Demystifying teacher leadership in comprehensive high schools

Robert Joseph Fraser, University of Pennsylvania


While significant research has been conducted about how leadership has been distributed in schools (Spillane, 2006; Spillane, Halverson, & Diamond, 2001; Elmore, 2000; Leithwood & Jantzi, 1998), most of the studies to date have emphasized how leadership is distributed to those in formal leadership positions, and also focus on identifying the aspects of teacher leadership rather than examining how and why teacher leadership is executed (Spillane, 2006). This study addresses both of these areas that are less emphasized in the existing literature. It examines how instructional leadership is executed by teachers in comprehensive high schools, determines why informal teacher leaders are recognized as leaders amongst their peers considering they have no positional authority, identifies the characteristics that formal and informal teacher leaders possess, and determines the roles that principals play in facilitating or inhibiting teacher leadership. The study analyzes teacher leadership in two different suburban Philadelphia high schools with similar demographic and student achievement characteristics. The faculty members at each school completed a survey pertaining to three different instruction-related issues, the results of which were converted into social network maps. These maps reveal the actual leaders in each school, as opposed to simply the titular leaders. Interviews were then conducted to ascertain a level of specificity about teacher leadership from the perspective of teacher leaders, teacher non-leaders, and principals. The main finding of the study is that formal and informal teacher leaders' capacities to lead are informed by social capital configurations and the distribution of leadership throughout a school's faculty. The study's results have implications for high school teachers in general, existing titular leaders, and school principals. These implications are largely anchored in the notion that leadership is equated with the influence that leaders have on their followers (Maxwell, 1998; Hart, 1995).

Subject Area

School administration|Teacher education|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Fraser, Robert Joseph, "Demystifying teacher leadership in comprehensive high schools" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3311546.