Teacher Leadership: The Role of Educators in Our Schools and Communities

Female educator giving an exciting speech to colleagues.

Teachers have an enormous impact on our students and our communities. Shaping the minds of children is no small feat. Some educators take their devotion to teaching a step further by becoming teacher leaders.

Teacher leaders take on various roles. They collaborate, research, innovate, mentor and advise, among numerous other responsibilities. While teacher leadership takes on many forms, one thing is for certain: Teacher leaders are making a concrete difference in our schools and communities.

What is Teacher Leadership?

Throughout their often-diverse careers, most teachers maintain many leadership roles. Some are among students, while others influence fellow educators and the community. In recent years, though, teacher leadership has become a more distinct role that educators must fill.

The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement defined teacher leadership as, “The process by which teachers, individually or collectively, influence their colleagues, principals and other members of the school communities to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement.”

Teacher leaders step outside the classroom to bring their expertise to a larger platform, influencing educational culture, practice and growth in their communities. They may help other teachers improve their ability to instruct students, or they may lead teams to better meet the needs of the students, school and community. Some focus much of their time on helping parents better work with their children, while others push for reform through political means. In short, the list of responsibilities teacher leaders take on is seemingly endless.

A teacher leader does not always have authority over peers. In fact, it may be better if they don’t. The Center for Comprehensive School Reform stated, “The appointment of a teacher leader by an administrator without teacher input, uncertainty about teacher leader versus principal domains of leadership and inadequate communication and feedback among teacher leaders, principal and staff can all contribute to conflict.”

Teacher leadership is at its best when the leadership is organic, the teacher leader is respected but not feared, and they collaborate and nurture instead of enforcing.

Standards and definitions of teacher leaders differ from state-to-state, with degree programs and certification programs using different names to describe this unique and vital role. The Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board has these standards:

  1. Foster a collaborative culture.
  2. Use research to improve practice and student learning.
  3. Promote professional learning.
  4. Facilitate improvements in instruction and student learning.
  5. Promote the use of assessments and data.
  6. Improve outreach and collaboration with families and the community.
  7. Advocate for student learning and the profession.

Teacher leaders have a huge role to fill in our schools and community that leaves a lot of responsibilities open to interpretation. They must use their best discretion to promote and advocate in ways that benefit students, teachers, schools and families.

The Importance of Teacher Leadership

While teachers have always taken on informal leadership roles in their schools and communities, now it’s more important than ever that teacher leadership is defined and encouraged.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development said, “The role of schools is changing — 1both as an institution and also in the value they bring to and provide for society. No longer merely the stepping stones to a job or a trade, schools act as important institutions that help grow and develop our youth as citizens and as engaged members of society.”

A job this big requires leaders both inside and outside of the classroom to guide, encourage, advocate and inform. While every teacher can lead and influence, a defined framework for what that means helps teacher leaders succeed. This important role requires support and buy-in from other educators.

Grow as an Educator

If you want to expand your education and become a teacher leader, consider CU’s Master of Arts in Education Teacher Leader program. Designed for working teachers, the flexible online degree program prepares you to lead and mentor fellow educators.

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Once thought to be the role of administrators, leadership should come from those who are still involved in the daily grind of classroom instruction, according to many studies. The ASCD stated, “We must end the practice of moving skilled teachers from the classroom and into the front office and calling that teacher leadership. Now more than ever, skilled classroom educators must hone their craft, mentor others and grow professionally — while keeping one foot firmly inside the classroom.”

Those who are with students and other teachers daily see their struggles and needs. Teacher leaders are in the best position to advocate for instructors and students in schools and the community. They’re also welcomed by fellow teachers to collaborate and discuss ideas to better their practices and increase student achievement.

Roles in Teacher Leadership

Roles in teacher leadership vary greatly. All teacher leaders, whether designated as a leader through certification and job title or simply making a difference in their school a community, drive education forward. Here are just a few roles that a they may take on.

Instructional Specialists

An instructional specialist helps teachers improve teaching strategies and implement new instructional ideas into their classrooms. Instructional specialists spend a lot of time researching best practices and new studies so that they can use the latest and most effective lessons and resources in their classrooms. Instructional specialists are often teachers themselves. They take on this additional role to better the overall educational quality of their school and help their fellow educators grow.


Many teacher leaders take on the role of mentor to help teachers familiarize themselves with the school, curriculum, practices and culture. Mentors are invaluable when it comes to ensuring that standards are communicated and that young teachers feel welcomed to the school community. It’s not just new teachers who need mentors, though. Mentors can help established teachers grow or help parents understand how to encourage their children outside of the classroom.

Speakers and Bloggers

Some teacher leaders enjoy speaking at professional conferences and community meetings about their area of expertise or as a representative from their school. Others blog or write pieces for publications. These teacher leaders help place schools and communities in the spotlight and spread their influence beyond just one school. Blogging and speaking is a great way to lead many educators in multiple communities.

Data Coaches

Data plays a huge role in teaching, but not every educator knows what to do with the large amounts of it. Data coaches help guide their peers in analyzing and applying the data to improve instruction. Teachers with a knack for numbers will really flourish in this leadership role and help drive the education practices at a school forward.

Political Advocates

Teachers and students need representation in the government for teachers to perform at their best. “Advocating for teacher pay, more planning time and common sense in education policies is a significant component of teacher leadership,” said Anthony Colucci, a national board-certified teacher and vice president of the Brevard Federation of Teachers. Teacher leaders can speak from a position of experience on behalf of their schools and fellow educators in the public arena.

While these jobs differ, all have the goal of bringing teachers together, helping them become better and advocating for best practices.

How to Become a Teacher Leader

There are many teacher leadership qualities that help them be successful. Becoming a teacher leader starts with loving to educate others. You must also be willing to take that love outside of the classroom to share what you know with colleagues and the community. They need to have a passion for learning continually. Most importantly, great teacher leaders earn the respect of many parties, from fellow teachers to parents to political leaders.

If you want to expand your education and become a teacher leader, consider an online master’s in educational leadership. Campbellsville University’s Master of Arts in Education Teacher Leader program prepares you to lead and mentor fellow teachers. You’ll learn the skills and tools that schools are looking for in a new generation of leadership. Those who teach our online educational leadership program have experience teaching in Kentucky public schools, so they’re prepared to identify with your needs and challenges as you enter the next phase of your teaching career.

If your passion lies with helping special education students, Campbellsville University offers a program specifically for you. Our online master’s in special education with a focus in teacher leadership will help you prepare to meet the unique challenges of students with emotional, behavioral and learning disorders and the educators working with them.