Teacher leadership: Ways to make an impact in education

Teacher Leadership

Skilled teachers have the power to make a real difference in the lives of students. But educators who exemplify leadership skills within the field are able to make an even greater impact. Teachers who learn to translate their successful classroom practices into a shared vision that can help drive the school, the district or even the industry forward can benefit students far beyond their classrooms.

A teacher’s career trajectory doesn’t follow the same gradual climb to the top that’s common among other professions. Generally speaking, a seasoned instructor with years of experience will have virtually the same responsibilities as a teacher who is new to the job. But there are ways to develop as a leader in the field.

Read on as we explore the varying kinds of teacher leadership strategies and examine some of the most influential qualities effective educators share.

What is teacher leadership?

The quality of the classroom teacher and the strength of the institution's leader are two factors that have a significant impact on a child's academic success. Teachers who are educational leaders seize the opportunity to step outside of the classroom to influence the education system as a whole.

The Center for Teaching Quality, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the National Education Association came together to create the Teacher Leadership Institute. This collaborative organization created a report on teacher leadership competencies, which maintains that teacher leadership isn’t an isolated task. It’s a way of practicing education that continually prioritizes growth for students, colleagues, districts and school systems at large.

Those who lead, the report notes, don’t do so just for self-development. Teacher leaders are committed to helping others achieve their potential, with the overarching goal of improving students’ learning and classroom environments.

According to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, there are both formal and informal teacher leaders. Formal teacher leaders occupy official high-level roles, such as department chair, instructional coach or school administrator. Teachers who are informal leaders emerge more organically. For example, an educator can take initiative to address a problem or propose a new program. Their influence stems from respect they’ve garnered from their colleagues through their teaching expertise rather than their official role.

Beyond the school environment, teachers can participate in district-wide teacher evaluation committees or curriculum teams. They can also present at regional or national conferences or serve on a state standards board. Simply speaking up as the voice of the teachers at school board meetings can establish your role as a leader.

The pathways to teacher leadership

The Teacher Leadership Institute has identified three methods of achieving teacher leadership, along with a number of overarching proficiencies educational leaders share. If you’re hoping to assume a leadership role in your education career, you might consider the following pathways.

Instructional leadership

Many teachers excel in classroom instruction, but instructional leadership goes beyond being a great teacher in the classroom. Educators who are adept in instructional leadership also prioritize sharing effective teaching practices with others, leveraging technology when appropriate. True leaders in the field don’t keep their successful techniques to themselves, but rather share their findings to benefit students in other classrooms.

Policy leadership

Education policy is at its best when informed by insight from accomplished teachers. Every decision made at the policy level has direct implications for classrooms and instruction. Some educational leaders even step out of their classroom roles to serve in policy positions at the school, district, state and national levels.

When teachers are willing to use their experience to make a difference at a policy level, our education system can begin to shape more effective standards and regulations that will adequately support student learning. Teachers who prioritize policy leadership can extend their influence to local, state and national education systems.

Association leadership

When educators understand how to create and guide meaningful, collective action, they’re demonstrating association leadership. The ability to help multiple colleagues focus on a unified vision is what allows a teacher leader to improve the education system.

This requires keeping a keen eye on what is working and what is needed to help further support educators, learners and the learning environment. Teachers who are skilled at association leadership can often build bridges with administrators and other stakeholders to improve and advance quality instructional practice.

Overarching leadership competencies

Data from The Teacher Leadership Institute also identifies a number of overarching competencies educational leaders often exhibit. As you seek to make an impact in your own teaching practice, you might consider mastering some of the following skills:

  • Reflective practice: Helping systems to function with a culture of mindful and meaningful reflection by creating conditions that encourage thoughtful consideration among peers, administrators and other staff members.


  • Personal effectiveness: Understanding your own personal strengths, leadership style and passions, and capitalizing on those attributes to support lifelong learning in others and yourself.


  • Interpersonal effectiveness: Seeking opportunities to better support your colleagues and building critical relationships to promote action that’s based on a shared vision and is deeply rooted in serving the needs of students.


  • Communication: Defining, differentiating and sharing carefully crafted messaging that can spur others to pursue positive change at all levels of the education system.


  • Continuing learning and education: Creating meaningful professional development goals and seeking learning opportunities to help you achieve them. Examples include pursuing additional higher education, attending conferences or policy forums and participating in research projects.


  • Group processes: Open-mindedly engaging in working with others, skillfully managing group dynamics and guiding groups through challenges.


  • Adult learning: Building an awareness of adult learning to better understand how to impact colleagues and collaborate to enhance instructional growth and student success.


  • Technological facility: Incorporating emerging technology as a tool to communicate with diverse audiences, facilitate collaboration and offer learning activities that would otherwise be inaccessible.

What will educational leadership look like in your career?

You now know about a number of ways you could broaden your impact as an educator. As you seek to enhance your teacher leadership skills, consider your goals within the field. If you’re hoping to progress to a formal leadership role, you may want to consider how University of Massachusetts Global’s Master of Arts in Education, Educational Leadership degree could help get you there.

Perhaps you’re looking to gain new skills, but you’re not in the market for a master’s degree. There are a number of professional development opportunities you could consider. Explore course offerings in leadership, pedagogy, classroom management and more professional development opportunities for educators at UMass Global.



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