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Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders

Cindy Harrison and Joellen Killion

The ways teachers can lead are as varied as teachers
Teacher leaders assume a wide range of roles to support
school and student success. Whether these roles are
assigned formally or shared informally, they build the
entire school's capacity to improve. Because teachers
can lead in a variety of ways, many teachers can serve as
leaders among their peers.
So what are some of the leadership options available to
teachers? The following 10 roles are a sampling of the
many ways teachers can contribute to their schools'

1. Resource Provider
Teachers help their colleagues by sharing instructional
resources. These might include Web sites, instructional
materials, readings, or other resources to use with
students. They might also share such professional
resources as articles, books, lesson or unit plans, and
assessment tools.
Tinisha becomes a resource provider when she offers to
help Carissa, a new staff member in her second career,
set up her classroom. Tinisha gives Carissa extra copies
of a number line for her students to use, signs to post on
the wall that explain to students how to get help when the
teacher is busy, and the grade-level language arts pacing
2. Instructional Specialist
An instructional specialist helps colleagues implement
effective teaching strategies. This help might include
ideas for differentiating instruction or planning lessons in
partnership with fellow teachers. Instructional specialists
might study research-based classroom strategies
(Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001); explore which
instructional methodologies are appropriate for the
school; and share findings with colleagues.
When his fellow science teachers share their frustration
with students' poorly written lab reports, Jamal suggests
that they invite several English teachers to recommend
strategies for writing instruction. With two English
teachers serving as instructional specialists, the science
teachers examine a number of lab reports together and
identify strengths and weaknesses. The English teachers
share strategies they use in their classes to improve
students' writing.

3. Curriculum Specialist
Understanding content standards, how various
components of the curriculum link together, and how to
use the curriculum in planning instruction and
assessment is essential to ensuring consistent
curriculum implementation throughout a school.
Curriculum specialists lead teachers to agree on
standards, follow the adopted curriculum, use common
pacing charts, and develop shared assessments.
Tracy, the world studies team leader, works with the five
language arts and five social studies teachers in her
school. Using standards in English and social studies as
their guides, the team members agree to increase the
consistency in their classroom curriculums and
administer common assessments. Tracy suggests that
the team develop a common understanding of the
standards and agrees to facilitate the development and
analysis of common quarterly assessments.
4. Classroom Supporter
Classroom supporters work inside classrooms to help
teachers implement new ideas, often by demonstrating a
lesson, coteaching, or observing and giving feedback.
Blase and Blase (2006) found that consultation with peers
enhanced teachers' self-efficacy (teachers'
belief in their own abilities and capacity to
successfully solve teaching and learning
problems) as they reflected on practice and
grew together, and it also encouraged a bias for
action (improvement through collaboration) on
the part of teachers. (p. 22)
Marcia asks Yolanda for classroom support in
implementing nonlinguistic representation strategies,
such as graphic organizers, manipulatives, and
kinesthetic activities (Marzano et al., 2001). Yolanda
agrees to plan and teach a lesson with Marcia that
integrates several relevant strategies. They ask the
principal for two half-days of professional release time,
one for learning more about the strategy and planning a
lesson together, and the other for coteaching the lesson
to Marcia's students and discussing it afterward.
5. Learning Facilitator
Facilitating professional learning opportunities among
staff members is another role for teacher leaders. When
teachers learn with and from one another, they can focus
on what most directly improves student learning. Their
professional learning becomes more relevant, focused on
teachers' classroom work, and aligned to fill gaps in
student learning. Such communities of learning can break
the norms of isolation present in many schools.
Frank facilitates the school's professional development
committee and serves as the committee's language arts
representative. Together, teachers plan the year's
professional development program using a backmapping
model (Killion, 2001). This model begins with identifying
student learning needs, teachers' current level of
knowledge and skills in the target areas, and types of
learning opportunities that different groups of teachers
need. The committee can then develop and implement a
professional development plan on the basis of their

6. Mentor
Serving as a mentor for novice teachers is a common role
for teacher leaders. Mentors serve as role models;
acclimate new teachers to a new school; and advise new
teachers about instruction, curriculum, procedure,
practices, and politics. Being a mentor takes a great deal
of time and expertise and makes a significant contribution
to the development of a new professional.
Ming is a successful teacher in her own 1st grade
classroom, but she has not assumed a leadership role in
the school. The principal asks her to mentor her new
teammate, a brand-new teacher and a recent immigrant
from the Philippines. Ming prepares by participating in the
district's three-day training on mentoring. Her role as a
mentor will not only include helping her teammate
negotiate the district, school, and classroom, but will also
include acclimating her colleague to the community. Ming
feels proud as she watches her teammate develop into an
accomplished teacher.

