Teacher Career Pathways on the Rise

By Ruth Jones and Lorin King

As teachers of six plus years, we want to develop as a professionals without necessarily leaving our amazing students.  What is out there for us?

Teacher leadership models are being created across the nation as districts and Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) look for ways to professionalize teaching and encourage retention.  During our research through the GO Public Schools’ Teacher Policy Fellowship, we encountered several models that provide career pathway options for educators.  We studied the following educational organizations:  Baltimore Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, District of Columbia Public Schools, Denver Unified, San Jose Unified, and Project L.I.F.T. (associated with Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District).

How are these models organized?

In analyzing the data we found two distinct models: Ladder and Non Ladder.  


The Ladder model of teacher leadership has a progressive approach to providing leadership opportunities.  This means that teacher leaders begin in one role and progress to the next. A great ladder model is District of Columbia Public Schools.  In this district teachers begin in a role labeled Teacher, then as they meet certain requirements they can proceed to the next level called Established Teacher.  They have 5 different levels you can aspire to reach.

What We Like

  • A ladder system is clear and easy to roll out across several schools.
  • There are clear expectations of roles, requirements to apply, and compensation.

What We Wonder

  • There is not a lot of flexibility to create a leadership role that fulfills a specific need at a school site.
  • If you are veteran, established teacher can you move from one role to another because of a life change?  In making that switch, does a pay cut come with it?


The basic difference between a Non-Ladder and a Ladder model for career pathways is that Non-Ladder models offer teacher leadership positions that are separate from one another.  When a leadership position is offered it is specific to the needs of an individual site or district.  Each leadership role has its own application process and requirements.   This type of model comes from a place where there has been a need identified and a role created to meet that need.  

Project L.I.F.T. working in collaboration with Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district created two leadership roles that are separate from one another:  Multi-Classroom Leaders and Reach teachers.  These two roles are dynamic in that they offer administrators and teachers options within the realm of each role.  A Reach teacher can be teacher who uses technology to meet the needs of more students or a teacher who works in collaboration with another teacher in order to provide greater differentiation for their students.

What We Like

  • The roles are flexible and independent of one another.  This helps school sites mold that role to fit the needs of their school.
  • The application process, requirements, compensation and job descriptions are clear.  

What We Wonder

  • Once you leave a role for a life change, the compensation leaves with it.
  • Can this model work well in large districts with strong unions and collective bargaining agreements?  Will it work with a step and column compensation model?

What roles are offered?

Many of the teacher leadership roles fall into the categories of curriculum development, coaching, community engagement, administration, technology and professional development. Districts across the nation are creating roles within these categories to meet the needs of their community. D.C. Public Schools has a model where teachers can apply for a teacher leadership position in which the responsibility varies depending on the grade level. For example, a teacher leader at the elementary level can serve as a core subject content leader or a leader in early childhood education or school culture. At the high school level, the teacher leaders for core subjects are the department chairs or a high school teacher can apply to be a leader for Special Education or school culture. The most important feature of the teacher leadership roles we researched is that they are hybrid roles. That is, teachers are still in the classroom but spend part of their time working in a leadership capacity. Some districts have been able to work out release time for teacher leaders to fulfill their additional responsibilities.

What is best for Oakland?  What would type of structure would make you the most excited to stay teaching in Oakland?

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