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TNLI: Action Research: Teacher Leadership in School Change: Community of Voices Essential in Whole School Change

by Berta Berriz
AUGUST, 1997

Policy Recommendations for a Community of Voices in the 21st Century School Reform Process
21st Century School Communities Response to Questionnaires
Site Visit: W. Haywood Burns School : Child Centered Education
Final Thoughts on Democracy and Teachers Voices
Appendix 1
Appendix 2

"Whether we invest in and nurture our system of public education, or starve and dismantle it in the name of reform, may be the most defining public policy issue we face as a nation"1

The Massachusetts Educational Reform Act was signed into law by Governor William Weld on June 18, 1993 to increase the level of state aid to under-funded school systems in the state. Almost immediately, old controversies resurfaced: could under performing public schools be salvaged by the injection of new aid, or would increased funding merely throw good money after bad?

Today, four years later, the story of mismanaged funds in the Lawrence Public Schools seems to support the latter argument. Lawrence illustrates, at the very least, that money is not enough. In contrast to the Lawrence experience, the hard work of teachers, students and families has been credited for successes in Holyoke and Worcester; suggesting "that more state financing can go hand in hand with student achievement."2

Significantly, the three communities share similar social and economic characteristics and faced severe disparities in funding, yet achieved dramatically divergent outcomes. Urban areas across the state are experiencing rapid and dramatic change. This funding was earmarked specifically for systems serving predominantly low-income, often minority, and increasingly non-English-speaking families.

Boston has not been spared from this trend, boasting a school population of some 80 percent non-white, with recent immigrants comprising, perhaps, two-thirds of this number.

This paper argues that school reform must be driven by more than funding opportunities. "Adequate resources are a prerequisite to better schools. But we also need to link money to a reinvigorated vision of schooling."3 In order for reform to produce positive educational outcomes for all children, it must adhere to guiding principles that value children and provide a structure ensuring democracy in the process of implementing change.

The Boston Plan for Excellence initiative offers 21st Century Grants to schools engaged in the process of whole school change. The five year process is based on a central strategy of investing in people, building commitment and leadership skills. The change process is guided by a Leadership Team which may include the school administrator, teachers, parents and community members. The Leadership Team (LT) has the authority to make decisions that meet the mandates of the 21st Century process. Each school defines its mission and goals and can use the resources offered by the Boston Plan to achieve transformation. There are no guidelines that prescribe size, composition or describes the relation of the leadership team to its stakeholders.

The reform process proposed by 21st Century Schools initiative requires a consensus-based decision process, however, there is very little in the conventional school culture that prepares us to function in democratic ways. The traditional decision making hierarchy constitutes a structural and ideological barrier to equal participation by all stakeholders. Moreover, there are currently no structures in place that encourage the critical exchange of ideas, or protect teachers from the excesses of traditional school hierarchies.

Policy Recommendations for a Community of Voices in the 21st Century School Reform Process

  1. Clearly define the Leadership Team, its authority, composition and its relation its stakeholders.
  2. Strengthen consensus-based decision making process with on-going; on-site skill building.
  3. Level the governance hierarchy to include teacher leaders as equal partners in all decision making processes.
  4. Broaden opportunities for all adults in the educational community to participate with students on a regular basis such as teaching a class on a regular basis or taking responsibility for an advisory group.
  5. Provide a range of options for teachers, administrators and other staff to engage in and be responsible for changing their school such as: study groups, classroom based research projects.
Community Of Voices Essential In Whole School Change is an action based participatory research project within the IMPACT II National Teacher Policy Institute. We are part of a national network working to enhance teachers' skills and knowledge to affect educational policy. This questionnaire focuses on teachers' voice and stockholders' participation in the 21St Century Schools reform process.

This research consists of a: (1) a questionnaire surveying the opinions of constituents in seven schools receiving 21st Century School Grants; (2) personal observation as a leadership team member; and, (3) site visits to the Haywood Burns School and PS 321 in New York City. This research also suggests areas for further study and policy recommendations.

