“What do you do?” Ashley Clark had always answered this common question with “I’m a teacher.” Clark has experience across the elementary grades, teaching prekindergarten, third grade, and fifth grade. However, when her district was selected to participate in the Texas Teacher Incentive Fund project, she had the opportunity to expand her definition of what she does as a teacher by taking on the role of a collaborative learning facilitator (CLF), leading job-embedded professional development for her colleagues through the weekly collaborative learning community (CLC) meetings. She became a teacher leader, teaching students within the classroom while opening up her classroom to teachers across the school so they could watch her model instructional practices.
After a year as the CLF, Clark was selected as the school’s collaborative learning leader (CLL). Clark’s new job included several tasks that called on her to learn fresh skills. Clark said there was “definitely a transition from being in the classroom to out of the classroom. It pushed me into a different mind-set.” She began to oversee all CLFs at her school, taking ownership for the outcomes of the all CLCs in the school, acting as the liaison between the administration and teachers, and rating educators through evaluations from McREL.
As CLL, Clark is an instructional coach who can now mentor and coach teachers. She said, “It’s something that I really love. I love the coaching aspect, and I love meeting with teachers one-on-one, getting to know them, and learning from each other. I get to learn from every teacher. It’s helped me to be not only a better coach, but also a better teacher.” In a typical day, Clark spends her time “meeting with teachers and planning, meeting with administration, teaching a small group class, co-teaching with a couple of teachers, and modeling lessons if needed.” She said that supporting teachers is “really valuable, and supporting them in their first year, especially, is really important.”
That support extends further than the first few years of teaching within the teacher leadership model. As Clark points out, “Often, teachers don’t want coaching because they feel like it’s seen as a weakness. But if it’s a great coach-teacher model, it’s about growth and what we do is dialogue here. It’s between us to help better you.” She says it takes time to open that dialogue between teacher and teacher leaders, and it takes great mentors, but the school community does begin to “trust that it’s going to be here to help you grow.”