Sonoma County Office of Education

Learning Bulletin

This page features stories of school districts or SCOE teams engaged in deep, ongoing work to improve school systems and outcomes for students..

Developing Teacher Leaders Across a School System

Date: 09/25/2019
Author: Jamie Hansen


Teacher leadership is critical to a strong school system and positive outcomes for students. Recognizing this, Cloverdale Unified School District (CUSD) recently partnered with the Sonoma County Office of Education and the Center for Educational Leadership to build the capacity of their teachers. 


The Center for Educational Leadership helps districts and schools create a culture of learning and support for teachers to excel, so that students, in turn, can have great learning experiences. CUSD chose to focus on how to improve student engagement through strong teacher leadership. Student engagement had already been a focus of the district’s improvement efforts, from building a state-of-the-art makerspace to implementing project-based learning.


Student engagement is one of CEL’s five dimensions of teaching and learning, along with purpose, curriculum and pedagogy, assessment for student learning, and classroom environment and culture. More information is available here.


One approach Cloverdale took to enhance student engagement throughout the school system was classroom walkthroughs. The goal was to develop a shared understanding of student engagement trends not only at one school site, but across the whole school district. Teams of teachers and administrators came together from the district’s elementary, middle, and high school, as well as the district office, to participate. 

Two teachers from each school site participated.  Teams took turns visiting each teacher’s classroom to observe how students reacted to various instructional strategies. They then shared what seemed to resonate most with students in debriefs that were intended to be non-judgmental and strengths-based. 


Dr. Susan Yakich, principal at Jefferson Elementary said, “Teaching can be a very isolating profession. Any time we can offer teachers opportunities to observe one another in the classroom is a win-win for everyone."


Chris Meredith, principal at Cloverdale High School, appreciated that the walkthroughs were structured in a way that was meant to provide meaningful, reflective data without putting teachers on the spot.


“It helped alleviate anxiety for our teachers that the focus of the walk-throughs was on the students and how they responded to the instruction, rather than the instruction itself,” he said.


Ben West, a social studies teacher at Cloverdale High School, said that the visits to elementary and middle school classrooms helped him understand where his older students were coming from. He said that it was nerve-wracking at first to think of having a large group visit his classroom, but he was reassured when he saw how constructive the walkthroughs were for other teachers. 


When the teams came to visit his class to observe students engaged in an economics project, their feedback helped reinforce the importance of allowing students to follow their own interests and develop their projects around that.


Mr. West said that he also appreciated the sense of connection that developed across school sites around the common theme of student engagement: “What I got out of this was the way it built continuity within the district.”