26 SES 07 B, Exploring Aspects of Teacher and Middle Leadership Part 1
Paper Session to be continued in 26 SES 13 B
This paper explores theory and practice related to teacher leadership through three key research questions:
(i) What conceptions inform understandings of leader and leadership?
(ii) How is teacher leadership understood in practice? and
(iii) How and why might teacher leadership flourish?
The objective is to adopt an advocacy stance for teacher leadership. Addressing the three research questions will help to clarify the confusion regarding the terminology about who counts as a leader and the work which is understood as leadership action.
In the longitudinal research project, the Teachers of Promise Study (TOPS) (Cameron & Lovett, 2015; Lovett, 2016) with its focus on early career teachers and their aspirations, it became clear over time, that talking about leadership was dominated by notions of position and upward career advancement. This means leadership activity is typically restricted in the eyes of teachers to the work of an individual in a named role. An alternative conception of leadership such as leadership as activity or practice is not acknowledged (MacBeath & Dempster, 2009). Such an alternative view brings non-positional leadership into prominence with a professional practice focus (Frost, 2014). An aim of non-positional leadership is improved pedagogical practice carried out by peers recognising that teachers can be leaders and learners simultaneously. Their shared concern about pedagogical issues for the improvement of student learning and achievement creates opportunities for leadership activity. That many teachers do not recognise this peer association as a form of leadership, reinforces the dominance of leadership being conceptualised in terms of position.
Teachers’ voices tell us that the term, ‘teacher leadership’ is not widely used or understood. Most teachers do not view what they do in classrooms or with colleagues through a leadership lens (Fairman & Mackenzie, 2015). This devalues their influence with each other and underplays the importance of collective activity for improved professional practice and improvements to student learning.
Based on an analysis of the Teachers of Promise research and a review of the literature on teacher leadership, the paper offers a conceptualisation of the conditions that are likely to enable teacher leadership to flourish. Central to this conceptualisation is the notion that teacher leadership is an interconnected activity most effectively taking place where learning cultures are collaborative. Leadership for learning action is exercised in response to teachers’ need for professional growth. The enabling vehicle for this is evidence-based action research. This kind of inquiry learning opens peers to a broad sphere of influence drawing in the expertise of trusted colleagues all of whom share the educator’s moral purpose - improved student learning and achievement.
The theoretical framework of distributed leadership is extended to show the connection between distributed and teacher leadership (Bush & Glover, 2014) and the need for teacher involvement in school improvement initiatives. Here leadership is stretched over a number of individuals to maximise the expertise available (Spillane et al., 2001). Distributed leadership theory has suffered from notions of power and agency with formal leaders determining what tasks can be distributed. Harris et al (2007) suggest the evidence base for distributed leadership releasing human potential in an organisation is still emerging. This is why teacher leadership is a necessary and attractive form of leadership which requires further recognition because of the space it offers for teachers to explore issues of mutual interest related to students and their learning. That a type of influence of, by and for teachers (Lieberman et al 2017) is not necessarily recognised as leadership is why leadership continues to be understood in terms of position.
This paper draws upon an accumulated data set from the Teachers of Promise Study to uncover views about early career teachers’ experiences. Interviews and surveys were used to collect data from 57 of New Zealand’s newly qualified primary and secondary teachers and their decisions to stay in their schools, move schools, or leave teaching altogether. The participants were limited to those deemed to be “promising” teachers rather than those merely completing a teacher education program. This sampling method was in response to research which suggested that strong and promising teachers were the most likely to leave teaching (Boyd et al., 2005). The “teacher of promise” was a term chosen by the TOPs project team to capture the potential of those whom teacher educators, employing principals, or heads of departments in schools identified and agreed were most likely to make a significant contribution to teaching and to students’ learning. It was this kind of teacher that the TOPs project team deemed to be of particular importance because the profession would want this type of teacher to remain in teaching as the future pool of school leaders. That the retention figures for early career teachers is on the rise internationally, is a further reason why a focus on teachers of promise is pertinent. Data were collected on four occasions (2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011). These data provided information on the teachers’ employment experiences and changes. Contextual factors sustaining or constraining teachers’ job satisfaction, commitment and contribution to their schools were identified and discussed in each data gathering episode. In 2016, I undertook a further round of interviews with five participants from the original TOPs to explore the concepts of teacher leader and teacher leadership. My return to a small number of the TOPs participants provided me with an opportunity to check their views with research and scholarly writing on teacher leadership. In those interviews I explored issues such as whether teacher leadership exists, and, if so, what it looks like and then the opportunities, challenges and constraints the five teachers had encountered. Research and scholarly writing included: (i) Career trajectories (Bullough & Baughman, 1997; Johnson & the Project Team, 2004) (ii) Early forms of leadership activity at the school level centred on collegial dialogue to support changes in practice (Cooper et al., 2016; Poekert, 2012); (iii) Conditions influencing teacher leadership practices (Stoelinga & Mangin, 2010); (iv) Changing conceptions of leadership (Neumerski, 2013).
