It's if you will you have a good neighbor who helps watch your kids sometimes.

And if you have that good relationship with your neighbor, you let them play in the front yard and you don't have to worry about looking out the window every five seconds, right? Because you know, the neighbors are all looking out the window too. And if you have that structure in your neighborhood, well, all of a sudden, then you know you have a common view, you have a communal approach to what's happening, and that gives you peace of mind to take care of other things you might need to do.

I would say within that community approach, you also can set a culture of high expectations for every student, because now you know that you've got support happening in every one of those classrooms and those buildings, so it creates, again, that facilitated, equitable environment. To have those high quality standards and coaching and support for them.

[00:37:00] Finally, I would say it gives the school leader flexibility to ensure that they can focus on the priorities that they need to do. Budgeting, personnel, staffing, materials and resources, community outreach and other issues that are happening within the building. And come back to an infrastructure that know that it's going well and they can again set the tone and drop into every one of those meetings.

We think the strongest principals are at the Instructional Leadership Team meetings, they are driving them, they are supportive of them, and it's integrated into their day to day. We have a principal that was at a meeting recently where she said to a room full of educators that she spends approximately 50 percent of her time in classrooms, co teaching and modeling with others.

And gasps are heard throughout the space, right? Because everyone is wondering, how is that possible? And she goes and shares the story of the leadership teams and the structures that she has. In her school [00:38:00] district in South Texas where that's set up. And again, we have models of success around the nation where this is happening.

Ross Romano: Yeah. So teachers, we, and so we, I think we've defined pretty well many of the ways in which becoming a teacher leader is beneficial to those who are doing so, but how about the other teachers in the building? Maybe those who aren't involved in teacher leadership, how do they benefit?

Josh Barnett: I think the existing teachers benefit, obviously, in lots of ways. I think unlike traditional, let's say, professional development, where again, you might get a guest speaker. Someone comes in, addresses your 30 individuals in the classroom, and we've all seen that, heard that. Been moved by that moment that powerful pulpit moment of that was a great presentation, but actually I got to get back to my kids.

And then I've forgotten what happened in the spring or on this weekend retreat. So teacher leaders, I think they helped. inject and carry out. And again, as we mentioned earlier, I think there is [00:39:00] super fuel in a school system because they are constantly present to bring that instructional expertise and expectation and capacity building all the way through the school system at all times.

It's not a quarterly sit and get or a once a month, I'm going to hear this great presentation or speech that I might love or might not I'm probably going to not feel like I know how it connects to my classroom, but if my teacher leader knows me, knows my students, knows the building, and knows the curriculum, and knows everything that's happening around our school system, they're going to help that translate to me.

And so they're going to provide all of those opportunities to help ensure that I can be a better teacher. They're also generally not in an evaluative capacity. They're in an observation and support and coaching capacity rather than accountability, and so their focus is on helping me improve, build my skills, and become a better educator and a better instructionally focused person and help me [00:40:00] address key issues that are happening with key students.

So I think, I would say they give me greater confidence as a current teacher to be a better teacher myself. They also increase my capacity to be a better teacher today. And then I think the third thing is they give me an opportunity to see the future opportunities I can have. right, is that they have stepped into a role that is something I might be able to come within two, three, five, seven years, or I could move into that role for a year or two and then back to the classroom rather than having to, right, move into administration or not administration.

Now I've got multiple layers of opportunities on this side of the house where I can be a teacher, I can be a mentor teacher, a master teacher, an executive master teacher, and if we create layers of roles for those individuals at any given point, they can come back and be a full-time teacher in the classroom and they never have to leave their students or leave the opportunity.

And I think [00:41:00] this, just seeing the future and those opportunities for success are something that we should not discount, and again, that's what we want to write about.

Ross Romano: Yeah. Students.

Josh Barnett: Students, I mean, obviously, all of this, as we said, I mean, this is not about creating good fun for adults and making it better. I mean, again, we want to increase the opportunity for them, but if it's not leading to improvement for students, then we're not doing it right. And I think what we've seen, and we've, we wrote about a lot of the different opportunities that we've seen again, one of the most recent and most compelling studies was done across the state of South Carolina.

was released from a national organization last year that showed a 14 to 1 dollar investment return on investment for building teacher leaders. And when you see that type of power as a community that a governor's office, a senate office, a state leader office, or a system leader, a superintendent's office, then you see the power of what you're getting.

