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A Teacher of French with her Principal at the delivery of certificates of an in-service professional development in the Eiffel Network on the lead of pedagogically motivating activities from the FEI (France Education International) and financed by the French Ambassy in Angola – Caxito – Angola

The emergence of the teacher leadership concept

Isabelle de Geuser is a PhD Candidate in sociology of public action at the University of Paris-Est Créteil under the supervision of Xavier Pons. Constantly combining theory and practice throughout her experiences, she developed a particular attraction for the issues of public policies and governance in education on the international scene. Trained in education and social intervention then in international cooperation in education and training, her professional career is characterized by multiple field experiences in Europe and Africa. She was notably Principal of an Eiffel High School in Angola as part of a public-private partnership with the Angolan Ministry of Education.

October 2020


Appeared around 40 years ago in Anglo-Saxon countries, Leadership concept aimed at improving student results and teaching-learning processes by changing the management of schools. From a conception centered on Principal and Head of School to a School-based management and development, Leadership appeared as a key-competency for teachers. By involving a learning community for professional development (school-based development), but also a network of Teachers, the proteiform concept of Leadership appeared as the new way of professional development for Teacher, particularly in middle- and low-income countries. This concept note introduces the context of the teacher leadership birth, its definitions and a list of methods of leadership measures from the research domain. Various examples of models and results around the world at different levels of educational systems illustrate the thoughts.

  1. Context

From Principal Leadership to School Leadership

The concept of Leader and Leadership appeared around 40 years ago in Anglo-Saxon countries aimed at improving student results and teaching-learning processes by changing the management of schools thus corresponding to the growth of the movement of “school effectiveness” (Gaussel, 2007). The appearance of national and international surveys throughout the years emphasized the concept (Gaussel, ibid.). Indeed, leadership is viewed as a tool for changing management which could respond to the educational objectives, hence, through local management, principals have more autonomy as leaders to possibly improve the organization as well as more managerial duties to remain accountable for the school´s performance (Leithwood & al., 2006, Spillane, 2006, Spillane, Halverson & Diamond, 2008).

Teacher leadership is proteiform and shows a variety of work situations in every level: with students, colleagues, administration (York-Barr & Duke, 2004) and community. Without a consensual approach of the concept, recent Anglo-Saxon research focuses on shared or distributed leadership (Spillane, Halverson & Diamond, ibid.), adopted by the francophone literature which does not translate the term “Leadership”. This cooperative and participative practice of “School Leadership” concerns both institutional functions of principals and teachers’ responsibility along with any other educational stakeholders. For example, in many francophone countries, numerous decisions come from the top (top-down approach), and even with decentralized processes in several countries, the concerns of teachers, school leaders as well as those of parents are often not heard (Lauwerier & al., 2013), an issue which the “Leadership” concept can resolve by its collective approach[1].

Rethinking Teachers and Educators professional co-development

Beyond the new way of school management, “Leadership” could ensure the continuous professional development of teachers. In the last two decades, research rejected the past inefficient model of workshop and defined new paradigms for continuous teacher professional development (Darling-Hammond & Richardson, 2009; Gallastegi & al., 2019). Limits of in-service training or lack of support and monitoring in the classroom and in school administration (Mattson, 2006), give a context to identify a new way of being a teacher at school, based on colleagues’ support, implication in strategy of the school, appropriation of the curriculum and pedagogical material to adapt teaching-learning to the local context (what is called, the curriculum mapping), leading his own professional development. The concept of teacher leadership emerged.

A Teacher of French with her Principal at the delivery of certificates of an in-service professional development in the Eiffel Network on the lead of pedagogically motivating activities from the FEI (France Education International) and financed by the French Ambassy in Angola – Caxito – Angola

In response to the need of teacher training in Kenya, the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) community created the Open Education Resources (OERs) on school-based professional development for principals in order to be able to support teachers in their practices. The research on the project proved the importance of the strategic support of school leaders in teacher education and demonstrated the necessary direct work between the university (or institution, depending on the country system) and the headteachers, deputy headteachers and teachers in their professional development (Cullen & al., 2012). It consists of developing teachers’ leadership by using and developing OERs with the support of the principals (Wambugu & al., 2019). The model has been developed in India, laying down collaborative practices (Wolfenden, 2015) to permit the implementation of educational reforms at a local level.

2. Definition of the Teacher Leadership concept

The role of Principals in Teacher Leadership growth

It appears that principals and school management are the key roles to implement educational reforms and to improve learning conditions (Mulford, 2003; Gaussel, ibid.) by giving importance to teachers in their professional and teaching competencies (Leithwood & al., 2004). Particularly “The OECD’s comparative review of school leadership[1] identifies a focus on supporting, evaluating and developing teacher quality as the core of effective leadership. This includes co-coordinating the curriculum and teaching program, monitoring and evaluating teaching practices, promoting teachers’ professional development, and supporting collaborative work cultures.” (OECD, 2012, p.18). Some research talk about the feedback culture[2] (Robinson & al., 2008) developed primarily in Sweden (OECD, 2012). Research on school leadership in Ethiopia concluded that there is a correlation between the principals’ transformational leadership role and student performance, and it recommends principals to ensure staff´s professional growth by increasing and improving the support in multiple domains (Beyene, 2016).

