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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response


April 2020


What research and resources are available on the role of school leadership in fostering teacher leadership?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and policy overviews on the role of school leadership in fostering teacher leadership. The ERIC database defines teacher leadership as “leadership roles of teachers outside of the classroom setting, beyond the traditional role of classroom instruction.” For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

American Institutes for Research. (2017). Teacher leadership: District and school leader readiness tool. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “As interest in teacher leadership has grown, many leading organizations have developed tools and guidance to support schools, districts, and teacher leaders themselves. For instance, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year developed resources on teacher leader career pathways and advocacy approaches, as well as teacher leader standards. Likewise, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards developed teacher leadership competencies. Regional educational laboratories also have worked to better understand teacher leadership, specifically what can be learned about teacher leadership from the research literature. In collaboration and consultation with the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance, REL Midwest developed this tool to help district and school administrators gauge the extent to which district and school leaders have the necessary training, support, and culture to facilitate the identification and ongoing development of teacher leaders. The results of this assessment can be used to generate a list of areas for improvement, resources needed, and next steps to increase readiness to foster effective teacher leadership. REL Midwest researchers conducted a review of the literature on teacher leadership and worked with stakeholders in the Midwestern states to identify the most critical elements necessary for successful teacher leadership. The literature and stakeholder input shaped the content of the tool. School and district leaders, working either on their own or with colleagues, can use this tool to evaluate the extent to which existing strategies and context adequately promote and support teacher leadership.”

American Institutes for Research. (2017). Teacher leadership: Teacher self-assessment tool. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “As interest in teacher leadership has grown, many leading organizations have developed tools and guidance to support schools, districts, and teacher leaders themselves. In collaboration and consultation with the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance, REL Midwest and the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders developed this tool for teachers to self-assess their knowledge, skills, and competencies to serve in teacher leadership roles. Teachers, working either on their own or with their peers, coaches, or evaluators, can use this tool to assess their level of readiness for being a teacher leader and develop a plan to prepare themselves for leadership.”

Angelle, P. S., & Schmid, J. B. (2007). School structure and the identity of teacher leaders: Perspectives of principals and teachers. Journal of School Leadership, 17(6), 771–799. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This qualitative study examines the concept of teacher leadership from the perspective of those who practice it. Viewed through the lens of identity theory, analysis yielded five categories that define and describe a teacher leader—namely, as a decision maker, an educational role model, a positional designee, a supra-practitioner, and a visionary. Findings reveal that the social structure where leadership is practiced shapes the definition of teacher leadership. Role identification within the social structure can assist principals in developing a healthy work climate that promotes distributed leadership.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Bryant, J. E., Escalante, K., & Selva, A. (2017). Promising practices: Building the next generation of school leaders. Journal of School Administration Research and Development, 2(1), 32–41. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study applies transformational leadership theory practices to examine the purposeful ways in which principals work to build the next generation of teacher leaders in response to the shortage of K-12 principals. Given the impact principals have on student development and the shortage of those applying for the principalship, the purpose of this cross-case analysis was to discover how principals build leadership capacity at their respective school sites and groom individuals for leadership roles. Further, this study explored teacher perceptions of the practices in addition to factors that facilitated or inhibited the implementation of the principals’ practices. Three school principals served as the primary participants for this research, and data were gleaned from interviews, observations, and artifacts. Findings indicated that the principals fostered leadership capacity by providing authentic administrative opportunities for teachers pursuing the administration credential. Additionally, the principals’ methods for building leadership capacity were positively perceived by the identified teacher leaders. Factors that facilitated leadership capacity development include school and district systems and structures, while factors that inhibited teachers’ development include psychological concerns. This study illuminates the need for principals to build leadership capacity at their school sites in order to purposefully prepare teacher leaders for principal succession.”

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. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This embedded case study examines the leadership practices of eleven teacher leaders in three urban schools to identify how these teacher leaders attempt to change the teaching practice of their colleagues while working as professional learning community leaders and as mentors for new teachers. Using a theoretical framework integrating complex systems theory with Kotter’s (‘Leading change.’ Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1996) eight steps for leading organizational change, we analyze the work and perspectives of individual teacher leaders, and we examine how teams of teacher leaders and principals function collectively in their efforts to lead instructional change. Our findings have implications for schools seeking to utilize teacher leadership as a reform strategy for authentic instructional improvement.”

