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Ask A REL Response

October 2017


What research has been conducted on effective practices of teacher leaders?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on effective practices of teacher leaders. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effective practices of teacher leaders. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Allen, D. (2016). The resourceful facilitator: Teacher leaders constructing identities as facilitators of teacher peer groups. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 22(1), 70-83.
    From the abstract: "The use of teacher peer groups is a prevalent strategy for school-based professional development and instructional improvement. Facilitation of such groups is an increasingly vital dimension of teacher leadership as a component of school improvement efforts. Drawing on a qualitative study of facilitation of teacher peer groups, the article investigates how teacher leaders integrate experiences from different domains of life in constructing a unique facilitator identity. Focusing on portraits of three teacher leaders, it demonstrates how teachers relate experiences outside of teaching, including academic experiences, other professional experiences, and social experiences, to the skills and orientation necessary for effective facilitation. The article argues for attention to reflexive practices of identity formation in the preparation of teacher leaders as facilitators and in the ongoing development of teacher leaders who already function as facilitators."
  2. Collinson, V. (2012). Leading by learning, learning by leading. Professional Development in Education, 38(2), 247-266.
    From the abstract: "Data from a study of 81 exemplary secondary school teachers across the United States provide a portrait of how these teachers have become leaders whose influence and partnerships extend well beyond their classrooms and schools. Propelled by a deep personal desire to learn and a commitment to help students learn, the teachers are learners first, leaders second: their leadership occurs as a by-product of their learning. As teachers, they become pedagogical innovators in their quest to learn what helps students learn. They develop deep knowledge of students, curricula and pedagogy, in part by changing grade levels and schools, observing and learning from students, and consulting with parents. They seek specific professional development, internal and external colleagues and partnerships, professional organisations, and opportunities to team teach and observe peers. As they learn, they refine who they are as a person. Over time, the teachers find, accept or create ways to help colleagues by sharing innovations, ideas and insights. They contribute to and influence the profession by writing grants, serving as members or leaders of influential committees, providing professional development and leading change. Always focusing on learning, they quickly learn that leading opens many new possibilities for learning. (Contains 1 table and 1 figure.)"
  3. 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.
    From the 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."
  4. Cosenza, M. N. (2015). Defining teacher leadership: Affirming the teacher leader model standards. Issues in Teacher Education, 24(2), 79-99.
    From the abstract: "Although there is no common definition for teacher leadership, the concept is continually advanced as a key component for both the success of schools and the professionalization of teachers (Boles & Troen, 1994; Dozier, 2007; Greenlee, 2007; Lieberman, 1987; Smith, 1999). Teachers need to be given opportunities to leave the isolation of their classrooms to collaborate with others in order to build leadership capacity (Dozier, 2007). The development of teacher leadership is increasingly viewed as an important factor in improving schools, improving student achievement, and retaining teachers for the long term (Boles & Troen, 1994; Dozier, 2007; Greenlee, 2007; Lieberman, 1987; Smith, 1999). Many educators and educational researchers have put forward standards and guidelines for teacher leadership. The most recent contribution to this initiative is a set of teacher leader standards developed by the Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium in 2011 which are the basis for this study. The consortium that developed the teacher leader model standards did so with the intention to provide guidance about teacher leadership and to delineate for universities and other providers of professional development a set of guidelines for the preparation of future teacher leaders (Teacher Leader Model Standards, 2011). The standards have recently been adopted by two teacher leadership certificate programs in southern California. This study seeks to discover how teachers define the term teacher leadership and then compare those findings to the seven domains of the teacher leader model standards. Further, it aims to discover if these standards are in alignment with the viewpoints of practicing teachers."
  5. Fairman, J. C., & Mackenzie, S. V. (2015). How teacher leaders influence others and understand their leadership. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 18(1), 61-87.
    From the abstract: "This study elaborates the many ways that teachers lead work with colleagues to improve teaching and learning, and their understanding of their work as leadership. Through qualitative case studies of seven Maine schools and a review of the literature, the authors developed a conceptual model, Spheres of Teacher Leadership Action for Learning. They describe the various strategies teachers used to influence colleagues in direct and indirect ways, through formal and informal leadership. The authors discuss the importance of relationships, informal collaboration, trust and collegiality in supporting teachers' leadership development and school improvement. However, they also found teachers engaging in leadership to build these supportive conditions where they did not exist in schools. Teachers leading school improvement work were reluctant to see themselves as leaders, and rarely referred to themselves or others as "leaders". In fact, they viewed their informal and collaborative work as having greater impact on school improvement than formal efforts directed by school administrators. Yet, teachers did recognize the contributions and individual strengths that colleagues brought to their collective efforts. The authors suggest that in advancing the focus on school improvement and a shared accountability for the learning of all children, the term 'teacher leader' may be counterproductive."
