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Teacher Leadership - How do we Lead from the Middle? Part 1

Effective leadership is universally acknowledged as being an essential element in achieving school improvement (Leithwood & Jantzi, 1998; Hopkins, 2001). The ways in which leadership is created within an educational context; however, is a varied as teachers themselves. Traditionally, the expectation was that principals were across all levels of leadership; however, with the increasing complexities of schools, the belief has shifted. The roles of both the principals and teachers must change in order for improvement to become the norm throughout the culture of a school. Systems have adopted a framework of distribution as it has become impossible for one person to do it all. This modern of education encourage the empowerment of teacher (Harris & Muijs, 2002a) to lead and drive changes so that all students have the resources required to reach their level of proficiency (Devaney, 1987). Fullan (2001a) states that teachers are the key to school change.

Teachers commonly define their career contentment in their ability to serve others (Lambert, 2003; McLaughlin & Lee, 1988). Correspondingly, their leadership aspirations are founded in their desire to improve the students' experience of the teaching and learning (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009). Devaney (1987) highlights, traditional leadership as "higher" or "superior" positions within the educational hierarchy are something that many teachers do not advocate for. Alternatively, they view leadership as a collaborative effort to promote professional development and student growth across the educational setting (Danielson, 2007; Harris & Muijs, 2002a; Fullan, 2001b).

Katzenmeyer & Moller (2009) characterise teacher leaders as “teachers who are leaders within and beyond the classroom, identify with and contribute to a community of teacher learners and leaders, and influence others towards improved educational practice” (p.5). Patterson & Patterson, (2004) reinforces this by pointing out teacher leaders work with colleagues for the specific function of developing teaching and learning.

Teachers can adopt a variety of informal and formal roles that build the capacity to improve across the entire educational context. Developing and valuing teacher leaders is dependant on this redefinition of leadership from the executive. This change in methodology is an essential ingredient to ensure its effectiveness in increasing student achievement expectations. There is an extensive correlation between distributed leadership (Spillane & Diamond, 2007) and teacher leadership (Harris, 2003); however, this paper will draw deeper into the framework of the later.

History of Teacher Leadership:
The background of teacher leadership has been discussed by Silva, Gimbert & Nolan (2000) has been in three waves. The first wave was described as a managerial role. Teachers adopted positions functioning as department chair and head teacher. The second wave grew out of the first waves shortcomings, where leaders were focused on efficiency and effectiveness not influencing others or impacting the day to day teaching. This phase capitalised on the teacher instructional knowledge and did not promote the collaborative nature of modern day teacher leadership. The third wave heightened the focus on informal leadership and collaboration; teachers began equipping other teachers by building capacity in and amongst themselves. Pounder (2006) discussed the possible fourth wave, suggesting that it would view teachers as transformational leaders in their schools.

Work on this topic has been guided by the premise that all teachers have the capacity to lead given the appropriate environment where the capacity is nurtured and facilitated (Darling-Hammond, 1995; Fullan, 1994; Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009). This concept is paradoxical to the traditional heroic leadership model (Bradford & Cohen, 1998) as the established division between principal and teachers has been removed. The responsibility for student learning becomes a collaborative effort within the framework of teacher leadership (Seltz, 2014). Much of model's success is fashioned by the principal’s willingness to empower and share responsibility (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009; Lambert, 2003).

Research Application:
The phrase ‘teacher leader’ is not a label for someone who simply receives pay for additional work. This is someone whose role in school includes real and differentiated responsibility and builds the capacity for improvement (Harris & Muijs, 2004). They have accountability in one of many areas such as instructional coaching and feedback, mentoring, leading curriculum teams, action research, professional development and community building where they develop collegial relationships with others allowing new ideas to spread (Little, 2000). Some scholars (Frost & Durrant, 2003; Frost & Harris, 2003) suggest that personal capacity has a direct impact on the degree of leadership they exercise. As professional efficiency expands by increasing knowledge and skill, the capacity to lead grows (Ng, 2006). As a result, these teachers become exemplary in specific areas and passionately drive the development and evolution of this field of operation (Alexandrou & Swaffield, 2016). This collective leadership, grounded in the work of teaching (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 1998) energises the organisation from within, ensuring the impact of the improvement cycle benefits the students and the larger organisation (Crowther, Ferguson & Hann, 2009).

