Teacher leadership development in initial teacher education

Year: 2013

Author: Harold, Barbara, Stephenson, Lauren

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Within the educational leadership literature attention has shifted from an emphasis on the role of the principal as a key element in educational reform to a renewed focus on the role of the teachers as leaders and their contribution to curriculum and school renewal.  Teacher leadership is about action that enhances teaching and learning in a school, that ties school and community together and advances quality of life for a community (Crowther 2009). We believe teacher leadership should be developed both within the school context and permeate initial teacher education programs (Bath 2001, Hilterbran, 2010).

This paper reports on how two teacher educators formalized leadership curriculum in an integrated practicum program at a UAE university where leadership is a specific learning outcome for undergraduate students. Participants in the study were 17 national female student teacher candidates (TCs) engaged in their final practicum experience. TCs and faculty supervisors worked together in a private international school for 10 weeks and university coursework was integrated into the TCs practicum program. Data were collected through videotapes, ongoing TC written reflections, focus group discussions, faculty journals and email and Blackboard communications.

During the practicum the leadership curriculum was formalized for the TCs in several ways. While some activities were mandated (e.g. a twice-weekly professional meeting led by the TCs themselves) other leadership work was not pre-determined but arose from purposefully created opportunities for TCs to demonstrate leadership in their ongoing practice. These opportunities allowed them to take control of organizing and managing aspects of their practicum program ranging from shared planning of curriculum tasks and managing a technology project to liaising with different mentor teachers to expand classroom teaching opportunities.

The development of a supportive professional learning community (PLC) among the faculty, TCs and mentor teachers was an important element of the practicum and allowed for both planned and unplanned leadership opportunities to emerge. The data indicated that the TCs' leadership included characteristics such as greater confidence, flexibility, and resilience, and practices such as risk-taking, collaboration, collegiality, communication, planning, organizing, time management and negotiation.

This paper discusses in detail the theoretical underpinnings of the practicum leadership curriculum, describes the types of leadership practices that were developed and highlights some ethical issues that arose.  It relates the findings to current theoretical perspectives on teacher leadership and comments on the significance of teacher leadership development within initial teacher education.