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Blog post Part of series: Scotland: Reform, professionalism and delivery

Professional Learning for Teacher Leadership

Fearghal Kelly

Teacher leadership is a term which is increasingly being used in Scottish educational policy and the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL) has been tasked with supporting the development of teacher leadership across the system. In 2015/16 SCEL carried out an engagement exercise which explored the nature of teacher leadership, and the requirements for its development, with a widespread of teachers, and other stakeholders, in Scotland. In the report of the engagement (SCEL, 2016a) SCEL committed to act upon the themes captured in order to support the development of teacher leadership nationally.

In all aspects of the engagement teachers had the opportunity to explore, share and discuss their pre-existing understandings of the term ‘teacher leadership’. In the majority of the workshops they then compared their ideas with those of SCEL’s from the Framework for Educational Leadership as follows.

“Teacher leaders are passionate about learning and teaching.  Through informed and innovative practice, close scrutiny of pupils’ learning needs and high expectations they play a fundamental role in improving outcomes for children and young people.  Teacher leaders are effective communicators who collaborate with colleagues, demonstrate integrity and have a positive impact on their school community.  They model career-long professional learning.

Skills, qualities and professional actions demonstrated by teacher leaders can be identified under four main areas:

  • Learning and teaching
  • High expectations and ambition
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Values and commitment”

SCEL (2016b) Full text available at

For most of the groups in the workshop sessions, there was huge overlap between their vision of teacher leadership and those outlined in the Framework for Educational Leadership. Most of the groups who had not focused in on learning and teaching in the first part of the session liked this emphasis in SCEL’s definition. Despite some questions and recommendations for amendments, the vast majority broadly agreed with the vision for teacher leadership outlined in the Framework, in the workshops as well as in the online engagement. However, there was also general agreement in the workshops that whilst this is a vision for teacher leadership most can agree with, it is aspirational. For most teachers, this is something we are working towards in our professional careers, and the remainder of the session focused on what is needed in order to realise this vision.

The outcomes from our teacher leadership engagement work can be summarised into the eight themes as follows.



There was a significantly high level of positivity and enthusiasm for this engagement. Many teachers are keen to engage with this agenda.


Many teachers feel that there is a need to consider our current use of time and the tasks which they are undertaking. What impact are both having on learners?


Teachers would like more and better opportunities for formal leadership professional learning and opportunities to experience leadership roles.


Many teachers expressed a need to develop mechanisms for recognition of teacher leadership within schools, local authorities and nationally.


Many teachers expressed a need for more opportunities to share practice with colleagues through case studies, networking, shadowing and observation.


There was a frequent need expressed for mentoring and coaching for teachers beyond the probation year to support the development of leadership skills.


Many teachers expressed the view that opportunities to develop as teacher leaders need to be shared equitably with all teachers in the system.


There was a recognition that the culture change required to develop teacher leadership will involve stakeholders at all levels in Scottish education.

One of the key activities which we have undertaken since the engagement has been to co-evolve an online prototype teacher leadership programme with practitioners. This programme is informed by literature in the sense that it aims to support teacher leadership as rooted in classrooms, pedagogy and collaborative professional learning (York-Barr & Duke, 2004, Harris & Muijs, 2005, Forde et al., 2011, Ryan et al., 2016) and takes an enquiring approach to supporting teachers to develop leadership (Lambert, 2003, Baumfield et al., 2013, Ryan et al., 2016). However, our programme approach is also heavily influenced by the themes arising from the teacher leadership engagement. By providing this professional learning opportunity and making it open to all we aim to support teachers to develop and share their practice whilst also offering the chance for experienced teachers to take a mentoring role for participants. This prototype programme is currently being delivered with 40 participants with plans to increase participation in future cohorts.


Baumfield, V., Hall, E. and Wall, K. (2013) Action Research in Education. Sage, London.

Forde, C., McMahon, M. and Dickson, B. (2011) Leadership Development in Scotland: after Donaldson. Scottish Educational Review, 43 (2) pp.55-69.

Harris, A. and Muijs, D. (2005) Improving Schools Through Teacher Leadership. Maidenhead, Open University Press.

Lambert, L. (2003) Leadership Redefined: an evocative context for teacher leadership. School Leadership & Management, 23 (4) pp.421–430

Ryan, M., Taylor, M., Barone, A., Della Pesca, L., Durgana, S., Ostrowski, K., Piccirillo, T. and Pikaard, K. (2016) Teacher as Researcher, Teacher as Scholar, and Teacher as Leader. The New Educator. [accessed 17 January 2017]

SCEL (2016a) Developing Teacher Leadership. [accessed 17 January 2017]

SCEL (2016b) Exploring Teacher Leadership. [accessed 17 January 2017]

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