Teacher Leadership

Teachers as leaders

Teachers are the adults closest to the two most important functions of any school:  teaching and learning. Who else, Ciaran McMahan asks, is better placed to bring about changes that will lead to successful school improvement?

leadership-6-diversity-1350043_960_720What is sometimes overlooked by school leaders, is that without the skilful involvement of teachers, all efforts to improve practice will ultimately fail. This reality in itself should help us recognise that the teacher practitioner is also a leader and shares in the leadership culture of a school. Leadership should not be viewed solely in terms of the senior hierarchy of a school: it is only through the interventions of middle leader managers that schools achieve success.

Successful schools

Schools that are successful are those schools that recognise and invest in the leadership potential of all teachers. It is the school in which this concept of teacher leadership is nurtured and embedded in school climate that will generate evolving school effectiveness and endurance. The more teachers who sense themselves as leading instead of all the time following, the more likelihood of improvements occurring and effectiveness being maintained.

If we lead we seek out opportunities to improve. Waiting and depending on strong senior leaders to orchestrate improvement serves only to create blockages and frustrate efforts for improvement. Failure to recognise the leadership capacity of the classroom teacher inhibits growth within a school.

The importance of combined leadership

leadership-1In times of an inevitably changing educational landscape for schools, the leadership mindfulness and situational awareness of all teaching staff in a school provides the appropriate response in maintaining sustainability. Although principals and school heads are responsible for creating the conditions for a favourable climate in school, it is the combined leadership qualities of teachers, senior promoted staff, and school heads that will determine school effectiveness. It is important to recognise the important contribution of senior leadership in school organisations, but it is equally important to recognise teaching staff as school leaders also. They must be listened to, told less and asked more. They must be confided in, recognised, not patronised, and above all else they must be acknowledged for their leadership capacity and not only for their teaching capabilities. They should not have to wait their turn to practise leadership. As Michael Fullan argues:

“Development of multiple leaders in schools promotes sustainability, allowing the established system and practices of the school to endure beyond the tenure of one leader.” Fullan et al (2004)

Recognising the teachers’ contribution

ledership-8-safe_harbour_-_geograph-org-uk_-_1140749The teacher leaders’ contribution to the school organisation is most evident and visible when senior leadership positions in schools are vacated. Then these teacher leaders who, often unnoticed, just do the same good job that they have always done, provide the basis for school renewal and growth. It is they who lead the newly appointed to safe harbour. After all, and above all else, it is their school too.

Succession planning for schools should not merely take account of replacing leaders who leave, but should constantly include providing opportunities for all teachers to be leaders.


We are all participatory learners in the context of leadership in schools and recognising the leadership attributes of others is a lesson well learned; it is the spring from which future leadership flows

It is only with this approach in mind that schools will maintain forward movement and generate self-renewal after experiencing negative change impact.

leasdership-8-teamwork-454884_960_720We are all participatory learners in the context of leadership in schools and recognising the leadership attributes of others is a lesson well learned; it is the spring from which future leadership flows. “In the end the success of one leader is determined not by student outcome alone but by the number of others who remain and can go beyond what has already been accomplished.” Fullan et al (2004.).



Ciaran McMahon is Principal of Scoil Bhride, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, Ireland

See more by Ciaran in ITM:





Feature Image: Pixabay

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  • Jaswinder Grewal December 19, 2016  

    I truly believe that teachers are leaders as their vision extends beyond their own classrooms—even beyond their own teams or departments. They are catalysts for change, visionaries who are “never content with the status quo but rather always looking for a better way.” They are mentors , coaches for their students and help them help themselves to achieve personal success.

    • Andy December 23, 2016  

      Thank you for your comment, Jaswinder – I totally agree.

      Best wishes

      Andy Homden, ITM