  6. Gigante, N. A., & Firestone, W. A. (2008). Administrative support and teacher leadership in schools implementing reform. Journal of Educational Administration, 46(3), 302-331.
    From the abstract: "Purpose: This paper aims to explore how teacher leaders help teachers improve mathematics and science teaching. Design/methodology/approach: Research focused on a purposive sample of seven teacher leaders selected to vary in their time allocated to teacher leader work and their content knowledge. Each teacher leader was interviewed, as were two teachers and at least one administrator working with that teacher leader. Each interview was first subjected to a mix of deductive and inductive coding before a case study was written for each teacher leader. Ultimately, a cross-case analysis was written. Findings: Teacher leaders conducted two sets of leadership tasks. The paper finds that support tasks helped teachers do their work but did not contribute to teacher learning. Developmental tasks did facilitate learning. All teacher leaders engaged in support tasks, but only four did developmental tasks as well. Teacher leaders who engaged in developmental tasks had access to one material resource and three social resources not available to other teacher leaders: time to work with teachers, administrative support, more positive relations with teachers, and opportunities to work with teachers on professional development. Practical implications: When teacher leadership is intended to facilitate teacher learning, the payoff comes from engaging in developmental tasks. A key to teacher leader success is administrative support. Schools and districts should not invest in teacher leaders unless they intend to support teacher leaders adequately through time, administrative follow through, and training to help teachers develop the positive social relations on which their work depends. Originality/value: These findings have implications for how to integrate teacher leaders into larger school improvement efforts. (Contains 2 tables and 4 figures.)"
  7. Harrison, C., & Killion, J. (2007). Ten roles for teacher leaders. Educational Leadership, 65(1), 74-77.
    From the abstract: "Teacher leaders assume a wide range of roles to support school and student success. Harrison and Killion describe 10 roles that teacher leaders can fulfill in their schools. As resource providers, they provide materials to help their colleagues. Instructional specialists help colleagues with instructional strategies, and curriculum specialists ensure that the adopted curriculum is consistently implemented. Teachers can also coteach and observe in colleagues' classrooms or mentor new teachers. Planning professional learning opportunities and serving on committees are also important roles. Some teachers also encourage colleagues to analyze and use data more effectively, learn new things, or change the status quo. The variety of formal and informal opportunities these roles encompass means that any teacher can be a leader."
  8. Lumpkin, A., Claxton, H., & Wilson, A. (2014). Key characteristics of teacher leaders in schools. Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research, 4(2), 59-67.
    From the abstract: "Teacher leaders who share their specialized knowledge, expertise, and experience with other teachers broaden and sustain school and classroom improvement efforts. Teacher leaders can transform classrooms into learning laboratories where every student is engaged in relevant and well-designed curricular content, every teacher embraces the use of more effective instructional strategies, and authentic assessments provide evidence of rich student learning. This work describes four essentialities associated with teacher leaders: a focus on student learning, along with the importance of empowerment, relationships, and collaboration. In addition to gleaning insights from the literature, examples of the impact of teacher leaders in schools are provided to demonstrate the importance of each."
  9. Mangin, M., & Stoelinga, S. R. (2011). Peer? Expert? Teacher leaders struggle to gain trust while establishing their expertise. Journal of Staff Development, 32(3), 48-51.
    From the abstract: "Instructional teacher leaders strive to help teachers build knowledge and skills to improve teaching practice. With titles such as coach or coordinator, they may receive a stipend or released time from teaching. Instructional teacher leaders rely on an array of strategies to improve instruction and enhance student learning. They conduct professional development workshops, co-plan and model lessons, observe teaching and provide feedback, collect and analyze data, facilitate dialogue and reflective critique, and promote shared practices among teachers. Despite the designation as leader, the instructional teacher leader's role is nonsupervisory. Teacher leaders do not evaluate teachers to determine performance-based promotions or sanctions. By maintaining their status as peers rather than supervisors, teacher leaders gain teachers' trust. The logic follows that teachers who trust the teacher leader will seek advice and assistance. The nonsupervisory nature of the teacher leader role creates a paradoxical challenge for the teacher leader. In an effort to gain teachers' trust, teacher leaders deemphasize their status as experts and avoid delivering hard feedback about teaching practice. Yet these actions ultimately undermine the work of improving instruction. How can the teacher leader be both a trusted colleague and a resource for instructional improvement? Making teacher leadership an effective tool for improving instructional practice depends on resolving this paradox. It requires a reconceptualization of the role, placing the teacher leader's expert knowledge at the center of the work. It also requires a school culture that embraces evaluation, collaboration, dialogue, and deprivatization as vital to the instructional improvement process."
  10. Margolis, J., & Deuel, A. (2009). Teacher leaders in action: Motivation, morality, and money. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 8(3), 264-286.
