Academic journal article Science Educator

Developing Teacher Leaders in Science: Attaining and Sustaining Science Reform

Academic journal article Science Educator

Developing Teacher Leaders in Science: Attaining and Sustaining Science Reform

Article excerpt

An argument is made that teacher leadership at both the system and school level is an important part of the science systemic process intended in science education reform. This article describes the design of such a professional development program, the challenges addressed, and the impact on teacher leaders.


The wave of reform that has swept across the United States over the last two decades has created a climate of change that requires school districts, schools, administrators, and classroom teachers to reexamine their core beliefs regarding teaching and learning. These reform efforts in one way or another all require systemic change. Bybee (1996) describes that as schools and districts plan for systemic change, they must consider changes in purpose, policies, programs and practices. Purposes relate to the general agreement on the need for science literacy for all; state and national science content standards are the policies that guide education toward those purposes. However, in order to move to students, programs need to influence practice. This is the only way that students will have improved opportunities to learn. The development of teacher leaders may be one of the critical links in this chain, one that can take purposes and policies and influence student learning through its impact on teaching.

The development of teacher leaders requires a different method of addressing the challenge of systemic reform. This method requires school districts to utilize an "inside-out" type of systemic reform. This type of systemic reform results in changes in the system because people are changing and are influencing the structures, procedures and the policies that guide teaching and learning. Fullan (1993) emphasizes the importance of all educators being change agents; that it takes all stakeholders to make change in order for systemic reform to happen. Nesbit, DiBiase, Miller, and Wallace (2001) suggest that in order for systemic reform to take place at the school level, teachers and principals must take on new roles. Therefore, it is critical to develop a mechanism to create a cadre of teacher leaders who will play an important role in this change process.

The National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) also recognize the importance of teacher leadership in several standards. While classroom teachers have defined roles and responsibilities, clearly defined leadership roles are required for systemic reform to take place. Program Standard-A indicates that responsibility needs to be clearly defined for determining, supporting, maintaining, and upgrading all elements of the science program. This means that the district or system must recognize the importance of leadership and create mechanisms for the development of teacher leadership. Teaching Standard-F establishes an expectation that teachers assume a leadership role in improving science programs. This will require districts and systems to develop mechanisms that will enable teachers to increase their ability to work with others to improve science teaching and student learning.

What Does Research Tell Us About Teacher Leadership

Instead of the traditional role of being receivers of change, teacher leaders will become key decision makers, and in the "inside out" view of systemic reform, become the owners of change and work with their colleagues to share that ownership.

In order to design a professional development program that prepares teacher leaders to assume leadership roles, those characteristics of leadership must be identified that are necessary for teachers to become the change agents for the systemic reform process and provide opportunities for teachers to leadatthe school level. In order to attain school wide results Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (1995) recommend that such professional development programs must consider a variety of elements that include the traditional elements of the deepening of content and pedagogy, but go beyond these traditional approaches to include adult development, problem solving, and collaboration. …

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