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Science Teacher Leaders Making a Difference

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

The article: “Defining Teacher Leadership: A Framework” by Rebecca Cheung, Elisa Stone, Judith Warren Little, and Thomas Reinhardt in Phi Delta Kappan, November 2018 (Vol. 100, #2, p. 38-44),; the authors can be reached at,,, and
In this Kappan article, Rebecca Cheung, Elisa Stone, and Judith Warren Little (University of California/Berkeley) and consultant Thomas Reinhardt say teacher leaders’ work has run the gamut: coaching colleagues, offering professional development, getting materials, sharing lesson ideas and resources, convening meetings, communicating messages for administrators, chairing the school safety committee, even serving as emergency substitutes. The more educationally ambitious the teacher leaders’ role, the greater the likelihood of pushback.
“In a profession long marked by an egalitarian ethos,” say Cheung, Stone, Little, and Reinhardt, “in which colleagues think of themselves as belonging to the same level in the organizational hierarchy, giving a special role to some teachers can easily lead to tension among peers. Why was this person chosen as the teacher leader, they might ask, and what kind of formal authority do teacher leaders have?” But district leaders want to tap into effective teachers’ “deep reservoirs of knowledge and expertise.” How can they put teacher leaders to work in ways that don’t stir up resentment among colleagues?
The researchers worked with a district to develop and implement a teacher leader model aimed at supporting the implementation of Next Generation Science Standards. The science lead teachers served four major functions:
• Collaborating:
- Mentoring and coaching teachers to improve their practices;
- Facilitating science-focused professional development sessions;
- Initiating and facilitating peer collaboration;
- Participating in science PD for the lead teachers’ own benefit;
- Developing productive meeting formats and processes;
- Improving the skills of mentoring, supporting, and coaching a variety of teachers;
- Contributing to the science teacher leader community.
• Providing resources:
- Sharing readings, lessons, and ideas;
- Creating and adapting lessons and units;
- Suggesting science events, field trips, speakers, free and donated materials;
- Supporting regular access to district-provided materials and supplies;
- Keeping abreast of and accessing science-related news, resources, and technology.
• Modeling:
- Being open to being observed by colleagues and jointly critiquing lessons;
- Analyzing and discussing the effectiveness of different teaching practices;
- Making effective science instruction visible;
- Committing to a deep understanding of Next Generation Science Standards;
- Reflecting on and being open to improving their own teaching practices;
- Balancing and integrating non-science commitments to maximize science instruction.
• Advocating:
- Identifying and developing common pedagogies across subject areas;
- Advocating for science in schoolwide decision-making;
- Building alliances to further science instruction;
- Keeping abreast of science-related policies, expectations, and decisions;
- Regularly communicating and reminding administrators and teachers about science expectations and opportunities;
- Identifying opportunities to integrate science into the core instructional plan;
- Ensuring representation for science instruction in school governance;
- Analyzing the political climate and context of the school to support science instruction.
A two-year study of 40 of the science lead teachers affirmed the value of these four roles and confirmed the success of teachers’ work on the quality of science instruction in the district.

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