The relationship of teacher leadership and student achievement
The Relationship of Teacher Leadership and Student Achievement
Teacher leadership is viewed as a critical component in student achievement (Muijs & Harris, 2003). Also, effective teacher leadership is crucial to achieving and sustaining improvement in a school setting. Research studies suggest that effective teacher leaders can have a strong positive impact on the performance of their students (Muijs & Harris, 2003). While the quality of teaching is believed to influence the motivation and achievement of students (Wasley, 1991), it has been revealed that effective teacher leadership influences the motivation of teachers and thus the effectiveness and quality of teaching (Katzenmeyer and Moller 2001).
Teachers are expected to ensure successful teaching and learning within their classrooms and share in the responsibility for their schools’ success. Students’ performance on standardized testing will often determine how successful a school is viewed by the community and state. It is the norm for many schools to have an improvement plan with its primary focus being the performance level of students (Katzenmeyer and Moller 2001). There are various roles for teachers to play in their schools’ improvement plan, and it has been revealed that teacher leadership is an essential role for their schools’ improvement plan to be successful. From this viewpoint, success and improvement of any school depends a lot on the kind of teacher leadership that is provided within the school (Muijs & Harris, 2003). This paper examines the relationship between teacher leadership and student achievement.
Defining Teacher Leadership
Teacher leadership is defined as the process through which a teacher can influence followers, in this case, other teachers, to accomplish organizational goals (Muijs & Harris, 2003). In this definition, three things are clear. The first thing is that teacher leadership as a process entails a social influence. The other point is that teacher leadership causes deliberate action from their peers. This is the aspect of teacher leadership that distinguishes this type of leadership from other types of influence based on formal authority. The final point is that an outcome of teacher leadership results in the behavior of their peers being goal-directed and purposeful in some organized setting of their schools. A teacher leader shares the responsibility of keeping the school organized and ensuring that it is moving towards being successful in meeting the goals and objectives of its improvement plan (Katzenmeyer and Moller 2001).
A number of studies have provided understanding on the concept of a teacher leader, such as its definition. However, the multiplicity of definitions has led to a major issue related to lack of a general definition of the concept. The absence of a general teacher leadership definition has, in turn, led to some conceptual confusion over the definition of this term (Muijs and Harris, 2003). For instance, Wasley gives the definition of teacher leadership as the capability to motivate others to transform, and perform tasks that they would not otherwise have performed devoid of being influenced by the leader (Wasley, 1991, 23). Katzenmeyer and Moller propose a somewhat similar description of the term suggesting that they are educators who have the ability to lead within and past the classroom environment and work within a community of leaders to improve education (Katzenmeyer and Moller 2001). Boles and Troen (1994) in their research have contrasted the term to conventional leadership ideas, by characterizing leadership as a type of collective leadership in which experience emerges from collaboration.
The different roles and functions that are carried out by teacher leaders can help in developing a clear definition of the concept. In this discussion, the definitions of teacher leadership that will be adopted are those of Wasley, and Katzenmeyer and Moller. Teacher leadership can be defined as the skills and abilities that are demonstrated by a teacher who continues to teach and also influences practices of his or her peers and activities in classrooms. Influence of teacher leaders is a basic concept in the understanding of teacher leadership (Loughran, 2010).
Leadership and Achievement
Blasé & Blasé (2006) present an argument that effective leadership is vital in achieving and sustaining students’ achievement in education. The authors’ present evidence to support their claim that effective leadership has a strong positive influence in the performance of the teachers and students for more successful outcome. The effectiveness of teacher leader has an influence on the motivation of teachers and, consequently, the quality and success of teaching and learning (Blasé & Blasé 2000). Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin (2008) present what they refer as the ‘strong claims’ of effective leadership for effective schools. There is sufficient support in their research for these claims and the role that they play in school leadership. These claims include: “school leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning; and school leaders improve teaching and learning indirectly and most powerfully through their influence on staff motivation, commitment and working conditions” (p. 27).