    From the abstract: "This study looks closely at the work of five teacher leaders within a grant designed to promote middle- and high school-level content area literacy teaching and learning. Drawing from research on teacher career cycles, teacher compensation, and distributed leadership, the five teacher leaders' motivations, meanings, and approaches to teacher leadership are explored. Data collection occurred over the 2006-2007 school year, and included both artifacts of leadership as well as teacher reflections on experiences. Findings include: (1) Teacher leaders were motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically, including by moral imperatives and monetary rewards, as well as professional and personal concerns; (2) The "teacher leader" designation meant surprisingly little; and (3) The teacher leaders had significant capacity to impact instructional change. Implications for both the development and utilization of teacher leaders as well as future teacher leader research are considered. (Contains 1 table.)"
  11. Margolis, J., & Huggins, K. S. (2012). Distributed but undefined: New teacher leader roles to change schools. Journal of School Leadership, 22(5), 953-981.
    From the abstract: "This article examines teacher leader role development and definition by looking at one emergent model of distributed leadership: the hybrid teacher leader (HTL). HTLs are teachers whose official schedule includes both teaching K-12 students and leading teachers in some capacity. Participants included six HTLs across four school districts over 2 years, as well as their administrators. Extensive qualitative data were collected and subsequently analyzed, including interviews, on-site observations, and artifacts. Findings included a pervasive lack of role definition for the HTLs amid heightened organizational complexity, leading to numerous de facto definitions emerging. Conflicting de facto definitions led to diminished success for the HTLs, relationship deterioration, a reversion to professional development removed from the classroom, and a lack of capacity to account for HTL efficacy. The study concludes that for new teacher leaders to be successful, states and districts will need to much more clearly define roles and priorities and be specific about how budget-compensated teacher leader time is used. (Contains 1 table and 1 figure.)"
  12. 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.
    From the abstract: "Purpose: The purpose of this article is to uncover what scholars know and do not know about instructional leadership, paying particular attention to what they have learned about how this work is done and where knowledge falls short. The author takes a first step at integrating three distinct literatures: (a) the traditional instructional leadership literature (centered primarily on the principal), (b) the teacher instructional leadership literature, and (c) the coach instructional leadership literature. Research Design: The author utilizes a distributed lens to examine the principal, teacher leader, and coach instructional leadership literatures. This lens illuminates what scholars know about instructional leaders in interaction with one another, their followers, and particular contexts as they work toward the improvement of teaching and learning. The author proposes that analyzing these three literatures together may allow scholars to apply findings from one research area to another, as well as to generate new knowledge around how leaders improve instruction. Conclusions: An integrated, comprehensive understanding of what scholars do and do not know about instructional leadership can begin to shape future studies that will address existing shortcomings around the "how" of leadership that emerge across these literatures. (Contains 3 notes.)"
  13. Smulyan, L. (2016). Symposium introduction: Stepping into their power--the development of a teacher leadership stance. Schools: Studies in Education, 31(1), 8-28.
    From the abstract: "This introduction to the symposium on Teacher Leadership describes how a group of teachers have developed a definition of teacher leadership as a stance. The article explores how prior definitions of teacher leadership tend to focus on individual skills or roles. Neoliberal educational policies that emphasize market-based policy, privatization, individual effort and benefit, and efficiency have contributed to these task-oriented definitions of teacher leadership. The teacher leaders who participate in this project resist this framing and explore teacher leadership as a stance that values professionalism and the intellectual, political, and collaborative work of teaching."
  14. Smulyan, L. (2016). Introduction to part 2 of a symposium on teachers as leaders: Teachers write now: Collaborating, writing, and acting on teacher leadership. Schools: Studies in Education, 13(2), 198-210.
    From the abstract: "This introduction to the second part of our Symposium on Teachers as Leaders examines the role of collaboration and writing as part of teacher leadership. The first part of the symposium described teacher leadership as a stance that values professionalism and the intellectual, political, and collaborative work of teaching. This introduction explores how a group of teacher leaders who have met regularly during the past several years have used writing to reflect on practice, to share ideas with one another, and to communicate their perspectives to others. [For the introduction to Part 1 of the symposium, see EJ1110798.]"
  15. Wolkenhauer, R., Hill, A. P., Dana, N. F., & Stukey, M. (2017). Exploring the connections between action research and teacher leadership: A reflection on teacher-leader research for confronting new challenges. New Educator, 13(2), 117-136.
    From the abstract: "This reflective article examines the relationship between teachers' engagement in action research and their ability to lead within their schools. As part of "The New Educator's" special issue, "Developing an Inquiry Stance toward Instructional Improvement: Teacher-Leader Action Research," this article demonstrates the development of an inquiry stance. It shares the story of two practicing teacher leaders within the new and challenging circumstance of adjusting to, and studying, the professional development they provided to help teachers deal with a challenging transition to a radically different school space. This article examines the ways practitioner inquiry supported these teachers to be leaders in the new architectural space designed to promote innovative instruction for twenty-first-century teaching and learning. We posit that coupling teacher leadership and teacher research enables teachers (a) to lead with literature, (b) to lead from data, (c) to lead through sharing, and (d) to lead by example."
  16. York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 7(3), 255-316.
    From the 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."

