California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Teacher leadership

Teacher leadership taps the strengths and talents of teachers to benefit students at the local level. Teachers know the students, know the issues, and are the local “experts.”1 When they take an active role in decision making, they can help design short and long-term solutions to issues affecting their students. Often with no additional pay, department chairs are involved in planning staff development, organizing and leading frequent team meetings, tracking results, disseminating information, coordinating data analysis, overseeing the development and dissemination of common assessments, and ensuring smooth team functioning. In light of the extensive need for teachers in leadership roles, site leaders need to help teachers balance their teaching load with additional duties.

Another critical role played by teacher leaders is that of mentoring new staff members. Either in subject-matter or small learning community teams, or as individuals, teacher leaders can help new staff members learn the ropes, become familiar with grade-level standards, understand how to use data, and gain skills in classroom management and instructional strategies.

Researchers emphasize that teachers learn better from their peers than from a supervisor.2 Mentoring, curriculum development, lesson studies, and developing common assessments are a few of the many activities leadership teams can organize for professional growth.

Effective middle schools provide many opportunities to include teachers on the leadership team. Teacher leaders include department heads, team leaders (usually a rotating position), and special project leads (such as school site council leaders). However, strong principals also build leadership potential by inviting non-leaders to speak up at faculty meetings, to take charge of a specific project, and to help decide how to spend the budget. “Good principals don’t protect teachers from leadership; they encourage them to lead.”3

In the Spotlight

Granite Oaks Middle School, Rocklin Unified School District, a California Middle Grades Partnership Network School
The faculty designed the academy system (teaming) to support the development of each student and staff member. The leadership team works to maintain adult team membership constant over several years so that strong collegial relationships build rapport. Each team helps with interviews for new hires so they can choose someone who fits the team. The team members then coach new team members so they receive all the support they need through daily interaction during the common preparation time. .

To ensure that each team prepares students with the same level of rigor, departmental teams conduct common unit assessments across the whole school.

Related Links

Distributed Leadership

School site council (SSC) leadership

1 Leadership for Student Learning: Redefining the Teacher as Leader (PDF; Outside Source). Washington, D.C.: School Leadership for the 21st Century Initiative, April 2001, 4.
2 Mike Schmoker, Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2006, 125.
3 Hugh Burkett, Six Don’ts of School Improvement–and Their Solutions (Outside Source), The Center for Comprehensive School Reform (May 2006).

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