21st Century School Communities Response to Questionnaires
Four hundred questionnaires were distributed to seven schools involved in the 21st Century school reform process. Questionnaires were sent to principals with a cover letter describing the rationale of the research project and requesting distribution to members of the school's LT and other appropriate staff.

Sixty-one questionnaires were returned, representing 15% of the original sample. Of these respondents, 33% identified themselves as members of the LT, and 66% as non-members-overwhelmingly teaching staff. The numbers and the responses of this non-member group may point to a sense of disenfranchisement that will adversely affect change initiated by the LT. Despite their central role in the process, responses from principals were conspicuously absent.

Questions were framed to address such key variables measuring organizational effectiveness as:

  1. levels of individual participation and influence in the framing of issues and priorities [2]
  2. the decision-making method and the dynamics of democracy and inclusiveness [3]
  3. specific areas of perceived agreement [3a]
  4. the dynamics of trust and group solidarity in the problem-solving process [4]
  5. an assessment of the usefulness of resources [5]
  6. anticipated impact on the roles, relationships and expectations of major stakeholders [6]
  7. training and development needs [7]4
An overview of responses suggests that the inclusion of teachers voices in decision making is the major area of weakness in school change. Indeed, the uniformly weak application of a consensus-building process was noted by a majority of respondents, with 83% indicating dissatisfaction with their level of influence in the process and 92% questioning the validity of subsequent decisions [Quest. #2 and 3].
"The principal views questioning issues, process or ideas during Leadership Team meetings as disrespectful and inappropriate behavior for a teacher. "
Written responses to shared goals [Quest. #3a] demonstrates the apparent absence of a unifying purpose. Discipline was the only goal cited more than once by respondents.

In assessing the effectiveness of the LTs as structures for democratic participation [Quest. #4], the majority (92%) clustered at the low end of the rating scale, many spoke to fears of exposing themselves to criticism, or challenging others.

"Paper first/children last. I have seen what happens to colleagues if they speak their ideas at leadership team meetings. I go less often and seldom speak." The six-hour discussion of the selection of a coach revealed that consensus style decision making was not well understood by the L.T. The Principal's definition of the appropriate roles and relationship of teacher and administrator in leading by consensus was summed up as: "The bottom line is that the coach that we select today has to work with me. I hear your opinions, but I will make the final decision."
Responses to Quest. #5, regarding the usefulness of resources offered through the grant, indicate that the resources do not directly meet the needs of the teachers. For the bilingual schools, for example, the pool of approved coaches offered no one experienced in bilingual education.

Moreover, 75% of respondents felt that this reform effort would have little long term effect.

"There are a series of inequities in our school that will never be solved until or unless we get serious and honest. Racism is rampant ... The children are the ones who lose."
Questions are raised by this research that have direct implications for policy. Systemic problems need to be addressed by policy actions. What are the critical elements for consensus in the school reform process? It is critical that the change process include a real exchange of ideas of diverse voices of the school community and the expressed genuine consent of the constituents. What structures are in place to ensure equity and broad participation on the Leadership Team? How does the Leadership Team legitimately represent its constituency? What mechanisms promote accountably among professionals?

Consensus cannot be a product of decision-making in an oppressive environment. Valuable teacher input may be lost due to fear of reprisals to teachers and their students. Workshops on team building offered by the Boston Plan require additional technical assistance, in creating the kinds of supportive structures and accountability measures at the school site to be effective. A constructive school climate and the possibility for change are limited unless the obstacles to consensus building are addressed.

Site Visit: W. Haywood Burns School : Child Centered Education
Heights /Inwood Section of Manhattan

"I stepped back a long time ago. Teachers lead. I understand that this school will only go as far as teachers are willing to take it. They are not alone. Families, students, teachers and the community play an interconnected role."
Principal of the W. Haywood Burns School

At the W. Haywood Burns School, students, parents, teachers and administrators and other school community members work within a flattened hierarchy to support the engagement of students. This means that even a person like Gwen Clinkscales, who is a Teacher-Director of the middle school and the school wide Mathematics Coordinator, must teach or act as an Advisor. This is done so that a closeness can develop with a small group of students. As that relationship develops, a better understanding of what engages students evolves.

The W. Haywood Burns School is named for a person who modeled active engagement and academic excellence. He was a civil rights lawyer active in the struggle for oppressed people world wide. The students here are involved in modeling their lives after this great person by being excellent in academics and active in the struggle for their rights. When addressing a problem students are asked to respond to this question: What would Haywood Burns do? The school is a tribute to W. Haywood Burns and the parents and community activists engaged in its creation for over five years.

A delegation of teachers from the Leadership Team arrived to the teachers' meeting room. Three sixth graders were using the teachers table, documenting their first year in a scrap book. On a previous visit these same children were testing vegetarian family recipes to improve their school lunch menu. In a child centered school, children are using the resources of the school to assess and improve their own educational environment.

Later that day, in the same room, teachers met. A team of teachers was reviewing the literacy plan that they had created for implementation the following year. The team included special education teacher, classroom teachers and a lead teachers. The discussion aired questions and concerns. There was expressed interest in different points of view regarding accountability for the plan. Consensus was reached. They made a decision to support their literacy focus by creating a study group. They would read, discuss and conduct classroom based research projects. In this child centered environment the focus for building literacy in Spanish is not on methodology but on consent. How are we going to create an environment that makes children want to learn Spanish?

A community group eager to provide resources to children in the school was discussing with teachers how they could work together on a Community Service Learning Project. As teachers connected ideas to the curriculum, a plan was designed with enthusiasm. Community resources came directly to the teachers. All decisions were made by them on behalf of the students they teach. Consensus in decision making strengthens teacher support of one another for challenging efforts that they themselves initiate. Ownership, trust, accountability exists among respected teacher leaders.

In the child centered classroom the teacher is instructing half the class (classroom size 30) while the others played a math game in pairs. The transition from the group class to the pairs activity did not go smoothly. Students were asked for suggestions on how to improve the transition. Two ideas from students were implemented. The children were now engaged in making the transition go smoothly. And, so it did.

Children whose Community Service Learning Project involved learning to give tours of the school, were proud as they explained the diverse programs within the school and showed us the new building. We saw children reading in the stairwell, others working on projects in the halls. We saw children asking other children to stop running in the hall. The school truly belonged to them. They, like the teachers, feel respected, have ownership, and are accountable to one another.

Final Thoughts on Democracy and Teachers Voices
Teachers voices in the 21st Century schools are warning us: A democratic process cannot be superimposed on the traditionally hierarchical school structures which prohibit genuine engagement. Consensus is the highest form of democratic leadership. Principals and teachers need to learn new roles in order to be effective advocates for students. Healthy school communities that impart ownership, respect and accountability to all stakeholders are key for success of any school reform effort. Tough questions must be asked openly; structures that value teachers must be imbedded in the culture of the schools in order for reform efforts to manifest in the classroom. Listen to the voices of teachers in 21st Century Schools, and ask yourself, What would Haywood Burns do?


Bilkien, Sari Knopp. School Work: Gender and the cultural construction of teaching. Teachers College Press. New York. 1995.

Carnegie Foundation for the advancement of Teaching. Report Card on School Reform: Teachers speak. Princeton, N.J. 1988.

Carlson, Dennis. Teacher and Crisis: Urban school reform and teachers' work culture. Routledge, New York. 1992.

Comer, James, et. al. Rallying the Whole Village: The comer process for reforming education. Teachers College Press. 1996.

Frazier, Calvin M. A Shared Vision: Policy recommendations for linking Teacher Education to school reform. Education Commission of the States. Denver, Colorado. 1993.

Greenawalt, Charles. Educational Innovation: An agenda to frame the future. University Press of America. commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives. Lanham, Md. 1993

Hargraves, Andy, editor. Rethinking Educational Change with Heart and Mind. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 1997.

Hong, Larraine. Surviving School Reform: A year in the life of one school. Teachers College Press. New York. 1996

Karp, Stan, et. al. Funding Should Be Tied to a New Vision of Schooling in Funding for Justice: Money Equity and the Future of Public Education. A Rethinking Schools Publication, Milwaukee, WI. 1997.

