Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

What Complicates or Enables Teachers' Enactment of Leadership

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

What Complicates or Enables Teachers' Enactment of Leadership

Article excerpt

This article presents findings from a case study that describes the ways that four teachers pursuing their master's degree in teacher leadership engaged in leadership activities in their schools. In order to explore this purpose, this study examines two research questions: (1) How do teachers enact leadership in their schools and (2) What complicates or enables teachers' leadership activity? Findings indicate that the norms of the teaching profession including equality and privacy affect teachers' enactment of leadership in their schools. Teacher leaders limit their work based on their knowledge of these norms, their past experiences engaging in leadership, and the culture present in their schools. Keywords: Teacher Leadership, Professional Norms, Qualitative Inquiry

This study examined the ways that four teachers attempted to engage in leadership activities within their schools as they learned about leadership practices through an educational leadership graduate program. In order to facilitate understanding, I first examine the context of teacher leadership and teacher professional norms in the United States. Next, I share details about the study design, graduate program, participants, methods of data collection, and analysis procedures. Then I describe the findings as shared by the participants. Finally, I discuss the implications of the findings on teacher leader practice.


Traditionally, teachers in the United States have instructed students while administrators managed teachers' work. According to Danielson (2006), "in many states and school districts, the work of teaching is regarded as following procedures or instructional plans designed by others and under the close direction of a supervisor" (p. 13). Such conditions created a situation where teachers with a desire to "extend their influence" beyond the classroom had few options, and often the choices available required teachers to leave the classroom to become administrators, counselors, or other middle managers (Danielson, 2006, p. 15). These options did not satisfy teachers who wanted to utilize their expertise and commitment to positively influence their colleagues' work with the goal of improving teaching and learning.

Early teacher leadership was embedded in formal roles with distinct responsibilities. Hatch, White, and Faigenbaum (2005) discussed three waves of teacher leadership in the U.S., starting in the 1970s. Teachers were first invited to become department heads, who functioned as middle-managers. Their responsibilities included compelling teachers within their departments to be cooperative team-players (Little, 2003). These roles were soon expanded to include expert positions such as curriculum or staff developer (Little, 2003). Principals often controlled the work of such teacher leaders, utilizing them to implement new programs and curriculum. The third wave saw a significant shift in focus to colleague support roles such as mentor. Such roles offered opportunities for more teachers to become leaders.

By the start of the 21st century, definitions of teacher leadership in the U.S. had moved beyond formal roles. For instance, Katzenmeyer and Moller (2001) characterized teacher leaders as those who "lead within and beyond the classroom, identify with and contribute to a community of teacher learners and leaders, and influence others toward improved educational practice" (p. 5). Similarly, York-Barr and Duke (2004) defined teacher leadership as "the process by which teachers, individually or collectively, influence their colleagues, principals, and other members of school communities to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement" (pp. 287-288). These descriptions emphasize that teacher leaders have the potential to influence their colleagues outside of formal leadership roles. But they fail to provide a description of what such teacher leaders actually do. …

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