Teacher Leadership in Education: 5 Must-Have Skills for Educators

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Educational leaders are more needed than ever. With nationwide teacher shortages adding to the already taxed educational environment, schools must find ways to implement positive structure for both teachers and pupils alike. This leaves a perfect opportunity for teacher leaders.

According to the National Education Association (NEA), “teacher leadership is a largely underdeveloped and untapped resource in schools. Organizations frequently attempt to compartmentalize teacher leadership with narrowly defined areas of responsibility and limits on actions. These organizational limits cannot, however, diminish the impact of a respected colleague on culture and action within a school.”

Have you always wanted to work in a teacher leadership role? There’s never been a better time, and here are the must-have skills you’ll need to succeed.

What is Teacher Leadership?

The formal definition says that teacher leadership is when “teachers go beyond their classroom responsibilities and assume informal and formal roles within the school to influence and enhance instruction and learning for all students. Teachers who hold the professional identity as an educator who demonstrate leadership within the classroom, school, community and beyond, either through formal or informal roles.”

In practice, teacher leadership can take many forms, but most often it looks like:

  • Acting as an advocate for their school and the needs of students
  • Leading a professional association/union
  • Serving as a mentor, coach, peer assistant, or peer reviewer
  • Working in instructional design, assessment design, or a curriculum planner
  • Monitoring improvement efforts and participating in administrative meetings
  • Engaging parent and community participation

Teacher Leader

Teachers who take on additional, high-level roles are typically called teacher leaders. Generally speaking, teacher leaders are those who have “significant teaching experience, are known to be excellent educators, and are respected by their peers.”

Why is Leadership in Education Important?

The primary purpose of educational leadership is to ensure academic success through process, material, and training improvements. This is mainly accomplished through collaboration with different individuals, such as educators, parents, students, public policy makers, and the public.

According to a Wallace Foundation study, “Leadership is second only to classroom instruction as an influence on student learning.” This is because teacher leaders are intensely focused on improving and ensuring academic success for students, which implies success for teachers as well. Through teacher leadership, schools are pushed forward in terms of process, material and training improvements, and enhanced collaboration across all parties involved in school progress.

Leadership Styles in Education

Teacher leadership takes many different forms and will depend on an educator’s personality and instructional style. Overall, there are a handful of distinct leadership styles in education.

  1. Affiliate – a leadership style that sees the teacher focusing strictly on those who rely on them, i.e., their affiliates. They tend to set aside their personal goals or priorities and work to improve life for those they already lead.
  2. Authoritative – this leadership style works in an educational setting that has a strong code of conduct or strict rules to be followed. Authoritative leaders typically use the rules and regulations as a guideline for all decisions and set goals that fit within them.
  3. Coaching – if mentoring is more comfortable for you, then a coaching leadership style might work for you. Coaching leadership style helps others identify their weaknesses and then works to help them improve.
  4. Emotional – educational leaders with strong emotional intelligence often use an emotional leadership style. These leaders can read the emotions of their reports and use that understanding to motivate them.
  5. Instructional – possibly the best fit for educators, the instructional leadership style emphasizes “improving teaching performance and student progress simultaneously,” by setting expectations and incentivizing good performance.

Essential Leadership Skills & Qualities for Teachers

There is some commonality amongst educational leaders who successfully lead their institutions and help their peers and students achieve their goals. For those who wish to move into educational leadership roles, possessing the following traits of effective school leaders should translate to positive outcomes.

1. They Understand the Importance of Building Community

Educational leaders are most successful when they have buy-in from their fellow teachers and the student body. To foster that sense of trust, they know they must invest time and resources into building a sense of community. When the feeling of community is established, stakeholders are more apt to go above and beyond to help everyone achieve their goals.

2. They Empower Teachers and Cultivate Leadership Skills

No one can succeed alone, and that is certainly the truth with educational leaders. There is simply far too much to achieve for one person, and good leaders know that delegating tasks is the mark of a good manager, not a bad one. Empower fellow teachers to tackle leadership-level tasks and help them to develop their leadership skills — the school will be better for it.

3. They Utilize Data and Resources

While they can be a pain, standardized tests and other school-based data resources are great opportunities for school leaders. Using this data, good educational leaders know to use this information to drive continuous improvements within the school. They can identify areas that need additional attention, learn from departments that are succeeding, and ultimately leverage data to make strategic decisions to benefit the entire school community.

4. They Have a Vision and a Plan

Having a clear plan will not only help leadership stay the course, but it also provides guidelines for the school community as a whole. Good educational leaders have clear goals — a vision — that they can unite their team around, helping to encourage their performance in pursuit of that mission.

5. They Create Collaborative, Inclusive Learning Environments

To reach all learners, educational leadership professionals must put inclusivity at the forefront of their goals. By creating an inclusive learning environment, students have access to flexible learning options that suit their learning styles, and ultimately feel a sense of belonging. This also empowers educators to focus on student success because they know the leaders who support them have their backs.

Leadership Opportunities & Roles for Teachers

Roles that teacher leaders can take on/are suited for with or without a formal title:

  • Instructional Specialist: Instructional specialists “support each department head in their planning of curriculum. Their duties are to make classroom visits; speak with students, teachers, and administrators; assess the current curriculum; and work to improve learning outcomes by introducing a tutoring program or recommending additional support to classrooms.”
  • Classroom Supporter: Classroom supporters can be anyone within a school, and their job is to help teachers with new lesson instruction. This usually takes the form of a guest lecturing, coteaching, or observing a lesson and giving feedback. Any teacher can be a classroom supporter and take this on in addition to their own regular teaching.
  • Learning Facilitator: Educational leadership isn’t just for the students’ benefit. A learning facilitator helps facilitate professional development opportunities for colleagues. This could be within their department or even school-wide and should be intended to achieve a specific goal or promote initiatives that further student learning.
  • Mentor: Teachers who have been in the classroom for many years, or those who have advanced degrees, can move into educational leadership by becoming a mentor. Mentors advise new teachers or teachers who are new to a school and help them by sharing advice, observing, and supporting their development as professionals.
  • School Leader: School leaders serve on committees, represent the school at PTA or school board meetings, serve as department chairs, or take on any extracurricular responsibilities beyond their classroom teaching. They serve as representatives for the school or certain departments.

FAQs about Teacher Leadership

What is teacher leadership?

Educational leadership, or teacher leadership, is when teachers go “beyond their classroom responsibilities and assume informal and formal roles within the school to influence and enhance instruction and learning for all students. Teachers who hold the professional identity as an educator who demonstrate leadership within the classroom, school, community and beyond, either through formal or informal roles.”

What is a teacher leader?

Teacher leaders are those who have “significant teaching experience, are known to be excellent educators, and are respected by their peers.”

What are the skills required of a leader in education?

Educational leaders should possess the following traits:

    1. They understand the importance of building community
    2. They empower teachers and cultivate leadership skills
    3. They utilize data and resources
    4. They have a vision and a plan
    5. They create collaborative, inclusive learning environments
    6. They are passionate about their work
    7. They encourage risk-taking
    8. They lead by example
    9. They persevere
    10. They are lifelong learners

Becoming an Effective School Leader

To become an effective educational leader within your current school or potentially in your next, the first step is continuing your education. Even with an advanced degree, educators can benefit from taking courses or enrolling in programs that are specifically focused on teacher leadership. At the University of San Diego Division of Professional and Continuing Education (PCE), we proudly offer a Teacher Leadership Certificate Program that helps learners develop skills, tools, and strategies to become teacher leaders who contribute to teacher, student, and school success.


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