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August 8, 2019

New Educators Want Opportunities for Teacher Leadership, Too

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As teacher educators, we know firsthand that new teachers want positions where they can grow professionally inside and outside the classroom. In a recent survey conducted at Trinity Christian College, 50 percent of 100 student teachers indicated a desire upon entering the profession to continue their education through professional development (PD), mentoring, and obtaining endorsements and advanced degrees. New teachers also are seeking opportunities for meaningful leadership. In the same survey, 98 percent of the participants agreed that the work of a teacher leader was important.

We believe a professional culture built around teachers as leaders is optimal for attracting, developing, and retaining the best prekindergarten–12 teachers. Leadership is expected from beginning teachers, argues scholar Nathan Bond in The Educational Forum, as novice teachers "are expected to function at the same level as veterans in terms of instruction in the classroom and engagement in the activities in the larger school community." But while new teachers enter the profession with leadership skills to develop, experienced teachers may leave because they haven't had opportunities to fully realize that leadership (Nordengren, 2016, p. 97).

Many of the reasons for leaving teaching, such as isolation, stress, and lack of opportunities, cannot coexist in schools where the community expects, develops, and recognizes teacher leadership from the start.

Striking the Teacher-Leader Balance

Leadership skills are at the root of many common reasons for becoming a teacher: making a difference, promoting lifelong learning, and working in collaborative community.

But those who seek to increase leadership opportunities for early career teachers must strike the right balance to avoid overloading them. As one early career teacher in Debra's master's course explained in a blog post for the class, success in stressful or challenging situations "is largely dependent on the support and encouragement from administrators and those experienced master teachers. So, it is imperative that teacher leaders, team leaders, and administrators be mindful of the tasks they are assigning these inexperienced teachers. Yes, many are capable of handling the stress. That doesn't mean that they have signed on for that additional stress."

With this balance in mind, we can foster a culture of teacher leadership in three essential ways.

1. Support a Continuum of Teacher Leadership

Research on the roles and boundaries of teacher leadership illuminates how teachers can unleash their leadership potential throughout their careers. Researcher David Frost (2012) suggests conceptualizing teaching as a continuum of leadership, with self-evaluation at one end and collaborations with colleagues, students, and stakeholders for systemic change at the other.

Other researchers emphasize how teacher leadership roles cross four major boundaries (Muijs, Chapman, & Armstrong, 2013). The classroom boundary is when teachers focus on broader instructional practices outside their classrooms, such as leading within a professional learning community. The curricular boundary involves leading cross-curricular initiatives, like collaborating on a new problem-based learning approach. The team boundary is crossed when organizing learning for colleagues, such as through a peer observation PD model. The operational boundary involves leading beyond the school, such as through a district initiative on standards-based assessment. Teacher leaders who engaged in cross boundary activities reported more relevance in their work (Szeto & Cheng, 2014). These types of participation contribute to a teacher leadership culture.

"No matter where you lie on the continuum, the only importance is that you find yourself on there somewhere," said one of our early-career teachers in a class blog response. "Perhaps the best aspect of teacher leadership is that you as a teacher are in control, you as a teacher make the choices to drive your development—it all starts with you!"

2. Offer Professional Development in Teacher Leadership

Professional development in leadership (PDL) supports building knowledge and skills that are not part of typical teacher preparation in areas such as mentoring, coaching, peer observation, professional development design, and research. However, PDL use is rare. A more typical practice is for teachers to assume teacher leader roles with little to no preparation.

Yet, teachers should never assume leadership positions without preparation or advanced study just because they appear to be able to teach effectively and collaborate with colleagues (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009). As one of our early-career students noted in a class blog response, PDL should be a requirement for everyone: "Many times coaches, administration, and others are the ones leading PD for staff, but they, too, need PD to remain innovative and transformational."

School staff can embed continuous PDL into existing models, such as professional learning communities, book studies, webinars, or conferences.

3. Create Lattices of Teacher Leadership

In addition to a continuum of teacher leadership and PDL, teachers need a variety of opportunities to practice leadership in formal and informal ways. Each teacher's progression through this lattice will be unique.

Our idea of a lattice of teacher leadership is similar to the "Teachers as Leaders" framework. This framework, based on a decade of research by Frank Crowther, Margaret Ferguson, and Leonne Hann (2009), articulates how teacher leaders can exert influence through six actions in any leadership role:

  1. Conveying conviction about a better world;

  2. Facilitating communities of learning;

  3. Striving for pedagogical excellence;

  4. Confronting barriers in the school culture and structure;

  5. Translating ideas into sustainable systems of action; and

  6. Nurturing a culture of success.

When teachers have the capacity and opportunities to lead, they revitalize the school, enhance the professional community, and build meaningful careers. While a continuum of teacher leadership can move teachers across boundaries, the lattice guides movement among different roles, presenting exciting professional opportunities.

"We often times get stuck in our own 'bubble' and are comfortable with our routine," said one of our students on the blog. "Although it can be unsettling at times, all teachers need to move outside of their comfort zones. … When I look at some of our most effective teachers and teacher leaders, they are the ones who are constantly trying new strategies or starting new initiatives."

Not every teacher wants to take on the same leadership roles, but all teachers want to have a positive influence on student achievement and teacher success in collaborative environments. When school leaders nurture teacher leadership, schools become places where teachers at all stages find opportunities for meaningful work—which in turn attracts the best teachers to the classroom.

References

Bond, N. (2011). Preparing preservice teachers to become teacher leaders. The Educational Forum, 75(4), 280–297.

Crowther, F., Ferguson, M., & Hann, L. (2009). Developing teacher leaders. How teacher leaders enhance school success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Frost, D. (2012). From professional development to system change: teacher leadership and innovation. Professional Development in Education, 38(2), 205–227. Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19415257.2012.657861

Katzenmeyer, M., & Moller, G. (2009). Awakening the sleeping giant: Helping teachers to develop as leaders. Portland, OR: Corwin Press.

Muijs, D., Chapman, C., & Armstrong, P. (2013). Can early careers teachers be teacher leaders? A study of second-year trainees in the teach first alternative certification program. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 41(6), 767–781.

Nordengren, C. (2016). Teaching new dogs new tricks: Teacher leadership in the performance assessment for California teachers (PACT). Issues in Teacher Education, 25(1), 91–106.

Szeto, E., & Cheng, A.N. (2017). Developing early career teachers' leadership through teacher learning. International Studies In Educational Administration (Commonwealth Council For Educational Administration & Management (CCEAM)), 45(3), 45–64.

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