three people meeting in library

How aligned roles and responsibilities can improve teaching

05/13/2024

Written by V. Châu with Dr. Tim Tasker

How aligned roles and responsibilities can improve teaching

Go further faster— together

Aligned roles and responsibilities are crucial to success in a complex and ever-evolving organization like a school system.

As an African proverb suggests, if we want to go far, we must go together. The same holds true for school districts. Alignment in roles and responsibilities empowers everyone, from teachers to administrators, to own a specific part of realizing a shared vision.

Too often, the role of the teacher remains unchanged from year 1 to year 30 despite the fact that educators have gained valuable professional experience, often demonstrate a capacity for leadership, and are eager to develop others. That’s why our own work started with a focus on teacher leadership and building the capacity of “leading educators” to, well, lead for school-wide impact.

Bottom Line: Within a larger instructional system, differentiated instructional leadership roles are crucial to continuous improvement and meeting the developmental needs of a staff that may be bringing in different prior training, experiences, and instructional strengths.

When defined roles articulate a framework for distributing expertise and responsibilities, adults are able to work together more effectively and with greater intention while also gaining opportunities for advancement common in other fields.

What is role alignment?

Aligning roles and responsibilities isn’t just about streamlining processes or distributing workloads—it’s about creating a culture of trust, intentional collaboration, and specific responsibilities for maximizing student success.

  • Distributed leadership provides teachers with more frequent feedback and access to more intentional collaboration from peers who know their work well.
  • Teacher leaders gain opportunities to leverage their strengths for greater impact and the development of others.
  • School leaders gain the capacity to develop their teams and go deeper into instructional improvement, increasing the likelihood that all students have consistent access to opportunity.

This approach allows the collective to focus their efforts because everyone understands the pieces they own. It reduces burnout and feelings of stagnation by ensuring that everyone’s contributions are recognized and valued.

Creating a thriving learning ecosystem

woman gardeningImagine a garden full of diverse plants, each with a specific role in contributing to the overall health and adaptability of the ecosystem.

Just as each plant relies on the others for support and nourishment, so does a school district’s success. A thriving learning environment depends on the alignment of roles and responsibilities among its educators, administrators, and support staff.

When roles are clearly defined and coordinated, the district flourishes like a well-tended garden. Each plant species thrives in harmony, adapting to change and fostering continuous growth. However, when disruptions occur and alignment falters, the consequences can be profound. Teachers may experience burnout and disengagement, students may suffer from inconsistent learning experiences, and the cohesion of the entire school community may be compromised.

Graphic illustration of before and after alignment in a school district.
Before and after alignment in a school district.

With concerted efforts to realign roles and restore balance, the district can maintain its ability to provide high-quality teaching with consistency, which supports the success of all students.

Case Study: Building Coherence in Tulsa

Oklahoma silhouette with pinTulsa Public Schools(TPS) partnered with Leading Educators from 2017-2023 to reimagine instructional improvement as a coherent effort involving new roles and leadership, ongoing professional development, and implementation of high-quality curricula in ELA and math. 

Helping students with varying levels of prior knowledge meet rigorous, grade-level standards is complex work, and teachers can only teach what they know and understand. Thus, TPS was determined to bolster opportunities for ongoing teacher learning, skill-building, and collaborative practice in content-alike teams, seeking to replicate a promising model we first used in Washington, D.C.

Rather than offer the one-time, one-size-fits-all professional development in auditoriums and gyms that is common in many school systems but doesn’t usually transfer into changes in teaching or learning, Leading Educators created a system in which teacher leaders would guide their peers through learning sessions. The result? Empowered teachers with the skills, knowledge, and structures to empower other teachers.

District leaders realized that to sustain the instructional system long after the partnership concluded, there would need to be a restructuring of roles and responsibilities at all levels. Here’s how TPS leaders addressed this challenge:

  • Creation of New Roles: TPS introduced roles like teacher leaders, school strategy partners, and academic partners to facilitate professional learning and instructional improvement initiatives cohesively across the system.
  • Clear District-Wide Initiatives: Each year, TPS established district-wide priorities, providing a clear theory of action for senior leaders, teachers, and students. This ensured everyone understood their role in advancing student outcomes.
  • Facilitation of Professional Learning: Trained teacher leaders led regular professional learning sessions for teachers. Principals, academic partners, and LE coaches observed new instructional practices in action.
  • Calibrated Roles and Responsibilities: Roles at all levels were calibrated to align with the district’s annual instructional priorities, such as foundational reading skills, ensuring coherence across the system.

The impact of these initiatives was profound. District and school leaders reported that clear expectations and support for roles and responsibilities significantly enhanced teacher effectiveness.

This was reflected in student performance, despite pandemic disruptions, with a 6% increase in reading proficiency and a 3% increase in math by the program’s conclusion. Moreover, retention of new teachers increased by 24% during the first year of implementation, as teachers gained more clarity on what was expected of them, along with support from dedicated instructional leaders who helped them achieve those expectations.

Take Action 

As you work to strengthen roles and responsibilities in your instructional system, consider the following power moves.

  1. Establish a collaborative planning structure: Create regular grade-level or subject-specific meetings, PLCs, or instructional leadership teams to discuss, define, and align roles and responsibilities. Role-alike spaces can offer a community for sourcing ideas and addressing change management in human ways.
  2. Provide ongoing professional learning and coaching: Offer high-quality professional development opportunities tailored to different roles, fostering comfort and proficiency in differentiated instructional responsibilities. Use intentional coaching as a way to practice new skills, problem-solve, and calibrate expectations.
  3. Leverage partnerships for capacity building: Collaborate with external partners to strengthen alignment around effective teaching practices and empower staff to lead learning for peers in similar roles whenever possible.

As you reflect with your team, ask:

  • How are instructional responsibilities currently shared across your district?
  • Are roles clearly defined and aligned with the vision for teaching and learning?
  • What steps can you take to ensure greater collaboration and alignment in roles and responsibilities?

Are you looking to enhance the instructional leadership in your district? For over a decade, we’ve helped dozens of school systems and states do just that. Learn how we can partner to make your best even better.

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