Awaken the Giants

It is increasingly been advocated that teachers should take a more active leadership role in schools.  This call comes from several quarters. 

First, there is a consensus among practitioners and researchers that schools have become too complex to be led by the principal alone especially when it comes to instructional and curricular matters.  Principals, with the additional responsibility of implementing educational reforms, need to be freed to take care of such matters.  Second, with the broadening of power and advocating of distributed leadership, it is inevitable that some of these responsibilities are being distributed to teachers (Cranston and Kusanovich, 2015).  Teachers, in this respect, are involved in decision-making that not only affect classroom practices but could also inform management on school operation which would lead to more efficient decisions being made.  Third, teachers are not prepared nor trained to take up leadership roles during their pre-service preparation programmes, and yet their leadership role and leadership activities are factored into their annual appraisals.    Hence, teachers need to learn from their seniors who are experienced which calls for senior teachers to mentor novice teachers through influence, shared learning, and collaboration.  More importantly, teachers need leadership skills and knowledge as they progress in their career and will be useful as they access leadership positions and opportunities.     

Teachers are critical to a school’s success and students’ schooling.  They are experts in their field as they spend most of their time and effort in the classrooms involved in teaching and the learning of the students.  In their roles as mentors to novice teachers and as colleagues who assist in leading the school alongside their principals, they transform schools into professional learning communities (Ketzenmeyer and Moller, 2001).  Schools continue to improve and teachers continue to build their interpersonal communications from teacher leaders mentoring and coaching and as they exude confidence. 

To develop teachers and to encourage learning from each other (as adult learning happens), an environment where there is trust, collaboration and autonomy must be created and present to facilitate teacher and teacher leadership development.  You might ask why all this focus on the development of teachers when schooling is about students?  Andreas Schieicher (2014) of the OECD stresses that ‘the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers’ meaning that the quality of teachers is an important determinant of education performance.  A robust teaching force with forward-thinking, creative and innovative teachers who can initiate and able to manage change is extremely important in pushing the agenda of effective and successful teaching and learning.

Unfortunately, some barriers need to be overcome for teachers to develop their skills in leading learning: time constraint, heavy workload, colleagues’ disapprobation and egalitarian values among teachers militate against any teacher presenting oneself as a leader leading them to be ostracized by others.  In this scenario, the principal who sets the tone of the school is responsible to set the conditions required to enable the development of teachers to flourish.  The most important ingredients are trust, a collaborative atmosphere and ready to take responsibilities together with the teachers when things fail.  Without these, the school will fail to develop a professional learning community, where teachers work as collaborative teams to make an impact on the school.

How teachers develop is also affected by interpersonal factors, such as their relationships with other teachers, the members of the school management team and they need to understand the socio-emotional toll on them.  Learning to be leaders can not only be laborious but also force them to face the conflicts between their needs for achievement and leadership and their need for affiliation and a sense of belonging to the peer group.  This indicates the need for more intentional and effective preparation to develop sophisticated and savvy teacher leaders.


Andreas Schieicher (2014). A quality education begins with the best teachers. In Christopher Pyne, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 18, 2014.

Cranston, J. and Kusanovich, K. (2015). Learning to Lead against the Grain Dramatizing the Emotional Toll of Teacher Leadership. Issues in Teacher Education 24(2), 63-78.

Katzenmeyer, M. and G. Moller (2001). Awakening the Sleeping Giant. Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders. Thousand Oaks, California, Corwin Press.

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