Empowering Great Teachers: States Leading to Advance Teacher Leadership

Image of teacher leaders

By Teresa Mooney, CCSSO and Catherine Jacques, AIR

Teacher engagement, recognition, and advancement is something all state educational agencies work to support, and many states are now seeking ways to better foster and support teacher leadership in their schools and districts.

As underscored in the recent NCTQ Databurst: Teacher Leadership Opportunities, the majority of states support leadership opportunities for classroom teachers. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) supports states in this work, and recently convened 13 states through a Teacher Leader Workgroup to improve and advance their plans to foster and enhance teacher leadership in their respective states. That workgroup, which ran 2017-19, elevated examples of state leadership in this area.

State Visions and Actions Teacher Leadership

Within the workgroup, participants primarily focused on high-quality implementation of local teacher leadership roles and how to expand teacher leader pathways in their states. Across all participating states, improving equitable access to effective teachers through teacher leadership efforts remains a central component of the work.

Additionally, approximately half of the states in the workgroup worked to design summits or convenings for teacher leaders to facilitate authentic networks and offer professional learning opportunities. Other states planned to release guidance for schools and districts on teacher leadership to support local efforts. Some states also developed unique plans to advance teacher leadership, including engaging principals on shared leadership practices, creating teacher leadership implementation rubrics, and collaborating with higher education around teacher preparation via teacher leaders.

For example, in 2015, Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), through a partnership with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), restructured their Teacher of the Year program from solely a recognition program to a program that provides district and state teachers of the year opportunities to lead. By restructuring the program, the DoDEA team has been able to raise awareness and dialogue within agency leadership about how to increase teacher leadership capacity throughout the organization. DoDEA has delivered professional learning on the Teacher Leader Model Standards and empowered educators to create action plans that address a problem of practice in their schools, districts, regions, and at the headquarters level. DoDEA has also collaborated with partners in Texas, D.C., and Maine as they work to restructure their programs.

Ohio advanced teacher leadership beyond the Teacher Leadership Framework by implementing an annual Teacher Leadership Summit to recognize teacher leaders as change agents who inspire and support colleagues and build professional communities that elevate the education system. Following the Summit, the Ohio Teacher Leadership Toolkit  was released which includes tools and resources to support schools, districts and educators in implementing and sustaining teacher leadership initiatives. The toolkit assists districts in identifying teacher leadership goals, choosing strategies to initiate or advance teacher leadership within districts, and offers opportunities to reflect on current teacher leadership strategies, while building on their success.   Building on that momentum, Ohio is now forming a Teacher Leader Liaisons network that will engage with the department on topics related to current and future education initiatives that support Each Child, Our Future: Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education.


In addition to states’ teacher leadership plans, the Teacher Leadership workgroup also created space for states to share their questions, concerns, and barriers to supporting teacher leadership. Over the course of the year, three major needs emerged for participating states around teacher leadership:

  1. States are working to align teacher leadership with other priorities and initiatives. In theory, there are many clear connections between teacher leadership and other state priorities; in practice, there can be a myriad of challenges within state agencies that keep teacher leadership separate from school leadership and/or school improvement initiatives. As states consider “entry points” for their teacher leadership work, it may be helpful to bring a diverse group of agency staff together to identify opportunities to collaborate with school leadership and school improvement programs.
  2. States need support coping with limited capacity. State education agency staff have competing responsibilities and limited time, yet must also take advantage of opportunities to advance teacher leadership as they arise. As states begin to plan teacher leadership activities, it may be helpful to explore how to balance high-leverage teacher leadership opportunities, comprehensive state systems, and limited state capacity.
  3. States need support sustaining teacher leadership networks. Neither states nor districts often have easy access to funds to support teacher leader training, development, and compensation. It may be helpful for states to support districts in workshopping schedule, funding, policy, and delivery models for teacher leadership that other districts can emulate. It may also be helpful for states to explore how to use open-ended requirements (e.g., Louisiana’s consolidated school funding application) to incentivize school and district commitment to teacher leadership.

Looking Ahead

Through the Teacher Leadership workgroup, states identified a need to hone in on systems and structures that impact great teachers and teaching across the career continuum. Building on this need and the challenges outlined above, CCSSO launched the Systems to Elevate Excellent Teaching (SEET) Collaborative in September 2019. The SEET Collaborative continues to support states in developing plans to leverage teacher leader expertise, and it also provides states the opportunity to develop, enhance, and implement state initiatives to ensure equitable access for all students, including high-quality professional learning opportunities, engagement, and certification and licensure.

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