Blasé and Blasé (2006) put forward that there is an important role that is played by a teacher leader in ensuring the success of student achievement within a school. The teacher leader is a significant factor in the success of any school especially in the role of curriculum design and development, implementation, measurement, and evaluation. These are the basis of the overall process of teaching and learning, according to Blasé and Blasé (2006). Planning for improvement and change in a school always starts with an identification of the vision and objectives, and working towards their achievement, along with teachers’ commitment and enthusiasm. The next step is the identification of the change that is required to take place. This should be regarding the changes that will take place immediately and those that will be necessary later. This means coming up with a proper plan of action to achieve the overall success of the school (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin, 2008).
A teacher leader plays an important role in ensuring the achievement of the students. How the teacher leader plays this role determines the success or failure of the school (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin, 2008). This means that the teacher leader is a significant factor in the effective running of any school and the quality of education that is offered. Intrinsic in this concept of leadership is the initiative that learning is the fundamental objective. All other aspects of learning revolve around the enhancement of the teaching and learning process that evidently is the core element of the academic endeavor.
The issue of poor performance arises when the teacher leader fails to take a genuine interest in what happens in the classroom, and the content the learners are taught. Being knowledgeable of the process is an important avenue in ensuring the students’ academic achievement. The effective teacher leader is supposed to work closely with the teachers and the students. This is how they can develop effective teaching strategies and methods for successful learning and positive outcomes. As a leader, a teacher appreciates the ideas that the only purpose a school has been serving the needs of the students for education. As a leader, the understanding of the dynamic conceptions of the curriculum is crucial (Blasé and Blasé, 2006).
A proper curriculum and instruction are the fundamental elements in making sure that the teaching and learning process is effective. As long as the leader is interested in these two aspects of the education process, academic achievement is achievable. As the leader, one should be able to ensure the development of an effective curriculum while working with the teachers, and ensure that it is well implemented (Blasé and Blasé, 2006). The leader, while working as a teacher and working with the others has the responsibility of identifying the need for change in the current curriculum and initiating the process of changing it. Schools can benefit from the involvement of talented teachers in accomplishing their vision. These benefits may in turn affect students, parents, schools, teachers, colleagues, and the teacher leaders themselves (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001).
The teacher leader’s purpose is in improving the quality of students and teachers by increasing the quality of teaching and advancing the teaching and learning the process. The expertise is available when the teachers who are accomplished model the practices of teaching to motivate best practice, collaborate with colleagues and mentor new educators (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin, 2008). It has been posited that only when teachers learn, will their students learn as well. “Working as teacher trainers, peer coaches, and curriculum specialists provides leaders with opportunities to examine their practices while helping others to learn” (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001, p.4).
The leader plays a major role in shaping students’ learning. The teacher leader interacts with students by providing immediate feedback, and once students observe their teachers taking up a leadership role, they are in turn motivated to give their best. Teaching is a profession of leadership, instead of a craft profession like other professions such as law. Leaders’ relationship with the classroom – creation of opportunities for students to learn, assessment of student’s performance and adaption of the practice of teaching provide the teachers with critical perspectives on the core teaching technologies (Blasé and Blasé, 2006). The aim of the school is to improve the outcome of the students, and it requires the teacher-leader to have instructional skills to help peers implement innovative strategies. The teacher leader is a specialist in instructional setting helping other teachers to become effective in teaching strategies. This statement shows the link between teacher leadership and improved student learning (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001).
Teachers are motivated towards their work if they are supported by the leader who celebrates small successes through one-on-one verbal praise, notes, e-mail with specific feedback, and phone calls that are appropriate since they avoid the public attention that often coaches believe can divide them and other teachers. Realizing their experience and contribution and offering growth opportunities as well as influence can support school objectives. In outlining a life cycle of career teachers, Katzenmeyer & Moller (2001) described how teachers can expand the ways in which they contribute to learning as they advanced in their careers, and how in doing so they find opportunities for continuous learning and a source of renewal. If the leader role is modeled to support other teachers, it will encourage them to take this initiative and to make choices of taking a role of a leader. According to Katzenmeyer & Moller (2001), modeling the role of teacher-leader for colleagues is a contribution a teacher can make. These actions will promote the acceptance of the role by others.
