Teacher leaders as teacher educators: recognising the ‘educator’ dimension of some teacher leaders’ practice

June 2021

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 47:3, 395-410

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this article is to present the seemingly unexamined concept that some teacher leaders’ practice includes a teacher educator dimension and to provide evidence to support this claim.
This evidence is drawn from findings from an analysis of the literature and from qualitative research.
The findings from both the literature analysis and the research study are used to examine what teacher leaders and teacher educators do and to critique the interrelationship between their functions, where functions are conceptualised as described by Korthagen (2004).
This article explores the behaviour aspects in Korthagen’s (2004) model, focusing on teachers as teacher leaders and teacher educators; recognising that their practice is shaped by both the external environment and the inner levels portrayed in the model.

Research methods

Aims, participants and data collection
The research aims included exploring the impact of Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM), a professional development programme for science leaders, and investigating views of good science pedagogy and leadership (White et al. 2016).
The research team, from the University of Hertfordshire School of Education, comprised: the research lead in initial teacher education (study lead); the associate dean, research; a research fellow; and a primary science tutor.
The researchers were independent of the management of the PSQM.
This article addresses the following research questions:
● How is science successfully led and developed in primary school? (What is needed to successfully lead and develop science in primary school?)
● What can we learn about the functions of primary science leaders from two of the science leaders’ accounts of their practice? (What do these science leaders say about their activities and practice? What do they say they do? How does their reported practice relate to the functions of teacher leaders and teacher educators identified from published literature?)
● What can we learn about the interrelationship between the functions of teacher leaders and teacher educators? (How do the functions interrelate? What are the areas of overlap and difference?)

Data are presented from: two key informants; the PSQM Director (viewed as a third key informant to maintain confidentiality); and six hub leaders who were asked: ‘What, in your opinion, is needed to successfully lead and develop science in primary school?’ The key informants were selected because of their strategic-level knowledge and understanding of PSQM and of primary science.
They completed digitally recorded telephone interviews, which were partially transcribed and sent to them for review.
The PSQM Director and hub leaders completed emailed questionnaires.
All hub leaders who had worked with cohorts 6 and/or 7 were invited to contribute.
Six (coded HL1-HL6) completed the questionnaire.
Additional data are presented as narratives (used as ‘vignettes’) from two of three science leaders who attended a focus group session, which was digitally recorded and transcribed.
The science leaders, from different primary schools, registered in cohorts 8 and 9.
Their hub was selected partly because of its location; their hub leader attended the session.

Data management and analysis
As noted, the key informants, the PSQM Director and hub leaders were asked: ‘What, in your opinion, is needed to successfully lead and develop science in primary school?’ Although the sample size was small, the data were rich.
The participants’ responses were content analysed (Krippendorff 2013) and provide contemporaneous contextual information for the science leaders’ accounts.

Findings and discussion
This section starts by providing a critical overview of the participants’ views of the requirements for successful leadership and development of primary science with clear implications for subject leadership and teacher leadership more generally, before critiquing the two science leaders’ accounts.
In a contribution to the broader areas of knowledge of teacher leadership and teacher education, it then identifies learning about the interrelationship between teacher leader and teacher educator functions.

Leading and developing primary science
Research participants identified aspects of science leadership that were both generic and subject-specific.
Their responses imply particular forms of leadership, portraying their understanding of what primary school communities ‘should do’ to lead and develop science and illustrating the complex layers, intersections and players involved.

School environment, school leadership and culture
School culture has an important influence on the practice of teacher leaders and teacher educators.
Supportive school leaders and colleagues, designated time and resources, and specialist leadership professional learning and development aid the work of teacher leaders (York-Barr and Duke 2004).
Participants recognised these factors as requirements for successfully leading and developing primary science.

Science leaders’ practice and behaviour
Science leaders are seen to act from strategic through to personal levels.
Thus, participants assert that science leaders should engage in strategic and curriculum development and evaluation (monitoring teaching, learning and achievement) in order to successfully lead and develop primary science.

Learning about the functions of primary science leaders
The findings contextualise the following science leaders’ accounts, which portray their behaviour and practice, ‘what they say they do’.
Each account suggests that the science leader was engaged in teaching, seen as ‘essential for teacher leaders because their authority cannot rest on the basis of formal positionality and, instead, must stem from their credibility as expert classroom practitioners’ (Snell and Swanson 2000, 4).
Authority, in different forms, is threaded discreetly through both narratives.

Learning about the interrelationship between the functions of teacher leaders and teacher educators
Both vignettes reveal practice in which some functions of teacher leaders and teacher educators seem to coincide, representing points of congruence and of divergence.
This raises questions about whether an experienced teacher, unaware of the origin of the texts, would identify the authors as teacher leaders, teacher educators, both or neither.
Such questions highlight the interrelationship between what teacher leaders and teacher educators do and areas of overlap and difference between these functions, which was also apparent in the questionnaire and interview responses.
Definitions of teacher leadership and teacher leaders (York-Barr and Duke 2004; Katzenmeyer and Moller 2009; Wenner and Campbell 2017) and of teacher educators (Lunenberg, Dengerink, and Korthagen 2014; Boyd and White 2017), provide starting points for exploring this interrelationship.
York-Barr and Duke (2004, 288) viewed the line of sight for teacher leadership as ‘increased student learning and achievement’ through improving pedagogic practice.
Although the same endpoint is implicit for teacher educators their immediate focus is teachers’ professional learning.
Both teacher leaders and teacher educators engage with adult learners.
As exemplary teachers (Snell and Swanson 2000; Murray and Male 2005), the literature suggests they maintain and model their practice; they might also coach, mentor, develop curricula, broker, advocate, question and share, working through collaboration and engaging in teams or groups.
Whilst teacher leaders and teacher educators might have some overlapping functions, there are also differences in what they do, or are said to do, and in the nature, purpose and emphasis of some apparent areas of overlap.

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York-Barr, J., and K. Duke. 2004. “What Do We Know about Teacher Leadership? Findings from Two Decades of Scholarship.” Review of Educational Research 74 (3): 255–316. 

Updated: Feb. 14, 2022