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Article Critique

General Directions

Using all library databases available, locate a journal article related to school leadership. Read it
carefully and reflect on it, then follow the attached guidelines and rubric to help craft your
critique. Articles should not be older than two years old.

Reading and Thinking:

• Read the article SLOWLY. Don’t criticize anything just yet. Try to really understand the
author’s logic rather than questioning it.

• Mark key points and transitions as you read. Try to isolate at least one central point in
each paragraph.

• Review introductory and closing sections closely. Think about how the author moves
from opening statements to conclusions via the body of the article.

Writing:

• Begin your written analysis with a blanket statement summarizing what the author does
in the article. Sometimes the author explicitly gives you his or her agenda in the
introduction and/or in the conclusion. You should be able to relay this in one or (maybe)
two sentences.

• Summarize the key ideas used by the author in achieving his or her agenda. Look at the
parts of the article you have marked. Try to indicate how the author progresses from
idea to idea in the article.

• List important evidence used to support key ideas in the article. Indicate why the author
finds this evidence convincing.

Critiquing:

• Carefully describe any biased, illogical, or inappropriate use of evidence in the
article. Take into account the author’s purpose and perspective, as any apparent misuse
of evidence may be attributable to these factors.

• Note any avoidable lack of evidence in the article.

• Note the strong points of the article.

Finalizing:

• Proofread your writing. Read it aloud. Try to use active verbs and concise modifiers.

• Verify that your analysis would be helpful to someone who hadn’t read the article. Don’t
assume that your reader can intuit what you mean by anything.

Grading Rubric

Component Unacceptable Acceptable Target

At the top of the page,
write your article

Reference has more
than 1 APA error.

(0 points)

Reference follows APA
format, with 1 error.

(1 point)

Reference carefully
follows APA format,

Page 2 of 2

Component Unacceptable Acceptable Target

reference in APA
format.

with no errors.
(2 points)

Summary
Key points and

evidence to support
those points is clearly

presented

Summary of article is
inadequate or too

brief; does not identify
main points; fails to
include appropriate
evidence to support

points. (0 points)

Acceptable summary
of information that

describes the article’s
premise; evidence is
included. (2 points)

Excellent summary of
relevant information
that clearly describe
the article’s premise;
evidence is included.

(4 points)

Critique Incomplete critique;
lacks reflection and

sound analysis of the
chosen article; no

clear connections are
made to evidence

gather from the article.
(0 points)

Complete critique;
shows an adequate

level of reflection and
analysis; may lack

connections to
evidence gathered

from the article.
(2 points)

Complete, well-formed
critique; shows a

thoughtful, reflective,
in-depth analysis of

chosen article.
(4 points)

Professional
Presentation

Writing involves many
grammatical errors

(more than 3).
(0 points)

Writing involves few
grammatical errors (no
more than 2). (1 point)

Writing is free of all
writing errors.

(2 points)

  • Article Critique
    • General Directions
    • Grading Rubric

201

TEAcHER LEADERSHIP IN AN ELEMENTARY ScHOOL:
A cASE STUDY OF INSTRUcTIONAL SUPPORT

SPEcIALISTS

Nathan Bond
Texas State University

Some teachers reach a point in their careers when they crave greater
decision-making authority in their schools without becoming adminis-
trators. Teacher leadership appears to address teachers’ unmet profes-
sional needs by allowing them to continue instructing children while
having greater influence beyond their classrooms. This case study
examined three teacher leaders who served as instructional support
specialists in their elementary school. In this study, an instructional
support specialist was a teacher who remained in the classroom, devel-
oped an expertise for a particular student type, and helped colleagues
teach these students. Each teacher leader differed by focusing on either
students with dyslexia, English language learners, or gifted students.
Data were collected through focus group and individual interviews
with the teacher leaders. An analysis of the data found that the instruc-
tional support specialists contributed greatly to their school through
their leadership actions. The teacher leaders taught and assessed stu-
dents, collaborated with colleagues, partnered with parents, and assist-
ed administrators. The findings indicate that the role of instructional
support specialist may be ideal for teachers whose careers have pla-
teaued and who are seeking leadership opportunities. The descriptions
of these teachers’ work may inform others who are interested in teach-
er leadership at the elementary school level.

