7 Magic Steps Toward Developing Teachers as Leaders

The TESOL President’s Blog

With all the educational reforms around the world and increased demand for teacher accountability and more rigorous student learning outcomes, the need to engage teachers in professional development has never been as urgent as it is now.

Recently, I have been asked to give talks on developing teachers as leaders—a topic that has seen an increasing interest among ELT professionals. In reviewing the current trends in professional development, two major trends surfaced. First, the need for proactive and ongoing professional development at all levels is seen as a driving force for achieving excellence in teaching, learning, and development within the education system (Sparks, 2005; Darling-Hammond, Wei,  Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009). Second, there is the need to develop teachers as leaders (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2006; Coombe, McCloskey, Stephenson, & Anderson, 2007; Sun, 2014). In this blog, I’ll focus on the second trend: the need to develop teachers as leaders.

How do we develop teachers as leaders? I see these seven magic letters, LEADERS, as a way to describe how to develop teachers as leaders. L stands for Learning, E stands for Engaging, A stands for Advocating, D for Developing, E for Empowering, R for Reflecting, and S for Sustaining. To explore each word in depth, I came up with these seven steps:

  1. Learning: We need to learn new ways of teaching; new ways of assessing learning and programs; different ways to motivate students and maximize learning opportunities; effective ways to utilize and develop different resources and materials; and leadership knowledge, skills, and practice.
  2. Engaging: Learning by doing; engage in professional development (PD)—participate in PD at all levels: call others to action with you; enlist peers to support common vision; form teaching/learning communities, and engage leaders and the community in developing excellence in teaching and learning.
  3. Advocating: Inspire others to work together for a common goal; speak up and act for the best interest of the program, students, and profession; build consensus among diverse groups of educators to achieve an important mission; educate the general public of what we do; and advocate for adequate education funding and support for student learning and teacher development.
  4. Developing: Expand and utilize old and new learning; develop empathy for learners and learner strategies; develop teaching skills, information technology competence (ITC), intercultural communication competence, and effective leadership skills.
  5. Empowering: We need to empower ourselves, our learners, colleagues, the school community, and our profession.
  6. Reflecting: Be a reflective practitioner; critically review and evaluate trends, issues, challenges, and information; encourage others and learners to do the same.
  7. Sustaining: Invest time and commitment in PD and ensure an adequate support system at all levels; it requires intrinsic motivation for self-growth and development. We need to value and cultivate common interest and collaborative team work, and take small steps and set realistic goals and tasks to sustain energy, passion, and achievements.

To help teachers to become leaders, besides these seven magic steps, teachers also need administrative support to develop and exercise leadership roles:

  • Create “hybrid” roles for teachers (teaching plus instructional coaches, mentors)
  • Promote shared leadership structures (teachers’ input into school policies, curriculum, and professional development)
  • Provide teachers with release time for professional development and planning
  • Recognize /reward/value teacher leadership

So, what does “LEADERS” mean to you? Here are some of the questions for you to explore, as you may have different interpretations, and I’d love to hear from you.

  • Learning? What should we learn?
  • Engaging? How? In what area?
  • Advocating? What? How?
  • Developing? What? How?
  • Empowering? Who? How?
  • Reflecting ? What? And how?
  • Sustaining? What? How?

Let’s actively engage in developing teachers as LEADERS. I hope the term LEADERS comes to have a much deeper meaning to all of us. Thank you for reading my March blog, and I look forward to seeing you at the TESOL 2015 convention!

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
–Nelson Mandela


Coombe, C., McCloskey, M. L., Stephenson, L., & Anderson, N. J. (Eds.). (2007). Leadership in English language teaching and learning. Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan University Press.

Darling-Hammond, L., & Bransford, J. (Eds.). (2006). Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.

Sparks, D. (2005) Principals amplify teachers’ outstanding practices. Principals as leaders of learning #8 in a series Results, May 2005, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)

Sun, Y. (2014, Feb). Developing teachers as leaders. U.S. Department of State/RELO English Fellow Mid-Year Conference, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R.C.,  Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. Dallas, TX: National Staff Development Council.

About Yilin Sun

Yilin Sun
Yilin Sun has served as president of TESOL International Association, as chair of the TESOL Affiliate Leadership Council, and president of Washington Association for the Education of Speakers of Other Languages (WAESOL). In 2011-2012, Dr. Sun was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Taiwan at the National Taiwan Normal University. Dr. Sun received her doctorate in applied linguistics/curriculum and instruction from the University of Toronto, Canada. She has more than 28 years of experience in the field of TESOL as a teacher educator, a researcher, a classroom teacher, and a program leader with various institutions of higher education in China, Canada, and the United States. She is the author and co-author of books, book chapters, and research papers in refereed professional journals. Her research interests include curriculum development, program assessment and evaluation, L2 reading, vocabulary learning, classroom-based action research, teacher education, adult education, teaching English to young learners, World Englishes, ESP and nonnative English speaking teachers (NNEST) in the ELT field.
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6 Responses to 7 Magic Steps Toward Developing Teachers as Leaders

  1. Ray Singletary says:

    Dr. Sun!

    Thank you for sharing your post! Two things I enjoyed were the use of the letters to identify the 7 steps of developing leaders and the question “What should we learn?” I am a firm believer that without a clear goal it is difficult to make any progress or change! More teacher and potential leaders could benefit from your message.

    Enjoyed the information.

  2. Auwalu Inusa says:

    Though I got the blog late, it has impacted positively on me as a language teacher/ teacher trainer.

  3. Nirmal Guchhait says:

    Very good ???? information.


    Fantastic!!! Motivating!!!

  5. Yilin Sun Yilin Sun says:

    You are more than welcome and I’m glad you liked it. Hope to see you at the TESOL Convention in Toronto!


  6. Elena Shvidko Elena Shvidko says:

    This is a wonderful blog post! Thank you!

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