The notion of leadership engages teachers actively in their responsibility in front of students, as well as colleagues, principals, parents, inspectors, different actors of the educational community.

Leadership as a Key-Competency for Standards Framework for Teachers and School Leaders

At the beginning of the 21st century, the Australian Ministerial Council of Education developed a national standards framework for teaching, as a foundation “to provide leadership in their own profession” (Ingvarson, 2002, p.3). Later, in 2014, The Commonwealth prepared a Standards Framework for Teachers and School Leaders to consider leadership as a key-competency of the profession at a level distinguished from those who make proof of relevant professionalism (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2014). This idea was taken up by the Pan-Commonwealth report on Standards Framework for Teachers and School Leaders: “a professional teacher must have leadership qualities and good communication skills” (Pan-Commonwealth, 2016, p.31). Recently, the African Union published its own Framework subscribing to professional leadership as a necessary competency for teachers (African Union, 2019).

Despite much debate on the definition of teacher leadership (Akert & Martin, 2012), the spirit of teacher leaders refer to professionals who collaborate with colleagues and other stakeholders from the educational community and participate in the directives of the school by calling on their expertise – and do not continue to undergo significant change (Anderson, 2004). It also includes the competence to improve learning at school in leading his own professional development. However, in South Africa, a study demonstrated that teachers are convinced that they have the status for practicing leadership, but this leadership stays most of the time at the level of the classroom and is not developed for the school or the professional development for colleagues or other teachers. It seems the scholar context is marked by a hierarchical model and a lack of leadership distribution by the headteachers. Finally, the authors of the study call for an introduction of leadership at school and a more collaborative work (Grant & al., 2010).

Shapes of leadership: samples from USA

The teacher leader concept can also refer to a group of teachers trained to be leaders and to influence others, a notion that allows old and new teachers to be selected (The aspen institute, 2014): “The approaches vary: an urban school district built a career ladder to facilitate professional growth and retention; a charter network uses teacher leadership to create and sustain aspirational student and staff cultures; a state education agency relies on teacher leaders to improve implementation of the Common Core State Standards. What these efforts share is an underlying conviction that we need to leverage the talents of our best teachers, for everyone’s sake” (The Aspen Institute, Ibid., p.2).A teacher leaders map drawn by the Aspen Institute in the USA, designed an interesting perspective of a transformative and sustainable change model.

Teacher of French leading an activity as a game to practice speaking skills at Eiffel High School, a public-private project between the Angolan Ministry of Education and Total E&P – N’Dalatando – Angola
Source: The Aspen Institute, 2014

This work defines the guidelines to design a teacher leadership project. It consists of understanding the context, defining the measures and then elaborating the strategy. The report describes broad guidelines for designing measures of the systems’ implementation and types of indicators for stakeholder: “Potential indicators include principals publicly supporting teacher leaders, clarifying their teacher leaders’ roles, facilitating release time from teaching or other responsibilities, and providing consistent feedback and guidance” (The Aspen Institute, Ibid., p. 9).

The following section offers a view on methods of leadership measures by different research.

3. Measures of the leadership situation and impact

Defining context and indicators

This part has neither the claim to define a way to measure teacher leadership nor giving an educational comparison for two reasons: firstly, as concluded in the previous section, the approaches of leadership differ in accordance to the cultural context – even at a local level (Moore & al. 2017), so it is an evidence that the measure has to be designed as per the approach; secondly, examples given are not comparable but gave different points of view of leadership measure practices.

With the growth of schools’ autonomy in Italy and the amplification of the principal’s educational and pedagogical function, two studies in 1997 and 2000 identified four types of leaders´ profiles : “innovator leaders”, “moderated leaders”, the “undecided” and the “immobilizationists” to measure that 64% of the principals are categorized in the two first type (Fischer & al., 2005).

A sample for measuring Leadership: the LDP log

Indeed, it is admitted that designing a definition of leadership notion permits its measure, as Spillane did: “Similar to others, we define leadership as a social influence relationship—or perhaps more correctly (given our focus on practice), an influence interaction” (2009, p. 379). From this definition, was developed a Leadership Daily Practice (LDP) log to measure the various situations and types of leadership. Based on the End of Day log and an Experience Sampling Method (ESM) log, this method consists of harvesting data at the end of the day of leadership situations of each hour of the day.

