Teacher leadership in UAE schools: Characteristics, practices, challenges and rewards.

Year: 2012

Author: Harold, Barbara, Stephenson, Lauren

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


As educational restructuring has been implemented throughout the world in recent decades there has been an increasing awareness that many issues facing national education systems are shared across countries and regions. One of these issues is that schools are much too complex for leadership by a single leader and so attention has turned to the value of participatory and distributed models of leadership including a renewed focus on the role of teacher leadership. Teacher-leaders are those who other teachers and educational leaders value for their collaboration, coaching, modeling, mentoring, guidance and professional support. The teacher leadership literature reveals that teacher-leaders have key personal attributes and skills that, together with crucial leadership skills, enable them to take a valuable role in educational improvement at classroom, professional and organizational levels. This paper reports on the initial exploratory phase of a wider study that aims to investigate the nature of teacher leadership and to provide a critical analysis of its  impact on school improvement in the context of important values, characteristics and educational practices of teacher leaders in private and government schools in the UAE. 

In the initial phase 35 self-identified teacher-leaders from two private schools were asked via survey and focus group interviews to identify teacher leadership characteristics, practices, rewards and challenges. An inductive process of identifying themes and key content areas was used to analyze the data.

Participants identified three broad categories within teacher-leader characteristics, including personal traits/dispositions (e.g. open-mindedness, confidence, optimism), a particular skill-set (e.g. good communicator, teamwork, problem solver) and positional status (e.g. experienced practitioner, role model). A teacher-leader's work was seen by participants to include leading other people (e.g. role-modeling, pastoral support, collaboration and building teaching capacity) and leading within the organization (e.g. planning, goal-setting, decision-making). The identified rewards of teacher leadership included personal benefits (e.g. self esteem, skill development), witnessing the success of others and making a difference in the school. Challenges for teacher leadership included negotiation around different perspectives, being in the middle ground between senior management and staff, conflict management, making difficult decisions and time management.

The presentation will elaborate the key findings, specifically around practices, rewards and challenges of teacher leadership and their implications for educational reform within the UAE context. In addition, it will compare and contrast the initial findings with current international theoretical and empirical perspectives on teacher leadership and suggest further avenues for shared research initiatives.