Keywords: teacher leadership, elementary school, reading specialist,
ESL specialist, gifted specialist

Some scholars claim that teaching is a
flat profession, meaning the job does not
change—a new teacher on the first day in
the classroom has the same responsibilities
as a teacher with many years of experience
(Hargreaves, 2010; Lortie, 1975). Over time
the repetitive nature of the work becomes
unsatisfying to some people, and they reach
a point in their careers when they yearn for
more (Dawson, 2014). They want regenerative

opportunities that feed their intellectual curi-
osity as well as generative opportunities that
expand their sphere of influence (Margolis &
Doring, 2013). Such teachers crave greater
decision-making authority in schools, but
they have no interest in becoming administra-
tors (Ingersoll, May, & Collins, 2019).

Teacher leadership appears as a viable
way for educators to address their unmet pro-
fessional needs. By definition, teacher leaders

202 / Education Vol. 141 No. 4

remain in the classroom teaching children
while simultaneously participating in mean-
ingful activities beyond the classroom that
contribute positively to the school (Wenner &
Campbell, 2017). Teacher leaders can serve
in a seemingly unlimited number of ways
because schools can tailor the leadership posi-
tion to fit the specific school context (Cooper,
Stanulis, Brondyk, Hamilton, Macaluso, &
Meier, 2016).

In the past, schools have created various
teacher leadership roles, such as mentors,
cooperating teachers, department chairs,
team leaders, and professional developers
(Bond, 2015). The research examining these
areas is robust (Nguyen, Harris, & Ng, 2020).
However, a review of the scholarly litera-
ture revealed few studies about some of the
more common leadership roles in elementary
schools, namely reading specialist, English
as a Second Language (ESL) specialist, and
gifted specialist. The review uncovered no
studies that looked at all three together.

The purpose of the study described in this
article was to examine the three specialist
roles in an elementary school and delve more
deeply into how the teachers in these posi-
tions served as teacher leaders. The district
in which the school was located referred to
these roles as instructional support specialists.
The district designed the roles so that all per-
formed at least the functions of instructional
specialist, curriculum specialist, resource
provider, mentor, and learning facilitator
(Killion & Harrison, 2017). Each instruction-
al support specialist differed by focusing on a
student type: students with dyslexia, English
language learners (ELLs), or gifted students.
The study’s research question was, “How do
these instructional support specialists serve as
teacher leaders in their school?” The findings
are significant—they suggest that the role of
instructional support specialist may be ideal
for teachers whose careers have plateaued
and who are seeking leadership opportunities.

The descriptions of these teachers’ work may
inform others who are interested in teacher
leadership at the elementary school level.

Conceptual Framework
The theory of distributed leadership

serves as the conceptual framework for the
study (Spillane, 2006). According to this
theory, leadership is distributed or shared
among people in an organization. Rather
than one person acting as leader, multiple
people carry out leadership functions in
the organization simultaneously (Lambert,
2003). People think and work collectively in
a web-like structure and alternate between
serving as leaders and as followers. The con-
text and organic nature of the work dictate
how people interact and lead.

Review of Literature
The study draws on the scholarship re-

garding teacher leadership in three fields:
reading specialists, ESL specialists, and
gifted specialists. Two issues arose during
the review. First, some articles focused
only on leadership and did not mention the
specific phrase teacher leadership. These
general articles on leadership were includ-
ed in the review because teachers in the
articles held leadership positions. Second,
nomenclature caused problems. Scholars in
each field use different titles when referring
to the specialists, as explained in the fol-
lowing discussion. Articles were included if
they focused on the essence of the specialist
role, regardless of terminology.

Reading Specialists
Educators use four titles when referring

to reading specialists (Bean et al., 2015). The
first is literacy or instructional coach. This
specialist works directly with teachers, observ-
ing them in the classroom and recommending
ways to improve their reading instruction. The
literacy coach provides instructional resources

Teacher Leadership In An Elementary School / 203

to teachers, facilitates professional develop-
ment, and assists school administrators. The
second title is the reading teacher or reading
interventionist. This specialist assesses stu-
dents’ reading abilities, analyzes data from as-
sessments, and uses the data to design specific
instruction for struggling readers. The reading
supervisor, the third title, coordinates school-
or district-wide reading programs, develops
curricula, and supports teachers by providing
instructional resources and professional devel-
opment. The fourth title, the reading or literacy
specialist, fulfills all roles mentioned in the
three previous titles.