The teacher leader as the role model establishes the rules and procedures to be followed by the students. Normally, this is carried out as the school year starts to provide direction to the students all through the year. The rules and procedures should be clear and understandable to all the students. The teacher should then state the expectations clearly. This is in terms of what I expected from the students in terms of achievement as the year comes to the end (Evertson and Emmer, 1982). The teacher should emphasize on the positive expectations. Where these expectations are met, there is no doubt that success will be achieved. Where the school is well managed, the students tend to work very hard towards the achievement of these expectations. The practice of positive behavior in the school should be done. The leader develops group cohesiveness and responsibility. This ensures that there is the creation of the sense of belonging in school thus ensuring that no other does things that will hurt the others (Blasé and Blasé, 2006).
The Required Kind of Leadership
Stronge (1988) suggests that a school leader wears different hats. He has the role of a manager, administrator, and a leader in different occasions in a school-day. To be effective in running a school, the leader should be able to balance all these roles. There are cases when the focus is more on the role the leader plays as a manager or administration forgetting that the instructional responsibility. This has become a problem particularly given the reality that the core business of a school is teaching and learning.
Research has been done on the effects of leadership on teaching and learning (Stronge, 1988). Findings from studies reveal that the most critical things that leaders perform in supporting learning in institutions are to be involved in the education of the students. In order have a positive impact on the school and the outcomes of the students, effective leadership is required, a kind that completely differs from an administrator or manager. School leaders who view themselves as administrators are involved in administrative responsibilities. Instructional leadership is the most important type of leadership required for success in education (Larner, 2004).
The role of a leader as an instructional leader is a significantly new concept that has developed in the early 1980s (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin, 2008). This concept has changed the role of the school leader, from purely management and administration to instructional leadership. Given the fact that it is a new idea, many schools have not completely adopted it. This is because the leaders have not realized their important part they have in the teaching and learning process. Studies have proven that the schools that performs well are those whose leaders have taken the interest in the teaching and learning process. These are those teachers who have understood their role as instructional leaders and taken it seriously. Realization of the important role of an instructional leader has made it possible for a lot of schools to make a comeback regarding performance (Larner, 2004).
Instructional or teacher leaders are involved in the development of definite goals, allocation of resources for instructional purposes and management of the curriculum, monitoring lesson plans, and evaluation of teachers. In short this means that there is the need for an instructional leader, the kind of leader who takes actions, or delegates them to others in enhancing the growth of student learning. The teacher leader is the kind of school leader who makes instructional quality the priority and seeks to bring this vision to accomplishment. The focus has moved from teaching to learning. According to Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin (2008), instructional leadership is leading learning communities. In this kind of community, there are regular meetings of staff members to discuss their work, there is working as a group in seeking solutions, there is the reflection on the jobs, and there is assuming the responsibility for what is learned by the students. In this environment, there are operations in networks of complementary and shared know-how instead of hierarchies or working in isolation. Individuals in this learning community own the problems and are agents in seeking their solutions (Blasé and Blasé, 2006).
Recent research has expanded the definition of instructional leadership. This development is towards the deeper involvement of the leader in the core business of the school, teaching, and learning. The focus has moved from teaching to learning. This is the reason some scholars have suggested “learning leader” instead of an instructional leader. According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals (2001) instructional leadership is leading learning communities. In this environment, there are operations in networks of complementary and shared know-how instead of hierarchies or working in isolation.
Individuals in this learning community own the problems and are agents in seeking their solutions. Instructional leaders take an interest in adult learning. This is by training and developing the teachers to be able to continue teaching in an effective way. They set high expectations for the teachers and students; come up with a culture of the teachers’ continued learning, as well as petition for the community’s support for the quality and effectiveness of the school. Blasé and Blasé, (2006) defined instructional leadership regarding the particular behaviors such as giving feedback, making suggestions, asking for opinions, modeling successful instruction, supporting collaborative efforts, offering opportunities for professional development, and giving praise for effective teaching.
