A systematic approach to elevating teacher leadership

by Learning Forward authors

This guide provides a practical process for designing or reviewing teacher leadership in your context.

Download the guide – Learning Forward website

Learning Forward is a professional association promoting and supporting educator professional learning in the US.


The authors of the guide define the goal of teacher leadership as: to strengthen professional practice and enhance professional learning, leading to student success. 

They suggest principals and other leaders in the school may need to challenge teachers’ assumptions about what leadership is in order to expand teacher leadership and to ensure all teachers accept teacher leaders. They may also need to make changes to their own roles. This aspect of change is often overlooked. 

"Making this shift means sharing power rather than inviting representation."

Assumptions about teacher leadership

The authors warn that educators’ efforts to build teacher leadership may not lead to the desired results if they begin without agreeing a clear set of assumptions.

They identify ten assumptions about teacher leadership and these underpin the advice presented in the guide. The assumptions are:

  • Teacher leadership impacts student and peer performance.
  • Teachers lead, formally or informally, wherever they are.
  • All teachers have opportunities for leadership.
  • Teacher leadership requires that teachers develop capacity for effective leadership.
  • Teachers develop leadership capacity when they are supported.
  • Teacher leadership requires changes in other leaders throughout the school system.
  • Teacher leaders take responsibility for their own professional growth and the growth of others.
  • Teacher leadership requires courage, tolerance for ambiguity, and flexibility.
  • Teacher leaders foster collaborative cultures that promote continuous improvement.
  • Teacher leaders collect evidence of impact resulting from their work.

Areas for action

The authors strongly urge educators to take a systemic approach to teacher leadership to achieve the goals and maximise the effects.

They present four areas to investigate when you begin to look at teacher leadership or revise your current approach to it. These are:

  • your definition of teacher leadership
  • conditions conducive to teacher leadership
  • dispositions for teacher leadership
  • assessment of the impact of teacher leadership.

The guide sets out actions, a rationale, a scenario, and questions to explore for each of the four areas.

Reflective questions

Example questions from the guide:

  • What are the purposes and desired outcomes for teacher leadership in our school or school system?
  • How will the roles of current leaders change to provide authentic leadership opportunities to teacher leaders?
  • How are the school system, school, and teacher leaders cultivating dispositions for teacher leadership?
  • What are the indicators of success for teacher leadership? 
  • How are the conditions that support teacher leadership, such as time, professional learning, coaching, etc., assessed in an evaluation of teacher leadership?


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

Further reading

Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium. (2011). Teacher leader model standards. Available at https://www.teachingquality.org/Library

The standards outline the functions a teacher leader might perform in each of seven domains of teacher leadership.

Teaching Council

Leadership strategy

"We recognise that leadership (at all levels) is a key driver for improving and transforming the education system."

"The leadership strategy is designed to support leadership capability development for all registered teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand". 

Leadership strategy 

Our code, Our standards

The elaboration of Standard 3, Professional relationships, includes:

Actively contribute, and work collegially, in the pursuit of improving my own and organisational practice, showing leadership, particularly in areas of responsibility.

Our code, Our standards  

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