The outcomes realised in this paper are derived from the literature review themes and the TOPs research. These include: nine key messages; a fresh definition in order to explain the breadth, depth and value of teacher leadership work; and, a theoretical model to show how teacher leadership might flourish. Key messages confirmed by the interviews are: • The continuing perception that leadership occurs through a named positional role; • Reluctance amongst teachers to be leaders; • Teacher leadership involves personal risk taking, courage and supportive colleagues; • The invisibility of teachers’ classroom leadership; • Leadership as collective activity amongst peers is activated because of the moral obligation to enhance students’ learning; • Teacher leaders can provide clear evidence of their impact on students’ and colleagues’ work; and • Teacher leaders see their work as remaining connected to classrooms. The definition is offered as a way to provide clarity regarding who counts as a teacher leader and the work undertaken as teacher leadership. The definition explains the impetus for teacher leadership as being a mutual concern for the improvement of student learning and achievement. Here teachers’ interactions about pedagogical issues, represent the beginnings of teacher leadership activity where expertise is given and received. This is only possible however when school cultures are conducive to discussions about what works and why in classrooms and trusting relationships exist for information to be shared and developed. The theoretical model depicts teacher leadership as interconnected activity occurring within a collaborative learning culture. As interconnected activity, both leadership and learning have equal importance. The model identifies four key areas linking leadership for learning action. These include: a strong moral purpose to improve student learning and achievement; teachers’ need for learning; colleagues’ expertise, trusting relationships, and modelling and; evidence-based action research as a sphere of influence.
Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2005). Explaining the short careers of high achieving teachers in schools with low achieving students. American Economic Review, 95(2), 166-171. Bullough, R.V., & Baughman, K. (1997). “First-year teacher” eight years later: An inquiry into teacher development. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Bush, T., & Glover, D. (2014). School leadership models: What do we know? School Leadership & Management, 34(5), 553-571. Cameron, M., & Lovett, S. (2015). Sustaining the commitment and realising the potential of highly promising teachers. Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 21(2), 150-163. Cooper, K.S., Stanulis, R.N., Brondyk, S.K., Hamilton, E.R., Macaluso, M., & Meier, J.A. (2016). The teacher leadership process: Attempting change within embedded systems. Journal of Educational Change, 17(1), 85-113. Fairman, J., & Mackenzie, S.V. (2015). It’s what we do, note who we are: Expanding the conception of teacher leadership. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 18 (1), 61-87. Frost, D. (2014, September). Non-positional teacher leadership: A perpetual motion miracle. Paper presented within the symposium “Changing teacher professionality through support for teacher leadership in Europe and beyond” at the European Council for Educational Research (ECER) Conference, Porto, Portugal. Harris, A., Leithwood, K., Day, C., Sammons, P., & Hopkins, D. (2007). Distributed leadership and organizational change: Reviewing the evidence. Journal of Educational Change, 8(4), 337-347. Johnson, S.M., & The Project on The Next Generation of Teachers. (2004). Finders and Keepers. Helping new teachers survive and thrive in our schools. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons. Lovett, S. (2016). To lead or not to lead? That is the question. In G. Johnson., & N. Dempster. (Eds). Leadership in Diverse Contexts, (pp.201-220). Dordrecht, Switzerland: Springer. MacBeath, J., & Dempster, N. (2009). Connecting Leadership and Learning. London, UK: Routledge. Neumerski, C.M. (2013). Rethinking instructional leadership, a review: What do we know about principal, teacher and coach instructional leadership, and where should we go from here? Educational Administration Quarterly, 49(2), 310-347. Poekert, P.E. (2012).Teacher leadership and professional development: Examining links between two concepts central to school improvement. Professional Development in Education, 38(2), 169-188. Spillane, J., Diamond, J., & Jita, L. (2003). Leading instruction: The distribution of leadership for instruction. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35(5), 533-543. Stoelinga, S.R., & Mangin, M.M. (2010). Examining effective teacher leadership: A case study approach. Columbia University, New York: Teachers College Press.
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Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
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