Rethinking Teacher Leadership, Learning, and Professional Development

By Scott Shinn, Middle School Math and Science Teacher

An essential pathway for a teacher-leader to exercise leadership is the practice of turn-keying.

Turn-keying means training teachers to master pedagogy and elevate the art of teaching. The relationship between teacher and student is reciprocal in nature. In education, when the teacher is the learner, the learning becomes not only a refreshing change of perspective but also a chance to see his or her teaching from the eyes of their students. Education, as an endeavor, is not alone in training employees: dentistry, medicine, and law, are fields keeping abreast of cutting edge techniques to improve their respective fields. Our fundamental question becomes: how many staff members can we train with turn-keying and how quickly can we positively impact our students?

The catalyst to drive turn-keying starts with high quality professional development.

The baseline to high-quality professional development begins with meeting student needs. Once that benchmark is met, we must reflectively question as we’re learning: how well will our students respond to what we’ve learned and are now sharing with them? Does the vitality of what we’re teaching provide fruit for special education students? Is it a motivator for my advanced students? Are we robustly maintaining and enhancing the district curriculum and state and national standards?

At a recent professional development experience, one of the first tasks involved the use of a mathematics clothesline. The goal was to place fractions and decimal values in a specific order. I thought of my 7th graders enjoying an aspect sometimes marginalized in mathematics: movement. Immediately, my colleague and I grew excited about this inexpensive application in our classroom. The speaker provided experiences, resources, strategies, and motivators for effective teaching practices. We needed to turn-key this information to our students and our colleagues. Turn-keying was non-negotiable: as teacher-leaders, to not share this valuable information was to commit educational malpractice on our colleagues and student community.

First, we began to implement the strategies and resources in our own classrooms. We monitored student interest, interaction and effort during implementation. A critical point came to our attention during reflection after initial implementation: how well were we transferring and transforming what we learned at professional development so it was congruent with our classroom needs and individual teaching styles? How would our colleagues digest and implement this information in their own practices? In my opinion, many educators feel intimidated to not deviate from whatever prescribed methodology is presented at professional development. However, as teacher-leaders turn-keying the professional development process to transform learning experiences, we need to blend our personality and personal experiences with the professional development information acquired. It’s his or her schemata that balances the art and science of teacher practice during the professional development implementation process.

The most important theme my colleague and I shared during our implementation process was evaluating our mindset. How did we seize the professional development and turn-keying opportunities to use them for essential growth? In addition, how did we apply these two ideas with alacrity?

After we tested, implemented, and reviewed strategies learned, our next questions became: How do we best share this information with the staff? As we know from Bloom’s Taxonomy, the highest level of learning isn’t application, but mastery. As teacher-leaders, our main objective is to use game-changing professional development to create a culture of school improvement benefiting student learning.

The teacher leader should become the catalyst for the proper application of professional development. It is simply not enough to attend professional development or give a synopsis of what he or she learned at a seminar or meeting. A teacher leader knows staff and student needs and how to best take concepts learned and steadfastly turnkey them in order to create student growth. A small but strong willed group of educators can improve circumstance in the form of bettering opportunity for teachers and growth for students.


Scott Shinn holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts from Widener University. In addition, he holds a Masters in Educational Leadership from Delaware Valley College. He has been teaching math and science at Tabernacle Public Schools since 2002.


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