University of South Florida

College of Education

Tampa | St. Petersburg | Sarasota-Manatee


Jennifer Rinck presenting during a teacher leadership class session.

Jennifer Rinck, PhD, supervisor of professional development for Pasco County Schools, welcomes teachers to the USF Teacher Leader Academy, a professional development program hosted in partnership with the Pasco Professional Development School Innovation Network.

What does it mean to be a teacher leader?

Meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student population is a challenge that requires the collaboration of not only school administrators and educational experts, but also teachers.

As professionals serving on the front lines of student learning, educators are encouraged to take on teacher leadership as a practice to create meaningful change on their school campuses.

We sat down with USF faculty member Jennifer Jacobs, PhD, associate professor and coordinator of USF’s Teacher Leadership for Student Learning Graduate Certificate, to learn more about what it means to be a teacher leader and the difference these leaders can make in today’s schools.

Teacher leaders lead both within and beyond their classrooms

When you google “teacher leadership,” you’ll find the term defined as educators who teach, but who also take on additional roles outside the classroom with the goal of improving school’s performance. While this is an accurate description, Dr. Jacobs says teacher leaders are characterized by their ability to lead others in every role they hold at their school.

"Teacher leadership is leading within and beyond the classroom. Teachers can be leaders as they model best practices. Other teachers are watching what they’re doing, so really, it’s this idea that they’re influencers.”

“Teacher leadership is leading within and beyond the classroom,” Dr. Jacobs said. “Teachers can be leaders as they model best practices. Other teachers are watching what they’re doing, so really, it’s this idea that they’re influencers.”

Though school principals take on much of a school’s administrative responsibilities, this doesn’t mean that teachers can’t participate in shared leadership. Oftentimes, Dr. Jacobs shared, information from a principal resonates more when it’s communicated from one educator to another.

Teacher leaders know how to work effectively with adults

Dr. Jacobs says one of the biggest misconceptions educators have about teacher leadership is that many believe their colleagues should be led in the same way that they lead their students. The skills educators acquire during their years of practice in the classroom are valuable, but they aren’t always transferable.

“Part of developing as a teacher leader is learning, ‘how do I work with adults?’ and that’s a different skill set,” Dr. Jacobs said.

Learning how to communicate effectively, take initiative and share your expertise are among a few skills that distinguish teacher leaders. In USF’s Teacher Leadership Program, Dr. Jacobs says there’s an emphasis placed on how educators can build these qualities and put them into practice.

“We talk a lot about coaching other teachers, leading professional development and learning how to research their own practices because a lot of teacher leadership is about empowering teachers,” Dr. Jacobs said. “Part of (the program) is also helping them understand different processes and practices they can utilize to influence that change in their school.”

Teacher leaders are change agents in their schools

There’s no doubt that the role of a school principal is essential, but you don’t have to be an administrator to make an impact at your school. As Dr. Jacobs explained, it’s important for educators to understand what it means to be a leader and how they can use their talents and expertise to lead others.

To help prepare teachers for this work, USF’s graduate certificate program gives participants opportunities to complete identity development exercises that help them to build confidence in facilitating projects in their school campuses.

The Teachers helping Teachers initiative at Wesley Chapel High School, Dr. Jacobs shared, is one example of how a few educators in the program were able to bring forth meaningful impact.

“The purpose of this group was to create a context where teachers felt comfortable expressing their questions and concerns,” Dr. Jacobs said. “Over the years, teacher leaders have found that the group provides procedural, emotional and conceptual mentoring. Within exit surveys they found that teacher empowerment increased, as well as support from teacher to teacher.”

Are you passionate about creating change in your school as a teacher leader? Learn more about USF’s Teacher Leadership for Student Learning graduate certificate by visiting our website or by contacting Dr. Jennifer Jacobs at

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About the USF College of Education:

As the home for more than 2,200 students and 130 faculty members across three campuses, the University of South Florida College of Education offers state-of-the-art teacher training and collegial graduate studies designed to empower educational leaders. Our college is nationally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and our educator preparation programs are fully approved by the Florida Department of Education.