7. School Leader
Being a school leader means serving on a committee,
such as a school improvement team; acting as a grade-
level or department chair; supporting school initiatives;
or representing the school on community or district task
forces or committees. A school leader shares the vision
of the school, aligns his or her professional goals with
those of the school and district, and shares responsibility
for the success of the school as a whole.
Joshua, staff sponsor of the student council, offers to
help the principal engage students in the school
improvement planning process. The school improvement
team plans to revise its nearly 10-year-old vision and
wants to ensure that students' voices are included in the
process. Joshua arranges a daylong meeting for 10 staff
members and 10 students who represent various views of
the school experience, from nonattenders to grade-level
presidents. Joshua works with the school improvement
team facilitator to ensure that the activities planned for
the meeting are appropriate for students so that students
will actively participate.
8. Data Coach
Although teachers have access to a great deal of data,
they do not often use that data to drive classroom
instruction. Teacher leaders can lead conversations that
engage their peers in analyzing and using this
information to strengthen instruction.
Carol, the 10th grade language arts team leader, facilitates
a team of her colleagues as they look at the results of the
most recent writing sample, a teacher-designed
assessment given to all incoming 10th grade students.
Carol guides teachers as they discuss strengths and
weaknesses of students' writing performance as a group,
as individuals, by classrooms, and in disaggregated
clusters by race, gender, and previous school. They then
plan instruction on the basis of this data.

9. Catalyst for Change

Teacher leaders can also be catalysts for change,
visionaries who are never content with the status quo
but rather always looking for a better way (Larner, 2004,
p. 32). Teachers who take on the catalyst role feel secure
in their own work and have a strong commitment to
continual improvement. They pose questions to generate
analysis of student learning.
In a faculty meeting, Larry expresses a concern that
teachers may be treating some students differently from
others. Students who come to him for extra assistance
have shared their perspectives, and Larry wants teachers
to know what students are saying. As his colleagues
discuss reasons for low student achievement, Larry
challenges them to explore data about the relationship
between race and discipline referrals in the school. When
teachers begin to point fingers at students, he
encourages them to examine how they can change their
instructional practices to improve student engagement
and achievement.

10. Learner
Among the most important roles teacher leaders assume
is that of learner. Learners model continual improvement,
demonstrate lifelong learning, and use what they learn to
help all students achieve.
Manuela, the school's new bilingual teacher, is a
voracious learner. At every team or faculty meeting, she
identifies something new that she is trying in her
classroom. Her willingness to explore new strategies is
infectious. Other teachers, encouraged by her willingness
to discuss what works and what doesn't, begin to talk
about their teaching and how it influences student
learning. Faculty and team meetings become a forum in
which teachers learn from one another. Manuela's
commitment to and willingness to talk about learning
break down barriers of isolation that existed among

Roles for All

Teachers exhibit leadership in multiple, sometimes
overlapping, ways. Some leadership roles are formal with
designated responsibilities. Other more informal roles
emerge as teachers interact with their peers. The variety
of roles ensures that teachers can find ways to lead that
fit their talents and interests. Regardless of the roles they
assume, teacher leaders shape the culture of their
schools, improve student learning, and influence practice
among their peers.