Different roles are assumed by a teacher leader which renders opportunities to lead, including being an instructional specialist, resource provider, curriculum specialist, learning facilitator, classroom supporter, school leader, mentor, the catalyst for change, data coach, and learner. Rather than teaching, teachers can participate in major activities in the school where they can work as coordinators of specified subject. Blasé and Blasé, (2006) say that fellow teachers also hold the power to unlock one another’s leadership potential and to foster its growth. The basic disposition of a school towards the value of teacher leadership – more than workload, time, or tests – ultimately determines whether and by what means teachers will participate in the school community as leaders. Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin (2008) argue that instructors ought to have an option of moving from scripted programs that are pre-packaged towards innovative approaches to effective learning for selves and other teachers.
Instructional resources are supposed to be provided to teachers for them to play their roles effectively. Resources, in this case, include instructional materials, readings, and websites among others. Teachers can also require other professional materials like books, articles, lesson plans and assessment tools (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin, 2008). As the school leader, the teacher plays the role of making sure that sufficient resources are provided to students and teachers to ease teaching and learning. This role is motivated by the fact that teaching and learning cannot happen without provision of adequate teaching and learning resources (Pellicer and Anderson, 1995).
Under this role, a teacher leader assists other teachers in the implementation of effective teaching approaches. This role may include ideas for differentiating planning lessons and approaches to teaching a particular subject. As an instructional specialist, a teacher leader might have to research on classroom strategies, explore different teaching methods, and share evidence with other teachers. There are cases where some of the conventional approaches fail to work with particular subjects (Pellicer and Anderson, 1995). In such a case, the leader works with other teachers in finding new approaches to help in performance in the subject. Having more experience that other teachers in the school, the leader is in a better position to share teaching methods and approaches with the teachers in her school. The leader also takes part in programs aimed at developing teaching methods and research-based approaches and shares her findings with the teachers in the school (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin, 2008).
The necessary leader is no longer a manager or administrator only. He is involved in the entire learning process, from the development of the curriculum to ensuring that the curriculum is effectively implemented for the academic success of the students. Focusing on how to improve teaching and learning process is the fundamental responsibility of this kind of a leader. Improvement of academic performance is a significant goal in a school. This is a goal that the leader should ensure that is achieved by developing an effective curriculum and ensuring that it is well implemented. The implementation of this curriculum is implemented through the development of effective strategies and approaches. Motivating and inspiring both the teachers and students are key to the achievement of the goals and objectives of the school (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin, 2008).
For better achievement, the role of a leader should, therefore, be completely changed from that of a manager or administrator to one where he is completely involved in the teaching and learning process. The effectiveness of this role requires more than ideas and fundamental technical skills. It requires a whole redefinition of the concept of the leader. This change eliminates the limitations to school leadership by removing the bureaucratic structures, where the school leader is confined to the office, as well as re-inventing relationships (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkin, 2008). In general, the role of a school leader as an instructional leader involves complete involvement in the educational process, necessitating a greater emphasis on instruction. Development of a community of enthusiastic learners and educators, engagement of learners and educators in decision-making, supporting the fundamentals of education, providing support to ongoing professional training and development, leveraging time, allocation of resources to sustain innovative plan, and development of an environment of sincerity, inquiry, and continuing development are the fundamental roles of an instructional leader (Pellicer and Anderson, 1995).
This paper examines the roles and functions of teacher leaders in building the capacity of the school to improve the performance of the students. Teacher leadership is one of the most crucial elements in achievement and improvement of a school. As a teacher leader, one has various roles or functions whose effectiveness determines the success of the teaching and learning environment. A teacher leader plays different roles as a mentor, resource provider, instructional specialist, curriculum specialist, school leader, a catalyst of change and a decision maker. These are some of the roles that are done by a teacher leader. The leader’s success in these roles ensures success in teaching and learning, and ultimately academic achievement.
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