Rousmaniere, Kate. City Teachers: Teaching and School Reform in Historical Perspective. Teachers College Press. New York. 1997. Carnegie Foundation for the advancement of Teaching.

Schein, Edgar H. Process Consultation: Its Role in Organizational Development. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. Ma. 1969.

Striar, Myles D. Theories of School Reform and Organizational Change: Some implications for teachers. Harvard University. Cambridge, Ma. 1976.

Wasley, Patricia A. Stirring the Chalkdust: Tales of teachers changing classroom practice. Teachers College Press. New York. 1994.

Appendix 1

21st Century School Communities Response to Questionnaires

Responses are highlighted in bold print underneath the actual question. ( ) Brackets next to sentences indicate check marks made be respondents. All comments are reported verbatim as they appear on questionnaires.

Respondents 15% of the 400 or 61 questionnaires returned
1. What is your role in the school reform process?

[ ] principal [ ] teacher [ ] member of Leadership Team [ ] other staff [ ] parent [ ] other___________

33% Teacher Members of Leadership Teams
66% Teachers not on the Leadership Teams

2. How is your voice included in the definition of what your school needs in order to achieve whole school change?

Poor 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Good 83% poor 8% median 8% good A few people dominate. (20)
I do not feel my voice is heard (10 wrote in one person dominates) (15)
All ideas are listened to.(5)
My voice is included.(5)

3. Was the process of consensus building used to decide on the goals for whole school change?

Poor 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Good 92% poor 8% good

Goals were decided by part of the group. (25)
Consensus sought and tested. Differences appreciated and used to improve decision. Decisions fully supported.(2)
Others uncommitted. (10)

3a What are the shared goals that you see for whole school change?
Team teaching, discipline, unclear, equality for all teachers, racism, children first, literacy in English (good foundation in Spanish), improve two-way program, clear action plan for discipline, improve school climate, none, we are building a focus, accreditation,

4. How do Leadership Team meetings foster open expression of ideas?

Poor 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Good 92% poor 8% #4 Members are guarded and are afraid to criticize or to be criticized (35)

Members trust one another. They respect and use the responses they get. (3)
They can freely express negative reactions without fearing reprisals.
People act like there are no problems. Members are chosen by principal.

5. Do the resources offered through the grant meet the needs of the teaching staff?

Poor 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Good poor 84% 10% #4&5 1% good Comments: Met with coach 3 times to look at one piece of student work, no known resources offered
Resources do not directly meet the need of the teaching staff. (22)

Resources directly meet the needs of our teaching staff. (1)

6. Looking at the big picture, how do you envision the effect of this reform process on your students, the whole school and its place in the community over the long term?

Poor 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Good poor 75% 15% #8,9,10 good problems are hidden, "preferred teachers" exempt from team work, hide the truth
Members of the school community continue to operate routinely. (8)

Members of the school community are flexible; seeking new and better
Persons are stereotyped and rigid ways. Individuals are supported. in their roles. No progress. (12)
Creativity shows in the classroom and in supportive community participation.

7. What kind of professional development do you think teachers need, principals and the community needs in order to be able to be successful players in the process of whole school change?

Please site examples below and feel free to add any additional comments. Excellent communication is the key to success in any school. When people work together, share, listen, and feel safe offering information, schools can move forward. As they move forward, they must remember to celebrate their accomplishments as they evaluate and decide upon their next steps.

Principal surrounds ( )self with supporters. None of them are classroom teachers yet they make all of the decisions and get all of the privileges.

Expectations and products need to be explained more clearly, curriculum needed to help us achieve our goals, coaching in this area would be helpful.

Schools need leadership from a principal who is well experienced in teaching; knows what works to improve student and teacher performance; who will listen to suggestions; is open-minded without racial and cultural bias. Teachers need to be allowed to express their needs and opinions without fear.

