Justice-Oriented Teacher Leadership

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Teacher leaders are among the most influential figures in enacting systemic change within schools. Their influence stems directly from the heart of the system–the classroom. Katzenmeyer and Moller (2009) and Lieberman and Miller (2004) view teacher leadership as a set of skills teachers develop that extend their influence beyond the classroom. This definition only focuses on managerial acts and overlooks the potential for justice-oriented leadership. Indeed, the academic field of teacher leadership is contested with competing ideologies determining which actions are determined “leadership.” The field has evolved from viewing teacher leaders as managers to celebrating them in their pursuits to create more socially just schools for all students, especially those from historically underserved backgrounds.

There exists a growing body of research on justice-oriented teacher leadership (Cambron-McCabe & McCarthy, 2005; Miller et.al, 2022, Theoharis, 2007, 2009), which positions teachers as intellectual leaders and agents of change who challenge inequities in their classrooms, schools, and communities.

In EKU’s ETL 800 “Introduction to Teacher Leadership”, students (typically practicing teachers) analyze their school and classroom demographic data and identify an instructional product that values and supports diversity in their placement. Student products include units/lessons to share with a team, school professional development opportunities, and program proposals. The students implement their product in their school building, reflect on the implementation, and revise it for future use. The goal of the product is to engage the students in justice and equity-oriented grade-level and campus-wide leadership activities. Overall, we seek to foster the development of culturally responsive teacher leaders via this process.

In closing, our primary focus in our vision of teacher leadership is to help teachers understand how oppressive systems exist within public education and provide teachers with the skills to react against harmful practices.

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About the Author

Dr. Todd McCardle is an Associate Professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Educational Leadership. He also serves as coordinator of the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies program. His teaching, research, and service focuses on culturally responsive teaching and leadership practices. 


Cambron-McCabe, N., & McCarthy, M. (2005). Educating school leaders for social justice. Educational Policy, 19(1), 201-222. 

Katzenmeyer, M., & Moller, G. (2001). Awakening the sleeping giant: Helping teachers develop as leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. 

Lieberman, A. & Miller, L. (2004). Teacher Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Miller, H. C., McCardle, T., Zuccaro, E., & Worlds, M. (2022). Beyond the Managerial and Bureaucratic: Developing Teacher Leaders for Social Justice. In The Power of Teacher Leaders (pp. 144-154). Routledge.

Theoharis, G. (2009). The school leaders our children deserve: Seven keys to equity, social justice, and school reform. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. 

Theoharis, G. (2007). Social justice educational leaders and resistance: Toward a theory of social justice leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 43(2), 221-258. 

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