Theses Doctoral

A longitudinal developmentally intentional leadership institute for teacher leaders: A case study of the experiences of 13 teacher leaders

Joswick-O'Connor, Christy Joy

The purpose of this study was to explore the experience of 13 informal teacher leaders who participated in a three-year (district-sponsored and job-embedded) developmentally intentional leadership institute (DILI) and to learn how, if at all, the DILI helped them develop and apply leadership skills, as they continued in their primary roles as teachers.

The DILI at the center of my study aimed to develop leadership capacity as a way to overcome barriers to teacher leadership that are described in the literature. I found three features of the DILI that supported this: 1) Using best practices in professional development; 2) Administrators’ participation alongside their teachers; 3) A developmentally intentional curriculum based on Learning-Oriented Leadership.

I utilized an exploratory case study methodology, including a district-wide survey of 67 teachers to understand the context of the research site and 34 hours of interviews with three sets of participants including the 13 teachers who completed the three-year DILI, 3 teachers who partially completed the DILI (i.e. completed one or two years), 3 principals and 3 district administrators who directly supervised the teacher leaders.

I came to three clusters of findings. First, the DILI created a holding environment for participants (i.e., supported and challenged them, while remaining in place longitudinally) (13/13) which they utilized as a support to their learnings and leadership practice. Second, participants engaged in three perspective shifts [i.e., on themselves (13/13), on the nature of leadership (9/13), and on the utility of collaboration (13/13)]. Third, all 13 teachers transferred their learnings from the DILI to assume acts of leadership in their schools. This included assuming formal leadership responsibilities (13/13), feeling more empowered (13/13) and feeling less stress, even as they took on greater responsibilities (10/13). Moreover, the administrators reported that the teacher leaders positively influenced the district, as they created a “ripple effect” and “lifted the bar” to elevate expectations, professionalism, and practices of collaboration.

Implications of my study address the use of this approach (i.e., DILI) by districts to foster teacher leadership, even amidst school cultures of egalitarian norms. These teacher leaders helped to shift culture by driving instructional improvement. Thus, districts can better address increased standards, greater expectations, and other challenges that place too many demands on school administrators to lead alone.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Education Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Drago-Severson, Eleanor
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 27, 2020