A Principals Guide to Improving Student
Communicate your campus goals for Student
Achievement with your staff.
Work with your teaching staff to analyze
state assessment and curriculum mastery.
Determine time on task by analyzing
absences, tardiness and behavior removals.
Evaluate the current educational processes
and strategies that are being used.
Make time to examine student achievement
or a regular basis during the school year.
Make sure all campus staff focuses on
student achievement goals. Let your non-
educational staff know what your goals are and
determine how they can work to support them.
Ensure teachers analyze formative
assessment information and monitor student
performance regarding curriculum standards.
Provide professional development that assist
teachers and paraprofessionals in analyzing
data and the use effective teaching strategies.
Identify additional methods for collecting
data to determine if learning is occurring.
Use walk-throughs to monitoring teacher
instruction and student learning.
Look at state and federal indicators to
determine where your campus ranks.
Use a systematic step by step approach to
ensure change occurs.

Principals as
Principals often view leadership and management as
two different roles, but the most effective principals
know how to blend the two. Included: Tips for
combining leadership and management skills to be a
more effective administrator.
Successful principals learn to seamlessly blend their
roles as managers and leaders and understand the
importance of both tasks, according to educators,
authors, and consultants Dr. Harvey Alvy and Dr. Pam
Robbins. The pair, co-authors of The New Principal's
Fieldbook: Strategies for Success led a session at the
recent convention of the Association for Supervision
and Curriculum Development (ASCD).
"Principals are responsible for both leadership and
management," said Dr. Alvy, a former principal and
professor in the department of education at Eastern
Washington University. "A lot of principals separate
the two roles and do not realize how the roles go hand-
Many leaders view management responsibilities at a
lower level or lower "rank" because they have little to
do with vision, mission, culture building, and
instructional supervision, according to Dr. Alvy. But
management goes hand-in hand with leadership; many
of the culture-building and culture-shaping aspects of
the job are accomplished through combining
leadership and management.


For example, when a principal is "monitoring" student
dismissal at 3 p.m., that responsibility should be
viewed as both management and leadership, Dr. Alvy
said, because the principal is making sure students are
safe as they are leaving school and taking the
opportunity to talk with students, teachers, and bus
drivers about the day and important educational
issues -- such as, "Monica, I heard you did great on your
math test yesterday; well done!"
In assessing their skills as managers and leaders,
administrators should not separate the two roles, Dr.
Alvy added.
"It is hard to determine [a principal's "One principal had a sign
that said 'Out Learning'
success in those roles] unless a that he would put on his
principal has a clear vision and mission door when visiting
classrooms. He had note
of his or her job -- one that is focused cards with every teacher's
name on them and would
on instructional leadership," he noted. mark the date he visited a
classroom and what the
"We cannot determine if we are teacher was doing."

successful unless we have a target or

standard to judge our performance. The leadership
vision needs to be about helping students succeed
academically and as citizens, and helping faculty and
staff develop as professionals with a common vision
and mission about school and student success. Based
on the vision and mission the leader needs to set goals,
and assess whether the goals have been addressed
during the year."
According to Dr. Alvy and Dr. Robbins, successful school
leaders combine management and leadership
strategies effectively by
maximizing quality instructional time.
using data.
managing their time effectively.
using faculty meetings to leverage professional
"Also consider the emotional needs of the child," Dr.
Robbins said. "You need to build heart into the school
plan. Remember heart in the equation of learning."
According to Robbins, one principal "Another principal had
blue cards. As walked
noticed a few months before around the building, he
jotted down maintenance
graduation that certain kids were at problems and gave them
risk of not graduating. So the principal to his secretary, who
called the custodian. The
ordered graduation robes early and secretary passed on the
cards to the custodian.
took pictures of the kids in the robes, When the work was done,
the custodian returned the
put them in frames, and gave them to card to the principal,
the kids. "That inspired many of them signed and dated."

