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MSEd Course Insight: The Role of Teacher Leaders

Read alongside Walden’s MS in Education students as they examine the impact of teacher leadership in changing educational environments.

If you want a career that focuses on changing lives, earning a teaching degree is a great choice. And in today’s education environment, you can make a difference not only as an educator in the classroom, but also as a teacher leader in your school and learning community.

When you earn a master’s of education in Walden’s MS in Education online program, you can learn about teacher leadership and its impact in education today. The class New and Emerging Technologies, one of the online courses you can take in the MSEd program’s teacher leadership specialization, features required reading such as the article “Leading Change From the Classroom: Teachers as Leaders,” by Victoria Boyd Dimock and Kathleen M. McGree. In the article, the authors examine the expanding roles of teachers as leaders and what that could mean in your career as an educator.

MSEd Course Insight: The Role of Teacher Leaders

Read along with our master’s in education students in the excerpt below to learn about teacher leadership—and discover how becoming a teacher leader could put you in a position to lead positive social change in the classroom and well beyond:1

Why Teacher Leadership?

The notion of teacher leadership is not new, but recently it has been transformed. In the past, teacher leadership roles have been limited in scope and established at the prerogative of school administrators. Teachers have long served as team leaders, department chairs, association leaders and curriculum developers. In these roles teachers have often served as "representatives" rather than "leaders" who enact change. In addition, leadership roles for teachers have traditionally lacked flexibility and required a lengthy, ongoing commitment of time and energy. Often the decision to take on leadership tasks has been accompanied by a decision to get out of teaching and into administration.

Recently, reports on the status of teacher education have issued strong and compelling pleas for dramatically different roles for teachers and increased professional development. While recognizing the centrality of teaching, the reports emphasize the need for teachers to extend their sphere of influence beyond the classroom and into schoolwide leadership activities.

Advocacy for teacher professionalism and expanded leadership roles is based on the understanding that teachers, because they have daily contacts with learners, are in the best position to make critical decisions about curriculum and instruction. Moreover, they are better able to implement changes in a comprehensive and continuous manner. The movement to expand teacher roles is also motivated by an ongoing need to attract and retain qualified teachers.

What Is Teacher Leadership?

Teachers typically define career satisfaction in terms of their ability to be of service to others and make a difference in the lives of their students. Similarly, the leadership considerations of teachers are grounded in their desire to improve the quality of teaching and learning for all students. Studies have shown that teachers do not subscribe to traditional definitions of leadership as "higher" or "superior" positions within the organizational hierarchy. Instead, teachers view leadership as a collaborative effort, a "banding together" with other teachers to promote professional development and growth and the improvement of educational services.

Today, leadership roles have begun to emerge and promise real opportunities for teachers to impact educational change—without necessarily leaving the classroom. Teachers are now serving as research colleagues, working as advisor mentors to new teachers, and facilitating professional development activities as master teachers. Teachers also act as members of school based leadership teams, instructional support teams and leaders of change efforts. In addition, teachers are forging a number of new and unique leadership roles through their own initiative by developing and implementing programs they personally believe will result in positive change.

What We Know About the Work Lives of Teacher Leaders

In spite of the fact that roles continue to expand, little is known about the teachers who take on leadership roles and their experiences. Researchers are only beginning to understand the complexities involved in creating and implementing leadership positions for teachers. Several recent studies have attempted to document the lives of teachers as they confront the challenges of leadership. These have shown that while lead teachers typically find their new roles and responsibilities enormously rewarding, they also encounter a variety of constraints and tensions.

What Do Teacher Leaders Do?

In one of the most extensive studies on the work of teacher leaders, researchers focused on what teachers actually did when they assumed leadership positions designed to provide assistance to other teachers. The authors found that the work of lead teachers was varied and largely specific to the individual context of the school. In order to be effective with their colleagues, lead teachers found it necessary to learn a variety of leadership skills while on the job. Those skills included:

  • Building trust and developing rapport
  • Diagnosing organizational conditions
  • Dealing with processes
  • Managing the work
  • Building skills and confidence in others

The authors concluded that restructuring school communities to incorporate leadership positions for teachers will require teacher leaders to take certain actions. These include: placing a nonjudgmental value on providing assistance, modeling collegiality as a mode of work, enhancing teachers’ self esteem, using different approaches to assistance, making provisions for continuous learning and support for teachers at the school site and encouraging others to provide leadership to their peers.

How Can You Prepare to Become a Teacher Leader?

If you are passionate about transforming education, an MSEd degree with a specialization in teacher leadership could help create a path to the career you want. In this online degree program for teachers, you can build on your current expertise with new leadership skills and teaching strategies that prepare you to make an even greater impact on student achievement.

Choosing an online graduate program for teachers at an accredited university like Walden allows you to earn a master’s in education degree while remaining in your current teaching job. Our MS in Education program offers a flexible online learning format so you can fit online classes around your schedule as a professional educator.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Education degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.

1Walden MSEd curriculum source:

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,