Teachers as Leaders in Education Reform. ERIC
by Wynne, Joan
Over the last two decades, much has been written about the need to develop
teacher leaders (TL) in schools. In 1986, the Carnegie Forum on Education
and the Economy reported that unless teachers are empowered and supported
as professionals, schools will not be able to sustain significant change
through school reform efforts. Subsequently, several studies were released
that concluded that teachers need to fully participate as leaders in the
process of whole-school change if reform is to be successful (Conley and
Muncey, 1999; Lieberman, 1988; Urbanski and Nickolaou, 1997). Current research
suggests, however, that although teacher leaders make significant contributions
to schools, other factors are necessary to bring about some reform goals.
This digest defines the concept of teacher leadership and looks at the
impact of teacher leadership on student achievement and equity within the
DEFINING TEACHER LEADERSHIP
Most of the researchers involved in exploring the concept of teachers
as leaders agree that it is distinctly different from administrative or
managerial concepts of leadership. Various studies indicate that effective
teacher leadership involves a move away from top-down, hierarchical modes
of functioning and a move toward shared decision-making, teamwork, and
community building (Alvaredo, 1997; Coyle, 1997).
Several models have emerged for developing teacher leaders. For example,
the National Writing Project (NWP) promotes a leadership model of teachers
growing professionally by sharing their best practices with peers and with
diverse audiences at professional conferences, through journal publications,
and through the design of teacher workshops and institutes. A similar program,
IMPACT II, funded by the MetLife Foundation, awards grants for exemplary
teacher projects and creates networking opportunities.
In addition to projects like these, a few degreed teacher leadership
programs have sprung up around the country: Jacqueline B. Vaughn Graduate
School for Teachers, Chicago, IL; Center for Educational Leadership, California
State University, Hayward, CA; Teacher Leadership, Wheelock College, Boston;
Teacher as Leader, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Teacher Leader Program,
Wright State University; and the Urban Teacher Leadership MS at Georgia
State University. These programs and other studies continue to examine
the qualities and/or behaviors that distinguish teachers as leaders (Alverado,
1997; Crowther, 1997; O'Hair and Reitzug, 1997; Paulu and Winters, 1998;
Wynne, 2001). The majority seem to agree that teacher leaders:
* Demonstrate expertise in their instruction and share that knowledge
with other professionals,
* Are consistently on a professional learning curve,
* Frequently reflect on their work to stay on the cutting edge of what's
best for children,
* Engage in continuous action research projects that examine their effectiveness,
* Collaborate with their peers, parents, and communities, engaging them
in dialogues of open inquiry/action/assessment models of change,
* Become socially conscious and politically involved,
* Mentor new teachers,
* Become more involved at universities in the preparation of pre-service
* Are risk-takers who participate in school decisions.
In addition, several studies indicate that one of the most significant
developmental skills is for teachers to become active researchers in their
classrooms and schools. For all of these qualities to be sustained, however,
many argue that a shift in governance needs to take hold, embracing the
idea of teachers as equal partners in leadership. Researchers insist that
teachers are too often left out of the loop of leadership in their schools;
and, all too often, if given leadership roles, lack the skills that will
make them successful as leaders (Sherrill, 1999; Zimpher and Howey, 1992).
Many teachers need encouragement from administrators and colleagues to
shift from their perception of isolation into recognition of themselves
as active contributors in a larger context, outside classroom walls.
TEACHER LEADERS AND STUDENT ACADEMIC PERFORMANCES
The ultimate measure of the contributions of teacher leaders, proponents
suggest, is the impact of teacher leaders on student academic performance.
Many scholars assume that the one causes the other (Lieberman, 1992). Nevertheless,
a study by Leithwood and Jantzi in 1999 indicates that while a multitude
of qualitative studies suggest the efficacy of teachers as leaders, few
quantitative studies have tested this notion. The studies that have tested
it found no conclusive evidence to support any positive correlation between
student achievement and teacher leadership. Leithwood's study, involving
a sample of 1,762 teachers and 9,941 students in a large Canadian School
district, not only found no impact of teacher leadership on raising student
achievement, but also hypothesized that by trying to combine leadership
with teaching, teaching is devalued.
Other research suggests that the bureaucracy of schools and systems,
as well as the attitudes of educational policy makers, stifle the possibilities
for teacher leaders to be effective as change agents. Barriers such as
too little time during the work day for reflection, rigid school schedules,
unrelated instructional tasks, jealousies and/or lack of support from peer
teachers and administrators, and overemphasis on state mandated high-stakes
testing hamper the effectiveness of many teachers who, while teaching,
step beyond their classrooms to lead (Paulu and Winters,1998). All of these
barriers leave too many teachers feeling powerless. However, despite these
impediments, most school reform studies continue to advocate for teacher
empowerment, shared governance, collegial collaboration, professional development,
and more time for reflection. They see TL qualities as necessary elements
for redesigning schools for success.
