Policy & Leadership

Chiefs to Change Launch Challenges Teacher Views on System Leader Roles

The share of teachers who believe that top district and state education leaders make a difference in the lives of students is tiny — in the low double digits. Most teachers, according to a new poll, said they think that that job of a state chief or school system superintendent "is consumed with politics and mired in bureaucracy, with little opportunity to make a difference for kids."

Yet, those holding these leadership roles have reported that serving as chief allows them to have a "profound impact" but in different ways and at a different scale. For example, they set the vision for the system, engaging with teachers, principals, staff, parents, students, elected officials and others in the community to identify shared priorities and establish a plan for success. And they shape the culture and policies that help educators succeed.

The results of the survey came out of a non-scientific January 2020 poll done by Chiefs for Change among current and former teachers. The organization, a network of state and district education leaders, published a new report using the findings to provide guidance to districts and states for encouraging teachers to consider system leadership roles and create pathways for helping them get there.

Among the findings were these:

  • Although 84 percent of teachers plan to stay in education for the rest of their careers, just five percent of current teachers said they were interested in becoming "chiefs";

  • Less than half of teachers said they believe a state or district chief can have a meaningful impact on children's lives; and

  • While just 14 percent of current teachers have been encouraged to become a superintendent, seven in 10 have been told they ought to pursue grade-level or departmental leadership and two-thirds (66 percent) have been pushed to consider earning an administrative credential.

The report was published in a multimedia mode, with a podcast and video interviews with members of Chiefs for Change who are former teachers.

The goal was to provide some attention for Chiefs for Change's "Future Chiefs" program, which is designed for people who are one or two steps away from becoming a chief. Through a new website, "Teacher to Chief," the organization hopes also to reach people early in their careers who show great potential to become a system leader by providing clear career pathways and eventually offering placements within districts and state education departments led by members of the network.

The report also offered recommendations for districts and state education departments that want to help teachers develop into system leaders. Systems need to:

  • Introduce teachers with the potential to become chiefs to the role and establish coherent pathways to leadership with associated compensation structures;

  • Collaborate with partners to create targeted networking, mentorship and sponsorship opportunities for teachers of color — and, especially, women teachers of color — who are interested in education leadership roles; and

  • Establish succession plans to sustain leaders' work over the long term.

"We need to give educators a fuller picture of the chief role, how chiefs can make an impact, and the pathways to leadership," said Susana Cordova, superintendent of Denver Public Schools and a member of Chiefs for Change, in a statement. "Virtually every job I’ve had, I got because somebody tapped me on the shoulder and encouraged me to go after it. That made a huge difference for me. It’s important to recognize those with the potential to serve as leaders and help them to advance."

The full report is openly available on the new website, Teacher to Chief.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.