Feb 21 2019

The Instructional Leadership Corps: Entrusting Professional Learning in the Hands of the Profession

  The ILC gave teachers a renewed sense of collegiality, purpose, and common mission that reaffirmed their professional identity, kept them engaged in their work, and gave them a sense of responsibility that extended well beyond their individual classrooms.

The Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC) is an innovative professional learning network in which teacher leaders in California collaborate and support their colleagues in developing teaching strategies and practices aligned with new content standards. Over more than 4 years, 100,000 teachers have participated in conferences and trainings, with overwhelmingly positive responses.

This study describes how the ILC has changed the professional development landscape in four districts, offering lessons about how teacher-led learning can motivate shifts in practice, enhance teachers’ professionalism and efficacy, and create supportive systems and strategic relationships that can sustain change.

The ILC changes the paradigm for teacher learning from one dependent on outside consultants, who often conduct one-time workshops, to one that engages local professionals who have been trained and supported to lead ongoing learning within their own districts—and, in many cases, to carry that learning to other schools and districts in their regions.

Over only 4 years, the more than 250 teachers and administrators who comprise the ILC have served more than 100,000 California educators through a professional learning approach that supports school-based learning, develops additional teacher leaders, builds instructional leadership among administrators, and has begun to strengthen the capacity of schools and districts in California to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards are moving instruction away from a lecture-oriented curriculum that often features scripted lessons and multiple-choice tests toward one based on developing higher-order thinking skills through student inquiry and problem-solving.

Such a shift requires major transformations in how teachers learn and teach, necessitating coherent, high-quality professional development. Implementing these changes across California—a large state serving a diverse and high-need student population, and one that has experienced significant teacher shortages—poses considerable challenges that the ILC was formed to address.

This report describes the work of the ILC and dives deep into the work taking place in Madera Unified School District, Conejo Valley Unified School District, The East Side Alliance, and North Orange County/Fullerton. It discusses program design, impacts on teaching and learning, and lessons learned. The authors found that, “The ILC gave teachers a renewed sense of collegiality, purpose, and common mission that reaffirmed their professional identity, kept them engaged in their work, and gave them a sense of responsibility that extended well beyond their individual classrooms.”

Lessons Learned

Teachers value professional learning led by their colleagues.

Teachers expressed their unconditional preference for learning from and with their colleagues, reporting that teacher leaders were attentive to local needs; attuned to the specific implementation challenges facing teachers in their districts; and more accessible for follow-up questions, advice, and support.

ILC membership enhances teacher leaders’ professionalism and sense of efficacy.

Beyond the effect on teachers’ work in their home districts, creating and leading professional learning for colleagues was highly beneficial for the ILC teacher leaders. Broadening their professional reach beyond their classrooms, they strengthened their leadership skills as they initiated innovative activities and solidified professional relationships. ILC members were proud of their work and accomplishments, and empowering the profession was a frequent theme in the teacher interviews.

Supportive structural arrangements foster instructional change.

Adoption of CCSS and NGSS required curricular and pedagogical shifts that were ambitious, profound, and demanding. Moving from scripted curriculum and pacing guides to planning lessons with engaging learning activities could not happen quickly or effortlessly. The shifts in instruction necessitated changes in instructional leadership and teaching evaluations. To align with more student-paced learning, administrators had to shift how they conducted classroom observations and provided feedback to teachers. Given their role in allocating resources and acting as instructional leaders, school and district administrators must be aware of and involved in sustained changes in instruction. More time and opportunities for professional collaboration were critical to implementing instructional changes. ILC teachers and their colleagues needed time and material resources to plan lessons, observe each other’s classrooms, analyze the work of their students, and discuss and reflect together on their experiences. Teachers had more opportunities to do so when administrators at the school and district levels provided resources and built structures that allowed and supported collegial collaboration.

Systematic follow-up contributes to implementation of instructional shifts.

Lasting changes in pedagogy are more likely to occur when teachers can try new strategies, receive feedback, address challenges in implementation, and iteratively improve over the course of multiple workshops, with advisors and coaches at hand. Frequency and quality of the follow-up opportunities are indispensable.

Strategic relationships support deeper, more widespread professional learning.

ILC teacher leaders gained the greatest traction when they were able to build relationships with district administrators, teachers associations, county offices of education, universities, and philanthropic organizations. Partnerships with these institutions supported content alignment and leveraged financial and logistical resources at the local level. As mutual trust developed, districts and teachers associations were increasingly willing to contribute financial resources, support, and logistical assistance. ILC teams were more successful when they connected to organizations and institutions that recognized the inherent value of their work and were willing and able to provide support and resources.


The Instructional Leadership Corps: Entrusting Professional Learning in the Hands of the Profession​ by Rachel A. Lotan, Dion Burns, and Linda Darling-Hammond is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Funding for this project was provided by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is provided by the Sandler Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. We are grateful for their contributions. This work does not represent the opinions of these or any other supporting organizations.