Curtis, R. (2013). Finding a new way: Leveraging teacher leadership to meet unprecedented demands. Washington, DC: Aspen Institute. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Given the newly refined ability to distinguish between teachers and their effectiveness, and the imperative brought on by the Common Core standards (CCSS) to deliver instruction at a more sophisticated level, it is no longer reasonable or tenable to keep treating teachers the same. Instead, school systems should provide their highest-performing teachers with leadership roles that both elevate the profession and enable them to have the greatest impact on colleagues and students. It is not easy to implement new forms of teacher leadership meaningfully and effectively; doing so involves some profound changes to the status quo. This paper addresses what is necessary for change and how school systems might be able to achieve it. Broadly speaking, teacher leadership is defined as specific roles and responsibilities that recognize the talents of the most effective teachers and deploy them in service of student learning, adult learning and collaboration, and school and system improvement. This paper explains why systems pursue teacher leadership strategies and why it is important to embed that work in a specific vision of what the system seeks to achieve more broadly. The vision for teacher leadership and what it can facilitate can be quite varied across school systems and may include any of the following: (1) A culture of collaboration, shared accountability, and continuous improvement among adults; (2) Greater capacity and commitment to differentiate instruction to meet students’ needs; (3) Recognition, through status and compensation, that excellent teachers can be on par with school leaders; and (4) New ways of organizing and delivering instruction that increase the number of students highly effective teachers reach.”

Danielson, C. (2006). Teacher leadership that strengthens professional practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “There’s nothing new about having teachers lead teams, chair departments, and manage programs, but what’s never been available to schools is a framework for developing these teacher leaders and encouraging them every step of the way… until now. One of education’s foremost consultants and authors lays out the foundation that every school needs for developing and supporting highly committed teacher leaders: (1) Why there is a difference between excellent teachers who are leaders and excellent teachers who aren’t; (2) Which skills and dispositions are key to successful teacher leaders; (3) How to ensure teacher leaders reinforce the mission and goals of your school; (4) What kind of culture, policies, and structures schools need to encourage teacher leadership; and (5) Where and when it’s critical for teacher leaders to interact with the community outside your school. Loaded with advice for administrators and practical tips for experienced and aspiring teacher leaders, this book gives you a clear plan for ensuring that teacher leadership is a powerful force for school improvement.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Drago-Severson, E., & Blum-DeStefano, J. (2019). A developmental lens on social justice leadership: Exploring the connection between meaning making and practice. Journal of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, 3(1). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article draws from the first phase of a larger, qualitative and developmental study with educational leaders (n=50), as well as nearly three decades of research and teaching, to explore how constructive-developmental theory offers new insights about enacting and supporting social justice leadership in our schools and districts. Specifically, we argue that developing deeper understanding of leaders’ developmental diversity can help expand and support social justice leadership throughout the educational system. Findings suggest that educational leaders’ qualitatively different developmental orientations (i.e., ways of knowing or making sense of the world) influence their thinking about, and practice of, school leadership for social justice. The article describes the overarching orientations of—and effective developmental supports for—educational leaders who make meaning with four different ways of knowing.”

Ikemoto, G., Taliaferro, L., & Adams, E. (2012). Playmakers: How great principals build and lead great teams of teachers. New York, NY: New Leaders. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report identifies the concrete practices that set exemplary principals apart from their peers, exploring how they assemble the strongest-possible staff and foster a culture where teachers—and their students—are supported to success. The researchers conducted an in-depth analysis of data sets from two studies conducted by New Leaders from 2007 to 2011: the Urban Excellence Framework™ (UEF) case studies and the Effective Practice Incentive Community (EPIC) case studies. Both data sets were chosen because they identify and analyze principals whose schools made better-than-average gains in student achievement. These principals across both studies are referred to as ‘highly-effective principals.’ The Urban Excellence Framework data set consisted of case studies made during site visits to New Leader schools. The EPIC data set consisted of case studies of New Leader and non-New Leader schools that had relatively higher value-added scores than other schools in their district or charter consortium. For both studies, researchers conducted site visits and interviews, then coded the information they collected according to New Leaders’ Urban Excellence Framework, which outlines the leadership and school practices that drive dramatic gains in student achievement. This Framework includes the entire range of leadership practices, but for the purposes of this study, researchers focused only on those actions that related to teacher effectiveness. In order to form a clearer picture of the specific ways these highly-effective principals influence teaching, the researchers re-examined the case study examples that had been coded as related to teacher effectiveness according to the UEF framework. Great principals amplified great teaching by working in three intersecting areas: (1) developing teachers; (2) managing talent; and (3) creating a great place to work. This report discusses the numerous and specific ways the principals in the study pursued each of these goals, including the ways in which some actions served multiple purposes at once.”

