Search form

Coaching Teachers To Be Leaders

What Can I Do to
Develop Collaborative
Relationships With Teachers?


Today's accountability climate has enlightened educators to the fact that they must work in new ways. Many schools have established professional learning communities (PLCs) in which all members engage in the work of school improvement. All members of the community share ownership of, and are held mutually accountable for, reaching school-wide goals.

In professional learning communities, teachers are active participants -- even leaders -- in bringing about change. That collaborative culture has resulted in a blurring of the roles of teacher and principal. The empowered status of teachers requires that teacher leaders and principals reframe their relationships.


Traditionally, collaboration between teachers and principals was the exception, not the rule. But, as teachers have taken on more responsibility in the school improvement process, they have been given opportunities to partner with principals in significant ways. The success of such collaboration depends, in large part, on the ability of the principal to create a more professional -- less bureaucratic -- relationship.

Teacher leadership can happen only when it is part of the culture of the school. Principals can provide ongoing support for teacher leadership by

  • creating a vision for teacher leadership;
  • matching teachers' strengths to school improvement tasks; and
  • recognizing efforts and celebrating successes.


School leaders can encourage teacher leadership by involving teachers in co-creating a vision of teacher leadership. A vision gives purpose and direction for teacher leadership. The following questions can guide principals and teachers as they create a vision of teacher leadership for their school:

  • What is your vision of teacher leadership?
  • What kind of ideal situation do you envision for students? teachers? the school?
  • What is your part in making that vision a reality?

Be sure the vision of teacher leadership is inspiring and motivational.

A sample vision might read something like this:
"We envision a school in which everyone works together as leaders to support the achievement of extraordinary school goals."
[content block] Once that vision is recorded, principals must frequently articulate the vision. The spirit of the vision can be communicated by eliminating the language of hierarchy; strike from your school vocabulary words such as boss and mandate and terms such as the buck stops with me. Replace that vocabulary with action verbs that align with teacher leadership, verbs such as mentor, support, help, and facilitate.

Finally, principals can keep the vision alive by modeling effective leadership. When working with teachers, participate as equals: honor agreements, adhere to norms, ask questions, and avoid pushing too hard for your view.


Another way for principals to support teacher leadership is to engage teachers in school improvement processes. That is accomplished by selecting teacher leaders. Because credibility is an issue, provide opportunities for teachers to select their representatives when possible. For example, teachers can nominate teachers to be on the School Leadership Team. A description of the nature of the work can provide an idea of who has the knowledge, skill set, and passion to do the job.

Second, integrate the work of teacher leaders with issues of teaching and learning. Teacher leadership is grounded in teachers' work. Hold teachers as experts in their fields by creating ways for them to lead instructional change. Planning and facilitating professional development opportunities for their peers is a good example of a way to accomplish that.

Last, eliminate administrative tasks from teachers' plates. One obstacle to teacher leadership is lack of time. When teachers are feeling overwhelmed, principals can support them by helping to prioritize tasks. Leadership activities that relate to teaching and learning (for example, collecting and analyzing data) should take precedence over most other responsibilities. Eliminating non-essential tasks from teachers' to-do lists goes a long way toward enhancing their leadership performance.


Sustaining momentum for teacher leadership is best accomplished through systematic efforts to recognize and celebrate teacher leaders. As teachers perform leadership tasks, it is crucial that principals consistently acknowledge individual teachers for their leadership efforts.

Next, honor the collective work of teacher leaders by structuring time (for example, at the end of a staff meeting) for teachers to give examples of teacher leadership tasks and responsibilities. One or two examples shared at each staff meeting can sustain energy around teacher leadership.

Finally, celebrate successes by sharing examples of how teacher leadership is supporting student learning. Shine the spotlight on teachers, or teams of teachers, who take time to examine student work, peer coach, or use data to make instructional decisions.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement is everyone's responsibility. Effective school change necessitates forging professional, collaborative relationships between teachers and principals. The principal is vital to forming those relationships by creating conditions for teacher leadership.

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

Article by Evelyn Cortez-Ford
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World