RTI Action Network

The Teacher Leaders We Need

By: Bob HeimbaughPublished: October 26, 2009
Topics: Leadership

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Every school has them. They are those staff members that all other staff members in a school look up to because of their teaching skill, knowledge, and experience. They are the teachers in a school who impact learning, not only in their classroom, but at the school and district level. They are there, in essence, to "make the place a better place for kids." They add to the profession by making everyone better. They are committed, dedicated, professionals.

Most master teachers don't start out as master teachers. They become great at their craft because they put in the time to be the best. Master teachers become master teachers because they know that the most important factor regarding student achievement in the classroom is the teacher and the content knowledge and instructional expertise they bring to the classroom. Becoming a master teacher takes years of practice, research, and growth. Because of their standing in a school, master teachers are recognized and respected as natural leaders in their schools.


The Center for Comprehensive School Reform has spent some time looking at the research concerning teacher leadership in schools. Through their own investigation on teacher leadership they have found that, while there is not a lot of research on teacher leadership, there are enough studies to create a "conceptual framework around the topic. From their research brief, What Does the Research Tell Us About Teacher Leadership? (2008), they developed the following definition to describe teacher leadership:

Teacher leadership is the process by which teachers, individually or collectively, influence their colleagues, principals, and other members of the school communities to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased learning and achievement. Such team leadership work involves three intentional development foci: individual development, collaboration or team development, and organizational development (pp. 287.288)

When thinking about the implementation of RTI in our schools, our master teachers are the ones we look to as we begin the process. One of the most important aspects of RTI implementation, as Jim Collins states in his book Good to Great (2001), is "getting the right people on the bus." We need to provide opportunities to allow master teachers to share and model what they know about being a great teacher. We want RTI to succeed in our schools, so by tapping into those in our schools who are recognized as leaders, we promote success in two ways:

  1. We are utilizing those staff members who are recognized and respected as natural leaders in our schools, and
  2. Those who are recognized and respected already have a strong track record of demonstrating success in the classroom.

These master teachers bring to the RTI process all of the attributes, skills and knowledge needed to promote positive school change around the RTI initiative.

When thinking about how master teachers can influence RTI implementation in your school, always be thinking about creative ways to draw on their expertise. Here are a few examples of how you might, as a school, use teacher leaders to implement RTI in your schools.


The most valuable staff members are those who are committed to student achievement and the teaching profession. Take advantage of those teachers in your school who have demonstrated over time the qualities of a master teacher. When implementing RTI in a school, it is through their leadership that successful implementation will occur.

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Read what others had to say...

Teacher leaders are pivotal in the success of initiatives at a school. While strong administrative leadership can drive the bus, master teachers can embed practice and cause sustained change. I would disagree with your description of the most valuable staff members however. A commitment to achievement is important but not what makes a teacher great. Teachers who are committed to the whole child, to the growth and development of a person are the ones who can become the most influential leaders. They will create sustainability through a balanced look at education and learning.

Wow... I really appreciate this post! On a day that I've come home having that, "Maybe I should quit" feeling, I needed to read something like this to remind myself of the teacher I am - or at least the teacher I once was, but still am deep inside. Unfortunately, in my district there is less and less of an acknowledgement of, or appreciation for such MTs, as are described in this post. Instead, there is a "dumbing down" that is taking place, as we are being forced into scripted roles in our classrooms, and are overwhelminly being required to sit through entry-level staff developments.

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