Katzenmeyer, M., & Moller, G. (2009). Awakening the sleeping giant: Helping teachers develop as leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Retrieved from

From the description: “This third edition of a bestseller draws on the authors’ two decades of experience in studying and observing the work of teacher leaders. Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller expand on the definition of leadership and its importance to improving outcomes in schools, and cover the careerlong development of teacher leaders from preservice preparation programmes through ongoing support for veteran teacher leaders. This exceptional, teacher-focused resource discusses three factors critical to stepping into a leadership role: sustaining teacher leadership relationships between adults in the school, organizational structures, and the actions of the principal. The authors discuss the challenges that many teacher leaders face, including:

  • Deciding to accept a leadership role
  • Building principal–teacher leader relationships
  • Working with peers
  • Facilitating professional learning for themselves and others

With the latest research from the teacher leadership literature and new teacher inventories and surveys, this updated edition of Awakening the Sleeping Giant demonstrates the benefits of investing in teachers and their learning to sustain meaningful change in today’s schools.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Killion, J., Harrison, C., Colton, A., Bryan, C., Delehant, A., & Cooke, D. (2016). A systemic approach to elevating teacher leadership. Oxford, OH: Learning Forward. Retrieved from Full text available from

From the ERIC abstract: “Teacher leadership is often defined as a ‘set of practices that enhance the teaching profession.’ States and districts are leveraging teacher leadership in multiple ways to professionalize teaching, create opportunities for teacher career advancement, facilitate school improvement, and facilitate professional learning for educator and student success. In this report, the authors emphasize that teacher leadership, to have its greatest impact, must be contextually defined and operationalized within conditions unique to every school district and deeply embedded in the day-to-day work of teachers and administrators. This report offers a streamlined, practical resource for initiating or reviewing and revising the approach to teacher leadership within schools or school systems. From an array of issues related to effective teacher leadership, it focuses on the most essential. The discussion begins by acknowledging that teacher leadership is contextually defined and operationalized in ways that are appropriate to the unique characteristics of each school or district. By proposing a set of questions to consider rather than the answers to those questions, this essay places the essential work of initiating, reviewing, or refining teacher leadership in the hands of those who are responsible for its success and impact. Finally, this paper emphasizes the urgency for, and shows a method toward, a systemic approach to achieve the goals and maximize the effects of this high-leverage effort.”

Murphy, J. (2005). Connecting teacher leadership and school improvement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Retrieved from

From the description: “Connecting Teacher Leadership and School Improvement is the first book to synthesize theoretical, empirical, and practice-based literature in order to provide a comprehensive look at what is known about teacher leadership and what works to support it. The first part of the book explores the core concepts of teacher leadership, while the second part shows readers how to establish the context in their school or LEA to cultivate and support teacher leaders. A vital piece of equipment in the school improvement toolbox, this book covers such important topics as:

  • The headteacher’s critical role in supporting teacher leadership
  • Cultivating teacher leadership through professional development
  • Overcoming organizational barriers that hinder teacher leadership
  • How teacher leadership can help advance school improvement efforts

Presenting a comprehensive model of this successful change strategy, author Joseph Murphy examines the ideological and empirical basis of teacher leadership and offers strategies to help teachers and headteachers create productive relationships that will strengthen our nation’s schools.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

New Leaders. (2018). Prioritizing leadership: An analysis of state ESSA plans. New York, NY: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In their plans to carry out the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states universally recognize what New Leaders has long known: ‘leadership changes everything.’ In fact, every single state has committed to directing some portion of its federal funding into investments in leadership—from teacher leaders to principals and superintendents. These plans represent a marked shift from the past, when many states did not recognize the critical role principals and other school leaders play in creating schools where teachers and students thrive, together. As a result, investments in leadership have historically been inadequate. States that adopt a strong leadership agenda will be better positioned to achieve their goals for school and student success. A follow-up to Prioritizing Leadership: Opportunities in ESSA resource, this guide is designed to help state policymakers and other stakeholders: (1) Understand the range of leadership strategies included in states’ ESSA plans; (2) Prompt new thinking on initiatives and investments that could address leadership needs in their states as well as other challenges for which leadership could be a smart solution; and (3) Take action to assess, strengthen, and even expand the scope of their state’s leadership agenda. Cultivating a well-prepared, well-supported principal corps requires strategic alignment across the leadership ecosystem and targeted investments along a principal’s career trajectory. In their ESSA plans, states have proposed a range of strategies to address leadership needs in five critical areas: (1) Prioritizing Excellent Instructional Leadership; (2) Advancing Diverse, Equity-Focused Leadership; (3) Distributing Leadership and Building a Leadership Pipeline; (4) Strengthening and Innovating Pre-Service Principal Preparation; and (5) Focusing and Reimagining On-the-Job Principal Support.”

