Research Review

Critical questions remain unanswered in research on teacher leadership

By Joellen Killion
August 2017
Vol. 38 No. 4
WHAT THE STUDY SAYS More than a decade after the last comprehensive literature review on teacher leadership, researchers conclude similar findings and challenges exist in the more recent studies analyzed. Study description In 2004, Jennifer York-Barr and Karen Duke published a seminal and comprehensive review of the literature on teacher leadership between 1980 and 2004. This study examines literature published between that study and 2013. As the interest and implementation of teacher leadership grows and accountability measures within schools expand and morph, this new review sought to expand the understanding of the field both within the framework established by York-Barr and Duke and beyond it. For the purpose of this review, Wenner and Campbell define teacher leaders as “teachers who maintain K-12 classroom-based teaching responsibilities,

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This review of research on teacher leadership may seem disappointing, yet rather than emphasize what the research fails to support, it identifies the areas that require careful attention from practitioners and researchers.

Practitioners who want to elevate the significance and visibility of their teacher leadership efforts have a responsibility for clearly defining teacher leadership, establishing its purpose and theoretical framework, creating the conditions and structures that support it (see A Systemic Approach to Elevating Teacher Leadership, Killion et al., 2016), preparing and supporting teacher leaders, and evaluating the effects of teacher leadership on teacher leaders, their colleagues, their school, school system, and communities, and their students.

In addition, since the most common role of teacher leaders is supporting the professional learning of their colleagues, it is imperative that teacher leaders understand and apply the Standards for Professional Learning (Learning Forward, 2011) within their practice and for designing, implementing, and evaluating the professional learning that occurs within school.

This study also calls for thoughtful consideration of the preparation and continuous professional learning of teacher leaders as well as for engaging underrepresented teachers in leadership roles. All efforts to engage, prepare, and support teacher leaders and those who are responsible for supporting and supervising them are other opportunities for applying the Standards for Professional Learning.


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

Learning Forward. (2011). Standards for Professional Learning. Oxford, OH: Author.

York-Barr, J. & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255-316.

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