Teaching & Learning

Game-Changer: New Study Lauds CTA’s Instructional Leadership Corps

New study lauds “teachers teaching teachers” approach of Instructional Leadership Corps

“The California Instructional Leadership Corps has changed the paradigm for teaching and learning,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute. Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor emeritus and the newly named head of the California State Board of Education, spoke at February’s ILC conference on sustaining its work in the field.

Linda Darling-Hammond

A new Learning Policy Institute (LPI) study released in February finds that ILC, with its focus on “teachers teaching teachers,” offers a solid template for providing professional development, leadership and learning opportunities to California educators while strengthening schools’ and districts’ capacity to implement state standards.

Since its inception in 2014 as a joint effort by CTA, the National Board Resource Center, and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, ILC — composed of 250-plus specially trained educators, or teacher leaders — has served more than 100,000 teachers statewide. ILC’s approach empowers teachers to lead sustainable professional development and advance instructional capacity within their districts.

The hallmark of ILC is teacher leaders who bring to their districts multiple professional development workshops covering teacher-­designed changes in classroom practice, followed by opportunities for workshop attendees to reconvene and refine their efforts. At workshops, leaders demonstrate what instructional shifts look like in the classroom, help colleagues develop lesson plans, and support them in implementation. Groups reconvene to analyze results and student work samples, and refine their approaches.

“When teacher leaders connect and build relationships with each other, with administrators, teachers in their districts and across districts, in the county, at the university, you see this dissemination of the practice really ignite,” said Darling-Hammond. “It becomes more than a simple workshop in a school, but a way of doing education in a region.”

“We also found that the shifts in practice in science, math and English language arts were very significant,” she added. “Districts are moving from scripted curriculum under the old era to critical thinking, problem solving, and a collaborative, engaged classroom with kids doing inquiry. We have so many wonderful examples and stories of kids catching fire and feeling exciting about learning, and teachers catching fire and being excited about teaching and learning.”

CTA President Eric Heins praised ILC accomplishments, telling educators at the conference that because of their work, “CTA is at the forefront of quality, educator-­driven professional development that benefits all schools and all students. Developing professional capital among colleagues and at your schools — that is union work.”

For its report, “The Instructional Leadership Corps: Entrusting Professional Learning in the Hands of the Profession,” LPI studied the work of ILC teams at four sites:

  • Madera Unified School District in rural San Joaquin Valley, which serves largely Latino students and those from low-income families. ILC focused on language development across the curriculum.
  • Conejo Valley Unified School District in Ventura County, a high-achieving and well-resourced district. ILC focused on building science competencies and aligning K-12 instruction.
  • The East Side Alliance, a partnership between East Side Union High School District and its seven K-8 feeder districts in East San Jose, which range from moderate to extremely low-income. ILC focused on new approaches to standards-based math instruction.
  • A partnership between the ILC leaders’ network in North Orange County and CSU Fullerton’s College of Education, which worked across a wide range of districts through a series of “Teachers Teaching Teachers” conferences focused on instructional shifts in the standards.

LPI found that the ILC project resulted in changes in instructional practice and greater student engagement in learning. Specifically, it noted these lessons:

  1. Teachers value professional learning led by their colleagues.
  2. ILC membership enhances teacher leaders’ professionalism and sense of efficacy.
  3. Supportive structural arrangements foster instructional change. Adoption of Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) requires ambitious, profound and demanding curricular and pedagogical shifts. School and district administrators must support these sustained instructional changes, including giving educators more time and opportunities for professional collaboration.
  4. Systematic follow-up contributes to implementation of instructional shifts.
  5. Strategic relationships support deeper, more widespread professional learning. ILC instructional leaders gained the greatest traction when they were able to build relationships with district administrators, teachers associations, county offices of education, universities, and philanthropic organizations. The partnerships supported content alignment and leveraged resources at the local level

As just one example, the ILC cohort in Conejo Valley experienced success with a mentoring program to support science instruction, particularly at the elementary level. 

Ashley Cooper

“The district office noticed that teachers from our pilot school were more advanced in their confidence and understanding of the NGSS framework and implementation, and other teachers districtwide wanted the opportunity to advance their knowledge of NGSS,” says Ashley Cooper, an ILC teacher leader, high school science teacher and member of the Unified Association of Conejo Teachers. “It was decided that the program would be included in our district LCAP plan, where six high school science teachers would work one hour a day as a mentor at six feeder elementary schools. Converting the NGSS Mentor Program from ILC to district-based in the LCAP ensured that the support for science education would continue long after the ILC program sunsets in 2020.” 

“What the ILC has planted is growing in lots of different and interesting ways to build and share expertise in the profession,” Darling-­Hammond said at the ILC conference. “And that is what our profession is: sharing a body of knowledge in the best interests of our students.”

ILC is currently deepening existing investments in communities and expanding into rural and geographically isolated sites to sustain partnerships that support its educator-­led model of ongoing learning. For more information, see cta.org/ilc.

Case Study

One of the ILC teams studied by the Learning Policy Institute was in Madera Unified School District, where a large proportion of the student population is low-income and classified as English learners. The team focused on language and literacy development across content areas, including classroom norms for productive discussion, and sentence frames to scaffold academic conversation.

Teacher leaders showed how sentence frames could build across grades to foster more complex dialogue, from K-1 (“I think … because …”) to more advanced ones in grade 6 and beyond (“Based on …, I infer that …”).

Seeking to leverage the strengths of Madera teachers in different subject areas, the team determined that “arguing from evidence” was the commonality among various state standard practices (see illustration).

An ILC team member said, “We looked at the three-circle Venn diagram and said, ‘So I’m a science teacher, he’s a math teacher. What can we do together for all our teachers?’ There, in the sweet spot, is arguing from evidence.”

Another teacher leader noted, “Our big goal was communicating that whatever you’re teaching can go to every single subject if you’re teaching the language first. Because if they can’t articulate what they’re talking about, the content will never take shape.”

The ILC team workshops continued to work on expanding the teachers’ repertoire in deepening student learning, so that students can effectively develop arguments from evidence, both verbally and in writing.

ILC by the Numbers

Between November 2014 and September 2018, Instructional Leadership Corps teacher leaders provided workshops to support state standards implementation to more than:

  • 32,000 educators
  • 2,000 schools
  • 495 districts

More than 85 percent of these educators felt their participation in ILC had influenced student learning to a “great extent” or “some extent.” During this same period:

  • Close to 30,000 educators participated in ILC conferences and presentations.
  • An additional 38,000 educators were indirectly impacted as ILC members trained instructional coaches in the trainer-of-trainers model.

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