As an educator, you’ve likely noticed school accountability for students’ results has increased over the years, with more and more pressure being placed on schools to ensure students are getting good grades.
Teachers can have a significant impact on how much a student learns as they are the main point of contact for students. And as a result, the term and implementation of teacher leadership in schools is becoming increasingly important. However, most research into teacher leadership has focused on defining and characterising what teacher leadership is.
Few studies have actually investigated the indirect benefits these teachers can have on student achievement by changing school practices and culture. However, a recent meta-analysis examined the findings from 21 studies about teacher leadership to fill in this knowledge gap…
What makes a teacher a teacher leader?
Research defines teacher leadership as when a teacher influences the members of their school community to improve the teaching and learning practices in place. The main goal for teacher leaders is to indirectly improve students’ academic performance and overall learning by changing school policies.
Teacher leaders are typically known to be excellent educators and have a significant amount of teaching experience under their belt. For example, they may be department heads, student mentors, or head of years. They are looked up to by their peers as they readily assume responsibilities outside the classroom as well.
Their other responsibilities include:
- Reviewing educational research
- Peer coaching and support
- Engaging with both parents and the wider school community.
However, it’s important to note that any teacher can be a school leader – irrespective of how many years they have been teaching or which position they occupy.
What the study says
A recent study by Western Michigan University investigated the relationship between teacher leadership and student achievement by analysing the results of 21 studies that had looked into the effects of teacher leadership.
The researchers found that teacher leadership had a small, but significant positive relationship on student achievement. Interestingly though, teacher leadership appeared to benefit mathematical achievement more than reading achievement.
This was because teacher leadership facilitated improvements within the school curriculum such as instructional learning. This indirectly benefited student achievement as well. And more good news: the benefits of teacher leadership programmes were just as prominent in primary schools as they were across secondary schools.
How to help develop teacher leadership
Teacher leaders are important educational tools that help strengthen the school’s practising values and beliefs. So how do you apply this research into school practice?
Have clearly defined roles
For the school to run smoothly, it’s important that everyone knows their role by clearly outlining what counts as administrator leader responsibilities, teacher leader responsibilities, and shared responsibilities as well. When these roles are clearly defined, staff know was is expected of them, misunderstandings are less likely to waste time, and changes get made.
Of course, roles and responsibilities of teacher leaders adapt and change all the time, depending on school performance, school policy and procedures. As a result, the work that is routinely assigned to the teacher leaders should reflect this, so the quality of teaching and student learning is maintained.
Have strong relationships with staff
It’s important that teacher leaders feel valued and their efforts to improve academic achievement are recognised. This could be through evaluation of their performance so far or by giving constructive feedback. By keeping working relationships positive and trusting your teacher leaders to perform their job effectively, mutual trust and appreciation are built.
However, teacher leaders should not just have strong relationships with school administration and school leadership staff, but their fellow teaching peers as well. Doing so ensures the authority and instructional expertise teacher leaders have in their chosen subject areas is recognised.
Have a positive school culture
Having a positive workplace culture is important as it encourages your teaching staff to take initiative and supports their development into becoming a teacher leader as well as their well-being in a demanding role. Teachers wanting to improve in order to meet the criteria for teacher leadership roles should be encouraged to do so and supported in the process.
Ensure teachers have the resources they need
You’ve now laid the groundwork for expanding teacher leadership programmes in schools by having a positive culture, strong relationship with staff and having clearly defined roles. However, it’s not enough to encourage teachers to become teacher leaders, you need to provide them with the right tools to do so. Teachers can only become teacher leaders if they have appropriate access to essential materials like time and space for activities.
Yet for you to identify what resources are necessary, it is important to collaborate with your teacher leaders and identify the target areas they want to influence. For example, will they focus on improving departmental achievement or try and create a more collaborative team structure?
Once teacher leaders had identified the problems they wanted to address, the appropriate steps to change them can take place. These improvements will, in turn, benefit learning and teaching practices and increase student achievement as a result.
The challenge of implementing teacher leader programmes
There are several challenges that could impede school improvement by diminishing the role teacher leaders have on student achievement. The main challenges include, but are not limited to:
- A lack of incentive for assuming leadership roles.
- A lack of community that creates a competitive edge between teachers.
- Conflict between teacher leaders and school administration staff.
- Traditional hierarchical leadership structures in the school.
- Inadequate time for developing leadership qualities.
How we can help you develop great teacher leaders?
If you want to give your teacher leaders a boost and provide aspiring teacher leaders with invaluable training, we offer research-based, practical workshops that can help…
- Our Online Leadership teacher CPD course not only takes place online to accommodate your Covid safety measures – it allows your staff to develop leadership skills applied to an online environment. Find out more about the course…
- Our Teamwork and Problem-Solving teacher CPD workshop will strengthen your staff’s working relationship, but also train them to teach others about teamwork, be it fellow educators or students. Find out more about the course…
- Our Public Speaking teacher CPD workshop will empower your staff to become strong public speakers and share their knowledge and ideas with fellow members of staff. Find out more about the course…
A recent meta-analysis has highlighted the positive impact teacher leadership programmes in schools can have on student achievement. As a result, schools should ensure that their teachers have the right tools to become teacher leaders and are supported through that process.
Many different factors can contribute to the development of teacher leaders, with clearly defined roles and having a supportive school culture being the two main areas for improvement. However, like with all things in education, there are challenges with implementing these teacher leadership programmes into schools that would need to be addressed.
For more tips on how to improve student learning, check out our blogs on the importance of teacher-student relationships and how teacher support can improve student well-being.