And that [00:42:00] opportunity, and the reason why it led to a 14. 01 return on investment was because the students who participated were more likely to graduate. They were more likely, well, they were more likely first to enroll in 12th grade. Then they were more likely to graduate. They were less likely to move into social services.

And so not only did they improve their academic performance year over year, but they saw long term effects. for those things. And Ross, that makes it makes the world of sense, right? If the educators feel more confident, they have higher capacity, they see opportunities for growth and opportunities to accelerate their own learning, then they are more effective at improving the opportunities for their students.

Their students start to see those opportunities. And I love going into classrooms, right, where students are asking questions and have ownership of their learning. Where students raise their hand and say, Mr. Muromano what's the objective today? How does this connect to the standard we learned yesterday?[00:43:00]

And when you see students asking questions like that, again, you know you have transformed an opportunity that they are now setting up and they see the expectation for them. And we've seen that effective in rural and remote schools, urban environments, and everywhere in between. But again, it's all about the power of building the capacity of individuals in your building.

Ross Romano: Yeah. Okay. So as we're kind of getting to the end here, big picture, when we think about what the big goals are of the education system and the impact we would like to see it have on our society. What are the changes we'd see with better teacher leadership if that 35, 000 gets to 350, 000, right?

And we just are really able to scale this and have it be much more widespread and done effectively. What are the big changes that you think we would see?

Josh Barnett: I think the [00:44:00] data and the evidence would tell us what we would see is we could we could address some of the retention issues that we have today. I think we'd see more teachers stay in the profession. I think we would recruit more individuals into the profession and again, have a increase the opportunity and increase the professionalization of the profession ultimately.

But simply put, we know teacher leadership is the most effective strategy for improving classroom instruction at scale, and I think that's one of the most important components for policymakers and system leaders is to think, it's not about how do I improve one class or one opportunity, right? It's how do I improve it at scale.

When you're a system leader, a state leader, or even a school leader, you want to try to figure out how do I make sure I raise the tide for every student in this building, in this system, in this community, in this state, and to answer your question about how do we raise it across the nation as we invest in the individuals who work and live and breathe in every one of those communities.[00:45:00]

The teachers in those spaces, they know the community, they know the families, they know the students, they know who is in church, they know who is in the grocery store, they know who lives and breathes in that space, and they know how to reach those individuals. What we need to do is we need to figure out how to provide them with access to the right materials and supports to build their instructional expertise and grow the opportunity to grow the profession.

And I think If we can do that the long term effect is that great classroom teaching for every student is a possibility if we can invest in building the capacity of every educator.

Ross Romano: Yeah. Awesome. Well, listeners the book is Unleashing Teacher Leadership. You can find it wherever you get your books. We'll put the link below. Again, that's a co publication of ASCD and NIET. You can get it on Amazon or anywhere else. We'll put the link to where you can find that. Josh, is there how can listeners learn more about the work you [00:46:00] do?

Any other resources for them or ways for them to get involved?

Josh Barnett: Well, certainly we'd encourage everyone to go to our website at MIT. org to learn more about our organization and how we've supported and built 35, 000 teacher leaders. Who are working with more than 300, 000, supporting 3 million students across the nation. And to see stories of partners where this is working well again, we work across the country, so also the great thing is to see it happen in your neighborhood.

We can help set up a visit with a partner in your local community where you can see how it's working and see how it's modeled. And we appreciate the opportunity to be here, and Ross, thanks for having me today.

Ross Romano: Excellent. Well, thank you for being here. Again listeners, check that out. We'll put the link below to niet. org where you can learn more about that. If you are an aspiring teacher leader or you're a principal or assistant principal who'd like to have better teacher leadership in your school, check that out.

Check out the book. Please also, if you have not already, do subscribe to the Authority Podcast for more author interviews like this one coming your way. [00:47:00] every week, or visit bpodcast. network to learn about all of our shows. Josh, thanks so much for being here.

Josh Barnett: Thanks, Ross.

Creators and Guests

Ross Romano
Ross Romano
Co-founder of Be Podcast Network and CEO of September Strategies. Strategist, consultant, and performance coach.
Josh Barnett
Josh Barnett
Chief Executive Officer, @NIETteachAuthor of Unleashing Teacher Leadership: A Toolkit for Ensuring Effective Instruction in Every Classroom
Unleashing Teacher Leadership with Joshua Barnett