In 2010, the International Literacy Asso-
ciation (ILA) developed a set of professional
standards codifying a reading specialist’s
knowledge in six areas: foundational knowl-
edge, curriculum and instruction, assessment
and evaluation, diversity, literate environ-
ment, and professional learning and leader-
ship. According to the ILA, reading specialists
are leaders because they serve as resources to
others, facilitate professional development,
and coordinate school-wide literacy programs
(Bean, Dagen, Ippolito, & Kern, 2018; Kern,
2011; Lipp, 2017). The ILA also said that
reading specialists lead the school or district’s
P–12 reading program and the school’s entire
literacy program, involving teachers from all
subject areas (Parsons, 2018).

Reading specialists lead by completing
instructional and non-instructional duties.
They teach and assess students, analyze data
generated from assessments, and modify in-
struction based on assessment results (Bean,
2015; Bean et al., 2015). With colleagues,
they develop curricula, plan lessons, coach
peers, and facilitate professional development
activities (Ginsburg, 2012; Steinbacher-Reed
& Powers, 2011). Finally, they interact with
parents and supervise paraprofessionals who
work alongside teachers in classrooms (Gal-
loway & Lesaux, 2014; Jones, Barksdale,
Triplett, Potts, & Lalik, 2010).

ESL Specialists
Educators use several terms when refer-

ring to the person who works with ELLs, i.e.,
ESL specialist, ESL facilitator, and language
acquisition specialist (Russell, 2012; Smith,
2008). The title ESL specialist is generally
used in schools employing a pullout model
whereby students leave their homeroom and
receive specialized ESL instruction in an-
other room for a set amount of time (Bell &
Baecher, 2012).

TESOL International Association adopt-
ed a set of professional standards for the title
ESL specialist in 2010. According to the stan-
dards, ESL specialists possess knowledge in
five areas: the language, the sociocultural
context of ELLs, planning and implementing
instruction, assessment and evaluation, and
professionalism and leadership. The leader-
ship standard states that leaders “collaborate
with other educators, know policies and leg-
islation and the rights of ELLs, advocate for
ELLs and their families, engage in self-as-
sessment and reflection, pursue continuous
professional development, and hone their
teaching practice through supervised teach-
ing” (TESOL, 2019, p. 11).

ESL specialists generally are the leaders
of the school’s ESL program. They set the
program’s vision and manage day-to-day
operations (Abraham & Chumley, 1994).
They use their knowledge of content, culture,
language, and pedagogy, and their communi-
cation skills, to create organizational condi-
tions that support ELLs (McGee, Haworth,
& MacIntyre, 2015). They exhibit courage to
overcome obstacles and a desire to cultivate
trust and respect among the program’s stake-
holders (Greenier & Whitehead, 2015).

ESL specialists coordinate testing. They
administer language assessments, interpret
results, maintain accurate records, and place
ELLs in optimal learning environments
(Abraham & Chumley, 1994; McGee, Ha-
worth, & MacIntyre, 2015). They also help

204 / Education Vol. 141 No. 4

colleagues understand the results of student
assessments (Bell & Baecher, 2012).

ESL specialists collaborate with col-
leagues (Martin-Beltran & Peercy, 2014).
They serve as instructional resources for
teachers, offer advice, and encourage empa-
thy with ELLs (Smith, 2008). They provide
professional development through informal
conversations and formal trainings (Baecher,
2012). They know how to tailor professional
development for specific grade levels and for
teachers’ experience levels. For new teachers,
they model lessons on language acquisition
strategies and recommend ways to improve
instruction (Dove & Honigsfeld, 2010; Von
Esch, 2013). For experienced teachers, they
coach, co-teach, and consult (Russell, 2012).
As professional developers they strive to ex-
pand teachers’ knowledge base for teaching
linguistically diverse students and increase
ELLs’ learning (Dove & Honigsfeld, 2010).

ESL specialists work with other stake-
holders in the school, assisting administrators
in oversight of the ESL program (Von Esch,
2013), formulation of district policy (Dove
& Honigsfeld, 2010), and procurement of
resources through grants (Russell, 2012). Fi-
nally, ESL specialists form partnerships with
parents and community members to build
programs that are responsive to and respectful
of ELLs (Hernandez & Soloroza, 2009).

Gifted Specialists
Scholars use two terms when describing

teachers who specialize in gifted education. A
gifted coordinator oversees the development,
supervision, and implementation of programs
for gifted students and generally operates
from the school district’s central office
(Farrell, 2016). The second term, a gifted
specialist, is a teacher of gifted students in
a school who provides services through pull-
out programs, in self-contained classrooms,
or via consultation working alongside teach-
ers (Schroth, 2007). The gifted coordinator

and the gifted specialist are sometimes the
only district employees who have formal
in-depth training on gifted students’ unique
cognitive and affective learning needs (Reis
& Renzulli, 2010).

In 2013, the National Association for Gift-
ed Children and the Council for Exceptional
Children developed professional standards
outlining what gifted specialists do. Accord-
ing to the standards, gifted specialists possess
knowledge in seven areas: learner develop-
ment and individual learning differences,
learning environments, curricular content
knowledge, assessment, instructional plan-
ning and strategies, professional learning and
ethical practice, and collaboration. Although
the term leadership does not appear in the
standards, some teacher leadership skills,
such as advocating, mentoring, and collabo-
rating, are mentioned in standards 6 and 7. In
her analysis of the standards, Vidergor (2015)
states that leadership is “overarching and cov-
ers all standards” (p. 64).

Gifted specialists lead by simultaneously
fulfilling instructional and administrative
functions that contribute to the school’s over-
all vision (Vidergor, 2015). In the instruction-
al capacity, gifted specialists assess students’
learning needs, develop personalized learning
plans for students, and monitor the comple-
tion of the plans. The specialists advocate so
gifted students receive appropriate support
and recognition.

Furthermore, gifted specialists lead fellow
teachers. They understand best practices for
teaching gifted students and exemplify these
practices in their own instruction (Vidergor,
2015). They know how to differentiate the
curriculum and deliver instruction that fosters
higher-order thinking (Van Tassel-Baska &
Stambaugh, 2006). Because gifted specialists
clearly understand effective teaching, they
can mentor colleagues to develop lessons
and supplemental activities with the depth
and complexity appropriate for students who

Teacher Leadership In An Elementary School / 205

master information quickly (Farrell, 2016).
Administratively, gifted specialists work

closely with principals, sometimes serving
as members of the school’s leadership staff
(Vidergor, 2015). Gifted specialists and ad-
ministrators oversee the implementation of
school-wide gifted programs and develop
policy for managing the programs (Best, Cra-
ven, & West, 2008). Finally, gifted specialists
raise funds to supplement the programs, serve
as liaison to parents and the community, and
dispel myths commonly held by the public
about gifted education (Van Tassel-Baska, &
Stambaugh, 2006).

Methods
This descriptive multiple case study

examined three teacher leaders who served
as instructional support specialists in an
elementary school. Case study methodolo-
gy is ideal when studying a complex social
phenomenon in depth (Yin, 2018). For this
study, the unit of analysis was an instruction-
al support specialist.

Setting
The three participants taught in the

same elementary school in Eanes Indepen-
dent School District (ISD) (real name), a
high-performing district located in the south-
western part of Austin, Texas. The school is
one of six elementary schools in the district.
According to the latest available data on
the district’s website, 569 students attend-
ed kindergarten through fifth grade during
the 2018–2019 academic year. Student de-
mographics were 0.5% African American,
15.5% Asian, 10.2% Hispanic, 5.3% Two or
More Races, and 68.5% White. The state rat-
ed the school as exemplary, based on student
accountability measures.

The school provided extra support to
students receiving special services through a
pullout program called W.I.N. Time (What I
Need Time). During W.I.N. Time, students

left their homeroom class and worked for 45
minutes four to five times per week in small
groups with a teacher who specialized in ei-
ther dyslexia, ESL, or gifted education. The
district referred to these teachers as instruc-
tional support specialists. Of the 569 students
in the school, 59 (10.3%) worked with the
reading specialist, 19 (3.3%) with the ESL
specialist, and 78 (13.7%) with the gifted
specialist. There are four reading specialists
at the school. This study focuses on only one
of the reading specialists.

Participants
Amy (all participants’ names are pseud-

onyms) served as the reading specialist and
the team leader of instructional support
specialists. After completing her student
teaching 16 years ago, she was hired at this
school, taught first grade for eleven years
and then applied for the reading specialist
position when it became available. She
wanted to help students with dyslexia. She
has held the reading specialist position for
the past five years. The school asks her to fo-
cus on students with dyslexia, although some
students in the school have other reading
difficulties. Homeroom teachers assist those
students. Amy took undergraduate reading
courses as part of her university-based teach-
er preparation program, and later returned to
university and completed several advanced
reading courses as part of her master’s de-
gree in elementary education. Since becom-
ing a specialist, she has completed several
commercially available professional devel-
opment workshops on dyslexia.

