Teachers as Leaders

by Dr. Punita Rice Teaching

Teachers as Leaders Life Magazine Teacher Classroom

If you’re a teacher, do you think about yourself as a leader? I think a lot of people have a hard time thinking about teachers as leaders. Which is crazy, because teachers are actually transformational leaders! Read on for more on transformational leadership, and why teachers are transformational leaders…

What is transformational leadership?

Transformational leadership is a specific kind of leadership. It refers to an interactive leadership process that emphasizes the leader-follower relationship. (In contrast, other forms of leadership might focus on the leader’s traits, behaviors, or situations… and not on the leader-follower dynamic).

The teacher-student relationship is at the heart of teaching. If we think about teaching through the lens of transformational leadership, it’s easy to think about teachers as leaders.

When we talk about transformational leadership, we’re talking about the kind of leadership that serves as a catalyst for change. It requires the leader to have vision, yes, but ultimately, it focuses on how to work together and cause transformations.

Teachers are leaders because they already engage in this kind of leadership!

How are teachers transformational leaders?

According to Onorato (2013), “transformational leaders do not merely react to environmental circumstances, they attempt to shape and create them” (p. 38). This sounds like the responsiveness that’s critical to good teaching.

“Transformational leaders do not merely react to environmental circumstances, they attempt to shape and create them.”

Onorato also says that transformational leadership relies on strategies like “encouraging continuous learning among staff” — which sounds like part of the job description of a team leader or resource teacher (p. 38).

Transformational leaders are also responsible for “sharing learning throughout the organization and working with the community toward achieving broader organizational goals” (p. 38). Again, sounds like we’re describing teachers engaging with family and community.

Onorato also says transformational leadership focuses on “variables in the change process” (p. 38). Again, literally, the job of teachers. 

Transformational leadership abilities can also improve student outcomes, since when principals and other administrators exhibit strong leadership skills, it can have a positive impact on student achievement (Labby, Lunenburg, & Slate, 2012).

Thinking of teachers as leaders

There’s no denying that for administrators, there’s value in developing transformational leadership skills. All of the characteristics of transformational leadership mentioned above are helpful in administration. Plus, having a transformational leader heading your school could have a powerful ripple effects on others. In fact, Eyal and Roth (2011) say having transformational education leaders can increase teacher commitment and reduce teacher burnout.

But while we often talk about administrators and others in obvious leadership roles as education leaders, but we need to start thinking of teachers as leaders as well. (And not just if the teacher is planning to go into administration later!)

Advantages of teachers developing a transformational leadership approach

A teacher leader who harnesses a transformational leadership approach can become highly effective in collaborating with colleagues. Teachers building their transformational leadership abilities can improve the long term consequences for the decisions being made. And, since transformational leadership engages concepts like building collaborative relationships, and developing emotional intelligence, these advantages would stretch from professional learning communities to working with students.

ALL teachers can benefit from building their transformational skills. Even if they’re not in leadership roles, teachers can apply transformational leadership skills in professional peer groups and professional learning communities. And even outside of exhibiting leadership when they collaborate with their team(s), teachers have to show leadership in the classroom every day. So really, all teachers should grow their transformational leadership skills.

Teachers need more opportunities for to develop these skills

But the thing is, not all teachers are given the opportunity. School systems that offer leadership programs and courses often aim them at teachers who hold (or are applying for) formal leadership roles. “Regular” teachers are often not offered these opportunities (or are actually barred from them). So the first thing we need is for school systems to make it a point to offer leadership courses that are inclusive of educators. This could go a long way in helping us to perceive teachers as leaders.

If you’re a teacher, do you you think of teachers as leaders? What kinds of leadership-development opportunities come your way?

P.S. – Thinking about teachers as Global Education Leaders, the Brain Targeted Teaching Model, and here are some lesson plans for teachers.

(Photo from LIFE magazine)


h2>[expand title=”References from this post”]

Eyal, O. & Roth, G. (2011). Principals’ leadership and teachers’ motivation: Self-determination theory analysis, Journal of Educational Administration, 49, 256 -275. doi:10.1108/09578231111129055

Labby, S., Lunenburg, F. C., & Slate, J. R. (2012). Emotional intelligence and academic success: A conceptual analysis for educational leaders.International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 7, 1-11. Retrieved from http://cnx.org/content/m42281/1.2/

Maulding, W. S., Peters, G. B., Roberts, J., Leonard, E., & Sparkman, L. (2012). Emotional intelligence and resilience as predictors of leadership in school administrators. Journal of Leadership Studies, 5(4), 20-29. doi:10.1002/jls.20240

Onorato, M. (2013). Transformational leadership style in the educational sector: An empirical study of corporate managers and educational leaders.Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 17, 33-47. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1368593704?accountid=11752

About the Author

Dr. Punita Rice

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Dr. Punita Rice is a wife and mama, an education researcher, a writer, the founder and director of ISAASE, and an advisor with Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Doctor of Education program. Her work centers around multicultural education and equity, and South Asian American experiences in school. You can read more about Punita and her work here. Punita also writes about life, culture, education, and motherhood here on her blog. She works from home in Maryland, and drinks a great deal of coffee.