Teaching Profession Opinion

6 Qualities Every Teacher Leader Should Have

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 04, 2017 4 min read
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Most people think of leadership as a position and therefore don’t see themselves as leaders. - Steven Covey

The term “teacher leader” has taken on several meanings. For some, it is an actual role that is assigned with the intention of ascribing positional power to certain teachers within the teaching ranks. In the 20th century model of schools, teacher leaders were senior teachers who had established themselves as successful, respected, seasoned, and tenured. Most often, they had seen and survived or thrived through more than a few principals. The other use of the term was to describe those who were elected to roles of union leadership, allowing for their own form of positional power. In this century, access to leadership options is opening more readily.

Leadership Challenge

A challenge for budding teacher leaders is to gain the respect of their colleagues as well as the principal. In this century, with accelerating change being the norm, often leaders spot novice teachers who have the skills, talents, integrity and energy to lead. For a seasoned faculty, it can feel threatening as the newer teacher is held up as a model. As these teachers become recognized for their leadership skills, other teachers may feel mistrusting. Comments like, “You’ve gone over to the dark side” and feelings amongst the rank and file that they are being abandoned are not uncommon. It becomes the leader’s responsibility to help the teacher leader to be seen as a teacher leader, not as a traitor, or a ‘quasi’ assistant principal. This may be the first time a teacher, who very well may be a future building or district leader, will experience the challenge of being seen as separate from his or her colleagues. This is a complex dynamic.

10 Leadership Roles

In 2007 Educational Leadership included an article describing 10 roles usually occupied by teacher leaders.

    1. A resource provider assists colleagues by sharing instructional resources with their colleagues
    2. An instructional specialist helps colleagues to implement effective teaching strategies.
    3. A curriculum specialist shares information about content, standards, and their relationship to implementation within specific areas.
    4. A classroom supporter works in classrooms next to teachers helping by demonstrating, or observing and offering feedback.
    5. A learning facilitator offers professional development opportunities to colleagues, keeping learning relevant and focused on what is important in their classrooms.
    6. A mentor, usually for novice teachers, models and acclimates new teachers to the school culture, while offering guidance about instruction, curriculum, procedure, practices, and politics.
    7. A school leader sits on committees, acts as a chair, represents the school in the community.
    8. A data coach facilitates groups of teachers and guides them through the use of data to inform decisions.
    9. A catalyst for change have a strong commitment to continual improvement, holds the vision for improvement, and tend to ask questions that generate thought and movement forward.
    10. A learner models the continual improvement and learning and how it applies to work with students. (pp. 74-77)

6 Essential Leadership Qualities

To this list of roles, we add these 6 essential qualities:

  1. possess the respect of colleagues and supervisors
  2. understand the culture of the school
  3. are trustworthy
  4. are open to the views and ideas of all, non-judgmentally
  5. are non-threatening
  6. respond positively and actively to colleagues seeking feedback, new ideas, and methods

Find and Develop Those Teacher Leaders

An effective and successful teacher leader can become a teacher leader without an appointment, simply through earned recognition. A wise building leader will recognize the potential that is budding in his or her faculty and provide encouragement and development for those who have demonstrated potential. There are also teacher leaders who may exist beyond the leader’s view. These teachers may be those who can see what is not going well or what possibility is at hand but has not yet raised a voice to speak up. To identify those individuals, leaders need to study their faculty. Keen observation and purposeful listening will reveal where the hidden leaders are. It may be they are waiting to be seen, to be invited from the one on one conversation into the larger, building-wide one, from the sidelines to center stage. The rewards are many for the leader who can identify and encourage this talent pool.

Schools are dynamic systems that demand change and accountability simultaneously and at a breakneck speed. Schools need an empowered workforce with leaders at every level and, really, in every classroom. Allowing teacher expertise to be acknowledged and become a component of the resources offered to all is an emerging skill for building leaders and for building leadership capacity at a time when it is desperately needed.

Ed Leadership (September 2007. Volume 65. Number 1. Teachers as Leaders pp. 74-77

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo by aloiswohlfahrt courtesy of Pixabay.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.