Rewarding Teachers Collectively


All education leaders know there are schools where students succeed at high levels, despite the challenges of poverty, mobility and low English proficiency. What can we learn about those schools, districts and communities that succeed in spite of the odds?

No doubt, particular programs and targeted resources play a part in these schools’ success. But what I believe contributes most is a fundamental change in how we view our teachers. The key is teamwork. It is less about individual teachers and more about the collective work of teachers and administrators on behalf of each child.

Jack DaleJack Dale

Unfortunately, many policymakers continue to see the teaching profession as a singular entity where the teacher is evaluated for classroom performance. This approach lauds the individual through merit pay, based on the belief that student achievement is the result of an individual teacher’s efforts.

I argue that teaching is not an individual competition but rather a team sport in which teacher leaders work together to map out a winning game plan for every child. While the principal tends to be the instructional leader, the truly effective school has multiple instructional leaders working synergistically. In short, exceptional schools have exceptional teams of teachers.

Five New Roles
This is essentially the notion of 21st-century teachers, for whom I initiated a pilot program in 16 elementary, three middle and five high schools in Fairfax County, Va. A teacher assumes one of the following five roles in return for a 12-month contract. The roles require additional time commitments beyond their teaching duties, but they are vital for the success of the whole school.

•  School improvement teacher leader. Additional school instructional leadership responsibilities, including performance analysis, team building and program evaluation, which are shared with the principal.

•  Feeder/cluster improvement. Focus on the instructional and curricular connections, collaboration and expectations across grades within a K-12 cluster of schools.

•  New teacher trainer/mentor. Training new teachers prior to the start of school each fall and mentoring and coaching new staff during the school year.

•  Extended student learning. Tutoring and nurturing students who are performing below grade level. Such work happens outside the school day/school year to ensure each child is successful academically.

•  Student transition leadership. Focus on individual students’ academic and social progress and coordination of support services for children needing additional social/transition skills moving within or across schools.

Student Gains
Data from our school district’s three-year pilot suggests it is possible to have all teachers in a school take on a larger set of roles and responsibilities. The pilot schools show student perform-ance levels well above other schools and well above adequate yearly progress targets. In 2009, 100 percent of the pilot schools met the goal in English, 96 percent in math. Ninety-two percent were at least 5 points above the standard in English, 88 percent in math. In addition, 92 percent of the pilot schools increased their percentage passing in both English and math from years prior to the program.

In one elementary school, teacher leaders designed a summer-long reading program. Every two weeks, students would meet with teachers to review the books they had read. Teacher leaders would assess the students’ reading levels in each meeting and provide students with a new set of leveled books to read before the next meeting. As a result, no student experienced a drop in his or her reading level over the summer.

Additional evidence of the pilot’s success was found in a working conditions survey. Across the board, responses from the Teacher Leadership demonstration sites rated their school’s leadership and professional development higher than non-demonstration sites.

Policy Targets
While the pilot program has worked in Fairfax County, I believe it has wider application if school system leaders are willing to grapple with four policy areas. 

•  Expanded expectations for teachers. As the debate grows on how to ensure a quality teacher in every classroom, we need to look beyond expectations for content knowledge and instructional skills to include the complex demands of high-performing work teams. The expanded teacher leadership roles and responsibilities must be well-defined and used in hiring and evaluation. 

•  Team research and training. We know selecting, training and evaluating teachers are critical. What is equally, if not more important, is that virtually all teachers in a school are highly successful. This may seem impossible, but by reframing the teaching profession, teachers become more strategic and thus, successful. 

•  Compensation. The pay structure needs to be aligned with these new roles. These 21st-century teacher leaders work full time, 12 months a year, and their compensation package must reflect these additional responsibilities. Minimally, the work contract for these leaders should be an expansion of their current contracts. Typically, this would imply a 10 to 15 percent increase in pay. This compensation package also has the benefit of being more competitive with the private sector and more attractive to career switchers.

•  Reduced central office. The final consideration is the ability to scale back the central office. When school leaders imbed professional development within the teaching force, a reduced need exists for those responsibilities at a central level. For every central-office position eliminated, the resources can fund at least seven to 10 teacher leadership positions, an excellent return on investment.

Education leaders must completely overhaul the teaching profession and align it with the demands of today’s world and with what we know about highly successful schools. Now is the time to ensure 21st-century teacher leaders are in every school, working for every youngster. The only question is whether we have the courage and conviction to make that change.

Jack Dale is superintendent of the Fairfax County Public Schools in Falls Church, Va. E-mail: