William Sterrett

College/University Professor

Wilmington, NC

Interests: Classroom management,...

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Igniting Teacher Leadership in Your School

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The best principals never forget that they are teachers.  They are willing to roll up their sleeves, wear comfortable shoes, and work together collaboratively to overcome challenges and realize success… for students and staff.   To do anything meaningful to improve the school and to sustain success, the principal must involve teachers.  Teachers and principals are not finished products; we must continually seek to learn, grow, reflect, and change.  I love this quote by Welch: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.  When you become a leader, success is all about growing others” (2005, p. 61).  As school leaders, we must focus on supporting one very valuable resource within our schools- our teachers.

In my latest ASCD Arias book, Igniting Teacher Leadership, I ask the question “How do I empower my teachers to lead and learn?” (Sterrett, 2016).   As principals, we are in a unique position to leverage learning and leadership opportunities for our teachers and staff that help move our success forward.   Here are five examples and strategies from the book that can help principals foster a climate of success, collaboration, and continued growth and development:

  • Listening-  Busy principals often seem too busy to actively listen.  Making listening a proactive habit can create a sense of support and buy-in, which is vitally important.   This can ultimately foster collaboration and save time as well as being proactive (not waiting for issues and challenges to come to you) is key. 
  • Define and support teacher leadership roles- The Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium (2011) identified seven leadership domains that include fostering a collaborative culture for learning, facilitating improvements in instruction, and more.  Consider how you define, assign, and support leadership roles in your own school.  Are they fair, transparent, and understood by your staff? 
  • Sharing success strategies- Teachers appreciate real strategies and best practices- particularly when they can learn from each other.  Don’t rely solely on “outside experts” for tips, foster interactive learning opportunities through faculty meetings and peer observations.   Encourage teachers to lead the discussion.  One middle school instructional coach offers her insights here
  • Affirm professional efforts of teachers- Teachers need to be producers (not just consumers!) when it comes to professional development.  Principals can support by providing opportunities to contribute outside the school (such as release time and encouragement) as as one teacher leader notes in this clip.  
  • Write and reflect on your goals- I find that having a daily list of written goals (both short-term and long-term) helps me make steady progress.  In the book, I offer the acronym of W-A-T-C-H (Welcome, Affirm, Teaching, Connect, and Habit) to help school leaders focus on their day and share examples of how this might work in schools.

Principals are also in the position to take something off teachers’ plates.  Reflect on your school improvement goals, recent staff development efforts, and district mandates.  Consider how you can prioritize and involve teacher voice in this work.  Remember, principals cannot do this work alone.   By learning and leading together, we can make a powerful impact in our learning community.  

For information about Sterrett’s January 14th webinar on Igniting Teacher Leadership, click here.


Sterrett, W. (2016). Igniting teacher leadership: How do I empower my teachers to lead and learn?  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium (2011). The teacher leader model standards. Retrieved from www.ets.org/s/education_topics/teaching_quality/pdf/teacher_leader_model_standards.pdf

Welch. J., with Welch, S. (2005). Winning. New York: HarperCollins.


Bill Sterrett is the author of the ASCD books Igniting Teacher Leadership: How do I empower my teachers to lead and learn?Short on Time: How do I lead and learn as a principal?; and Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works.  A former principal and teacher, Sterrett is an associate professor and program coordinator at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.   The above post is modified and excerpted from the newly-released Igniting Teacher Leadership; for related resources, click here.  Follow Sterrett on Twitter @billsterrett 

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