Teachers are leaders all day. They lead by example in the way they act, speak, and behave. They lead their students through challenging activities and rigorous learning. Then, they take on additional teacher leadership roles inside and outside the classroom. Activities, events, and extracurricular programs are what build positive school culture and often require additional leadership support from teachers. Endless academic and social opportunities for students within schools benefit from teacher initiative and leadership capabilities. American University’s Online Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education in Educational Policy and Leadership programs build versatile teacher leaders, who are prepared to take on extra leadership and understand the importance of it.
In schools, there are always selfless teachers who support students at all costs. Trusted by students and staff alike, these teachers are known to make decisions based on students’ needs. Their dedication to improve students’ academics and social experiences is proven by their willingness to dedicate lunches and after-school hours with students to grow their activities and programs.
According to Dr. Tiphanie Scroggins who runs the American University School of Education’s administrative program, there are a few key leadership qualities vital to success as an educator. “The heart of an educators work is students’ learning and well being,” says Dr. Scroggins. “They need to be focused, strategic, innovative, and collaborative.” These qualities not only help teachers improve learning outcomes, but also help build community, encourage inclusivity, and create a culture of continuous improvement for themselves, their colleagues, and their students.
Of course, there are many ways educators can lead, so no two teachers will share the same leadership style. Here are five leadership styles that teacher leaders can use inside and outside the classroom.
Authoritative Leadership Authoritative leaders push their teams to pursue common goals. They balance maintaining a high bar and inspiring their teams to success. According to Dr. Scroggins, authoritative leaders rely heavily on strategy, using data to set high expectations and take thoughtful risks. Authoritative leaders can also be relentless in their pursuit of meaningful growth and demonstrate determination and resilience. In education, this means authoritative leaders may be teachers with many years of experience or higher degrees. The National College for Teaching and Leadership names authoritative leadership the most effective in education.
Affiliative Leadership Affiliative leaders are people who their teams can trust and feel safe going to. They validate their colleagues and build camaraderie among their teams—qualities that promote inclusivity, equity, and culturally responsive practices, according to Dr. Scroggins. A school’s success largely depends on building culture and values. This requires affiliative leadership to push staff and students alike in the same direction.
Democratic Leadership Democractic leaders are the first to seek feedback and share decision-making responsibilities. In education, this often means gathering feedback from students, staff, administrators, and families to implement school-wide changes and policies. “Democratic leadership is about believing students, parents, and the community have a voice,” says Dr. Scroggins. “This approach helps build community and nurture partnerships among stakeholders.”
Pacesetting Leadership Pacesetting leaders essentially focus on the practice of leading by example inside or outside the classroom. They do it all, setting the tone of a school and inspiring other teachers by their skills, dedication, and achievements.
Coaching Leadership Coaching leaders take young or struggling teachers under their wings to mentor. This style of leadership is usually time-consuming and requires much empathy and patience on the leader’s part. However, it has significant benefits to teacher development and student academic success.
The Teacher Leadership Competencies, published by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, clearly states that “teacher leadership is no longer optional.” It’s part of the job. And there’s no shortage of teacher leadership roles for educators. Teachers have endless opportunities to lead initiatives and programs on and off campus to enhance the educational experiences of their students. Sometimes these opportunities are formally appointed or open for applications; other times they’re volunteer-based. Below are ideas of leadership opportunities most schools will offer.
Extracurricular Activity Sponsor
Extracurricular activities are crucial to involve students in their school communities and engage them in topics outside of general K-12 curricula. Countless studies show that student involvement in extracurriculars is directly beneficial to their academic success and personal perseverance. Teachers can take the initiative by starting a club or sport and host students after school or during lunch for meetings. Leading a club is also a way for teachers to share their personal interests or past professional experience with students and help students think about future career choices that interest them.
Grade Team or Content Team Lead
Schools often organize by grade or content when dividing into specialty groups. Each group, or department, is facilitated by a team lead who’s responsible for meetings, action items, and data review. When teams are organized by grade, a leader is responsible for creating interventions for struggling students, incentivizing specific behavior or achievements, and planning grade-wide events or trips. When teams are organized by department, the lead oversees developmentally appropriate, rigorous content for multiple grade levels, along with academic standard growth and proficiency analysis. Team leads dedicate many extra hours to ensure communication and cooperation in their departments.
Many schools look to veteran teachers to coach teachers on behavior management or content specialty. Coaches observe teachers in practice and then set goals, plan lessons, and review data. Academic coaches can give in-the-moment feedback to teachers during class through nonverbal cues, ask students about what they learned that day, or record class to review with the practicing educator. Coaches also write plans for each teacher to outline specific benchmarks and student outcomes as goals. This leadership role is focused on staff development but impacts students directly and requires a veteran teacher’s experience and expertise.
New Teacher Mentor
Whether a first-year teacher or an experienced educator new to a school, a new staff member requires special attention and onboarding. Getting to know a new school involves many details that are essential for all teachers. Having a go-to person for general questions makes the transition to a new school much smoother. Being a new teacher mentor is a leadership opportunity for veterans who know the ins and outs of the school, as well as teachers who recently transitioned to the school and have a fresh perspective on information necessary at the beginning of the school year. A new teacher mentor should be honest, understanding, and patient to best support a new teacher and strengthen teacher retention.
Community Outreach Coordinator
A transformative outside-the-classroom leadership opportunity is the school community outreach coordinator, who arranges after-hours or weekend events that involve students and their families and community members. An event like a fundraiser is an impactful way for schools to raise money for special supplies, field trips, and scholarships. Teachers who can gather resources to manage events like this are how schools and communities intertwine and benefit each other. This teacher leader is a go-getter who can access resources, motivate volunteers, and ultimately support students and their families.
For teachers with advanced leadership skills, there are many opportunities in education that require visionaries with the ability to lead. Teacher leadership roles go beyond the classroom, as many school administrators and nonprofit organization leaders are former teachers or were previously involved in education.
School Administrator Roles
School administrators not only manage the day-to-day functions of a school but also are the driving force behind its mission and vision. Administrators are the leaders who inspire teachers, staff, and students to create a strong culture and a love for learning. Strong administrators influence teachers to take leadership roles and make their schools encouraging, safe, empowering places for students to be. School administrators additionally have a larger role in managing school budgets, evaluating teachers, and collaborating with school districts.
Nonprofit Leadership Positions
Depending on how a nonprofit organization is structured, a board of directors supervises various executive, management, and administrative roles. The different leadership roles include overseeing finance, operations, marketing, community affairs, and human resources departments. Educational nonprofit organizations often benefit both teachers and students in the classroom. Many specifically focus on training teachers and school administration. Others raise funds or supplies for teachers, who are able to better lead when classroom funding is sufficient. Educators who choose to take a leadership role at a nonprofit organization can maintain their connection to schools outside the classroom.
Take the Lead in Education
Teachers who strive to lead should be strong educators with an understanding of how to best serve students. Graduate programs strengthen students’ understanding of leadership and prepare future educators to be future leaders. American University’s Online Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education in Educational Policy and Leadership equip students with the knowledge, experience, and practice to develop into compassionate, effective school leaders. Learn more and apply today.