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Coaching Teachers To Be Leaders

What Do Teacher Leaders Do?


Describing teacher leadership is a little bit like trying to pin down a wave. So it is no wonder that teachers can have a difficult time talking about leadership.

Many wise principals have concluded that talking with teachers about their assumptions about leadership is a good place to begin. Teachers will benefit from a principal's guidance and support as they attempt to answer the question What do teacher leaders do? As they do that, they will begin to develop a language that describes teacher leadership activities.


Teachers have a difficult time talking about their leadership roles due to their traditional perspectives of leadership. Conventional wisdom holds that superintendents lead districts and principals lead schools. Furthermore, those leaders are in positions of power and authority. Teachers recognize and often express those traditional notions of leadership.

"The structure of the school system is hierarchical. There is the superintendent, then there's the school, and then there is the principal. There is only one position for the principal."
[content block] The hierarchical structure of leadership seems at cross purposes with teacher leadership. The idea that leadership is embodied in one person in a position of power makes it difficult for teachers to think of themselves as leaders. In fact, teachers rarely consider themselves leaders.
"I am uncomfortable calling myself a leader because I have to work collaboratively . . . as part of a team."

As teachers begin to talk about leadership it is important to offer a different perspective.


Teachers are effectively participating in school improvement efforts as members of teams and in such roles as mentors, staff developers, and coaches. Their ideas about leadership begin to shift as they are asked to consider their participation in school reform efforts as leadership. Gradually, they begin to see that individual teachers can be leaders.

"Leadership is the desire to accept a new challenge, to step up to the plate."

"Leading is inspiring others to do what needs to be done willingly and to the best of their ability."

Teachers often talk in vague terms about their new perspectives of leadership. They express thoughts that parallel and respect equality among their peers. Once teachers shift their perspective of leadership they are ready to create a personal leadership statement.


To help teachers talk succinctly and purposefully about their leadership, support them in creating a personal leadership statement that answers the question What do you do as a teacher leader? The following steps are helpful.

Consider school improvement tasks. To begin, teachers must think of their role in the school improvement process. When asked to do that, teachers will share ideas that include participating on the school leadership team, planning professional development opportunities for their peers, and writing grants. Teachers must pick one of those tasks, or another leadership role they have taken, before going to the next step.

Choose verbs that align with teacher leadership. Next, teachers should choose one verb that best describes their work. The following verbs are some of those that align with the collaborative nature of teacher leadership.

support facilitate plan organize collaborate design engage promote encourage catalyze model enhance
Although those verbs may be considered "soft" verbs, they are powerful and will resonate well with teachers.

Answer who, what, how. Now teachers are ready to drill down to the specifics of their leadership statement. In this step, teachers must consider who they work with, in what context, and in what way. The following template might be helpful:

"I (WORK WITH) [or another verb from above] (WHO)__________ to (WHAT)________ by providing (HOW)__________."


The process of creating a personal leadership statement can be arduous at first, but encourage teachers to stick with it. In the end, teachers will arrive at a sentence that communicates their leadership in a thoughtful, succinct, descriptive, and very specific way. Consider the following personal leadership statements:

"I support new teachers in their development by planning and facilitating our district's induction program."

"I help my peers and administrators through the change process by serving on the School Leadership Team."

While teachers begin with traditional notions of leadership, those notions will give way to newer forms of leadership as they development a "language of leadership." Eventually, teachers will be able to create a personal leadership statement that gives them a sense of true participation and purpose.

Read more of Ellen Cortez-Ford's nine-part Coaching Teachers To Be Leaders series.

Article by Evelyn Cortez-Ford
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Originally published 08/11/2006