Teaching may be the only professional career in our country without a career pathway. Other professionals generally have opportunities to advance to higher-level positions while continuing to practice their chosen profession—without necessarily changing to a management role. Career pathways provide opportunities for professionals with advanced skills and abilities to do more—and earn more—by taking on more complex work assignments or developing skills in others.
Our public schools are stuck in an egalitarian culture that views all teachers as having the same job value and compensating them according to years of service. To advance their careers in a sustainable way, teachers must generally leave the classroom to become school administrators. And, to the detriment of students, it is often the most talented teachers who are recruited to leave the classroom and move into these administrative roles.
Currently, there is momentum building across the country to develop new career pathways for teachers that will maintain their commitment to the classroom and leverage their talent to train other teachers. In Texas, the need for coaching and developing young teachers is great, with nearly 35 percent of all teachers having five years of experience or fewer.
Equally important is the value accrued from bringing recognition and prestige to our best teachers and to the professional image of teaching as a career. The simplistic notion of annual pay for performance schemes based on student test scores will not strategically change teaching, but sustainable career pathways with collaboration and advancement opportunity just might.
Developing teacher leaders
Principals have been asking talented teachers to perform leadership tasks for a long time. But these roles are often short-lived and not compensated. Building a formal career pathway in teaching requires more structure, definition, stability, and compensation. To be genuine and sustainable, teachers should be promoted to a new job description—one that involves enlarged and sustained job responsibilities with defined skills and abilities for which they must qualify.
A national consortium formed in 2011 to explore teacher leadership developed the following model standards to distinguish teacher leadership from administrative leadership:
- Domain I: Fostering a collaborative culture to support educator development and student learning
- Domain II: Accessing and using research to improve practice and student learning
- Domain III: Promoting professional learning for continuous improvement
- Domain IV: Facilitating improvements in instruction and student learning
- Domain V: Promoting the use of assessments and data for school and district improvement
- Domain VI: Improving outreach and collaboration with families and community
- Domain VII: Advocating for student learning and the profession
Professional learning communities
The practice of professional learning communities (PLCs) has opened up a greater need and opportunity for teacher leaders, coaches, and mentors as more teachers work in collaborative teams. A PLC is a group of educators that meet regularly, share expertise, and work collaboratively to improve their practice and their student’s learning.
One such example is the System for Effective Educator Development model (SEED) being used in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD and Lytle ISD. SEED was developed by the Region 18 ESC Texas Center for Educator Effectiveness (TxCEE). TxCEE provided the teacher leadership training, collaboration protocols, and other technical assistance to those districts. The SEED model has job descriptions for collaborative learning leaders (CLLs) and collaborative learning facilitators (CLFs). CLLs can lead a campus or a team of teachers to analyze data for development of student learning goals, plan for targeted professional development, observe and evaluate teachers in the classroom, and provide ongoing coaching to teachers. CLFs work under the direction of a CLL to prepare and facilitate materials for weekly team collaboration meetings and provide coaching and modeling in the classroom for other teachers.
Expanding the reach of great teachers
Another popular approach is known as Opportunity Culture (OC), a trademark initiative created by the North Carolina nonprofit group, Public Impact. Their emphasis is to expand the reach of excellent teachers to more students by redesigning job roles for teachers and paraprofessionals. Opportunity Culture models are in various stages of implementation in Big Spring ISD, Dallas ISD, and Harlandale ISD, with technical support provided through the Region 20 Education Service Center. Great teachers are used along with trained paraprofessionals to reach more students through expanded teaching roles such as multi-classroom leaders, elementary specialization teachers, time-technology swap teachers, and remotely located teachers.
The most popular model chosen by Texas schools has been the multi-classroom leader (MCL). The leader teaches while also leading a team of teachers. Through release time and paraprofessional support, the leader plans, coaches, and co-teaches with others and is accountable for the results of all students. Results in North Carolina have shown dramatic growth in student learning in the schools using the OC model compared to schools that have not. 
This story is part one of a two-part series.
 TEA Snapshot 2015
 Teacher Leader Model Standards, ©2012
 Copyright@TxCEE; www.txcee.org
 Public Impact News Release September 14, 2016. Opportunityculture.org