Sebastian, J., Allensworth, E., & Huang, H. (2016). The role of teacher leadership in how principals influence classroom instruction and student learning. American Journal of Education, 123(1), 69–108. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “School principals can play an important role in promoting teacher leadership by delegating authority and empowering teachers in ways that allow them influence in key organizational decisions and processes. However, it is unclear whether instruction and student learning are enhanced by promoting teacher influence in all aspects of school organization or whether it is better for principals to directly work on certain processes while delegating influence on others. We compare pathways from principal leadership through school organizational processes to student outcomes that include teacher influence as a mediating factor to pathways that do not include teachers’ influence. Our results suggest that effective principals use teacher leadership to improve the school learning climate while they work directly on professional development and school program coherence.”

Wenner, J. A., & Campbell, T. (2017). The theoretical and empirical basis of teacher leadership: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 87(1), 134–171. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In the current review, we examined teacher leadership research completed since York-Barr and Duke published the seminal review on teacher leadership in 2004. The review was undertaken to examine how teacher leadership is defined, how teacher leaders are prepared, their impact, and those factors that facilitate or inhibit teacher leaders’ work. Beyond this, the review considered theories informing teacher leadership, teacher leadership within disciplinary contexts, and the roles of teacher leaders in social justice and equity issues. The most salient findings were (a) teacher leadership, although rarely defined, focused on roles beyond the classroom, supporting the professional learning of peers, influencing policy/decision making, and ultimately targeting student learning; (b) the research is not always theoretically grounded; (c) principals, school structures, and norms are important in empowering or marginalizing teacher leaders; and (d) very little teacher leadership research examines issues of social justice and equity.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Wilhelm, T. (2013). How principals cultivate shared leadership. Educational Leadership, 71(2), 62–66. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Do teacher leaders in your school mainly fill the traditional roles of department chair or grade-level representative? Or do they lead their peers in collaborative teams whose primary focus is improving student learning? Terry Wilhelm, director of the School Leadership Center for Riverside County Office of Education in California, says that today’s high accountability demands require teachers to assume the latter role. In a shared leadership school-often called a professional learning community-teacher leaders guide and manage the work of teams consisting of course-alike or grade-level peers who work directly in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. In a shared leadership school, the role of the principal also changes. Principals must strike a delicate balance, providing needed direction while supporting teacher teams’ creativity and initiative. In this article, Wilhelm gives examples both of common mistakes principals make in implementing shared leadership, and of principals who have succeeded in striking this balance. She also describes how a school or districts might construct a process for providing essential training to help teacher leaders assume their new shared leadership role.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255–316. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The concept and practice of teacher leadership have gained momentum in the past two decades. Teachers are assuming more leadership functions at both instructional and organizational levels of practice. Empirical literature reveals numerous small-scale, qualitative studies that describe dimensions of teacher leadership practice, teacher leader characteristics, and conditions that promote and challenge teacher leadership. Less is known about how teacher leadership develops and about its effects. In addition, the construct of teacher leadership is not well defined, conceptually or operationally. Future research focused on the differentiated paths by which teachers influence organizational capacity, professionalism, instructional improvement, and student learning has the potential to advance the practice of teacher leadership. A conceptual framework is offered to guide such inquiry.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes for Research –

From the website: “From 2012–2019, the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders was a national content center under the federally funded Comprehensive Center Network. Following the grant’s conclusion, AIR continues to operate the GTL Center and offer services across a range of core evidence-based talent management strategies.”

Teacher Leadership –

From the website: “Teacher leadership is an effective, sustainable strategy for both school improvement and equitable access, and it can create long-term improvements in the educator workforce. Whether it’s leveraging your most effective teachers through a multi-classroom model, building a distributed school leadership model, or increasing teacher autonomy and empowerment, teacher leadership opportunities hold great promise for enhancing the quality of instruction in all classrooms, especially in high-need contexts. The GTL Center and its partners are currently supporting 15 states in taking decisive action towards fostering teacher leadership opportunities designed for each state and district’s unique context.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Principals “teacher leadership”

  • Teacher leadership

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.