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Administrators, do you need help?  
Teachers, do you need a new challenge?  
Start thinking about Teacher Leaders today!

What is a Teacher Leader and where can you find one? 

According to the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, “Teacher leadership is the process by which teachers, individually or collectively, influence their colleagues, principals, and other members of the school communities to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement” (p. 1).

Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. (2005, September).  Research Brief.  Retrieved from:


For the purpose of this presentation, we are defining a teacher leader as a teacher within your school community who is self or peer identified for this role.

What are some qualities you should look for in a Teacher Leader?
According to How to Thrive as a Teacher Leader by John Gabriel, the following are qualities that leaders tend to have in common (pp. 14-20):


Someone who is willing to take a stand and fight for what they believe in.  A teacher who weighs the risks of being vocal and still wants his or her voice heard over the din is a leader whom people want to work with and to follow.  “These teachers are student centered and not motivated by stipends or how being a leader makes them feel” (p. 14).  This person is also trustworthy and able to maintain confidentiality.

Honest and Ethical

People generally follow their leaders whether it is by choice or not.  “If a leader is honest and ethical, however, he will be respected, which is more important” (p. 15).


A teacher leader needs to have some form of organizational system in place.  As a result, the leaders will be able “to stay focused and on track” (p. 16) which supports the countless responsibilities needed for both teaching and leading.


A teacher leader needs to listen carefully to others, along with watching facial expressions, body language, and other clues as a means of communication.  It is crucial that this person be aware of other people's needs and concerns.  "Successful leaders are able to read people" (p. 16).

Empathetic and Supportive

“People are more inclined to follow someone who understands what they are going through” (p. 16).  Administrators who have limited classroom experience or never taught have a difficult time leading since they are not able to convince teachers that they have “been there, done that.”  Empathetic and supportive leaders help others “emotionally, socially, and instructionally, which develops relationships.


Leaders who can put the needs of others ahead of their own have a solid understanding of what “true” leadership involves (p. 17).


A leader should be accessible during contract hours and within reason after hours as well (p. 17).


“Obstacles do not slow down a good leader; they are opportunities for him to flex his problem-solving muscles” (p. 17).  People are motivated by leaders who can think outside the box and use existing means.


A fair leader listens to everyone and does not show favorites.  He or she does not allow relationships or opposition to hinder a group’s progress (p. 17).


“Accepting people for who and what they are shows leadership” (p. 18).  A leader does not place blame, but deals with people’s flaws (shortcomings) and learns how to work with them (or around them).


Leaders who admit mistakes demonstrate a willingness to grow.  As a result, they are perceived as humans, “not as unapproachable academics in an ivory tower or arrogant know-it-alls” (p. 18).


The ability to plan for “what may be coming down the pike is a talent that not many possess” (p. 19).  If leaders can anticipate what might occur next, they can often save their teams time by suggesting change and investigating options rather than mandates.


A teacher leader may not comprehend why certain decisions are made and how they impact the structure of the school, but he or she does understand how it impacts the team.  “She is able to see beyond her classroom to at least her hallway” (p. 19).

Decisive and Incisive

“In a profession where time is limited and people spend an inordinate amount of time discussing, debating, and deliberating issues, respect belongs to the person who, without making a rushed decision, can consider all angles and cut to the chase” (p. 20).


Teachers resent leaders who give an answer because they are expected to have one.  “Educators value intelligence and crave an intelligent leader” (p. 20).

But, can anyone tell me what a Teacher Leader actually does?

Roles for Teacher Leaders:

According to How to Thrive as a Teacher Leader by John Gabriel, the following are possible roles that leaders may serve (pp. 5-14):

Grade Level/Subject Area Leader – grade level leader coordinates specific organizational needs (p. 5).

Vertical Leader – the leader is in charge of seeing that curriculum is aligned up and down the grade levels (p. 5).

Backup Leader – “Train future leaders by rotating teachers as the backup to your position” (p. 6).

Mentor – A designated leader assumes the responsibility of coaching and supporting novice teachers and teachers who are new to the school system (p. 6).

