How teachers can lead from the classroom

By Renee Gugel
Categories: Career pathways, Leadership, Teacher leadership
December 2023
As an administrator, I wanted to be — longed to be, even — an instructional superhero. Like all school leaders, I knew how important it is to help our teachers become the best they can be. But with responsibilities and to-do lists far longer than there are hours in a day, my best intentions often went unfulfilled. I found I was barely managing to get into classrooms to work with teachers, and even when I did, those meetings were rushed. It became clear to me that school leaders can’t do instructional leadership alone. I have since learned that the quality instructional leadership our school needed was right in front of me, but I failed to recognize it at the time. Empowering teacher leadership is a

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Teacher leaders’ roles

Across the United States, teacher leadership takes on a variety of meanings. Some teacher leader roles include:

  • Technology coach
  • Instructional coach
  • New teacher mentor
  • Staff development/professional development leader
  • Curriculum developer/specialist
  • Peer evaluator (informal)
  • Department chair
  • Grade-level leader
  • Lead teacher
  • Data coach
  • PLC leader
  • Community partnership liaison

An example of benefits of teacher leadership for school communities

Dr. Washington, the district superintendent, has asked all the schools in the district to improve parental involvement. He is especially concerned about Birch Elementary, where there has been a decrease over the last few years.

Birch’s principal, Ms. Sprague, knows how important this goal is, but feels overwhelmed with other responsibilities and wonders where to start. She realizes this is an excellent chance to promote teacher leadership. She turns to Mrs. Smith, a 3rd-grade teacher, who consistently has the strongest relationships with families. She is an expert at finding ways to make them feel welcome and solicit their input and feedback.

Ms. Sprague asks Mrs. Smith to help lead a committee on parental involvement and provide some tips for other teachers about how to welcome families. The situation is a win for everyone. Ms. Smith feels appreciated and recognized for her expertise, other teachers have new strategies for engaging families, and more parents are connecting with their children’s teachers.

Working together, Ms. Sprague and Mrs. Smith are able to accomplish an important school and district goal while creating a culture of community and collaboration.


National Network of State Teachers of the Year. (2008). Teacher Leader Model Standards. Author.

Rosborg, J. (2022). Teacher/administrator shortage: A commentary on how we got here, and our road to solving the problem. Illinois Association of School Boards.

Teach Plus. (2021, January 7). Tapping the potential of Illinois’ teacher leadership endorsement.

Renee gugel
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Renee Gugel ( is program chair of teacher leadership and assistant professor, leadership studies at National Louis University in Chicago, Illinois.

Categories: Career pathways, Leadership, Teacher leadership

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