An Overview of Change Theorists: Guiding Ideas on Teacher Leadership and PLC’s

The days of the lone-wolf administrator leading a top-down educational hierarchy are over. Linn (2002) states “Instead of looking to the principal alone for instructional leadership, we need to develop leadership capacity among all members of the school community.” She makes the point that the responsibilities of instructional leadership within a school building are too large to be fulfilled by only one administrator and that models that attempt to have the principal serve as the sole instructional leader drastically underutilize and undervalue the capacity and existing talents of the teachers within a building. Rather, she argues that instructional leadership must move from being hierarchical to becoming more distributed, allowing more voices to be heard to shape better ideas.

These ideas are nothing new, as teachers have been calling to have a stronger voice and more opportunities to provide leadership on instructional leadership for decades. In essence, teachers see a broken system where those furthest removed from the classroom and working with students are making the most impactful decisions about instruction and school leadership. Fullan (1993) suggests that teachers need to become “change agents” in order to maintain a sense that their work is socially meaningful and personally satisfying. He believes that teachers can and should lead without needing to leave the classroom. In this article, he powerfully states “To have any chance of making teaching a noble profession, teachers must combine the mantle of moral purpose with the skills of change agentry.” Fullan (1993) argues, that in order for teachers to become effective change agents, they need to build their own personal visions centered on the theme of examining and re-examining why they became a teacher in the first place.

Sadly, the change-agent revolution Fullan (1993) called for in the nineties never materialized. In fact, Fullan (2002) again calls for a shift to the concept of teacher leaders, suggesting that schools must establish and maintain strong leadership at all levels of the school system. Within this system, Goleman (2002) suggests that teacher leaders must develop proficiency in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social competence, social awareness, and relationship management. It would seem that the moment of teacher leadership actually becoming an education reality is upon us, at least in Iowa with Iowa Teacher Leader and Compensation System Legislation adopted by the Iowa Legislature in 2013. However, the question, on some level, now becomes how we can create a model of teacher leadership that is sustainable.

Many ideas on how to create a sustainable model of educational leadership exist, including the work of Hargreaves and Fink (2004), suggesting the existence of seven principles of sustainable educational leadership, which includes: (1) sustaining an ongoing culture of learning, (2) planning and preparing for the succession of leaders, (3) identifying and developing the leadership capacity of emerging and aspiring leaders, (4) addressing ongoing and evolving issues related to equity and social justice, (5) taking care of leaders and getting leaders to take care of themselves to minimize turnover, (6) developing diverse leadership capacities among its leaders to avoid stagnation and enable successful adaptation to new challenges, and (7) by engaging assertively within the context of the environment within which it operates.


  1. Fullan, M. (1993). Why teachers must become change agents. Educational Leadership, 50(6), 12-17.
  2. Fullan, M. (2002). Leadership and sustainability. Principal Leadership, 3(4), 174-181.
  3. Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
  4. Hargreaves, A. and Fink, D. (2004). The seven principles of sustainable leadership. Educational   Leadership, 61(7), 8-13.
  5. Lambert, L. (2002). A framework for shared leadership. Educational Leadership, 59(8), 37-40.

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