The particularity of the LDP log is to consider not only the principals as stakeholders of the lead of the school but also other educational professionals and teachers. This log has been then adapted to take into account the fact that professionals teach all day, as well as it is existing school life before and after teaching, and also include a study one hour before and after the hours of teaching. A manual of the definition has been introduced, with the following definition of interaction: “each new encounter with a person, group, or resource that occurs in an effort to influence knowledge, practice, and motivation related to mathematics or curriculum and instruction.” (Ibid., p.383). Interactions with students and parents have not been included in the study. Even if the authors recognized the “limitations of this approach in terms of a qualitative or interpretive perspective” (Ibid., p. 382), it appears as the best method linking quantitative and qualitative data to measure school leadership. Effectively, the daily practice observation is not enough to understand how leadership is practiced inside schools, as distributed leadership elaboration and practices (Spillane, Halverson & Diamond, 2008).

Measuring Leadership from experiences: case studies and in-depth analyses

Former Teacher giving a support to a New Teacher to correct the tests at the Teachers’ Room of an Eiffel High School – N’Dalatando – Angola

Moreover, the impact of leadership can be observed by a classical and quantitative approach with a large database, but a more qualitative approach based on meta-analyses from case studies of evidential effects from characteristics of leadership identifying in particular context would be richer by taking in account various leadership and measuring the indirect effect on scholar success (Thurler, Pelletier & Dutercq, 2015).

The OECD concentrates efforts on school leadership and created in 2006 a group activity on improving school leadership[1], which encompasses 22 countries today. Its principles consist of following and supporting those OECD countries, facing new challenges such as “globalization”, “technical innovation” and “migration”, to transform their educational policies by in-depth analyses. As a sample, OECD gave the example of Ontario leadership strategy in occurrence with its context and based on a collective approach by “concerted actions to include key actors, such as school boards, teachers’ unions, academics and practitioners, in the reform process.” (2010, p.14) Five domains for effective leadership have been identified: “setting direction”; “building relationships and developing people”; “developing the organization”; “leading the instructional program”; and “being accountable”, a base for designing indicators of measure.

4. Conclusion

Rethinking quality in education in line with the context

It is clear that leadership calls for more responsibilities of principals with a growth in competition between schools (Dutercq & Mons, 2015; Spillane, Halverson & Diamond, op. cit.). The educational leadership “action” is entirely adaptable according to the context. Then, quality can be defined only by the values of the different education stakeholders. The approach determines quality uniquely from historical, socio-economic, political and cultural contexts. Moreover, it takes into account the impact of the educational system on education access and equality for all (Tikly, 2010).

However, the impact on educational systems differs as well in function of the context and the model chosen. Research on the implementation of the concept in some countries shows various cultural appropriation and interpretation: “leadership as a situated action in Italian-speaking Switzerland, leadership hesitating between participatory management and management by results in Quebec, and managerial leadership challenged by competition between schools and which may drift towards pure marketing in France” (Thurler, Pelletier & Dutercq, op. cit., p.98). More research on the impact of leadership on educational systems would be necessary, to define a better practice of methodological national implementation. At another level, more research is needed on how to support communities (Wolfenden et Buckler, 2012) in taking the lead for the school improvement and aim education quality.

Giving the Leadership to Teachers and the conditions for

In line with the conception of Rhiannon Moore, Alison Buckler, Eric Addae-Kyeremeh, Renu Singh, Jack Rossiter and Chris High about the teacher, it would be important to give the chance for the teacher to become a leader: “It is particularly odd, then, that in much of the education research and policy discourse in low-income countries over the past 20 years teachers have been side-lined and presented as passive, generic (and often negative) inputs.” (Moore & al., op. cit., p.1).

In fact, it is Teachers activity to be responsive for the teaching and learning quality. This notion come from the USA in order to improve the efficiency by selecting Leader Teachers to support and train their peers and creating a learning community for professional development (school-based development), but also a network of Teachers. Then, Leadership Notion started to be implemented as a solution for the issue of the Teachers Training. Teachers who, since 1990/2000, were hired without any formation as a result of the FastTrack action regarding the objectives of education access in middle- and low-income countries. The constant issue remains the motivation of teachers and to provide them a gratification in line with the efforts and the time involved – mostly for contract teachers. In a mid-level, it is as well necessary to build capacities of education stakeholders for planification. It implies a better understanding of the local and regional governance. Including communities and mostly parents to enhance families’ trust in Teachers and school system. This topic will be fever develop in a next case study on the lead of a school development plan work in Angola.


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[1] URL:, consulted the 15/09/2020

[1]  For an analysis of teacher demographics, see Indicator D8 in the 2003 edition of OECD’s Education at a Glance. for updated data on the same topic, see the oecd online database at

[2]  in a sense of a collective reflexive practice (Thurler, Pelletier & Dutercq, 2015)

[1]  Leadership are deployed by a co-construction of a “social process”, and not only from the action of one person (Bolden, 2011., p. 352)

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