Revisiting Teacher Leadership: Differences in Educator

Suzanne Harrison, Ph.D.
Ginny Birky, Ph.D.
ORATE Conference,
Salem, OR
February 27, 2012
“The radical transformation toward
teacher leadership is not an option;
it is a necessity.”
The Leadership Imperative (Reeves, 2008, p. 17)
Introduction: Rationale
1. 1990’s: Teacher leadership had a significant impact on
the concept of leadership in schools
2. Recent influences
 No Child Left Behind
 An era of accountability
 Educational reform
 Teacher voice in professional development
3. Current: Re-emergence with an even greater importance
Purpose of the Study
 Discover perceptions of teachers and principals
regarding teacher leadership.
Research Question
 What are the perceptions of teachers and principals
regarding teacher leadership?
Definition of Teacher Leadership
“Teacher leadership is the process by which teachers,
individually or collectively, influence their colleagues,
principals, and other members of the school
communities to improve teaching and learning
practices with the aim of increased student learning
and achievement” (York-Barr & Duke, 2004, p. 2).
Review of the Literature
Importance of Teacher Leadership
 Teacher leadership is critical to the advancement of
educational reform efforts in schools (Starratt, 1995).
 “Research has led many people to the conclusion that
teachers need greater leadership opportunities if public
education is to survive in any kind of meaningful way"
(Wasley, 1991, p. 7).
 Teacher leaders keep a school “moving toward excellence”
(Darensbourg, 2011, p. 68).
 "Teacher leaders remain the last best hope for significantly
improving American education" (Pellicer & Anderson, as
cited in Moller & Katzenmeyer, 1996, p. 82).
Teacher-leader Relationship
with Administrators
Teacher leaders are seldom effective in their roles
without the support and encouragement of their
 The principal’s style and characteristics influence
change, school improvement, and student success
(DeMoss, 2002; Glickman, 2002; Supovitz, 2000; Willmore & Thomas, 2001).
 High–performing schools that get the best results from
the classroom are led by principals who blend strong
instructional leadership with a collaborative style that
involves teachers in school decisions (Sherman, 2000).
Roles of Teacher Leaders
Patterson and Patterson (2004) referred to formal and informal teacher
leader roles.
Formal teacher leaders
 Those given familiar titles such as department chair, curriculum
coordinator, data coach, instructional specialist, and compensated
either by additional salary or in exchange for a lighter teaching load
Informal teacher leaders
 “Recognized by their peers and administrators as those staff members
who are always volunteering to head new projects, mentoring and
supporting other teachers, accepting responsibility for their own
professional growth, introducing new ideas, and promoting the
mission of the school" (Wasley, 1991, p. 112).
 Focus is more on the learning and improvement of school and student
performance than on leading.
 Examples include: facilitator, advisor/mentor, peer observer, member
of PLC, resource provider
 The work of teacher leaders greatly varied, but was usually
specific to the context of the school (Boyd-Dimock and McGree,
 The most common roles played by teacher leaders were
collaboration with peers, and communication with all
members of their school community (Birky & Ward, 2001).
 The typical roles that teacher leaders perform are to:
 Plan, organize, and create
 Assist in the overall improvement of a school’s community
and performance
 Collaborate with peers, parents, and school communities
 Continuously reflect on their work and the work their school
is doing (Darensbourgh, 2011, p. 68).
Characteristics and Qualities
of a Teacher Leader
According to Darensbourg (2011), teacher leaders:
 Are passionate, driven, and have expertise in instruction
 Engage in continuous inquiry, inform, persuade,
mobilize, and energize others to do more with their
 Are willing to take risks and participate in shared
decision making
 Stay current in the field
 Are often politically active and aware socially of issues
pertaining to their profession and the students they
work with (p. 68)
Skills and Roles of Teacher Leaders
Lieberman, Saxl, and
Miles (1988) included
the following skills and
 Building trust and
developing rapport
 Diagnosing organizational
 Dealing with processes
 Building skills and
confidence in others
 Being non-judgmental
 Modeling collegiality
Enhancing teachers’ self-esteem
Encouraging other teachers
Continually learning
Promoting a clear vision
Taking initiative
Persevering in the face of
Analyzing and making program
Building a team spirit
Facilitating communication and
reflection among the faculty
Exercising patience
Research Methods
1. Qualitative Study:
Narrative responses
2. Participants: 51 teachers & principals from K-12 public schools
 12 principals
 39 teachers
3. Convenience & purposive sampling to gather data from 4
different groups (Berg, 2007):
 Doctoral educational leadership class
 Two literacy workshops for secondary teachers
 Principals
Teacher Leadership Survey
 What does teacher leadership mean to you?
 What are the formal and informal roles of a teacher
 What are the most important characteristics/traits of a
teacher leader?
Data Analysis
 Organized based by gender, position, and
years of experience
 Coded
 Themes and patterns
Graphic Organizer used for Data
Teacher: Female
Definition of TL:
0-5 yrs.
Definition of TL:
6-15 yrs.
Definition of TL:
0-5 yrs.
6-15 yrs.
16-over yrs.
of TL.: 0-5 yrs.
Characteristics of
TL: 6-15 yrs.
Characteristics of
TL: 16-over yrs.
Teacher: Male
Principal: Female Principal: Male
Perceptions about Teacher Leadership
& Roles
Definitions &
& Qualities
& Qualities
Gender --- Position --- Years of Experience
Results of the Study
Participant Similarities & Differences
Gender (male, female)
No apparent difference between female and male
Years of experience (0-5 yrs., 6-15 yrs., 16 over yrs.)
Minimal differences between years of experience and
 Principals and teachers with less experience mentioned
collaboration more frequently
Position (teacher, principal)
Some differences between teacher and principal
 Teachers more frequently focused on the classroom;
principals more often mentioned vision/mission.
