[Opinion] Significance of Teacher Leadership

A university classroom. (Jones Hall at Princet...

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Shafiq-ur-Rehman

The demand for quality education is a global trend. In order to face the challenges of this millennium and rapidly changing world, the role of teachers is no longer merely a knowledge transmitter; teachers have to take up extra administrative duties. Teachers are getting more and more involved in school management, and this means that teachers should be equipped and empowered if schools aim at improvement. Here one expects teachers to not only manage their subject areas and the classroom environments but to also lead in their subject areas and be role models and mentors as well.

Leading is a process of inspiring, guiding, motivating, attracting, and directing effectively. The term ‘leadership’ means different things to different people.  In the past, ‘leadership’ was understood in terms of individual traits, behavior influence over other people, interaction patterns, role relationship. It was largely premised upon individual endeavor, and one’s social influence. Recent studies of effective leadership exhibit a different picture. In brief, the traditional notion of leadership has been changed. In order to sustain school improvement, school leadership is no longer to be located in a single person or certain administrators; it needs to be dispersed within the school among various school players across different levels. In this sense leadership is separated from person, role and status and is primarily concerned with the relationships and the connections among individuals within a school. There is a shift from ‘singular’ leadership, practiced by the principal, to different stakeholders, particularly teachers. As teacher leadership has been getting more and more an essential element in school improvement, this is why Fullan (2001), comments that teachers are the key to school change.   As the limitations of individual leadership have become increasingly evident through recent research, the idea of collective or teacher leadership, consisting of “teachers who lead within and beyond the classroom (Moller, 2001) identify with and contribute to a community of teacher learners and leaders, and influence others towards improved educational practice” has become increasingly well established.

There are various definitions of teacher leadership. For example, leadership as teacher’s ability to encourage colleagues to change, to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily consider without the influence of the leader. Similarly, teacher leaders lead within and beyond the classroom, and contribute to a community of teacher learners, and leaders, and influence others towards improved educational practice. Teachers are also supposed to be good leaders inside or outside of the classrooms, as a good leader not only guides, but inspires.

Leadership is an influencing process that depends on a person’s behavior being recognized. It entails the exercise of influence over the beliefs, actions, and values of others. Teachers often attempt to exercise leadership in relation to quite different aspects of the school’s functioning, and teachers often report a strong interest in expanding their spheres of influence.

Teachers charge ahead with new ideas for improving teaching and learning. Teacher leaders carry the weight of responsibility for ensuring that reforms take root in the classroom, and deepen the learning of all students. In the current wave of teacher leadership, teacher leaders derive their authority from their experience in the classroom. Teachers lead informally by revealing their classroom practice, sharing their expertise, asking questions from colleagues, mentoring new teachers and modeling how teachers collaborate on issues of practice. Successful teacher leaders stay true to their belief, couple confidence with humility in their practice, and continually work with colleagues to improve student learning. They stand up for what is near and dear to them, improving teaching, and learning. Researches show that when teachers are empowered to function as autonomous professionals, and leaders, this build a sense of professional confidence, and pride that feeds effective teaching practice.  There is also a need to provide rich and diverse opportunities for continuous professional development of teacher leaders in the school. The literature suggests that professional development for teacher leadership needs to focus on aspects specific to their leadership role. Skills such as leading groups, and workshops, collaborative work, mentoring, teaching adults, action research, collaborating with others, and writing bids, need to be incorporated into professional development to help teachers adapt to the new roles involved.

One of the main areas of capacity building for teacher leadership suggested by previous research is the need to improve teachers’ self-confidence to act as leaders in their schools, and in their classrooms. Through collaborating with teachers in other schools, engaging in trialing new teaching approaches, disseminating their findings to colleagues, and engaging in action research the potential for teacher leadership is significantly enhanced. Such activities help to develop teachers’ confidence and reflection on their practice. Some research suggests that more democratic styles of leadership emerge where schools work in clusters.  Teacher leaders are creative and patient; they encourage curiosity, and acknowledge the talents of the students. Great teaching and great leadership are synonymous. Teaching and leading are indistinguishable occupations, but every great leader is teaching, and every great teacher is leading. Teaching and leading are often viewed as synonymous, although some would argue that not all teachers are leaders. Leaders motivate followers, and teachers motivate students.

Teacher Leadership may be either formal or informal in nature. Subject lead teacher, Master Teacher, Department Head, Union Representative, and Mentor. These are among the many designations associated with formal teacher leadership roles. Teachers assuming these roles are expected to carry out a wide range of functions. These functions include, for example: representing the school in district level decision making, stimulating the professional growth of colleagues, being an advocate for teachers’ and improving the schools’ decision making processes. Those appointed to formal leadership roles also are sometimes expected to induct new teachers into the school and to positively influence the willingness and capacity of other teachers to implement changes in the school.

Teachers also exercise informal leadership roles in their schools by sharing their expertise, by volunteering new projects and by bringing new ideas to the school. They also offer such leadership by helping their colleagues to carry out their classroom duties and by assisting in the improvement of classroom practice through the engagement of their colleagues in experimentation and the examination of more powerful instructional techniques. Teachers attribute leadership qualities as well to colleagues, who accept   responsibility for their own professional growth, promote the school’s mission and work for the improvement of the school or the school system. Teachers who gathered to collaborate and learn from each other in informal manners, as leaders themselves. Informally, teacher leadership occurs wherever and whenever one person’s action purposely influences another’s. Formal areas have been identified within the literature also. Indeed, it is the formal role that began much of the teacher leadership movement. Areas of essential teacher leader work as being: textbook selection, curriculum, standards for student behavior, student tracking, staff development, promotion and retention policies, budgets, teacher evaluations, selecting new staff, selecting new administrators, budgets, and professional development. Teacher leaders are instrumental when acting in roles as team leaders, department chairpersons, mentors, master teachers, grade level chairs, curriculum coordinators, and consultants. Teacher leaders revealed their personal beliefs of contribution included their work of building relationships through professional development facilitators, working in curriculum development, serving as department chairs, grade chairs, and mentors to other teachers. Studies of teacher leadership identified department chairs, school improvement team leaders, and leaders of professional development for teachers as formal roles which are inexplicably associated with teacher leadership. Implementation of teacher leadership, leads to shared decision making, opens paths for innovation and change, and enhances curricular work directed toward school improvement.

The contributor is a student of M.Ed at Aga Khan University Institute for Education Development, Karachi. He can be reached at  rehman.shafiq30@gmail.com


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5 Responses to [Opinion] Significance of Teacher Leadership

  1. Noor says:

    Insightful article. thanks for sharing

  2. Pingback: [Opinion] Significance of Teacher Leadership | Tea Break

  3. Pingback: The Greatest Leaders Must Be Mentors, Trainers And Teachers. « Entrepreneurial Advice And Insights

  4. I really enjoyed the article. You have selected an inspiring topic to articulate…. thanks.

    DK

  5. Pingback: Leaders and change | Education for the 21st Century

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