In American public education, school district leaders (including school boards, superintendents, and other district administrators) and charter school authorizers are charged with ensuring that quality public education is available to their communities. Teacher-powered schools can be an invaluable means to this end.
In teacher-powered schools, educators secure authority from school districts and charter authorizers to design and run their schools. With this authority, teachers become directly responsible for the success of their school, which increases their passion for the job and their ability to make the dramatic changes in their school that are needed to truly improve student learning.
Teacher-powered schools foster a collaborative school climate where teachers, principals, parents, students, and community leaders work together in achieving school success. The team of teachers uses their expertise to inform and decide school policies, curriculum and instruction, and school operations, including budgeting and the selection and retention of personnel (including leaders).
District and authorizer leaders change conventional management structures in support of teachers’ innovation. They set into motion the policies and procedures that enable teachers to secure collective autonomy and create conditions for them to succeed—while retaining their role in providing oversight and accountability.
Ways that school district and charter authorizer leaders can get involved include:
- Learn More: Start by learning more about teacher-powered schools. Check out the FAQ, these stories of teacher-powered schools, the research white paper, and the book Trusting Teachers With School Success.
- Reviewing Research: Learn about existing strategies for designing and implementing the necessary legal and procedural arrangements to launch teacher-powered schools in your community. Take time to better understand the kinds of schools teachers create and imagine the changes teacher-powered schools could bring to your community.
- Addressing School Governance: Develop and be open to approving innovative governance structures and agreements that enable teachers to have authentic decision-making authority and responsibilities that affect students and whole-school success. Some possibilities already in use are described in the teacher-powered school inventory.
- Empower Schools is a nonprofit organization that helps secure the conditions and autonomies needed at the district level for teacher-powered schools to be sustainable beyond leadership changes and policy shifts. They use a Partnership Model where teacher-powered schools within the district have an MOU for autonomy and performance.
- Collaborating with Teachers: When teachers submit a teacher-powered school proposal, district leaders and charter school authorizers should ask questions about teachers’ decision-making authority and how they plan to use it. Work with teachers prior to submission to determine common goals, and measures for tracking the school’s progress in meeting those goals. Be open—these goals and measurements might just break from convention. This is an opportunity to hold teachers accountable with formal agreements and not mandates or other attempts at control.
- Adapting Management Practices: Administrators and authorizers can work with teachers to adapt their management practices in ways that will support the school. Trusting Teachers with School Success highlights a number of possible considerations, for example: how much of the school budget can be made discretionary for teachers to determine? And, do teachers at a teacher-powered school need to attend professional development seminars that assume conventional curriculum and leadership structures? Consider establishing a working group charter, or district leadership, and teacher-powered school representatives, so that both parties can continuously improve their approach to this work.
- Collaborating with State and Local Leaders: Commissioning a task force, committee, panel discussion, conference, or site-visits are all ways to educate and collaborate with teachers, their unions/associations, principals, and state and local officials (including other local district administrators and charter authorizers). Working together, these parties can support the creation of teacher-powered schools through incentive programs, waivers, contract negotiations, and other means. Indeed, district, charter, and union leaders working together to invite people to learn about the idea and imagine how it can be done locally is how teacher-powered schools have come to exist across the nation.
- Providing Start-up Counsel: Design ways to support teachers in determining a teacher-powered school or department structure that meets the needs of the community and supports their desired level of teacher autonomy, and keep up with them over time to support them as they continue cultivating high-performing school cultures.
- Connect With Other Leaders: We know leaders in school districts and charter authorizers around the country who have arranged for teacher-powered schools in their community. Reach out to us and we’d be happy to provide introductions.