Additional Organizations to Consult

  1. Leading Educators -
    From the website: "Leading Educators strives to make that vision a reality by investing in the single greatest determinant of student success - teachers. We partner with school districts around the country to build systems of professional learning designed to strengthen teachers' content and pedagogical skills and, ultimately, improve the quality of teacher and student performance. Together with school and district leaders, Leading Educators provides programming that empowers a network of teacher leaders to drive instructional improvement efforts in their schools, create a school-wide culture of learning, and equip students with the knowledge and skills that they need for college, career, and life. Our model helps school and district leaders assess their talent strategy and instructional priorities to make systemic shifts that improve the quality of instruction in every classroom. The result is sustainable systems that work."
  2. Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at American Institutes for Research -
    From the website: "The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) is dedicated to supporting state education leaders in their efforts to grow, respect, and retain great teachers and leaders for all students. The GTL Center continues the work of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (TQ Center) and expands its focus to provide technical assistance and online resources designed to build systems that:
  • Support the implementation of college and career standards.
  • Ensure the equitable access of effective teachers and leaders.
  • Recruit, retain, reward, and support effective educators.
  • Develop coherent human capital management systems.
  • Create safe academic environments that increase student learning through positive behavior management and appropriate discipline.
  • Use data to guide professional development and improve instruction.


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

  • Teacher leaders, effective practices
  • Teacher leadership, teaching methods,

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

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 for last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. 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.