In 2005, CTQ launched Achieving School Success through Empowering Teachers (ASSET) to address the challenging issue of reducing teacher turnover in high-needs schools. Initially targeting select middle schools in Orange County and Wake County, NC, the overall goal of ASSET is to implement new models of distributed leadership in order to improve teacher retention and student achievement in schools throughout the region.
Read Leadership through PLCs, the culminating report on ASSET's work, in a multimedia format with accompanying podcasts.
As the ASSET initiative has progressed, CTQ leveraged the thinking of forward-looking researchers to address the challenges that arise with transforming any school culture, particularly cultures in high-needs schools. In a recent concept paper, Ken Futernick (2007) draws on Malcolm Gladwell’s (2002) “tipping point” concepts as the basis of a turnaround strategy for low-performing schools. Based on a range of sound and compelling data, the California State-Sacramento professor suggests that if teachers were offered the right kind of administrative, community, and collegial support, then a school transformation process could be jump-started. The ASSET project seeks to provide just such a spark by increasing schools’ capacities in several key areas that Futernick identifies as critical for transformation:
Teacher teams that can spread teaching expertise;
Teacher autonomy and shared governance designed to create ownership and commitment for necessary reforms; and
School leadership that knows how to build learning organizations and is rewarded for doing so.
A critical strategy in the ASSET development was to initiate and grow these skill sets through a virtual learning community. The virtual nature of the new ASSET Online community, now hosted through the Teacher Leaders Network, allowed for external support to develop teachers’ leadership knowledge and skills and to promote a long-term, sustained network for mutual support and capacity-building in influencing whole-school reform through PLCs. A two-fold strategy was implemented for building this network. Intense one-on-one work by external facilitators was provided to teachers designated as PLC Fellows, a group initially comprised of one teacher from each participating school. These PLC Fellows are responsible for working with their colleagues, including other ASSET team members, to support efforts to effectively implement PLCs. The second strategy is to connect all teachers at the schools who are interested in joining the virtual learning community via ASSET Online. The PLC Fellows together with their ASSET Online colleagues can form the critical mass of invested educators necessary to initiate a “tipping point” for transformation in their school environments. As one ASSET member describes, personal transformation of teacher leaders is at the heart of this school improvement:
I appreciate the enthusiasm for education that the ASSET Online members have spread throughout our community. They are exceptionally supportive and ready to help. They have modeled the importance of a positive, problem-solving attitude when taking on a leadership role. In turn, this has helped me to communicate better with my colleagues when they voice frustrations or concerns. The exposure to resources, theories, and sources has also improved my leadership. Simply through gaining knowledge, I feel that I am a more competent leader.