 Teachers more often mentioned “soft skills” (caring,
listening, supporting); principals more often
mentioned “hard skills” (taking risks, leading).
 Principals discussed the role of teacher leaders in
more depth than teachers did when they talked
about the role.
 Principals mentioned more frequently the
purpose/value of teacher leadership versus teachers
who had a limited view of teacher leadership roles.
 More teachers referred to teacher leaders’ influence
on the classroom and student learning than
administrators who referred to teacher leaders’
influence on school.
Four Emergent Themes
Teaching and Learning
Managing the Work
Interpersonal Relationships
Theme: Collaboration
Cooperate: share, explore, and work together
Mentor: guide, advocate, empower, inspire, model
 “[Teacher leadership is] working in conjunction with the school
leader, not separately or against. Being a TL sometimes requires
a teacher to put his/her own personal view or preference aside
and be willing to make decisions that are most beneficial to the
whole” (P).
 “Teachers taking on the role of leading other teachers to new
methods of teaching through mentoring and example.”
 “A teacher who helps other teachers by guiding them.”
Theme: Teaching & Learning
Teaching: Plan, implement, assess, data analysis, improve
Learning: Improve student outcomes, improve student learning
and success
 “[A teacher leader] makes positive changes in education to
improve student learning and success.”
 “[Teacher leaders] take on the role of leading other teachers to
new methods of teaching through mentoring and example.”
 “[A teacher leader] is not to tell teachers what to do, but to offer
resources and choices that will improve student outcomes.”
Theme: Managing the Work
 Formal: curriculum specialist, site council leader, RTI
leader, instructional coach
 Informal: facilitator, influential, catalyst for change
 “Though a formal leader may have created the group, informal leaders
often solidify the group, cheer it on, problem-solve, and bring meaning
to the tasks by reminding the team of the mission and vision of the
school” (F-P-over 16 yrs.).
 “Includes how a school is run, procedures, processes, programs,
philosophies, and educational expectations.”
 “[A teacher leader] makes sure school policy and rules are followed.”
 “The purpose of each of these roles is to have voice, to share in the
workload and to arrive at a more comprehensive, representative, and
hopefully, better-informed solution, response or plan” (M-P-16).
Theme: Interpersonal Relationships
 Care: compassion, empathetic, respectful
 Communication: support, encourage, listen , honesty
 “Ability to connect with all types of people and build
 “…any leadership role involves being a servant first and
creatively serving the needs of all involved, based on the
idiosyncratic personality of the individuals.” (M-P-9)
 “Integrity, hard working, academic-minded, kindness,
motivator and caring” (F-T-12).
 “Advocates for needs of all students; widen student
understanding; and promotes justice” (F-T-15)
Limitations and Delimitations
Limitations (weaknesses)
 Selection of participants
Convenience and purposive sampling
Non-equitable balance between elementary and secondary
teachers and principals
Non-equitable balance between male and female principals
Delimitations (boundaries)
 Qualitative
 Selection of gender, position, and years of experience
1. Data in this study revealed much variation in the definition of
teacher leadership, roles, and characteristics, which closely
aligns with the literature.
2. There were no differences to some differences in perceptions of
teacher leadership as it related to gender, position, or years of
3. As frequently as collaboration is mentioned in the literature,
neither this study nor the literature referred to collaborative
work between teachers and principals.
4. This study revealed additional information not found in the
 Vision/mission discussed by principals and not teachers
 The “soft-skill” characteristics mentioned in this study were all
about relationships, which were missing in the literature.
 Collaboration and interpersonal relationships are
important for teaching and learning, as well as for
managing the work.
 Teacher leadership could be a valuable component of
preservice and inservice education programs.
for Further Study
 Identification of similarities and differences between
elementary and secondary teachers’ and principals’
 The extent to which teacher leadership is integrated
into preservice and inservice educator programs
 The extent to which teachers are encouraged to
become teacher leaders
 Berg, B. (2007). Qualitative research methods for the social
sciences. (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Birky, G., & Ward, C. (2003). Perspectives of teacher leaders in
an educational reform environment: Finding meaning in their
involvement. Scholar-Practitioner Quarterly (2)1, 9-22.
Boyd-Dimock, V., & McGree, K.M. (1995). Leading change from
the classroom: Teachers as leaders. Issues…about Change, 4(4).
Retrieved from:
Darensbourg, E. (2011). Teacher leader initiatives. Teachers of
Color, 6(1), 68-69.
Lieberman, A., Saxl, E. R., & Miles, M. B. (1988). Teacher
leadership: Ideology and practice. In A. Lieberman (Ed.),
Building a professional culture in schools. New York: Teachers
College Press.
 Moller, G., & Katzenmeyer, M. (1996). Every teacher as a leader:
Realizing the potential of teacher leadership. Cambridge, MA: JosseyBass.
Patterson, J., & Patterson, J. (2004). Sharing the lead. Educational
Leadership, 61(7), 74-78.
Reeves, D.B. (2008). Reframing teacher leadership to improve your
school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development. [Reader Version].Retrieved from http://
Starratt, R. J. (1995). Leaders with vision: The quest for school renewal.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Wasley, P.A. (1991). Teachers who lead: The rhetoric of reform and the
realities of practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What does the research tell us about
teacher leadership?. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255-316.
Retrieved from
Questions to Discuss
 How does your institution specifically instruct for
teacher leadership versus administrative
 What do professors of education need to do in
order to help preservice and inservice teachers
understand the vision and mission of the school?
 Suzanne Harrison, Ph.D.
 George Fox University
 Newberg, OR 97132
 [email protected]
 503.554.2855
 Ginny Birky, PhD.
 George Fox University
 Newberg, OR 97132
 [email protected]
 503.554.2854

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