to complete school."
A simple way to maximize learning time is by observing
how effectively teachers use the first five minutes of
class time, Dr. Alvy said. "Look at how the first five
minutes of class goes. If you lose five minutes a day,
that's 15 hours of instructional time a year." He also
recommends principals pick up examples of student
work as they walk around the building.
"One of the most valuable management tools is data,"
Dr. Alvy added. "Make sure you make decisions based
on research. Consider what do on a daily basis to
improve student achievement. Remember to put data
in context."
To successfully use data, combine leadership and
management roles, Dr. Alvy continued. "While
managers are concerned with generating and
collecting data sources, leaders go beyond merely
connecting, and scrutinize the most valuable data
sources given contextual realities and perceptions," he
said. "Leaders then make decisions and act in the best
interests of students, faculty, and the school."
One new principal, for example, in reviewing student
referrals, noticed that kids only were referred to the
office for negative reasons, said Dr. Robbins, an
educational consultant who lives in Virginia. The
principal told the teachers that he wanted to change
the policy so kids were referred for good things as well.
He papered the wall in his office with notes from kids
who wrote about the good things they did and signed
their names.
"It changed the climate of the school," Dr. Robbins
Principals also should take the time to walk through
the school, a strategy Dr. Alvy and Dr. Robbins call
Leading and Learning by Wandering Around.
"One principal had a sign that said 'Out Learning' that
he would put on his door when visiting classrooms," Dr.
Alvy noted. "He had note cards with every teacher's
name on them and would mark the date he visited a
classroom and what the teacher was doing."
Another principal had blue cards, Dr. Alvy added. As
walked around the building, he jotted down
maintenance problems and gave them to his secretary,
who called the custodian. The secretary passed on the
cards to the custodian. When the work was done, the
custodian returned the card to the principal, signed
and dated.
"Ask yourself, 'What parts of the school should I be
visiting but I'm not?'" Dr. Alvy said. "Where you go in
the building says a lot about you."
To help manage time, Drs. Alvy and Robbins
recommended Covey's time management matrix. This
suggests dividing tasks into categories urgent and
important, urgent and not important, not urgent and
important, not urgent and not important
"You need to organize and execute around priorities,"
Dr. Alvy added.
He also suggested administrators establish a Tickler
File with information they will need for the month, and
for more long-term planning. "You also can put notes
on file for next year, such as 'shorten the graduation
speech' or 'don't invite someone back because of crude
Faculty meetings also should be treated as prime
opportunities for staff development. "They should not
be times to review items that can be delivered via e-
mail," Dr. Alvy said. "They should be planned with the
idea that every teacher can gain valuable information
from the meeting." "One principal noticed a
few months before
Use faculty meetings to leverage graduation that certain
kids were at risk of not
learning time, he said. To do that, use graduating. So the
principal ordered
meetings for instructional curricular graduation robes early
and took pictures of the
and assessment issues that foster kids in the robes, put
student learning, such as analyzing them in frames, and gave
them to the kids. That
data to make decisions about needed inspired many of them to
complete school."
interventions for students. Also, foster
opportunities to analyze student work
and showcase students. Start the meeting with a
student who received an award or who plays an
instrument; something inspirational.
One possibility is for teachers and administrators to
read an article together and discuss it.
Principals also should provide opportunities to build
trust, collaboration, and individual and organizational
capacity, as well as employ celebrations to call
attention to treasured school values.
Many principals would say that reflecting on their job
and what they do is a luxury they can't afford, but Drs.
Alvy and Robbins insist it is critical to being good
leader-managers, because reflection deepens learning
As an example of the value of reflection, Dr. Robbins
noted that one principal realized that kids referred for
fighting were being teased about body odor. The
principal did some research and learned that the
students reported for fighting were receiving free or
reduced-price lunches, and thought the families might
not be able to afford certain hygiene products. The
principal asked people who traveled to collect the soap
and shampoo hotels leave in the rooms and donate
them to the school. The principal made it known to the
students that the supplies were available. "No one has
abused the supplies, and the fights dropped to zero,"
Dr. Robbins said.
For principals who say they cannot find time to reflect,
Dr. Alvy said he would sympathize with their
frustration and time management constraints. "I then
would ask them to talk about their typical day," he told
Education World. "We would engage in a conversation
about their vision, mission, and goals for the year. If
instructional leadership and supervision for student
growth and teacher success are not part of the mission
and vision, I would suggest strongly refocusing their
At the same time, Dr. Alvy noted, principals need to
remember that there are days in which the best plans
go awry -- that is just part of the job. "The daily
surprises are a reality, thus it is essential to focus on
the mission and vision," he said. "The mission and
vision serve as a compass to guide one over and
around the hurdles that occur each day.