Carol, the second participant, taught ESL
in a nearby district for 13 years before secur-
ing the ESL specialist position at this school.
She was a native speaker of Spanish and had
been labeled ELL as a child. She has served
in her current capacity for the past 15 years.
Several years ago, her colleagues named her
Teacher of the Year. As an undergraduate

206 / Education Vol. 141 No. 4

student, she took specific courses that pre-
pared her to teach ESL. Since becoming a
specialist, she has earned her master’s degree
in elementary education, and she regularly
attends workshops on ESL hosted by the state.

Susan, the third participant, taught all
elementary grade levels in several districts
in the area and in another Texas city for 12
years. She applied at the school in order
to live near her parents. For the next nine
years, she primarily taught first grade. She
had first interested in gifted education after
taking several workshops on the topic early
in her career. She later returned to university
and studied gifted education as part of her
master’s degree in elementary education.
When the position for the gifted specialist
became available three years ago, she ap-
plied because she wanted to work with gifted
students at all grade levels. Since becoming
a specialist, she has attended multiple work-
shops on gifted education.

Table 1. Overview of the Participants

Amy Carol Susan

Specialty Reading ESL Gifted

Years in Teaching 16 28 24

Years at the School 16 15 12

Years as a Specialist 5 15 3

Gender Female Female Female

Race/Ethnicity White Hispanic White

Researcher’s Positionality
All three participants graduated from a

specialized master’s degree program called
Partnership in Teacher Excellence Program
(PTEP). Administrators in Eanes ISD and
Texas State University co-constructed the
program to help teachers in the district
become subject-area experts and teacher
leaders (Bond, Goodwin, & Summers,
2013). As a faculty member in PTEP, I had
taught the three participants in my teacher

leadership course. Amy and Carol complet-
ed the course in 2008, and Susan completed
it in 2011. Over the years, we have stayed in
contact with each other. After PTEP ended
in 2017, I was curious to learn more about
how these graduates were serving as teach-
er leaders. I conducted this study in 2020
during my sabbatical.

Data Sources, Analysis, and
Trustworthiness Criteria

After securing permission from the Institu-
tional Review Board of Eanes ISD and at Texas
State University, I contacted the three teachers
and asked them to participate in the study. I
purposely chose them because they were my
former students and were instructional support
specialists in the same elementary school. After
they consented, I conducted an hour-long focus
group interview with all three participants in
the school’s library. I chose the focus group
interview approach because Amy and Carol
had taken my teacher leadership course twelve
years ago and Susan had taken it nine years ago,
and I thought a group discussion would help
refresh their memories of the master’s degree
program and the teacher leadership course.
Questions included the following: Which parts
of PTEP did you find meaningful as a teacher?
What did you learn about teacher leadership
during my course? Which of the following top-
ics did you find useful: professional learning
communities, peer coaching, mentoring, action
research, advocacy? Why?

I then scheduled an individual
semi-structured interview with each par-
ticipant. These hour-long interviews were
conducted either in person in the teacher’s
room at school or online via videoconfer-
encing to gather more in-depth information
about each participant and her understand-
ing of teacher leadership. Questions includ-
ed the following: What are some key events
in your professional biography? What is
your understanding of teacher leadership?

Teacher Leadership In An Elementary School / 207

What are some ways that you are currently
serving as a leader? What are some ways
that you want to lead in the future?

I audiotaped the interviews and transcribed
them verbatim myself. To analyze the data, I
followed the constant-comparative method
(Corbin & Strauss, 2015). I first read each
transcript and identified codes. Then, I reread
the transcripts, confirming existing codes
and noting any new ones. Next, I conducted
a cross-case analysis by organizing the codes
into matrices and comparing the codes in all
three cases (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña,
2020). Emerging from this iterative process
of analysis were themes that appeared in all
three cases.

To establish trustworthiness, I member
checked my findings with each participant to
ensure that my understanding was accurate
(Denzin & Lincoln, 2018). I also triangulat-
ed the data and included only themes that
appeared in all three cases. Finally, I main-
tained a reflexive journal that allowed me to
record my preliminary analyses and reflec-
tions while collecting the data (Merriam &
Tisdale, 2016).

Findings
This study examined three teacher leaders

who served as instructional support special-
ists in an elementary school. An analysis of
the data yielded four themes that emerged
from all three cases. The instructional sup-
port specialists taught and assessed students,
collaborated with teachers, partnered with
parents, and assisted administrators.

Theme One: Teaching and Assessing
Students

The teacher leaders spent most of their
time with students. Throughout the year
they formally assessed students to determine
placement in the program. They also prepared
students for the state’s required high-stakes
assessments. Carol, the ESL specialist, noted,

“The children are formally tested twice each
year. They are tested for language proficiency,
which is a lot of reading, and they are tested
on the STAAR [the state’s official assess-
ment for content knowledge].” As part of
her responsibilities, she coached students on
test-taking strategies. She continued, “Stu-
dents have to speak into a computer and be
taped. The questions are complex and often
include three parts. Some of the students are
ready, and some of them are not.”

Although assessment was important,
teaching was even more so. The teacher lead-
ers spent most of their time each day teaching
students. The school implemented a pullout
program called W.I.N. Time (What I Need
Time) that allowed the instructional support
specialists to work with children requiring spe-
cial services for 45 minutes four to five times
per week. Children with dyslexia, ELLs, and
gifted students worked with their designated
teacher. Susan, the gifted specialist, shared an
example describing how she utilized W.I.N.
Time. She recently taught an interdisciplin-
ary unit on archeology in which the gifted
students studied ancient cultures and cultural
universals. By completing various activities
in the unit, the children developed their cre-
ativity and problem-solving skills. For the
culminating project, the students used their
new content knowledge and thinking skills to
create a new culture.

In addition to assessment and instruc-
tion, the teacher leaders taught their students
self-advocacy skills that they could use now
and in the future. Amy, the reading specialist,
explained, “My students are very comfort-
able with me because I teach them in small
groups and because I’ve taught some of them
for three or four years. We know each other
really well.” She used her close profession-
al relationship with the students to have
frank conversations about learning. She told
them, “I’m not going to always be there with
you.” Hoping to be proactive, she taught

208 / Education Vol. 141 No. 4

her students ways to ask future teachers to
integrate teaching strategies that would help
when their learning needs were not being met.

Theme Two: Collaborating with Teachers
The teacher leaders mentored and sup-

ported colleagues in the school. They showed
fellow teachers how to differentiate the cur-
riculum and instruction for students receiving
special services. Susan, the gifted specialist,
once modeled a demonstration lesson for a
fifth grade teacher who wanted to see how sci-
ence concepts were taught in first grade. Susan
explained, “She was interested in the teaching
approaches at the primary level and in learning
what … first grade teachers do and how [they]
work with students of that age.” After the les-
son, Susan and the colleague debriefed and
shared their insights. Through the process, both
increased their pedagogical knowledge and
developed a stronger professional relationship.

The teacher leaders also located resources
for colleagues. Amy, the reading specialist,
commented, “I try to stay aware of current
trends in education and know what resources
are available. There are so many technology
tools and different methods of instruction.
You need someone to filter the good ones
from the bad ones.” She piloted newly found
resources in her own lessons and then shared
the effective ones with teammates. She add-
ed, “There are so many good teachers on our
campus. I learn from them, and they learn
from me. It’s a back-and-forth thing among
us teachers. We’re always sharing ideas.”

In addition to helping with the curricu-
lum and the instruction, the teacher leaders
educated colleagues on assessments. Carol,
the ESL specialist, explained, “I give the
teachers in the school the ins and outs of
how to test the students at the end of the
year. I serve as a support.” During the year,
teachers emailed her asking for help, so she
distributed reminders about how to instruct
and assess ELLs. Carol’s mentoring was

not limited to teachers in the school; she
worked with colleagues at other elementary
and middle schools in the district. When new
teachers were hired, she invited them to her
campus and explained how to administer
the state tests. She even modeled lessons so
that these colleagues could observe firsthand
how to teach specific language skills.

Theme Three: Partnering with Parents
The teacher leaders served as official

liaisons between the school and the commu-
nity by communicating information to parents
about the programs. Susan regularly received
inquiries from parents about the admission
process to the gifted program. They wanted to
know the testing procedures and the criteria
for admission. She noted, “The school puts
me in charge of all communication about the
program.” It was her responsibility to respond
to parents’ questions.

Carol also spent time communicating key
information to the ELLs’ parents. She ex-
plained, “We have a Parents’ Night Meeting,
when we tell them how the students qualify,
what the expectations are, which tests they
will be taking, and how we will support
their child. I let the parents know that I offer
free ESL classes after school to my students
because they need more time practicing the
language. We teachers are here for whatever
they need.”

When Amy interacted with parents of stu-
dents with dyslexia, she affirmed the import-
ant support the parents themselves provided
in educating their children. As part of the
screening process, she interviewed parents
to learn more about the child’s behavior at
home. She asked questions to determine if
there was a family history of dyslexia and if
the child felt anxious about school. To pro-
mote open communication among parents,
students, and teachers throughout the school
year, Amy regularly posted useful tips about
reading on her blog and social media account.

Teacher Leadership In An Elementary School / 209

Theme Four: Assisting Administrators
The teacher leaders worked closely with

school administrators. In addition to serving
as the reading specialist, Amy served as the
leader of the instructional support specialist
team, which included herself, Susan, Carol,
and the special education teacher. As the team
leader, Amy interacted regularly with the prin-
cipal. When she received emails from him,
she shared the key information with the other
instructional support specialists. She also
represented the team at the principal’s cam-
pus leadership meetings at which she and the
grade-level team leaders made school-wide
decisions, such as setting the school’s daily
bell schedule and developing the yearlong
calendar of events. Her efforts during these
meetings helped to ensure that students who
worked with instructional support specialists
received the best possible education.

On behalf of the principal, the teacher
leaders monitored the school’s compliance
with all official district and state require-
ments. Carol recalled a problem that arose last
year regarding the state-required training that
all teachers had to receive before administer-
ing the ESL tests. The principal wanted the
teachers to complete the 45-minute training
before the school day began, but Carol wor-
ried that some teachers might not finish in the
allotted time, and then some children might
be unsupervised in their classrooms. To solve
the problem, Carol, with the principal’s per-
mission, contacted the district-level ESL su-
pervisor and secured substitute teachers who
rotated through classrooms monitoring stu-
dents while Carol trained individual teachers.

The teacher leaders implemented school-
wide projects during the school year. Susan,
the gifted specialist, oversaw two projects
during the fall semester: Cardboard Creativ-
ity Day and Dot Day. For Cardboard Day,
children used their innovative thinking and
problem-solving skills to invent unique items
made solely from cardboard boxes. For Dot

Day, children used their creative thinking
skills to draw pictures made only with ink
dots from a pen. The principal asked Susan to
lead these special events and provide teachers
and parents with pertinent information.

Discussion
The findings from this investigation af-

firmed existing research and added new infor-
mation to the scholarship on teacher leaders
serving as specialists in their elementary
schools. The emerging themes corresponded
to the four stakeholder groups with whom the
teacher leaders worked: students, teachers,
parents, and administrators.

Findings Found in Previous Research
The teacher leaders’ job duties fell into

the two broad categories of instructional and
administrative responsibilities. The teacher
leaders in the study above did not leave the
classroom and become administrators; in-
stead, they remained in the classroom working
directly with students. In their review of the
literature on teacher leadership, Wenner and
Campbell (2017) claimed that two key defin-
ing characteristics of teacher leaders are their
classroom presence and focus on children.

Besides instructing students, the teacher
leaders above taught colleagues by providing
professional development through both infor-
mal conversations and formal workshops. The
teacher leaders used the extensive specialized
knowledge that they gained from teaching
these groups of students and from completing
advanced coursework at the university. Bae-
cher (2012) found that teacher leaders who
were reading specialists were well-suited to
provide professional development because
they possessed an expertise in reading. Sim-
ilarly, Dove and Honigfeld (2010) discovered
that teacher leaders with expertise in sec-
ond-language acquisition could teach demon-
stration lessons for colleagues and model how
to adapt instructional strategies for ELLs.

210 / Education Vol. 141 No. 4

In terms of administrative responsibilities,
the teacher leaders above assisted principals
in the management of their respective pro-
grams for dyslexic students, ELLs, and gift-
ed students. Kern (2011) found that teacher
leaders possessed the requisite knowledge
and skills to establish a vision for a reading
program and coordinate its day-to-day opera-
tions. Similarly, Von Esch (2013) discovered
that teacher leaders could do the same for
their ESL programs.

Furthermore, the teacher leaders’ ad-
ministrative duties included cultivating
professional relationships with parents and
community members. The teacher leaders
above served as bridges between the school
and community by fielding questions and ed-
ucating the public about their programs. Her-
nandez and Solorza (2009) determined that
teacher leaders who were ESL specialists
were skillful in earning the trust and respect
of people outside the school.

