Leadership Challenges for Classroom Teachers

By Henderson, Martha V.; Barron, Bennie | Education, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Leadership Challenges for Classroom Teachers


Henderson, Martha V., Barron, Bennie, Education


Effective educational change is dependent on the exercise of appropriate leadership roles. These roles are identified and described in varying degrees, extending from the principal as an instructional leader to community leaders as reform advocates. In addition, interest has developed in identifying leadership roles for classroom teachers (Howey, 1988; Devaney, 1987; Liberman, 1988; Little, 1984). Support for teacher leadership is based on a need for "highly competent leaders who reside where the problems primarily are - in schools - and who can address these in a continuing, collective manner" (Howey, 1988, p. 29).

The interest in teacher leadership is not new, however. In the Association of Teacher Education Bulletin 37 (Andrew, 1974), this topic is addressed as Teacher Leadership: A Model for Change. Significantly, this document addresses identical issues and describes similar qualities as those under consideration today. Three areas described for teacher leadership are: self-improvement; improvement of others, and initiation of curricular change. Leadership: A Model for Change. Significantly, this document addresses identical issues and describes similar qualities as those under consideration today. Three areas described for teacher leadership are: self-improvement of others, and initiation of curricular change. Leadership qualities are identified as: knowledge of change strategies, knowledge of curriculum alternatives and development process, and skill in group process and decision making. And, as expected, the document focuses on the need to change teacher preparation programs.

The renewed interest in teacher leadership is strengthened by teacher education restructuring trends, the New Schools project, creation of Professional Development Schools, and increased emphasis on site-based management require participation by teacher-leaders. Both emerging roles (Liberman & Miller, 1990) and more traditional roles in teacher leadership provide increased opportunities for teacher leaders. Possible leadership roles include but are not limited to:

1. Master teacher. Teaching expertise provides a foundation for other leadership roles. The expert teacher is sought out both by the inexperienced and the ineffective teacher. Skills in communication, change processes, and interpersonal relationships are essential in helping inexperienced and/or less effective teachers. In addition, the master teacher's success in designing and implementing effective teaching/learning strategies can initiate professional growth activities leading to other roles.

2. Curriculum specialist. The content-area teacher can fill a leadership role in the area of curriculum development. A knowledge base enhanced by experience and interest in a curricular area make the teacher a valuable resource in designing, reviewing, and evaluating curriculum. The content-area specialist (teacher) must be encourage to accept leadership roles in the area of expertise.

3. Mentor. Dodgson (1986) defines mentor as "... trusted and experienced counselor who influences the career development of an associate in a warm, caring, and helping relationship." Increasing emphasis on internships and induction processes place additional importance on the classroom teacher's leadership role in the continuing professional development of novice teachers. Moran (1992) identifies mentoring as the common element in the background of individuals who have risen to leadership positions. An identified knowledge base relative to mentoring continues to expand.

4. Teacher educator. A traditional role of the classroom teacher has been to provide leadership in the professional development of the pre-service teacher. This role has focused on serving as a model in demonstrating skills and dispositions. As a clinical supervisor, the teacher needs to provide feedback to strengthen competencies and to address weaknesses. This role encompasses activities associated with mentoring. …

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