Career Pathways Let Top HISD Teachers Lead Without Leaving the Classroom

The second year of HISD’s innovative Career Pathways program kicked off in early August with more than 200 top teachers from across the district attending two-day teacher leadership trainings. The Career Pathways program is designed to give top teachers the opportunity to earn more and expand their influence on their campus without having to leave the classroom.

Ariana Sherman, who moved to the district this year from KIPP, will serve as an instructional practice coach at Patrick Henry Middle School, where she will focus on modeling excellent teaching techniques, observing peers, and providing feedback to help teachers better meet students’ needs. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity,” Sherman said. “This role lets me grow as a leader and a coach while also continuing to teach science, which is my passion.”

“I’m already making a difference with 90 kids as a classroom teacher,” said Abdul Musah, a math teacher at Sam Houston Math, Science, and Technology Center, “but now I can multiply that by working with other teachers.”

During the two-day trainings, Career Pathways teacher-leaders received specialized professional development from nationally recognized experts in educational leadership. Featured topics prepare participants for situations they may encounter as teacher-leaders and include skill-building exercises on understanding different personality styles, developing core leadership skills, and developing growth mindsets based on research from Carol Dweck.

“I had previously been a department chair but this role feels different,” said Tim Johnson, a science teacher at Austin High School. “There’s a lot more preparation to help teachers take on new leadership roles.”

Over the late spring and summer, teachers from 64 schools had the opportunity to apply for a set of new teacher leadership roles, focusing on topics such as data-tracking, instructional technology, and instructional practice. Unlike other teacher leadership roles that may already exist on campuses, Career Pathways roles include a rigorous, centralized application and selection process, specialized trainings, networking opportunities with other Career Pathway teacher leaders from around the district, greater responsibility for outcomes, and robust stipends of up to $6,000.

HISD’s Career Pathways program is being phased in over time as part of the district’s Effective Teachers Initiative, which focuses on helping top teachers build long, satisfying careers in the classroom, helping all teachers become the best they can be, and recruiting excellent teachers. Since the pilot last year, the Career Pathways program has tripled in size.

“Not only are we hearing that teachers who served in Career Pathways roles last year are planning to stay in the district longer than before,” said Professional Support and Development manager Gail McGee, “but we also heard from principals that these new roles are having a positive impact on student learning.”

Kelsey Kolkhorst of Kolter Elementary School served as instructional practice coach last year and applied again this year. “I always wanted to be in more of a leadership position, but I didn’t want to leave the classroom, so the Career Pathways program is perfect for me.”

David Sanchez, a math teacher at Sam Houston Math, Science, and Technology Center, is also optimistic about the program’s potential. “In a big district like HISD, there can be a lot of turnover, and leadership opportunities like these will help the district hang onto its best teachers.”