Giles and Hargreaves (2006) indicate outstanding teacher leadership is a fundamental element of outstanding schools and systems leadership for the future. They determine that teacher leadership is powerful when grounded in cultures of trust and thrives in innovative environments where responsibility is shared around genuine goals for student improvement (Crowther, Ferguson & Hann, 2009). Harris et al. (2003) describe this environment as the heartland of ‘capacity’. It synergises and interconnects the emotional and spiritual bonding that trust and responsibility creates.

Crowther, Ferguson & Hann (2009), establish that teacher leadership is a vital element in community and culture building as plans are formed in and reliant upon pedagogical excellence at the coal face. Thus, turning teacher innovation ideas into action and obstacles into opportunities for them to mature as professionals. Gabriel (2005) indicates the nurturing of teacher leadership crafts a sense of ownership and desire to buy-in as most people want to be part of something significant. Childs-Bowen, Moller & Scrivner (2000) stress the gravity of leadership creating space for teachers to lead as a path to advance their professional learning community (Harris & Jones, 2015). In celebrating innovation, they bolster the capacity development of teacher expertise (Hargreaves, Boyle & Harris, 2014; Harris & Jones, 2017). This parallel leadership engages both teachers and their principals together in terms of professional learning, school-wide pedagogy and culture building (Crowther, Hann & McMaster, 2001; Crowther, Kaagan, Ferguson & Hann, 2002).

There is a significant link between collective efficacy and teacher leadership in school settings (Fullan, 1994; Derrington & Angelle, 2013; Goddard, 2002). Fullan (1994) highlights, teacher professionalism improves when teachers take the role of teacher leadership. Effectively as they individually develop their efficiency the collective grows. The aphorism, "a rising tide lifts all boats" would be well suited to this understanding as is endorsed the belief that improvements will benefit all stakeholders. This argument is reinforced when viewed through the lens of Hattie's (2012) compelling documentation. He identifies collective teacher efficacy as the most significant element impacting and influencing the success of student achievement. Lewis (2009) declares that “with more opportunity to participate in school decision-making, teams build more mastery experiences in this type of decision-making and experience social persuasion through colleagues’ feedback” (p.72). Correspondingly, providing teachers with increased freedom and control over decisions making supports the building of collective efficacy, therefore, building capacity from the ground up. This aligns with Senge’s (1990) thoughts as he suggests a learning organisation only discovers how to tap the commitment and capacity of a team by continually nurturing expansive patterns of thinking.

Gabriel (2005), discovered a negative environment that lacks cohesion, shared ownership and direction can infect a whole school and adversely impact student outcomes. In this case, it takes a dynamic leader who will listen and challenge the culture to rise from within to transform the experience. Silins and Mulford (2002) illustrate the importance of working together in collaboration for outstanding school restructuring towards teacher leadership. They argue that if teachers do not have conditions to create and sustain the professional development, the conditions are also lost to students. They went on by stating student outcomes are more likely to advance when leadership is shared and teachers are empowered in areas of importance to them.

Successful factors in applying this framework have been classified by Boles (1992), whose study identified components that influenced the application of fruitful teacher leadership. Considerations described included the principal's support and willingness to release leadership, administration skills, communication passageways, the sensitivity to culture and patterns of power. Many of these elements are underground and unseen; however, through immersion within the system the impact can be experienced. Therefore, its success will be heavily determined by internal factors from within the school gates (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009). Teacher leaders assist to guide school towards higher standards and school reform.

Fullan (2011) identifies four drivers of leadership that make a direct difference to the life of the educational organisation. The attributes of these can directly be evidenced within the teacher leadership framework. They are: capacity building, group work, pedagogical excellence and systemic solutions.

Part 2 will focus on practical implications and personal reflections of teacher leadership.

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