In schools, the term teacher-leader is commonly applied to teachers who have taken on leadership roles and additional professional responsibilities. The teacher-leader concept is closely related to voice and shared leadership (the distribution of leadership roles and decision-making responsibilities beyond the administrative team in a district or school).
It should be noted that while the term teacher-leader is commonly used across the country, educators frequently create unique, homegrown vocabularies and titles when referring to these positions in their school.
For a related discussion, see teacher autonomy.
Traditionally, experienced teachers seeking to advance their careers, increase their income, or acquire new skills or professional roles could consider becoming a department chair (e.g., the head of the English department overseeing some subject-area decisions) or moving into an administrative position. In addition, teachers unions have also provided opportunities for individual teachers to assume leadership roles in their profession. Yet opportunities for professional advancement in schools were limited for those who wanted to wanted to continue teaching while also taking on new responsibilities and growing professionally. Generally speaking, teachers were often forced to choose between teaching and career advancement, which entailed either reducing the time they spent teaching or abandoning teaching altogether.
But in recent decades, schools have been restructuring traditional governance models and redefining leadership functions in ways that distribute decision-making authority more broadly and allow more teachers and other staff members to continue in their positions while also taking on more responsibility in the governance of a school. In some cases, teacher-leaders have formal, officially recognized positions that entail specific responsibilities and assignments; in others, teachers may study new teaching ideas and methodologies, test these approaches in the classroom, acquire a specialized expertise, and then share what they have learned with colleagues. Teacher-leaders may continue to teach full-time, part-time, or not all, depending on the extent of their other responsibilities, and they may or may not receive additional financial compensation, benefits, a new title, or other incentives and recognition. In other words, the role and definition of a teacher-leader may vary widely from school to school.
The following representative examples describe a few of the roles and responsibilities that a teacher-leader may assume in a district or school. Teacher-leaders may:
- Serve on a school or district leadership team or on some other form of governance committee, task force, or board.
- Lead a specific school-improvement initiative, such as a program designed to improve the quality of reading instruction throughout a school.
- Model innovative instructional strategies for other teachers, such as nontraditional ways of assessing what students have learned or alternative methods of grading.
- Train, supervise, and mentor new teachers or student-teachers.
- Act as a “learning facilitator” or “instructional coach” who helps both new and veteran teachers develop stronger lesson plans, improve their instruction or classroom-management techniques, or acquire new professional skills, such as using new learning digital and online technologies.
- Act as a facilitator and coordinator of a professional learning community or other group of teachers working together to improve their teaching skills.
- Lead efforts to modify or improve school-wide or content-area curriculum.
- Guide other teachers in collecting, understanding, analyzing, and interpreting student-achievement data, as well as using those findings to improve instructional efficacy in a subject area or throughout the school.
- Lead an action-research project or engage in additional study and research projects to grow professionally and enhance their professional contributions to the school.
- Write about teaching in professional journals, books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, social media, or other print or online publications.
- Create videos, lead online discussion forums, develop webinars, or use technology in other ways to share their knowledge and skills with other teachers online.
- Speak at professional conferences, community meetings, or other public forums.
- Engage students in efforts to improve their school, district, or community using community-based-learning strategies and projects.
- Serve as a parent liaison or lead other efforts to help parents and community members become more engaged in what’s happening in the school.
- Become involved in local, state, or national advocacy groups aimed at improving education or social conditions for children and communities.
- Write grant proposals or otherwise seek additional funds for a school, district, or program.
- Develop partnerships with nonprofits, community organizations, and local businesses that bring in additional resources and create new learning opportunities in a school, such as an internship program or a dual-enrollment program.
- Contact elected officials to inform them about issues affecting education or testify in public hearings.
The Glossary of Education Reform by Great Schools Partnership is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.