Professional Development Teacher Leaders Network

Why We Need Teacher Leadership

By Doyle Nicholson — January 26, 2011 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Traditionally, teacher effectiveness was confined to a single classroom and the 20 to 30 students within those walls. Teacher success was determined based on two or three classroom observations and, of course, student results on end-of-the-year assessments. Effective teachers had minimal impact outside their own classrooms and virtually no voice in forming educational policy.

But in order to maximize the abilities of these successful teachers, schools must change the traditional view of a classroom educator. Teachers who want to share their knowledge and leadership skills usually have to leave the classroom and take a position at the district office or as an administrator. But many of us have a desire to lead change but also keep one foot firmly in the classroom door. School systems need to find ways to create hybrid leadership roles in which teachers can be in the classroom part of the time, but also engage in instructional coaching or shared leadership the rest of the day or week.

Fortunately, attitudes are changing, and accomplished teachers are finding (and making) more opportunities to expand their expertise beyond the square footage allotted them in a school. My first exposure to this expanded idea of teachers’ professional work came in 2004, shortly after achieving National Board certification. After receiving my certification I began facilitating National Board-candidate support sessions at the excellent North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

Then, in 2007, the Center for Teaching Quality teamed with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to survey almost 1,400 teachers with National Board certification in math and science about their outlook on teacher leadership. A majority─including myself─indicated a desire to improve teaching and learning through actions taken outside the classroom. Like other expert teachers ready for leadership roles, we were no longer content with doing a good job in the classroom. We wanted to share our expertise with adult learners in ways that can improve learning opportunities for all students.

Virtual Leadership

There were a number of spinoffs from that initial survey. One of the most significant for me was an invitation to participate in CTQ’s Return on Investment initiative in North Carolina as a “virtual coach.” The two-year project capitalized on the power of the Internet to connect National Board-certified teachers in rural and high-needs schools.

I’ll admit to some initial skepticism about how effectively I could help other teachers without face-to-face interactions. As a teacher, so much of what I do revolves around the relationship and trust that I build with my students. I wondered how I might cultivate that same rapport with teachers who lived and worked miles away. While the relationships took a little longer to create, I found I was able to get to know these colleagues, their personalities, and their teaching needs in detail through our interactions on webinars and in our online community space. They appreciated our support and the opportunity to interact online─often in the comfort of their own homes when it was convenient for them.

After that experience, I was sold on the power and potential of a virtual learning community. And my work as a virtual coach has convinced me that my ultimate goal is to find a job that allows me to split my professional life evenly between regular work with students and other leadership roles in and out of my school.

Empowering Effective Teachers

My energy and excitement for collaboration with my peers grew even more in May 2010 when CTQ hosted a North Carolina NBCT Summit. That’s a significant undertaking in my state, where nearly 18,000 teachers have earned national certification over the past 15 years. Two things impressed me from the summit: (1) the number of teachers in attendance who voiced the same desire to share their educational know-how in collaborative ways; and (2) the sheer brainpower in the room. Working in small and large groups, in a single day we were able to draw on our collective experience and expertise to craft promising solutions to some of education’s biggest hindrances.

You can download our conference report, “Teacher and Teaching Effectiveness,” and weigh our conclusions for yourself. They address issues of teaching quality, student achievement, and school success common across America, including measuring teacher effectiveness; supporting new teachers; and creating the kind of job-embedded professional development that makes it possible for teachers to model and observe high-quality instruction.

I left the NBCT Summit feeling empowered and convinced that teachers have the ability to make great changes to the status-quo educational system. I also left a little disappointed that decisions about educational policy are so often left to career politicians and others outside the classroom. But I have hope that teacher-led enterprises like our virtual mentoring, the subsequent summit, and the many proactive initiatives now being started by teachers at the national, state and local levels signal the beginning of a new era when teacher voices will be routinely sought out─and heard─as policymakers, citizens and educators work together to strengthen our public schools.

Related Tags:


Teaching K-12 Essentials Forum Student Motivation and Engagement: Unraveling the Science and Strategies
Join us for this free virtual event in which we will discuss the current state of student motivation and engagement in our schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Personalized Learning Webinar
Expanding Teacher Impact: Scaling Personalized Learning Across Districts
Explore personalized learning strategies that transform classrooms and empower educators.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
How to Leverage Virtual Learning: Preparing Students for the Future
Hear from an expert panel how best to leverage virtual learning in your district to achieve your goals.
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Professional Development Can PD Ice Breakers Be Less Cringey? We Asked Teachers
PD sessions often start with a dreaded ice breaker. Here are some ideas to foster teacher relationships more naturally.
3 min read
Close up of a blue nametag on a lanyard with the word "Meh" written where the handwritten name would appear.
Gina Tomko/Education Week + Getty
Professional Development Opinion To Improve the Professional Learning Experience, Create a Welcoming Environment
Showing school leaders hospitality can in turn encourage them to treat their staffs in a similar fashion.
Michael Nelson
4 min read
The favorite drinks for participants awaits them on a conference table.
The favorite drinks for participants awaits them on a conference table.
Peter DeWitt
Professional Development New Teachers Need Strong Mentors. Two Pros Offer Tips
A discussion of 8 essential elements for setting up and sustaining a mentorship program for new teachers.
1 min read
Middle school history teachers discuss their lesson plans for teaching about the Great Depression.
Middle school history teachers discuss their lesson plans for teaching about the Great Depression.
Allison Shelley for EDUImages
Professional Development Professional Development That Matters: What Teachers Say They Want
Teachers often say their PD is lame and irrelevant. Some are working to change that.
4 min read
Young Black girl giving her teacher a high five in a classroom.