Peer Coach – In this case, a peer (mentor) provides support and mentors another teacher (protégé) (p. 7).

Presenter – This role can rotate through your teams.  Select leaders to present on a certain topic or article (p. 9).

Other roles:

As provided in the Educational Leadership article, “Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders” (2005, pp. 74-77):

Resource Provider –Teachers help their coworkers by sharing instructional resources.

Instructional Specialist – This leader helps colleagues implement effective teaching strategies.

Curriculum Specialist – These specialists lead teachers to agree on standards, follow adopted curriculum, implement common pacing charts, and create shared assessments.

Classroom Supporter – These people work in classrooms to assist teachers with the implementation of new ideas, typically through modeling, observing, and providing feedback.

Learning Facilitator – This leader facilitates professional development opportunities among teachers.

Mentor – Leader serves as role model, helping new teachers adjust to a new school, and advise teachers about “instruction, curriculum, procedure, practices, and politics” (p. 75).

School Leader – This role involves serving on a committee, acting as a grade-level or department chair, supporting school initiatives, or representing the school on community or district task forces.

Data Coach – Leaders can lead conversations that support their peers in analyzing and using information to drive instruction.

Catalyst for Change – Leaders can also serve as “catalyst for change, visionaries who are ’never content with the status quo but rather always looking for a better way’” (p. 77).

Learner – “Learners model continual improvement, demonstrate lifelong learning, and use what they learn to help all students achieve” (p. 77).


The call to action.

In May 2011, the Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium released the Teacher Leader Model Standards.  These standards were created to “codify, promote, and support teacher leadership as a vehicle for transforming schools to meet the needs of 21st-century learners” (Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium, 2011).  The vision of this organization is to support an educational system in “which teachers fill specialized leadership roles.”  These teacher leaders can support and inform school leader and help foster a positive culture. 

Click here to go to the Teacher Leader Standards page.

Planning with the end in mind.

How can we best prepare and support teachers in leadership roles?
According to the Teacher Leader Exploratory Consortium, these are some of the effective strategies used to support this process.
Work with newly hired teachers on working collaboratively with teams, access research on best practices to support student learning, and use technology to build learning communities

Prepare leader teachers by providing them with training on strategies, structures, and skills to provide feedback on teaching and student learning, instructional coaching to provide instructional coaching and team-based facilitation.

Provide ongoing professional development in how to access research about best teaching practices, utilize new technologies for instruction and communication with colleagues.

Provide a supportive school culture that encourages teachers to take on informal roles of leadership by creating a “pipeline” for future teacher leaders.

Create and support teacher leader networks to establish support, collaboration of ideas, and professional development across schools or districts.

“Encourage higher education institutions to prepare teachers to assume differentiated roles in the teaching profession and become part of shared leadership structures in their school, including how to navigate school cultures that may initially resist new roles for teachers.”

Create new “hybrid” teacher roles where teachers instruct students for part of the time, but also serve as coaches, coordinators, facilitators or mentors.

Provide teachers with time to provide input into school policies.

Provide teachers with common planning time, release time for peer collaboration, and job-embedded professional development opportunities.

Recognizing how teacher leadership can contribute to improved student learning.


Click here to go directly to tool measuring Teacher Leader standards.

References and Resources:

Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. (2005, September).  Research Brief.  Retrieved from:

Gabriel, John. (2005).  How to Thrive as a Teacher Leader.  Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Harrison, Cindy, & Killion, Joellen. (2007). Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders. Educational Leadership, 6(1), 74-77.

Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium. (2011).  Teacher Leader Model Standards.  Retrieved from:

Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium. (2012). The Vision.  Retrieved from:

Created July 2012 by Amy Howard-McCormack(Sandy Creek Central Schools, Sandy Creek, NY) and Marcie Mann (LaFayette Central Schools, LaFayette, NY) for EDL 503 Culturally Responsive Leadership (LeMoyne College, Syracuse, NY).

Developed by CNYRIC