New Findings and Implications
Three findings of this study appear to add

to the scholarly literature. First, the teacher
leaders’ ability to communicate is important.
Previous scholars have identified the skill of
communication (Hernandez & Solorza, 2009);
however, this study shows that teacher leaders
communicate in many ways. Communication
was a prominent strand running through all
themes. The teacher leaders communicated
with students through their instruction and
assessments and with colleagues through in-
formal conversations and formal workshops.
Serving an external function for the school,
teacher leaders communicated regularly
with parents through emails, phone calls,
and in-person meetings. The teacher leaders
communicated with the principal through
meetings and emails. Communication was
important for the viability of their programs.

Second, the teacher leaders as specialists
helped the school to comply with district and

state regulations. These teacher leaders kept
updated on the latest changes by participat-
ing in ongoing professional development
and by meeting with experts. The teacher
leaders as specialists then took action to
ensure that the school satisfied all state and
district requirements. In essence, they served
as proxies for the principal—they were ad-
ditional school professionals who cared and
assumed responsibility for the reading, ESL,
and gifted programs.

Third, the study examined all three spe-
cialists as a group. No previous studies appear
to have done this. The findings indicate that
all three specialists performed similar func-
tions: assessing and teaching students, men-
toring colleagues, assisting administrators,
and working with parents. For teachers inter-
ested in leading, this study indicates that all
instructional support specialists’ job respon-
sibilities have certain similarities. The study
indicates how administrators might develop
these instructional support specialist roles in
their schools and perhaps apply the findings
from this study to other student populations,
such as students in special education or at-risk
students. In short, the findings may act as a
template for others to use.

The findings have implications for
schools interested in creating teacher lead-
ership roles for teachers. This school de-
veloped leadership roles for teachers on its
campus who have expertise in a particular
area, who want to remain in the classroom
with students, and who want to contrib-
ute to the school in meaningful ways. The
teacher leaders have no interest in super-
vising or evaluating colleagues. Instead,
they coordinate student assessment, provide
professional development to colleagues
through workshops and peer coaching, and
liaise with parents, community members,
and administrators. This approach expands
teachers’ influence and allows them to con-
tribute meaningfully to the school. In short,

Teacher Leadership In An Elementary School / 211

this approach actualizes the essence of dis-
tributed leadership theory, whereby multiple
teachers become experts in different areas,
step forward, and lead. By allowing teachers
to lead in these areas, the principal becomes
free to focus on other school issues.

Limitations and Areas for Future
Research

This case study attempted to describe
how these instructional support specialists
were serving as teacher leaders. The concept
of teacher leadership was viewed from one
perspective, namely that of the instructional
support specialist. This narrowing created
a limitation of the study and merits future
research. To gain a fuller understanding of
teacher leadership in future studies, inter-
views with the principal, other teachers, and
students in the school would provide a more
comprehensive view of the instructional sup-
port specialists’ leadership.

The data also indicate that the teacher
leaders were teaching children; guiding them
and their parents through the various steps of
the reading, ESL, and gifted programs; men-
toring teachers to differentiate their instruc-
tion; and assisting the principal in monitoring
the school’s compliance with district and state
requirements. However, the data were unclear
about the degree to which these teachers were
making a difference. Therefore, two questions
deserve future consideration: To what degree
are these teacher leaders having an impact on
their school? In which areas are these teacher
leaders having the greatest impact?

Conclusion
Several conclusions emerge based on the

findings of this study. The reading specialist,
the ESL specialist, and the gifted specialist,
known as instructional support specialists in
this elementary school, are serving as teacher
leaders. These teachers have remained in the
classroom instructing students while assum-
ing additional responsibilities beyond the
classroom to benefit their school (Wenner &
Campbell, 2017). As the theory of distributed
leadership posits, they are doing their part to
lead specific programs in the school (Spillane,
2006). Danielson (2005), a leading scholar on
teacher leadership, claimed, “Every school
and school district is stronger if and when it
cultivates teachers as leaders; teacher leaders
form the backbone of a school. They are go-to
people; they understand the workings of the
institution” (p. 37). Based on the findings of
this study, instructional support specialists
contribute greatly to their school through their
leadership actions with students, teachers,
parents, and administrators.

212 / Education Vol. 141 No. 4

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