Dr. Jason Helfer
Illinois State Board of Education
100 N. First Street
Springfield, IL 62777
Dr. Helfer and Members of the Board:
As the Illinois State Board of Education begins to implement the newly adopted ESSA plan, the 30-60-90 grants stand out as a unique and exciting opportunity for teacher leaders to apply their experiences and expertise. By doing so, these grants will better define teacher leadership and the impact it has on school communities. Our cohort of Teach Plus Policy Fellows is working to grow teacher capacity by promoting teacher leadership across the state, guided by the NEA Teacher Leader Model Standards. We would like to offer our insights on how the Board can ensure that these grants will grow teacher capacity through providing teacher leaders with resources to address school culture and climate and instructional practices.
First, we believe the 30-60-90 grants should be available to teachers of record whose daily teaching responsibilities involve structured student contact time. In the case of educator teams applying for a grant that include educators in other roles, a teacher of record should be the lead.
In order for teachers to better understand the opportunity the 30-60-90 grants present, we suggest that the following information should be included in the application materials: project overview, timeline from application through approval, project completion, and submission of project results; evaluation criteria; members of the selection committee; and how the grant money will be distributed.
To assist the selection team, application materials should ask teachers to describe any past leadership experience as well as provide a letter of reference from a current colleague outlining an applicant’s leadership potential or the impact of past leadership. It should be made clear, however, that past leadership is not a requirement, giving new teacher leaders an opportunity to reach their potential and bring new ideas to the table.
In order to better evaluate proposals in the greater context of each school or district and ensure that grants are equitably distributed to teachers that serve the diverse districts of Illinois, we believe the application should require certain key contextual information relevant to the grant proposal. This should include the demographics of students and teachers, a description of the leadership structures and opportunities that already exist in their schools, and an opportunity to provide other contextual data relevant to the proposal. The applicant should be required to clearly state the challenge he or she has identified in his or her teaching role and how the grant will address this situation.
We support a bi-annual grant application process, in which applications would be due in midsummer (with grants being approved at the start of the academic year and completed by the end of the calendar year) and in late fall (with grants being approved by the end of the calendar year and completed by the end of the academic year). We feel this would give teachers ample time to apply for and carry out their projects, as well as to evaluate their effectiveness. This will also allow information to be reported back to ISBE in a timely manner, so that what was learned from the project can be shared with other schools.
We expect that the autonomy created by the 30-60-90 grants will spur innovation in teacher leadership. In the interest of making these stories of challenges and successes easily applicable to other schools across the state, we believe each applicant should be asked to explain how their project aligns with the seven domains of the NEA Teacher Leader Model Standards. This alignment will provide some basic guidelines that will reassure teachers who might be intimidated by too vague an application process; it will also help the selection team evaluate applications and provide an organization system for completed projects when they are shared for other teachers to access. Of course, we recognize that part of what makes teacher leaders so effective is their willingness to think outside the box. Therefore, if applicants have innovative ideas which do not fit neatly into these categories, they should still be encouraged to apply, and given an opportunity to explain how the project demonstrates effective teacher leadership.
We are excited about the potential of individual grant amounts in the range of $5,000-10,000 to motivate educators to apply and enable significant projects to be carried out. However, we also recommend that the typical grant size be slightly smaller, thereby increasing the number of overall grants and the potential scope of innovation.
As teachers will ultimately be the focus of this grant and the work carried out, we recommend that the committee reviewing applications be composed of a diverse group of practicing teachers. They will bring to the table practical understanding of how projects will impact learning communities and lead to improved outcomes for students. Our group of Policy Fellows would look forward to an opportunity to serve in this capacity, as we are enthusiastic about ensuring this project is successful in expanding teacher leadership across Illinois.
At the conclusion of each grant period, results should be publicly available on the ISBE website, along with contextual information about the school and the problem of practice identified in the application. This will allow for other teachers across the state to learn from the successes and challenges of completed grants, and build on successful ideas by trying new approaches in their own schools.
We are very excited about this new opportunity for Illinois teachers, and are eager to partner with ISBE in further developing or providing feedback on the application, promoting the grants through teacher leader networks, assisting with the selection process, and helping to analyze and evaluate the results as projects are completed.
Teach Plus Policy Fellows
Signers of the Letter:
Jacob Carlson, Bethalto Community Unit District 8
Bill Curtin, NBCT, Carbondale Community High School District 165
Jesse Faber, Pontiac Township High School District 90
Amanda Kirshner, NBCT, Chicago Public School District 299
Jessica Kwasny, Park Ridge-Niles School District 64
Amber Owens, NBCT, Champaign Unit 4 Schools