Teachers need time to examine programs and methods which are effective. The principal needs to listen to the concerns of teachers and parents and act in a way that shows respect for the ideas of others. Nothing will work if we don't have support in trying new things. Also, we need discipline and consequences for students who constantly disrupt classes. Paper first/ children last. I have seen what happens to colleagues if they speak their ideas at leadership team meetings. I go less often and seldom speak.

There are a few of us who want to change the school. Many do not want to change. Leadership Team members are chosen by the principal.

There are a series of inequities in our school that will never be solved until or unless we get serious and honest. Racism is rampant. Some "in crowd" teachers get more than the rest of us. Some teachers have computers that belong to the school at there houses! They are never brought to the school. This is robbery. The children are the ones who lose. There are a few of us who will not let this fall be the way side. We will fight for the children, for ourselves and for our school. But, we need help.

The principal views questioning issues, process or ideas during Leadership Team meetings as disrespectful and inappropriate behavior for a teacher.

No change. Principal surrounds self with "yes people". No value for good teachers who fight for quality education for students and respect for families and teachers. Children loose again. Principal looks good on paper.

Discipline and managing behaviors in the classroom (ADD)
Handling responsibilities-necessary steps and forms (attendance issues, physical, emotional, sexual abuse)

Making connections and communication (between grade level teachers, specialists, principal and teacher's roles- parents/teachers relations)
Organizational skills-maintaining records and communications with school personnel and parents regarding individual student needs. This includes students on all levels in various subjects, students with second language needs, students with family issues, new students with connections to counseling, health and academic services already implemented at prior school, Sped students' needs, including those who are mainstreamed during the school year. All of the above should be mandatory for provisional teachers. "BPS The Lead Teacher" Spring newsletter states in an article entitled: Why Mentoring? "Nationally 50% of new teachers in urban school systems quit the profession for ever after a year or two."

I am in my fourth year, and I have yet to be informed of a mentor. Where is the support? I believe it is a sink or swim attitude.

For student success: block time for reading, block time for math: school wide with administrator supervision

Consistency in teaching subjects everyday

second language acquisition, cooperative discipline strategies, teaching within a multicultural context, Curriculum materials that will support our specific goals, "Best Practices" professional development, flexible grouping for reading and language arts instruction, consensus building skills, school wide program to instill values, respect and responsibility in students, look at other two-way programs

more time to discuss, explore and exchange ideas, more outside resources to come to our school to talk about issues

Two-way workshops, Planning for two-way, ordering for two-way, human relationships all are ignored and need to be addressed for school change

Project based learning methodology, alternative assessment support, common planning time

Community Service Learning, Literacy Issues, Instructional Strategies, School to Career Methodology, Block Scheduling

Appendix 2

21st Century School Visits - New York City Schools
Haywood Burns/ Child Centered Education - Gwendolyn Clinkscales

We arrived to the teachers meeting room. Three sixth graders are using the table. They are writing for their scrap book about the year. One of the students remembers me from the time that I visited them when they were trying out family recipes in order to improve vegetarian entrees to their school lunches.

When students encounter a problem they are asked to consider: "What would Haywood Burns do?" Haywood Burns was a community activist who participated in the writing of the South Africa Constitution.

On the wall are cards with student names, ethnicity, level, instrument they play in the band. Cards are a collaborative work in progress, visible to all teachers and students in the school.

In the 3/4 language classroom students are using Spanish and English interchangeably. Teacher (Cara) speaks in English interspersed with some Spanish in a personal way (not instructional). Teacher is Anglo and speaks Spanish well.

In this child centered classroom the teacher was instructing half the class while the others played a math game in pairs. The instruction involved directions for creating "Shape Cases" out of paper for three dimensional blocks.

Transition: "Hands free, eyes on me" Students made suggestions as to how the transition could be improved. It took a little longer, but the student recommendation to call the pairs more slowly to give them a chance to get settled before the next pair was called worked for a smoother transition.

Tour of the school by three students. Their CSL work included learning to give tours. Children took us to meet the principal. She waved the students in with a friendly smile while she was on the phone and had a file on her lap. Though the principal had heard of our visit, she was not compelled to control it.


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