Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Navigating Teacher Leaders' Complex Relationships Using a Distributed Leadership Framework

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Navigating Teacher Leaders' Complex Relationships Using a Distributed Leadership Framework

Article excerpt


The pressures of the PARCC [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers] on my participating teachers seem to be becoming much more real. Although they would never say it and have been nothing but accommodating... getting them to devote serious time toward science is the last thing on their mind. However, I believe they want to teach science better and more but are put under pressure from administration and others to produce test scores. The second grade teacher that I had asked to participate spoke to me and apologized that she has not been able to meet with me or work on the science at all in her class. Of course getting her to teach science is not the goal of what I am trying to do... getting her to teach science better is the goal. (Montclair State University Wipro SEF Fellow)

Teacher leadership happens amid a complex context of policy, content, students, peers, and administrators, and its enactment remains far messier than the literature has revealed. Despite a call by York-Barr and Duke (2004) for more theory-driven, empirical research, teacher leadership remains a largely undertheorized field (Wenner & Campbell, 2017), and there is still a need to understand the supports necessary to enact teacher leadership. For one, most professional development programs do little to support teacher leadership or to prepare teachers to spread their innovative practices beyond their own classrooms. Teachers are often driven by district and policy agendas and led by so-called outside experts who may not understand the classroom context (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Lieberman & Miller, 2011). In addition to professional development programs' misalignment between purpose and delivery, the largely hierarchical school structure impedes teachers' potential for leadership. Professional development and school culture are intrinsically linked; a clearer understanding of the complexities of the contexts affecting teacher leadership can inform professional development programs that prepare teacher leaders.

This article illuminates the relationships and contexts that serve as key factors in teacher leaders' work. It presents findings from Year 2 of a multiyear, qualitative study of K-12 science teachers (fellows) involved in a grant-funded program. The Wipro Science Education Fellowship (SEF) program was developed by the University of Massachusetts, Boston (Center of Science and Mathematics in Context, 2017) and aimed to foster sustainable change in districts by supporting emergent teacher leadership as fellows analyzed their teaching (in Year 1) and developed teacher leadership plans (in Year 2). The fellows participated in the program for up to 3 years and were supported by university-based directors of the program and school district coordinators. In Year 1, fellows' activities were largely determined by the program's structured protocols; in Year 2, fellows worked independently and delved deeply into their inquiries and expanded their spheres of influence as they pursued a teacher leadership project and led professional development workshops. In doing so, they encountered the realities of engaging in work with multiple stakeholders and navigating those relationships in a thorny policy context.

We sought to understand how the fellows enacted their teacher leadership plans in the context of complex situations in schools and districts, (1) using distributed leadership as a theoretical framework.

We asked the following:

* How does district context influence how teachers engage in teacher leadership?

* In what ways does a university-based teacher leadership program support teacher leaders as they interact with multiple stakeholders in complex contexts?

Despite a growing literature on teacher leadership, there is a need to analyze the complexities of teacher leadership. These complexities mightresult from interactions among different stakeholders with varying and sometimes contradictory visions, and the various policy contexts that are the reality in the work of teacher leaders. …

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