TEACHER LEADERS AND EQUITY ISSUES
In 1999, Pauline Lipman evaluated two southern schools where TL reform
components existed. She discovered that African American students in these
schools experienced no gain in academic achievement. Her study indicated
that unless issues of power, race, and class are addressed in school communities,
the achievement level of African American students will not be affected
by the empowerment of their teachers. Similar results were discovered in
another study in the south that involved three metropolitan school districts
(Wynne, 2000). By failing to confront issues of inequity, some schools
inadvertently reproduce African American student failure and disempowerment
through educational reform (Lipman, 1999; Delpit, 1995; Wynne, 2000).
Scholars suggest that one of the largest failures in the quest to raise
the academic achievement of children of color in urban and rural schools
seems to be the schools' inability to respect and listen to the voices
of parents and students in these communities. In fact, many scholars and
practitioners seem to believe that any positive effects of teacher leadership
and school reform for those communities are doomed without attending to
the imperative of giving voice to the silenced (Delpit, 1997; Hilliard,
1991; Ladson-Billings, 2001; Moses, 2001). O'Hair & Reitzug report
that in most mainstream discussions concerning teacher leadership, issues
of student and community equity and input too often are not addressed.
To confront those issues, Hilliard suggests, teacher leaders must learn
to challenge the "intellectual structures, definitions, and assumptions"
about people of color in Euro-centric institutions (1997). His research
indicates that in schools where those theories are challenged, students
A movement is growing among diverse educational stakeholders to seek,
as Bob Moses (2001) suggests, "the solutions for educational problems from
within schools and communities themselves," not outside among traditional
cadres of experts. In the educational history of African Americans, a strong
strand of support exists for organizing from the bottom up. In African
American Freedom Schools, the message was that the power for change must
come from "the root. . . the people who are at the bottom" (Grant, 1998;
Harding, 1990; Horton, 1998; Moses, 2001).
A compelling example of teacher leadership, which seems also to summarize
the most evolved concept in the TL research literature, is the work of
Ella Baker who believed that "What is needed is the development of people
who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership
in others." This is a model grounded in Baker's theory that "We are the
people we have been waiting for" (Reagon, 2001).
References identified with an EJ or ED number have been abstracted and
are in the ERIC database. Journal articles (EJ) should be available at
most research libraries; most documents (ED) are available in microfiche
collections at more than 900 locations. Documents can also be ordered through
the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (800-443-ERIC).
Alvarado, C. (1997). If leadership was everyone's domain. Inm taking
the lead: Investing in early childhood leadership for the 21st century.
Boston, MA: Wheelock College.
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of teaching. Washington, DC: National Education Association.
Conley, S. & Muncey, D. (1999) Teachers talk about teaming and leadership
in their work. Theory Into Practice, 38(1), 46.
Coyle, M. (1997). Teacher leadership vs. school management: Flatten
the hierarchies. Clearing House, 70(5), 236.
Crowther, F. (1997). The William Walker Oration 1996, Unsung heroes:
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teachers in diverse classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Leithwood, K. & Jantzi, D. (1999). The relative effects of principal
and teacher sources of leadership on student engagement with school. Educational
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Lieberman, A. (1994). Teachers as leaders: Evolving roles. Washington,
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Lipman, P. (1999). Race, class and power in school restructuring. Albany:
State University of New York Press.
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O'Hair, M. & Reitzug, U. (1997). Teacher leadership: In what ways?
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Voices from the National Teacher Forum. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse.
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Reagon, B. (2001). Fund for Southern Communities Award Ceremony, Spelman
College, Atlanta, GA.
Sherrill, J. (1999). Preparing teachers for leadership roles in the
21st century. Theory Into Practice, 38(1), 56.
Urbanski, A. & Nickolaou, M. (1997). Reflections on teachers as
leaders. Educational Policy, 11(2), 243-54.
Wasley, P. (1991). Teachers as leaders: The rhetoric of reform and the
realities of practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
Wynne, J. (2000, April). The elephant in the living room: Racism in
school reform. Paper presented at the AERA, Montreal, Canada. ED 436 614.
Wynne, J. (2001). Urban teacher leaders: Testimonies of transformation.
Unpublished paper presented at the AACTE conference, Dallas, Texas.
Zimpher, N. & Howey, K. (1992). Policy and practice toward the improvement
of teacher education. Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational