Modern schools are extremely complex organizations that require substantial leadership capacity to function effectively. It is not possible for one, or even a small team, to provide the leadership capacity for a school to thrive (Fletcher & Käufer, 2003; Lindahl, 2008; Pearce & Conger, 2003). Integrated leadership between teachers and administrators substantially influences pedagogical quality, student achievement, and policy-making (Harris, 2008; Marks & Printy, 2003).
Teacher leadership (TL) has become a focus of PD and research efforts to better equip schools to be dynamic learning organizations (Wenner & Campbell, 2017). Additional focus on the development of programs to further grow teacher leaders, and policies to encourage teacher leaders to engage in educational change (Berg et al., 2019; Harris & Jones, 2019).
The purpose of this study was to investigate how engaging in a TL training program may shape how teachers and principals understand and practice teacher leadership.
Through a mixed methods approach, this study sought to respond to the following research questions:
- What was the effect of the TL training program on how teachers understand TL?
- How do participant’s perceptions of their role as a teacher leader evolve throughout experiencing training in TL?
- How do the principals in the schools where the teacher participants work perceive TL and the role the participants play in leadership in the school community?
Two data sources provided the means through which we were able to respond to the research questions: The Teacher Leadership Survey (Wiens, 2021) and semi-structured individual and focus group interviews.
Participants discussed what they had gained from the coursework and what they were able to apply to their work as teacher leaders in schools. For example, one participant discussed how the coursework offered the academic language to connect to the work that they do as teacher leaders. Another participant explained that through the the coursework he was able to formally learn about mentoring and coaching, which he had never experienced, even after becoming an instructional coach. Other participants discussed having a better understanding of the coaching cycle and how they could better support teacher learning. Additionally, the survey data supported another way the TL program impacted the participants. Noteworthy to the how participants’ perceptions of their role as a teacher leader is the change in the responses to the survey items “I see myself as a leader” (Q1) and “My colleagues see me as a leader” (Q2).
While the school principals did not participate in the teacher leadership coursework, our third research question was designed to gain an understanding of how the principals of the teacher leaders who took the TL coursework viewed TL. While the teacher participants seemed to broaden their understanding of TL and gain applicable ways to support teachers and colleagues, principals often viewed TL as a formal position. Additionally, the principals viewed teacher leaders as those who take “initiative” to improve the school.
Claudia: “I learned how to…ask [interview] questions that focus our main idea of the research.”
“When doing a transcription, you have to use your listening skills as well as your writing skills.”
“Something that surprised me…was hearing all the different perspectives and experiences.”
“I have learned about conducting qualitative research.” “I have also learned about transcribing, recording, and interviewing participants.”
“…this experience has given me a view of different perspectives and journeys of educators.”
“We need to build a better bridge between our administration and educators.”
“I learned about qualitative research….” “…the opportunity to help run several different interviews during the research process. “
“I also have been able to learn about what it takes to be a leader.”
”…teaching me all about what it means to be a teacher leader.”
While our findings indicate that a university-based TL training program can impact the learning and role of a teacher leader, there may be further work that is needed to support how principals perceive TL. For example, principals could engage in professional learning how they might effectively participate in the learning and development of teacher leaders.
Additionally, the engagement of undergraduate teacher candidates in the research about TL may support their thinking about how the role of teacher may expand beyond the classroom and that teachers can be and are leaders.
NITEP Research Fellow
NIEPRR Research Fellow
NITEP Fellow Researcher
This research was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Nevada Department of Education to support the Nevada Institute on Educator Preparation (NITEP), the Nevada Institute on Educator Preparation, Retention, & Research (NIEPRR), and the Nevada Educator Preparation Institute & Collective (NV-EPIC).