4 strategies to build strong teacher leadership

Districts seeking to cultivate strong teacher leaders should carefully consider a number of steps and questions as they pursue their goals

teacher-leadershipSchool leaders take on many forms, including students, support staff, and teachers. Building strong teacher leaders helps support a positive and high-achieving school culture, and one of the first stops on the path to teacher leadership involves defining the purpose of teacher leadership.

A new report from the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program and Leading Educators outlines a roadmap for teacher leadership, and notes that “effective teacher leadership marries form with function in order to create transformative change in schools.”

This means that teacher leadership initiatives are clearly-defined and support teaching and learning goals within the district.

(Next page: Steps toward strong teacher leadership)

The report outlines four areas, including high-impact actions and key questions, which district administrators can address to ensure that teacher leaders are supported in clearly-defined roles that back district priorities.

1. Designing for impact and identify why teacher leadership is essential and what purpose it will serve.

When district administrators and stakeholders are building a teacher leadership system, they should be sure to identify goals and engage stakeholders early on.

High-impact actions include examining key priorities and identifying a purpose that enables teacher leadership to align with those priorities; and reaching out to stakeholders who are knowledgeable about key priorities.

Key questions include:

  • “What priorities can be advanced through teacher leadership? Where and how could teacher leadership best advance this priority?
  • “Does the proposed teacher leadership initiative do more than provide a career pathway for top teachers?”

2. Know context to meet challenges and opportunities head-on.

Teacher leadership systems often can begin with existing district resources, but at the same time, system designers are identifying additional resources that may be needed to support those leadership efforts. Strategic thinking leads to more efficient use of existing resources and a more efficient implementation of outside resources.

High-impact actions include identifying information systems that provide data on teacher effectiveness; finding potential funding sources or ways to re-distribute existing funds; and becoming familiar with internal and external levels of technical expertise that can help implement teacher leadership initiatives.

Key questions include:

  • “Does the district have sufficiently rigorous systems to accurately identify top teachers?
  • “In what areas is collaboration already taking place? In what ways can teacher leadership bolster trust, and where will lack of trust be a barrier to implementation?”

3. Define measures before beginning implementation, and continuously monitor progress.

The first step in any successful initiative is to identify goals before implementation begins. School districts that are building teacher leadership programs should identify what success looks like and how they will measure it.

High-impact actions include identifying ways to collect data that will measure short- and long-term success; and building a way for all stakeholders to understand what a successful teacher leadership system will look like in the district.

Key questions include:

  • “How will the district measure success in the short- and long-term?”
  • “What systems will be necessary in order to accurately assess the impact of teacher leadership?”

4. Build strategically and ensure teacher leader roles and responsibilities remain clear.

As teacher leadership efforts continue, it’s important that those involved always have a clear picture of what successful teacher leadership looks like–this will help ensure that the growing system supports the district’s defined picture of success.

High-impact actions include supporting principals and principal managers as they manage teacher leaders; and training teacher leaders to meet the challenges and requirements of these new leadership roles.

Key questions include:

  • “Where will the district be ‘tight’ with implementation and where will it be ‘loose’?”
  • “What will the district implement internally and where will the district partner with other organizations?”
  • “What features of the teacher leader roles will be decided at the system level, and what will be decided at the school level? How much flexibility will there be in the new teacher leader roles?”

The report also identifies three states that are cultivating teacher leaders to expand district leadership. Click on any state or district to read details about teacher leadership efforts:


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Laura Ascione
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