By Richard Wilson
Since legislation was passed in 2015, NJEA has been in the lead at working with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to create a teacher leader endorsement to be attached to an instructional certificate. After four years of study and the writing of regulations, we are on the precipice of the endorsement becoming reality. Currently, the NJDOE is reviewing applications for programs of study to lead teachers to eligibility for the endorsement.
Teacher leadership offers a paradigm shift that not only allows teachers to support their peers from a nonevaluative position, but also to influence the entire system. Teacher leadership gives educators a voice at the decision-making table on instructional issues at the school and/or district level.
At its core, the work of teacher leaders is to build the capacity of their peers. With that being true, what if there were a program to prepare teacher leaders in which the participants in the program were actually the faculty? That is the question at the center of the design of the NJEA Teacher Leader Academy, which will prepare NJEA members for the New Jersey Teacher Leader Endorsement.
What if there were a program to prepare teacher leaders in which the participants in the program were actually the faculty?
Meeting weekly over the course of a year, and occasionally on Saturdays, the core of the program will focus on regional study groups in which candidates for the endorsement will identify their own strengths and areas where they want to challenge themselves.
With those areas identified, each candidate will lead the learning of groups of seven or eight other teachers working with them on the endorsement. With the support of a group facilitator supplied by the NJEA Teacher Leader Academy, the study groups are designed to use feedback from other participants to create an incubator for leadership.
There will be an emphasis on candidates developing the ability to walk the challenging line of acting as both peer and expert with their colleagues. Other components of the program will include occasional meetings of the full cohort of 35 participants in Trenton, as well as a clinical experience designed to meet the individual goals of each candidate.
The NJDOE has reviewed and given conditional approval to NJEA’s application for the Teacher Leader Academy. With conditional approval, we can begin to accept applications from prospective candidates. We anticipate full approval later this fall, following the Department’s qualitative peer review process. With a limited number of seats available in the first pilot year, the competitive application process will include an application, an interview, and collegial references who can attest to the candidate’s leadership skills. The application deadline is Oct. 31.
The tuition for the program is $5,000, which can be paid in installments over the course of the program. While language in your local collective bargaining agreement might place a limit on tuition reimbursement, schools can also use Title II funds from the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to fund professional development activities that build capacity for teacher leadership. The NJEA Teacher Leader Academy would be eligible for such funding.
If you are one of those teachers who others look to for guidance on instructional matters, or if your school looks to you for counsel in moving initiatives forward, and if you are ready to spend a year learning new approaches while examining your own leadership skills, consider applying for the NJEA Teacher Leader Academy.
Richard Wilson is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division. He is currently on special assignment to assist in the development of the NJEA Teacher Leader Academy.
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