How District Partnerships Can Foster Teacher Leadership

by Pamela Fong

At the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd (The Center), we’ve been steering the Teacher Practice Networks (TPN), a five-year initiative aimed at improving teachers’ standards-aligned instruction. Based on recent research and our work with the TPN, The Center believes that teacher leadership — including teachers leading their peers in professional learning — is a particularly powerful way to help improve instruction.

In a series of CenterView articles, we share learnings from the TPN on teacher leadership. This first issue, Forging Partnerships: A Model for Teacher Leadership Development, describes the various roles of teacher leaders and examines how districts can partner with third-party organizations to leverage their respective strengths to foster strong teacher leaders.

Briefly, we have found:

  • Teacher leaders play many roles, and are most influential when they are also classroom teachers.
  • Effective teacher leadership requires supportive administrators, structures, and policies.
  • Partnering with expert organizations can help districts improve support for teacher leadership.

The multiple roles of teacher leaders

In the TPN, our team has observed teacher leaders leading their peers in professional learning that is high-impact and relevant to teachers’ needs. At the same time, these teacher leaders are engaging their peers in collaborative inquiry — such as reflecting on practice and retooling instruction — they are also developing their own capacity as instructional leaders who can help improve teaching at their schools.

TPN teacher leaders play multiple intersecting roles, including professional learning facilitator, curriculum specialist, curator, and instructional coach. Perhaps most importantly, TPN teacher leaders are simultaneously classroom teachers, which gives them the credibility to collaborate with peers on improving instructional practices in ways that an administrator or third-party expert cannot.

While teacher leaders are often exemplary classroom teachers, they also require their own support.

How districts can foster strong teacher leaders

As teacher leaders are playing an important leadership role that can greatly benefit teaching and learning at their schools, districts need to provide them with the necessary supports to thrive. These supports include developing teacher leadership skills, such as training in adult learning, and providing necessary structures, such as time, for ongoing teacher-to-teacher learning to occur.

Through The Center’s work, we’ve seen that districts can benefit from partnering with outside organizations to support teacher leadership development, particularly when district resources and capacity are limited. Together, a district and organization can bring their expertise to the partnership to sustain teacher-to-teacher learning that positively impacts both teacher leaders and the teachers they support. Figure 1 outlines key contributions that both districts and partner organizations can make to support teacher leadership.

Figure 1. District-organization partnerships: Contributions to support teacher leadership

Source: WestEd, Center for the Future of Teaching & Learning (2017).


To learn more about teacher leaders and the benefits of district-organization partnerships to support teacher leadership, download a copy of the CenterView.

To learn more about the Teacher Practice Networks, visit us at

Research Associate