Tags:Distributed LeadershipTeacher LeadershipPrimarySecondary

5 min read

Teacher leadership: When paying it forward pays dividends

Leadership in New Zealand schools doesn’t rest solely with the principal.  

By distributing leadership throughout a team, you clarify accountabilities, efficiently delegate workload, and give all of your people the opportunity to thrive.

Typically, this distributed leadership begins with your senior leaders – DPs and APs and the like. But as recent research shows, teacher leadership is just as – if not more – critical for student success.  

What is teacher leadership?

Broadly speaking, teacher leadership is what it says it is – active teachers taking on more leadership roles within their school. As Charlotte Danielson explains, this is typically exhibited through a teacher’s sphere of influence expanding outside the classroom, as well as motivating and mobilising other individuals. It remains focused on the school’s ultimate vision and goals.  

Additionally, Leblanc and Shelton (2012) found that collaboration is fundamental for teacher leaders, while time is the most important resource to make it happen.  

This can mean that teacher leadership is a difficult concept to put into practice. With already long hours and staffing challenges for schools across New Zealand, a formalised programme to develop teachers into strong educational leaders can fall down the priority list.  

But for those who can implement such a strategy, it can pay dividends in the long-term.  

Distributing leadership all the way down 

When school leadership is distributed, it can have a significant positive influence on student outcomes. However, some methods of spreading leadership throughout a school are more effective than others.  

The above research – Seven Strong Claims Revisited - summarises a few key elements of successful distributed leadership:  

  • Basing responsibilities on expertise, rather than role  

  • Creation of new teams  

  • Focus on interactions over actions

  • Strong levels of leadership team cooperation and full participation in decision making 

Of course, the degree to which schools can do this will vary in each case. Some may be able to flip the system, as Kneyber and Evers put it, resulting in a completely teacher-driven model for how the school is run. Others may simply use their strategic plan as a blueprint, and begin assigning initiatives and actions to teachers with the relevant expertise – giving them control and the opportunity to develop their own leadership skills.  

The key is finding the balance between available resources, your teachers’ expertise, and the degree of change that your school can take on.  

In terms of in-school variables, educational leadership is second only to classroom teaching in impact on learners.

Why teacher leadership matters 

If you don’t focus on developing teacher leadership, you may miss out on significant impact for students.  

At Springboard Trust, we focus on school leadership - especially in our foundational courses like the Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme. As principals continue their learning journey through our Alumni Services, we focus more and more on the leadership team and empower them with tools and frameworks to lead on their own.

It is vital that school leaders then impart this learning on their teachers.

As Seven Strong Claims notes, in terms of in-school variables, educational leadership is second only to classroom teaching in impact on learners.  

And while teachers must be given the resources and time to continue effective practice, developing teacher leadership brings a new dimension of growth into the fold.

Harris and Jones (2019) note that teachers who play an active role in creating change yield much more positive results in their school than ones who are “passive tools of policy delivery”.  

In the end, the message here is one of paying it forward. Teacher leadership will look different in every school context – but by empowering them to influence, collaborate and take responsibility, you can only deepen the pool of leadership in education and help learners succeed.

Want to know more about our programmes?

Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme (SLPP)

A transformative 10-month leadership development programme for Aotearoa principals.  The Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme (SLPP) brings New Zealand principals together with strategic experts to develop your leadership and to support clear, insightful planning for schools.  Strategic leadership is a pivotal element for improved school performance. The ability to plan, manage and report as the fulcrum of your community ensures strong relationships and the right conditions for everyone to thrive.    Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme: Expression of interest How SLPP works for NZ principals  Over a series of workshops spanning 10 months, SLPP explores the core elements of strategic leadership for New Zealand principals – beginning the journey to creating better student outcomes.   This learning occurs with the support of a Capacity Partner – a dedicated expert volunteer, with whom principals will build a trusted, high-empathy relationship that delivers outstanding impact. This cross-sector model is unique to Springboard Trust, and ensures every principal who takes part has personalized support to meet their needs at both a personal and professional level.   Together, they work with a cohort of up to six other principal-Capacity partner pairings, under the guidance of an experienced facilitator and Springboard’s own expert Programme Managers.   By the end of the programme, principals typically demonstrate significant progression in:  One- and three-year planning and outlook  Creating and communicating a vision and strategic plan Identifying, communicating with and gaining buy-in from key stakeholders Measuring the impacts of their changes Leading the same transformative change for their team  This forms the bedrock of the conditions for improved student outcomes, which we explore in more detail through our Alumni Services.   For more information on the direct impacts on school leadership that principals gain through SLPP, please check out our annual Impact Reports.   SLPP Requirements and Application Details   SLPP is open to principals who wish to enhance their strategic leadership. However, due to the high number of applicants we receive each year, we prefer to prioritise principals who meet the following criteria for our philanthropically funded places:   Have at least two years of experience as a principal  Have been at their current school for at least 12 months  Have no major PLD commitments in the coming year  Have no Commissioner or Limited Statutory Manager  Have the support of their Board of Trustees Uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles through a particular focus on results for Māori young people and their whanau Are willing to lead others in change   SLPP workshops can be delivered either in person, virtually or through a combination of both – please note that depending on location, some travel may be required for the former.  Across the 10 months, it is expected that principals will spend around two hours per week engaging in this professional learning and working with others, in addition to the workshop times. Volunteers will be required to give around 40 hours of their time, while for facilitators about 50 hours of time is required. For PLD applications, we ask that principals apply for 100 PLD hours. For volunteers with leadership experience who want to find out more about becoming a Capacity Partner, you can find full details of the role here – or contact our Volunteer Manager Rebecca Brown to express your interest in the next programme.   

Want to know more about our programmes?

Springboard Coaching for Leadership (SCL)

Foster your strengths through a comprehensive 360-degree feedback system with coaching support. Springboard Coaching for Leadership is a service designed to support principals, senior and middle school leaders to understand their strengths and how these can be leveraged in existing or future roles.  How does Springboard Coaching for Leadership work?  SCL is a process of reflection, introspection and then connection. The Springboard team – along with our volunteers – provide a principal, senior or middle leader with coaching and guidance to help them decipher their strengths, areas for development and where they should focus their efforts.  This is supported by a comprehensive 360-degree feedback process involving up to 15 people the leader works or engages with. Fully confidential, SCL provides a safe and supportive environment for all the feedback you need to thrive.   You will work through SCL in a series of one-on-one sessions alongside an expert volunteer coach, who will support you to unpack the feedback, set a goal and work on a plan to achieve your goal.  What do school leaders get out of Springboard Coaching for Leadership? Springboard Trust’s leadership framework is a tried and tested model for not just strong school leadership, but the flow-on impacts of that leadership to the rest of the school and wider community. It correlates with the Teaching Council’s Leadership Framework, as well as the Mental Health Foundation’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing model.   Through 360 feedback and coaching in SCL, school leaders will:  Foster trust, safety, creativity and exploratory thinking in themselves and their teams.   Develop strengths-based leadership with clear, practical next steps.   Get unique insight into their own leadership style.   Create positive leadership practices that impact the whole school and community.   Finally, SCL gives you the starting point for developing your own skills and bringing the rest of your leadership team on this journey with you.   Who can take on Springboard Coaching for Leadership? The SCL programme is open to all school principals, their senior leaders and middle leaders.  This service runs across two terms, and requires committed input from up to 15 key people, including leadership team members, direct reports and peers. To find out more about Springboard Coaching for Leadership or to register your interest, head to our Expression of Interest form. 

Start your journey

Our Partners