Teacher Leadership: More than a Buzzword

The education field loves jargon. From “21st-century learning” to “college and career readiness”, new jargon enters our vocabulary as priorities and policies shift. Recently, we’ve heard one buzzword repeatedly swirling across blogs and conferences: Teacher Leadership.

What is teacher leadership?

In What do we know about teacher leadership?, Jennifer York-Barr and Karen Duke from the University of Minnesota reviewed two decades of literature and define teacher leadership as “the process by which teachers, individually or collectively, influence their colleagues, principals, and other members of the school community to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement”

A few key ideas about teacher leadership stand out:

  • It is a process, not just a position. Anyone, at any level of an organization, can demonstrate leadership. Formal roles can be helpful, but are not the end goal.
  • It is about influence beyond the self—whether that be on peers, managers, subordinates, etc.
  • It is ultimately about increased student learning and achievement.

Why teacher leadership?

Leading Educators put it best: “When administrators and teachers share leadership, teachers’ working relationships are stronger, student achievement is higher, and highly effective teachers can be retained in the schools that need them. Highly effective teachers can have substantial spillover effects on their peers’ performance.”

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Much like a lesson or unit plan, teams should start with the end in mind: identify the specific rationale behind investments in opportunities for teacher leadership. School systems may pursue teacher leadership to:

  • Further develop top teacher talent
  • Help other teachers improve
  • More effectively implement key priorities (e.g., curricula, standards)
  • Build a pipeline to the principalship
  • Distribute leadership within schools and make principals’ span of supervision manageable
  • Increase highly effective teachers’ impact on student learning
  • Increase teacher retention by investing in them and their ideas

Once a school, district, or network identifies why they want to invest in teacher leadership–including specific measurable goals–it becomes critical to design initiatives that will maximize that investment.

Intrigued? In our next post, we will share best practices for successfully launching teacher leadership initiatives. Hungry for more? Check out The Network Effect from Chiefs for Change and Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture.