Assignment: Course Project Part 5: Program-Related Social Change Activities


Throughout your academic journey at Walden University, you have been encouraged to make a difference in your field and in the world around you by engaging in positive social change. Consider for a moment the vision and impact of Walden’s Global Days of Service. This movement encourages all members of Walden’s global community to volunteer in their local communities and serve neighbors in need. How will you take the specialization knowledge you have gained throughout your program to serve your community?

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For Part 5 of your Course Project, you will develop a proposal for a community service project related to the goals and needs of the program you selected for your Course Project.

Important Note: You will share your ideas for this Assignment in the Module 5 Discussion 2 Forum. Be sure to read through the instructions for this Assignment and Discussion 2 prior to beginning work this week.

To prepare:

  • Review the Walden University sites regarding social change and Walden’s Global Days of Service. Consider the many meaningful opportunities found in early childhood programs, K–12 schools, and communities for enacting social change.
  • Think about the program you selected for your Course Project and how one or more of the program’s goals lend itself to enacting social change. What might you do to integrate the goals and needs of the program into a community service project for one of Walden’s Global Days of Service?
  • Review the Callahan et al. (2012) paper and complete the interactive media activity, Web Map for Analyzing Social Change Position, for your proposed community service project. This activity asks you to consider the extent to which your project incorporates each feature outlined by Callahan et al. What features are more prominent than others on the web for your proposed project? What, if anything, might you do to incorporate more of the features that are less incorporated?

Part 5: Program-Related Social Change Activities

Write a 2- to 3-page proposal for a Walden Global Days of Service project related to the goals and needs of the program you selected for your Course Project. In your proposal, be sure to explain:

  • The specific activities you would do to influence social change in your selected program and its community. Be sure to align your activities with Walden’s mission and vision for social change, and explain how they work to support the goals and needs of the program.
  • Which of the eight features of social change described by Callahan et al. (2012) are most prominent in your proposed project. Be sure to explain why those features are more prominent than others.
  • The steps you would need to take in your educational setting or community to implement your activity.
  • How your activities would demonstrate insights with regard to educational, community, and social change you have gained as a result of the

    Learning Resources

    and learning experiences in this course.

  • How, as a Walden graduate, you will continue to be an agent of social change in the future.
  • Parts 1–5 of your Course Project as one cohesive APA-formatted paper. Include the PDF of the social change features map you created for Part 5 of your course project with your submission.

    For this Assignment, and all scholarly writing in this course and throughout your program, you will be required to use APA style and provide reference citations.

    Learning Resources

    Note: To access this module’s required library resources, please click on the link to the Course Readings List, found in the Course Materials section of your Syllabus.

    Required Readings

    Fullan, M. (2016). The new meaning of educational change (5th ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

    • Chapter 13, “The Future of Educational Change” (pp. 258–265)

    Callahan, D., Wilson, E., Birdsall, I., Estabrook-Fishinghawk, B., Carson, G., Ford, S., . . . Yob, I. (2012). Expanding our understanding of social change: A report from the definition task force of the HLC Special Emphasis Project [White paper]. Minneapolis, MN: Walden University.

    Social Change Web Maps [Diagrams]. Adapted from Expanding our understanding of social change, by ​Callahan, D., Wilson, E., Birdsall, I., Estabrook-Fishinghawk, B., Carson, G., Ford, S., Ouzts, K., & Yob, I., 2008. Baltimore, MD: Walden University. Adapted with permission of Walden University.

    Cooper, K. S., Stanulis, R. N., Brondyk, S. K. Hamilton, E. R., Macaluso, M., & Meier, J. A. (2016). The teacher leadership process: Attempting change within embedded systems. Journal of Educational Change, 17(1), 85–113. doi:10.1007/s10833-015-9262-4

    Walden University. (2016). Global days of service. Retrieved from

    Walden University. (2017b). Who we are. Retrieved from

    Review this site for information on Walden University’s mission and vision and its focus on social change.

    Required Media

    Laureate Education (Producer). (2017b). Mapping social change [Interactive media]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

    of Social

    A Report From the
    Definition Task Force of the
    HLC Special Emphasis

    Darragh Callahan, Elizabeth Wilson, Ian Birdsall,
    Brooke Estabrook-Fishinghawk, Gary Carson,

    Stephanie Ford, Karen Ouzts, Iris Yob

    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 2

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    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 3

    Social change is defined broadly in terms of process and product to indicate that all kinds of

    social change activity are welcomed and encouraged at Walden. As faculty members, students,

    and alumni have indicated, even small acts can have large consequences, and many of these

    consequences are unpredictable. The charge given to the Definition Task Force was to expand

    the university’s definition of social change to provide more guidance for teaching, learning, and

    assessing the social change mission at Walden. To that end, the Task Force offers the following


    To bring about long-term solutions and promote lasting effects through the process of social

    change, the following features may need to be considered as appropriate to the context and

    purposes of each program. The features are grouped under the headings Knowledge, Skills, and

    Attitudes, to encourage a holistic approach to preparing learners for social change. The

    groupings, however, are defined by soft boundaries because each feature belongs primarily to

    one group but may share some of the qualities of the other groups.

    A. Knowledge

    1. Scholarship

    The scholar-practitioner model is particularly suited to social change because knowledge

    applied to real-life situations is a scholar-practitioner’s goal. In the scholarly role, the

    scholar-practitioner engages in active learning, critical reflection, and inquiry into real-

    life dilemmas and possibilities. Careful study and research can reveal the causes and

    correlates of social problems and suggest solutions and opportunities for promoting


    2. Systems thinking

    Many of the issues addressed by social change are complex because there may be

    multiple causes and manifestations of the issue that require different responses at many

    levels. Systemic thinking is a technique for developing insights into challenging

    situations and complex subjects. It usually begins with analysis, which makes sense of a

    system by breaking it apart to see how the parts work together and influence each

    other. This may be followed by synthesis that aims to develop a set of responses that

    address the situation in a comprehensive way. In the Walden community, finding

    systemic solutions to challenging issues might be undertaken by multidisciplinary

    collaborations in which scholar-practitioners from a number of colleges work together

    to examine issues and propose multipronged responses.

    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 4

    3. Reflection

    Those working toward positive social change can enhance their effectiveness by

    reflecting on the experience. Reflection can be extrospective, that is, looking outward to

    review the short- and long-term outcomes of a project and its implications for the

    individuals, institutions, and communities with and for whom one is working. It can also

    be introspective, that is, looking inward to examine what has been learned from the

    process, including new insights into one’s motives, skills, knowledge, actions, and

    reactions. Self-reflection allows for the contemplation of one’s professional and

    personal development. Group reflection affords all stakeholders in a social change

    project (scholar-practitioners, community partners, policy-makers, and beneficiaries) an

    opportunity to process the experience and learn from each other. Reflection employs

    critical-thinking and analytical skills. It can be carried forward by questioning and self-

    inquiry and may depend on a willingness to see things from another’s perspective.

    While reflection needs to be honest, it should also be caring and supportive, examining

    strengths as well as weaknesses and successes as along with disappointments. While

    reflection may look to the past, its purpose is forward-looking—to make future social

    change activities more effective.

    B. Skills

    4. Practice

    In the practitioner role, the scholar-practitioner engages in the application of

    knowledge. Learning-by-doing, or experiential learning, has a long history of support

    and success in education because it can infuse and sometimes lead to deconstructing or

    constructing theoretical understandings within the realities of practical life in the

    student’s personal growth, profession, or community. By using recursive loops between

    scholarship and practice, both intellectual growth and better practice can occur—each

    informing the other. Not merely knowing about theories but actually testing theories in

    the context of everyday life is the foundation of a scholar-practitioner’s educational

    process and contribution to social change.

    5. Collaboration

    Given the complexity of many of the issues addressed in social change efforts,

    responsive action may be needed from many different sources. In these situations, the

    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 5

    social change agent may want to build working relationships with other entities

    including community leaders, service agencies, neighborhood coalitions, businesses,

    religious congregations, and other local institutions. Apart from these types of civic

    engagement, collaboration with scholars and practitioners in an array of professional

    fields may bring a variety of perspectives, research, and applied knowledge.

    Partnerships can unite the skills, knowledge, and energies needed to make a difference.

    The ability to build a team, combined with leadership, project management, conflict

    resolution, and communication skills, may be essential. A significant partner in social

    change enterprises is the primary beneficiary; this person has a personal knowledge and

    experience that can be invaluable in both analyzing a situation and proposing responses.

    The primary beneficiary may be one individual or someone representing the

    perspectives of a group of beneficiaries. Working collaboratively with primary

    beneficiaries can be mutually educative and rewarding.

    6. Advocacy

    Advocacy is a matter of raising consciousness or being the “voice” for someone, some

    group, or something that may or may not otherwise have a voice that can be heard. It

    may involve political engagement, but it may also be a matter of supporting others as

    they negotiate directly with the services and opportunities they need. In light of social

    change, advocacy more widely aims to influence not only political but also economic

    and social systems and institutions to protect and promote the dignity, health, safety,

    and rights of people. Advocacy for an issue often takes the form of education that aims

    to bring about a new understanding and awareness. Advocacy may also need to

    encompass mentoring activities to build confidence and self-reliance in those whose

    welfare is being promoted.

    7. Civic engagement

    Social change efforts can be supported and reflected in laws by policy-makers. Being

    aware of the channels for communicating with civic leaders and knowing how to

    effectively use those channels are often important when working for social change. All

    institutions and groups—not just government entities—have their own politics, that is, a

    prevailing mind-set, an internal structure, and channels of influence and power. Being

    able to incorporate and negotiate these politics in support of social change requires

    finesse and sensitivity. Understanding this before engaging with others can be helpful,

    whether these others are legislators, local agencies and institutions, professional

    associations, neighborhoods, ad hoc teams, or professional colleagues. Power

    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 6

    relationships also exist between those working for social change and those who are the

    primary beneficiaries. Mutual collaboration and power-sharing between the parties

    involved can empower all toward more lasting social change.

    C. Attitudes

    8. Humane ethics

    While a number of emotional effects may prompt one to engage in social change,

    including empathy, sympathy, guilt, a feeling of satisfaction, and so on, one’s ethical

    code can inform and direct one’s motivated engagement in social change. Humane

    ethics is a system of moral principles that guide human conduct with respect to the

    rightness and wrongness of certain actions. While personal codes of ethics may differ,

    an underlying, common code of a humane ethic is characterized by tenderness,

    compassion, sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed,

    and concern for the health of the environment in which we live.

    Analyzing Social Change

    Figure 1 below shows each of the features—scholarship, systemic thinking, reflection, practice,

    collaboration, advocacy, civic engagement, and humane ethics—on an axis ranging from 0 to 5.

    Each social change activity or project could be mapped onto the axes to show the extent to

    which it incorporates each feature. Joining the points along each axis produces a web for each

    activity, an example of which is shown in red.

    It is important to note that this tool is not intended to be an instrument to assess a particular

    social change activity. Some projects and activities will be appropriately strong in one or more

    areas but not necessarily in all. Rather, its purpose is to serve as a tool to analyze social change

    activities that occur at Walden. It may reveal areas where an activity might be enhanced, and

    importantly, it may reveal where the program for preparing students for social change might be


    Further, all kinds of social change activities are encouraged, given the range of interests,

    commitments, and opportunities for engagement among students, faculty members, and staff.

    Most, if not all, kinds of activity can be represented as a web. The purpose of the web analysis

    is ultimately to provide a tool to enlarge our vision of the range and features of social change

    that seeks long-term solutions and promotes lasting effects.

    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 7

    Figure 1. Web map showing each of the features.

    Below are some examples of web maps of social change activities based on reports by students, faculty

    members, and alumni in a recent research study: Perspectives on Social Change. Pseudonyms have been

    used throughout.

    Example No. 1. Bookcase Builders

    Tom is a Rotarian and undertakes a number of service projects in the community with other Rotarians.

    One such activity involves building bookcases. Some members of the club also volunteer with Habitat for

    Humanity, which provides housing for needy families. Another member has connections with the local

    school district and knew of a recent drive to improve the level of literacy in the community. Putting

    these together, the club decided to build bookcases for the Habitat for Humanity homes and, through

    the support of another club member who manages a bookstore, give each family a gift certificate to buy

    books for the children to put in the bookcase.

    This activity would certainly rate relatively high on Collaboration for the networking among Rotarians,

    the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the school district, and the local book store. It also represents

    a Humane Ethic in that it shows the responsiveness of this club to the need for these children to read

    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 8

    well for their future success in life. As a practice, this need is supported by implicit knowledge about the

    importance of motivating children and providing them with opportunities to read. so there should be a

    showing on the Practitioner axis. Figure 2 below shows how this project might be mapped.

    Figure 2. Web map of the bookcase builders project.

    If Tom and his fellow club members want to pursue this project further they might ask whether they

    may seek other possible partners for this endeavor, such as the reading tutors, the bookstore

    salespeople, the parents, and even the children themselves. Others brought into the program may

    contribute more Systemic Thinking to address the problem of illiteracy. The club members may also

    consider follow-up activities using other features like Advocacy with a particular focus on mentoring,

    Civic Engagement, or some Scholarly study of or research on the effectiveness of the project.

    Example No. 2. Basket-Weavers as Story-Tellers

    Arsi’s research took her to a remote and needy area of Jamaica, where many of the village women help

    support their families through weaving baskets for sale in the tourist areas. Using a qualitative approach,

    Arsi listened to and recorded the women’s stories of their lives in abject poverty, analyzed them for

    common themes, and presented her findings as her dissertation. The information in this dissertation

    could be invaluable to service agencies and others willing to work with these women to improve their


    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 9

    The project is high on the Scholar axis, especially because it is research into a real-life problem that

    needs informed solutions. It further exhibits significant Collaboration in that she established personal

    relationships with the women so that they could tell her their stories. It is also strong in the Humane

    Ethics dimension because it deals with real human need. Writing a dissertation also demands Reflection,

    particularly because it requires some discussion of the meaning of the findings and their possible

    implications. The dissertation ultimately enters the public domain and, as such, is a permanent voice for

    the women whose stories it shares (Advocacy). Figure 3 below illustrates this example.

    Figure 3. Web map of the basket-weavers as story-tellers project.

    Arsi successfully graduated in 2011. If she wanted to continue with the project, she might share her

    findings with policy-makers (Civic Engagement) and service providers, such as business people,

    educators, and healthcare workers (Systemic Thinking). If she could disseminate her work through

    publications and presentations, she would not only deepen her own understanding (Reflection) but

    more directly provide valuable information to service agencies and others to apply in working with and

    for these women (Practitioner).

    Example No. 3. The Monthly Giver

    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 10

    Many faculty members, students, and staff members sign up to make monthly donations to agencies,

    such as United Way, through automatic payroll deductions. Given their busy schedules and

    commitments, they look at this as making some kind of contribution to “the development of individuals,

    institutions, and societies.” Does such an activity count as social change? Figure 4 below is an attempt

    to map this activity.

    One of the benefits of the mapping tool is that it is inclusive of a wide range of possible engagements in

    social change. The monthly giver, like many others, is guided by a Humane Ethic and wants to act out of

    compassion and care for the distressed and needy. She also understands that the organization she is

    donating to is carefully managed, well informed, and handles donations responsibly, and she wants to

    do something practical to support it (Practitioner). She also knows that her donation, because it is

    combined with the donations of many others, can amount to a significant sum to support large-scale

    projects in the community (Collaboration).

    Figure 4. Web map of the monthly giver.

    Example No. 4. Global Day of Service Participant

    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 11

    During the annual Global Day of Service, Justin organized a small group of his co-workers to clean up the

    road entrance to the town. This meant gaining permission from the town clerk, recruiting willing

    workers, arranging for safety training, and equipping them with safety vests, gloves, and garbage bags.

    Justin works full-time and is undertaking his studies part-time. He is also the father of three, and his wife

    works full-time so he has a heavy load of responsibilities. He does not have a lot of spare time, but he

    has committed the time to organize and prepare for this 1-day volunteer clean-up event.

    Justin’s efforts are guided by an ethic of care for the environment (Humane Ethics) and are one means

    through which he can apply his studies on the importance of protecting the eco-system in a practical

    way (Practitioner). Partnering with the town clerk was mandatory in this case, but the Collaboration was

    important for the safety of his team, and his recruiting efforts among his co-workers was an extension of

    the Collaboration. In some senses, he served as an Advocate for the environment. The day following this

    activity, he posted some thoughts on what the experience meant to him and his co-workers in a class

    discussion forum (Reflection).

    Figure 5. Web map of a Global Day of Service participant’s activity.

    Example No. 5. Nurses for Women

    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 12

    Claire is a member of a nurse’s organization working for an urban community offering

    uncompensated services to more than 200,000 clients a year. One of her projects has involved

    hiring a number of nurses who are certified to perform sexual assault examinations; this

    expedites forensic examinations in pre-hospital agencies, such as emergency medical services

    and fire departments. As a result, law enforcement can work with the victims of domestic

    violence, abuse, or sexual assault on the spot and spare them the added trauma of going to an

    emergency room. The program has seen a record number of perpetrators put behind bars—but

    the work does not stop there. The organization helps the young women get back on their feet

    in a number of ways, including connecting them with “Suits for Success” so they are dressed

    suitably for job interviews, teaching them interview skills, getting them enrolled in school

    programs, and helping them with grants and jobs, so that they can put what happened to them

    as victims behind them.

    Claire has multiplied her individual efforts with an eye toward lasting change in a number of

    ways. She and her co-volunteers apply a systemic approach to addressing the needs of the

    victims of sexual abuse: helping them gain the confidence, skills, opportunities, financial

    support, and even the clothing to be successful in the job market so they can build success in

    their lives (Systemic Thinking). She has increased her personal effectiveness by connecting with

    other trained and certified nurses and with fire departments and emergency medical services

    (Collaboration). She seems to have been moved to action by a Humane Ethic and has found a

    way to use her skills and knowledge to help others (Practitioner).

    Expanding Our Understanding (July 2012) Page 13

    Figure 6. Web map of the nurses for women project.

    This is only a small sample of social change projects, but if it is representative, it is possible to

    discern some trends in social change activity at Walden. For instance, in the aggregate, Humane

    Ethics and Collaboration are strong features but Civic Engagement and Systemic Thinking are

    not. Such findings may be useful in determining whether all of the identified features should be

    supported and, if so, how they can be supported in the curriculum and through guidance

    offered by university leadership and students’ mentors.

    The teacher leadership process: Attempting change
    within embedded systems

    Kristy S. Cooper1 • Randi N. Stanulis1 •

    Susan K. Brondyk2 • Erica R. Hamilton3 •

    Michael Macaluso1 • Jessica A. Meier1

    Published online: 18 November 2015

    � Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

    Abstract This embedded case study examines the leadership practices of eleven
    teacher leaders in three urban schools to identify how these teacher leaders attempt

    to change the teaching practice of their colleagues while working as professional

    learning community leaders and as mentors for new teachers. Using a theoretical

    framework integrating complex systems theory with Kotter’s (Leading change.

    Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1996) eight steps for leading organizational

    change, we analyze the work and perspectives of individual teacher leaders, and we

    examine how teams of teacher leaders and principals function collectively in their

    efforts to lead instructional change. Our findings have implications for schools

    seeking to utilize teacher leadership as a reform strategy for authentic instructional


    Keywords Complex systems theory � Instructional improvement � Organizational
    change � Professional learning communities �

    Teacher leadership

    PD Professional development

    PLC Professional learning community

    & Kristy S. Cooper

    1 Michigan State University College of Education, 620 Farm Lane, Room 403, East Lansing,

    MI 48824, USA

    2 Hope College, Holland, MI, USA

    3 Grand Valley State University, 401 W. Fulton, 476C DeVos, Grand Rapids, MI 49504, USA


    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113

    DOI 10.1007/s10833-015-9262-4


    A persistent issue in closing the achievement gap is improving the quality of

    teaching and learning in urban schools. Many argue that improving urban schools

    requires increasing the instructional capacity of teachers through job-embedded

    professional development (PD), where teachers engage in collaborative, ongoing

    dialogue around teaching and learning (Darling-Hammond et al. 2009; Heck and

    Hallinger 2009; Horn and Little 2010). Such PD often relies on teachers assuming

    formal roles as ‘‘teacher leaders’’ who guide this learning (Lieberman and Friedrich

    2010; Yost et al. 2009). For this leadership to lead to improved instruction, however,

    teacher leaders must skillfully engage in leadership practice that effectively changes

    how their colleagues teach. Yet, the process by which teacher leaders create such

    change is not clear in the extant literature. Thus, we conducted yearlong embedded

    case studies of eleven urban teacher leaders working in teams to improve the

    instruction of their colleagues by leading teacher learning around discussion-based

    teaching—that is, by trying to help their colleagues better structure and lead

    conversations among students. Integrating complex systems theory (Opfer and

    Pedder 2011) with Kotter’s (1996) theory on leading organizational change, we

    analyze how the embedded systems within which teacher leaders operate shape the

    change actions they take and whether and how those actions change teaching


    The challenge to improve urban schools

    Movements to improve urban schools have been debated and mandated by policy

    makers and business leaders for decades. Yet, as Payne (2008) asserts, ‘‘Most

    discussion of educational policy and practice is dangerously disconnected from the

    daily realities of urban schools’’ (p. 5). Such schools often lack resources such as

    adequate funding, qualified teachers, and instructional leadership. Urban schools

    also face high rates of student and teacher turnover, and students often come from

    poverty-stricken homes. Payne argues that multiple social barriers (e.g., low

    expectations, pessimistic views of new programs, and distrust between colleagues

    and leaders) and micropolitical barriers (e.g., perceptions of favoritism and power

    struggles) exist within urban schools that further hinder reform efforts. Although

    schools may adopt the rhetoric of new programs readily, they often fail to

    effectively meet the intent of such programs or adapt initiatives to their school

    context. Similarly, popular reforms such as instructional coaching and decentral-

    izing decision-making often fail because of power struggles between coaches and

    school leaders and because teachers are often left out of decision-making processes.

    Through all of these initiatives, Payne identifies teacher resistance as a central

    problem in improving urban schools. Thus, it seems pertinent to consider the

    teacher’s role in creating authentic change.

    86 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    Teacher leadership

    Teacher leadership, in which teachers themselves generate and facilitate change, is

    rooted in the teacher professionalism movement that began in the early 1980s and

    continues today (Fairman and Mackenzie 2014; York-Barr and Duke 2004). Over

    the past decade, the role of teacher leaders in school reform has become more

    prominent in empirical research, and much of this research has posited that teacher

    leaders are vital for successful school reform (Angelle and Schmid 2007; Crowther

    et al. 2002; Frost et al. 2000; Katzenmeyer and Moller 2001; Murphy 2005; Valli

    et al. 2006). The role of the teacher leader—what it is and how it is defined—is

    varied, however, depending on the school context and the research. Yet, most

    scholars agree that teacher leadership occurs within and outside classrooms to

    influence school-wide instructional practice (Beachum and Dentith 2004; Katzen-

    meyer and Moller 2001). Beyond role-specific duties or titles (such as department

    chair or grade-level leader), teacher leadership rests with the agency of the teacher

    to work with the principal, to build community, to support teachers, and to

    determine, implement, or make manifest a school-wide vision for instructional

    practice (Cranston 2000; Margolis and Huggins 2012; York-Barr and Duke 2004).

    In reviewing the literature, York-Barr and Duke (2004) concluded that the

    success of teacher leadership depends on interrelated, foundational conditions in

    three areas: (a) school culture, (b) relationships, and (c) school structures. First,

    researchers have argued that, for schools to exhibit positive change through teacher

    leadership, they must have cultures that foster communication, collaboration, and

    learning (Little 2006; Wood 2007). The principal must be open to and supportive of

    teacher leaders, understand the teacher leaders’ work, and ensure they have a

    prominent and visible role in developing the mission and values of the school

    (Drago-Severson 2007; Little 2006; Mangin 2007; Wood 2007). Moreover, the

    principal, teacher leader, and school faculty should work together to identify and

    consistently uphold professional norms for collective learning and improved student

    achievement and instruction. Secondly, teacher leaders need to build professional

    and respectful relationships with colleagues through ongoing communication and

    feedback that showcase their trustworthiness and instructional expertise. York-Barr

    and Duke (2004) found that effective teacher leaders are generally seen as role

    models, are respected by colleagues, and have leadership capacities. Teacher leaders

    and principals also need to build positive relationships with one another, as

    principals play a central role not only in developing teachers’ leadership skills, but

    also in setting expectations and creating pathways for teacher leaders to succeed

    (Mangin 2007). Finally, specific school structures that promote and support

    effective teacher leadership include time for collaboration, shared leadership, and

    embedded professional development (Drago-Severson 2007; Kardos et al. 2001;

    Lampert et al. 2011; Little 2006; Paine et al. 2003). Although such structures

    contrast with traditional hierarchical school structures and teacher isolation, which

    are inherent in many schools (York-Barr and Duke 2004), when teachers have time

    to discuss and plan instruction, analyze student work, and learn from others’

    expertise, they can improve instruction and student learning (Chenoweth 2009;

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 87


    Drago-Severson 2007; Kardos et al. 2001; Little 2006). Shared leadership between

    school leaders and faculty, such that faculty have a voice in decision-making

    processes, also supports teacher leadership (Drago-Severson 2007), as does PD that

    provides teachers with individualized learning opportunities connected to their

    everyday instructional practice (Borko et al. 2008; Drago-Severson 2007; Little

    2006). With the work of teacher leaders embedded in such PD, they can support

    their colleagues as they promote valuable, engaging teacher and student learning

    (York-Barr and Duke 2004).

    The process of teacher leadership

    Despite the breadth of research on the foundational conditions for teacher

    leadership, this body of work does not present a complete picture of how teacher

    leadership can and does improve instruction. That is, even when these conditions are

    met, teaching and learning do not necessarily improve. There is a little-understood

    teacher leadership process by which teachers take actions that lead to change in

    their organizations. York-Barr and Duke (2004) identify three broad means of

    influence by which effective teacher leaders can shape the work of individuals,

    groups, and organizations. Those means of influence are broadly conceived and

    include maintaining a focus on teaching and learning, establishing trusting and

    constructive relationships, and interacting through formal and informal points of

    influence. York-Barr and Duke identify the ultimate outcomes of such influence as

    improved instructional practices and student learning. Yet, they do not articulate the

    specific actions and tactics teacher leaders can take as they engage in those

    relationships and interactions that would effectively change, rather than merely

    influence, the instruction of other teachers. In distinguishing between these two

    outcomes, we conceptualize influence as indirectly altering another’s practice by

    informing their thinking in ways that shape what they do, whereas change is

    intentionally propelling others to do some specific thing in a specific way that differs

    from current practice.

    In expanding on York-Barr and Duke’s work, Fairman and Mackenzie (2012) use

    interviews with forty formal and informal teacher leaders to describe nine activities

    in which teachers can influence instructional change, such as through collaborating

    with peers or contributing to school improvement efforts. They position these

    teacher leadership activities on a continuum from classroom-based to school-based.

    More recently, Fairman and Mackenzie (2014) describe specific strategies these

    same teacher leaders use to influence colleagues, such as by creating collegial

    climates or building trusting relationships, and they provide examples of ways

    teacher leaders have enacted these strategies. Through examining teacher leaders’

    self-reports, Fairman and Mackenzie contribute to our understanding of the teacher

    leadership process by delving more deeply into the actions individual teacher

    leaders take. However, their findings rely on reflections from teacher leaders and

    inferences about cause-and-effect relationships that may overstate the impact of

    teacher leadership on ultimate outcomes. As with much of the research, Fairman and

    Mackenzie’s conclusions rest on two assumptions: (a) that teacher leaders have a

    88 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    means to influence their colleagues’ work, and (b) that teacher leaders engage in

    actions that lead their colleagues to change their practice. In the present study, we

    examine these assumptions by analyzing videos of teacher leaders attempting to

    produce change in their colleagues’ teaching and by using interviews and other

    triangulated data to contextualize these change efforts in the embedded systems

    within which teacher leaders function.

    Theoretical framework

    We draw on Kotter’s (1996) eight steps for leading organizational change as a

    framework for classifying the tactics teacher leaders use when attempting to change

    the practice of their colleagues. The change process, according to Kotter (1996),

    begins with a sense that the status quo is not working. Outside factors, which in

    schools might be low test scores, may serve as the impetus, but real change occurs

    only when an internal sense of urgency motivates individuals to change what they

    do (Step 1). For this to happen, individuals with power (e.g., administrators, formal

    teacher leaders, influential teachers) take up the mantle of change and form a

    guiding coalition (Step 2). This coalition leads initial change efforts by clearly

    articulating the problem, developing a vision for the change process, and defining

    feasible and focused strategies for enacting that vision (Step 3). The challenge for

    the coalition is to ensure that individuals at all levels of the organization understand

    and ‘buy in’ to the vision. In schools, coalitions might accomplish this by

    championing a new instructional practice, trying it out themselves, and making it

    central to their work with teachers. Their work also involves communicating the

    vision in various modes and forms (e.g., faculty meetings, hallway/lunchroom

    conversations, testimonials, etc.) and delivering a consistent message in ways that

    appeal to the hearts and minds of teachers (Step 4). The goal is to embolden teachers

    to try new ideas, convincing them to make the necessary sacrifices involved in

    changing their instructional practices. As part of this work, the coalition provides

    supports, such as resources (time, funds, and materials) and training, to empower

    broad-based action toward the vision (Step 5). They make way for this action by

    removing obstacles to the vision and confronting people who undermine change

    efforts (intentionally or not). As the changes begin to take hold, the guiding

    coalition focuses on creating and highlighting short-term wins that propel further

    action (Step 6), and they turn their attention to producing more change by

    acculturating new members, constantly revisiting the vision, and ensuring that all

    decision-making relates directly to the change goals (Step 7). Throughout the

    process, the guiding coalition operates with the full understanding that they will, at

    some point, relinquish power to others as change begins to spread and new practices

    become anchored in the culture of the school (Step 8).

    To contextualize teacher leaders’ efforts to create change, we also utilize

    complex systems theory (Opfer and Pedder 2011), which recognizes that teacher

    learning is nested within complex systems that have varying levels of overlap and

    influence. Lasting change can only take hold when extending beyond a guiding

    coalition and becoming prevalent among many individuals in a school, each of

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 89


    whom possesses their own personal system of orientations toward a given reform—

    such as their beliefs, understandings, and experiences with the reform. Achieving

    change that permeates many systems within the school context is perhaps the most

    complicated step in achieving true transformation. Opfer and Pedder (2011) assert,

    ‘‘Teacher learning tends to be constituted simultaneously in the activity of

    autonomous entities (teachers), collectives (such as grade level and subject groups),

    and subsystems within grander unities (schools within school systems within

    sociopolitical educational contexts)’’ (p. 379). They frame these systems and

    subsystems as ‘‘interdependent and reciprocally influential’’ (p. 379). They argue

    that examining the nested systems in which teacher learning occurs sheds light on

    ‘‘the complex relationships between systems that promote and impede teacher

    learning and instructional change’’ (Opfer and Pedder 2011, p. 379). As teachers are

    asked to assume a leadership role, formal teacher leaders coexist within both the

    leadership team and the teaching staff. In this unique boundary-crossing position,

    teacher leaders may have a voice in decision-making and goal-setting, yet can

    maintain their access and credibility with teachers, all of which may allow them to

    play an important role in conveying the necessary sense of urgency to initiate and

    propel change. From a complex systems perspective, we posit that teacher leaders

    can link the visioning process and the implementation of new teaching practice

    while also shaping the school’s operative culture across multiple systems (Opfer and

    Pedder 2011). Once the change process begins, teacher leaders could contribute

    further by connecting systems as they communicate a consistent vision and engage

    in the learning process with their colleagues. As we have hinted at here, the present

    study seeks to situate Kotter’s (1996) eight steps for leading change within the

    complex systems that frame teacher leaders’ work as a way to understand the

    process of teacher


    Professional development for teacher leaders

    This study accompanied our work as university-based PD providers in a 4-year

    program with 28 high-poverty urban charter schools in a large Midwestern city.

    Two or more teachers at each school were placed in formal teacher leadership

    roles—as professional learning community leaders (PLC leaders) or mentors for

    novice teachers—to build a school-wide culture of professional inquiry around

    discussion-based teaching. Schools were invited to participate in this PD as part of

    their required work in a large federally funded grant initiative led by the state

    charter association. Their participation in the grant provided multiple years of free

    professional development, along with school resources and stipends for teacher

    leaders. Our PD focused on developing the practice of teacher leaders who could

    facilitate inquiry-oriented PLC meetings that enhanced the quantity and quality of

    professional dialogue among teachers. At the same time, we prepared mentors to

    work one-on-one with beginning teachers to further facilitate professional dialogue

    and teacher learning. At the outset of the program, we introduced school principals

    to a rubric (Stanulis et al. 2011) to help select their PLC leaders and mentors. Rubric

    criteria included elements of Dewey’s (1933) characteristics of educative teachers,

    90 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    including being wholehearted (approaching teaching with joy and connecting

    content and students in meaningful ways), trustworthy (opening practice to others

    and valuing conversations with colleagues about teaching and learning), and

    openminded (being open to learning and eager to try new ideas; being open to

    reflection and analysis of one’s teaching). The rubric also integrated York-Barr and

    Duke’s (2004) foundational conditions that teacher leaders be respected as teachers,

    be learning oriented, and have leadership capacities. Depending on the size of their

    school, principals selected one or two PLC leaders and one to four mentor teachers.

    Because principals are foundational to school change (Grissom and Loeb 2011), we

    included the principals in three PD sessions each year, building on the initial session

    where we discussed selection of mentors and PLC leaders. The content of this PD

    focused on ways to develop and support a school culture that supports teacher

    learning, and we provided modeled examples of principles and practices of an

    effective inquiry-focused PLC meeting. Principals were also updated on themes of

    the mentor/PLC leader sessions and regularly met with their PLC leader and

    mentors as a school team to plan next steps for enacting instructional change in their


    In the 2012–2013 school year, PLC meetings and mentoring both centered on

    promoting an inquiry-based learning climate around discussion-based


    Discussion-based teaching is an instructional strategy for improving student

    learning, as it (a) involves students in meaning making while actively listening

    and voicing ideas; (b) requires students to provide relevant evidence from materials

    being discussed; (c) promotes student linking, in which students agree with,

    disagree with, and/or extend their peers’ contributions; and (d) provides opportu-

    nities for students to communicate orally and in writing to improve critical thinking

    and comprehension (Jadallah et al. 2010; Matsumura et al. 2010; Stanulis et al.

    2014). All teachers engage students in some talk, but few learn to lead the kinds of

    classroom discussions that are rigorous and lead to critical thinking (Gambrell and

    Almasi 1996). Learning to lead effective discussions involves knowledge of

    individual students, textual material, and ways of reading and scaffolding

    participation to facilitate these kinds of discussions (Stanulis and Brondyk 2013).

    We chose to focus on discussion-based teaching in our PD with teacher leaders

    because teachers benefit from focused attention on one area of instructional

    improvement and because learning to lead classroom discussions is a core practice

    linked to effective teaching (Ball et al. 2009; Grossman et al. 2009). We undertook

    the present study with three school teams from our PD to understand how teacher

    leaders engaged in these instructional improvement efforts at their schools.

    Research questions

    To understand the process by which teacher leaders in our PD program attempted to

    change their colleagues’ instructional practice around discussion-based teaching, we

    set out to answer two research questions:

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 91


    1. What change tactics do the leadership teams and individual teacher leaders use

    when attempting to change the teaching practice of their colleagues, and how do

    they use them?

    2. How do the structural and cultural facets of the systems within which teacher

    leaders are situated, including the leadership teams in which they are embedded,

    promote and impede their efforts to create change?


    We developed embedded case studies (Yin 2009) of leadership teams in three

    schools participating in our PD. The overarching cases were the teams, each

    consisting of a principal and 2–5 teacher leaders, and the eleven teacher leaders

    across the three schools constituted embedded cases. This embedded design enabled

    us to examine how the members of each team functioned collectively and separately

    in their efforts to change the teaching practices of their colleagues and how various

    embedded systems shaped teacher leadership in three different schools.

    Site and participant selection

    Following the first year of PD (2011–2012), we used purposeful theoretical

    sampling (Patton 2002) to identify three schools in which we perceived a high

    likelihood that teacher leadership was impacting school-wide instruction. Based on

    our interactions with principals and teacher leaders at all 28 participating schools,

    we targeted three sites in which the teacher leaders at that time appeared to have

    strong leadership capacity and a learning orientation and where the principals

    appeared to support teacher leaders by devoting ample time and resources to their

    work. In these ways, these schools appeared to meet York-Barr and Duke’s (2004)

    foundational conditions for effective teacher leadership and thus be suitable loca-

    tions to study the process of teacher leadership in an urban setting.

    Table 1 provides an overview of the three overarching school cases—Spruce,

    Maple, and Dogwood Academies (pseudonyms)—and the eleven embedded teacher

    leader cases (shown in bold). The number of teacher leaders at each school ranged

    from two to five, and all participating leaders were female. Table 1 also provides

    size, demographic, and academic performance data for the schools. All three were

    charter schools in a high-poverty urban area in the Midwest and had student bodies

    that were 94–99 % African American, ranging in size from 355 to 575 students.

    Despite similar demographics and test scores, however, these schools ranked quite

    differently in the 2011–2012 statewide ranking of schools, which is based on test

    scores, growth over time, and within-school achievement gaps. As of 2012,


    and Dogwood were both in the upper 40th percentile, while Maple was struggling

    by comparison at only the 7th percentile.

    We selected these schools based on our assessment of the principals, teacher

    leaders, and school contexts before our study began. At Maple and


    Academies, there were high levels of consistency in school leaders, teacher leaders,

    92 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    teaching staffs, and student bodies from the year of selection to the year of study.

    However, there were many interim changes at Spruce Academy. First, Spruce’s

    K-12 campus divided into four separate schools—with kindergarten, elementary,

    middle, and high schools. The principal, Sophia, became superintendent of all four

    schools, and administrative interns were placed in the elementary school, the site for

    our study. The student and teacher populations also tripled, bringing in many new

    teachers who were recent college graduates. In addition, Spruce’s original PLC

    leader moved to the high school, leaving the kindergarten and elementary teachers

    to work with a new PLC leader, Stacy, who joined our study. As such, the Spruce

    Academy we studied was contextually quite different from the one we recruited.

    Although our intention was not to study a school undergoing such transition, our

    interest in the impact of context on teacher leadership ended up making this an

    informative site.

    Data collection

    We collected data during the second year of our PD (2012–2013). To inform our

    first research question regarding change tactics, we collected seventeen self-

    captured videos of the teacher leaders engaging in leadership work. PLC leaders

    digitally video-recorded themselves facilitating or co-facilitating two whole-staff,

    Table 1 Overview of the three overarching school cases (with embedded cases noted in bold)





    Leadership team

    Principal Sophia Marie Donna

    PLC leader(s) Stacy Michelle Daphne


    Mentor(s) Sarah Maggie Debbie

    Melinda Dawn

    Madeline Dianne

    Size and demographics 2012

    Grades served K-5 K-5 K-8

    Number of teachers 34 30 16

    Number of students 575 510 355

    % African American 94 99 99

    % Economically disadvantaged 84 83 70

    Academic performance data 2012

    % proficient/advanced in reading (5th


    59 47 66

    % proficient/advanced in math (5th grade) 15 5 15

    State rankinga 74th percentile 7th percentile 63rd percentile

    a State ranking is based on test scores, growth over time, and within-school achievement gaps

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 93


    hour-long PLC meetings—one in fall and one in winter or spring. Mentors recorded

    themselves engaging in one-on-one mentoring conversations with beginning

    teachers. Three mentors video-recorded one mentoring session, and four mentors

    recorded two sessions—one early and one later in the year. Mentoring sessions

    ranged from 8 to 30 min. All teacher leaders wrote reflections on their videos and

    discussed the videos and reflections in a formal coaching conversation with a

    member of our team. The videos, written reflections, and notes from the coaching

    conversations all served as data on the change tactics teacher leaders used and how

    they understood their efforts to lead instructional change.

    To inform our second research question on the influence of embedded systems on

    teacher leadership, we conducted thirty-four interviews with the PLC leaders,

    mentors, and principals across the year. Interviews ranged from 30 to 60 min and

    were recorded and transcribed. Nine teacher leaders were interviewed three times

    each at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. The two PLC leaders at Maple

    Academy were interviewed together each time since they shared the role. Two

    mentors were only interviewed twice due to health issues. School principals were

    interviewed once (1 principal) or twice (2 principals) as their schedules allowed. All

    interviews followed a semi-structured protocol that sought to identify the

    individual’s understanding of their and others’ leadership experiences, their

    responsibilities and challenges as a leader, and how they saw the team, school,

    and broader contexts as impacting their efforts to change instruction.

    To triangulate our understanding of the leadership practice and contexts at these

    three sites, we collected three additional forms of data. During three visits to each

    school, we collected artifacts from leadership activities, including agendas from

    PLC meetings, samples of teacher work products from PLC meetings (posters,

    lessons plans, etc.), and copies of materials distributed during PLC meetings and

    mentoring sessions. At the end of the year, we also surveyed the full teaching staff

    at each school to assess teachers’ perceptions of discussion-based teaching in their

    classrooms (the primary focus of the teacher leaders’ work) and the quantity and

    quality of professional dialogue among teachers in the school. Surveys were

    administered during staff meetings and were completed by at least 75 % of the

    faculty at each school. Finally, we used school and state websites to collect data on

    student achievement and staff attrition at each school.

    Data analysis

    Data analysis occurred in three phases. In Phase I, as data were collected, we used

    our theoretical frameworks to generate descriptive codes and coded the thirty-four

    interviews (Miles and Huberman 1994). In Phase II, following data collection, we

    met as a six-person research team over 2 months to generate individual case reports

    (Yin 2009) for each teacher leader by collectively viewing the seventeen video-

    recordings, examining supplemental data, and discussing the practice of each

    teacher leader to identify where and how she used Kotter’s (1996) change tactics.

    The member of our team who coached each teacher leader during the PD added

    information from their notes and personal interactions. We also reviewed interview

    excerpts from the teacher leaders and principals, discussed our interpretations, and

    94 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    added additional notes to the case reports. We then summarized our impressions of

    all eleven teacher leaders in an analytic matrix (Miles and Huberman 1994)

    organized by Kotter’s eight change tactics.

    At this point, we moved into Phase III and considered the three leadership teams

    as cohesive units of analysis. Here we integrated Opfer and Pedder’s (2011) theory

    with Kotter’s (1996) to consider aspects of the change process. Questions that

    propelled our analysis include: Who drives change? How do various members of the

    team shape the change process? Is there a sense of urgency that change must

    occur? Does the leadership team have a strong vision, and is it clearly and

    regularly communicated to others? How do school leaders support or impede the

    process? How does the school context impact this work? We drafted one-page

    interpretive statements to describe how each team attempted to change instruction,

    and we created concept maps to capture the embedded systems and team dynamics

    at each school (Maxwell 2005). Figure 1 shows a generic concept map to illustrate

    our graphic conceptualization. The left side of the model denotes how complex

    systems interact in a process that works toward a particular product on the right side

    of the model, such as sustainable school-wide change in instruction. The gray circles

    at the far left represent two systems that were constant for our three cases, as all

    teacher leaders received the same PD and worked in similar contexts. The center of

    the graphic shows the various players who influenced change. We conceptualized

    that teacher learning takes place within the arc of the model and is influenced by the

    school leader, who has the ability to enable or constrain teacher learning by

    influencing the school context for teacher learning (such as by scheduling time and

    allocating resources). Teacher leaders also influence teacher learning within the arc

    as they interact with one another and their colleagues. In our analyses, we modified

    this model for each school to depict how these complex systems intersected in ways




    Colleagues Teacher


    Process Product

    Fig. 1 Generic concept map denoting how embedded systems can shape the teacher leadership change
    process in a school

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 95


    that promoted or constrained instructional change at each site. As a final step, we

    looked across our analytic tools to identify our overall findings regarding the

    process of teacher leadership and how the school contexts and leadership teams

    shaped those processes.


    Given Opfer and Pedder’s (2011) complex systems theory, we theorized that teacher

    leaders’ efforts to create change would be influenced by the embedded systems

    surrounding their work. This could not have been more true. We found that change

    efforts among these eleven teacher leaders were overwhelmingly shaped by a

    multitude of systems, including the contexts of their leadership teams and schools,

    their individual PD experiences, their personal orientations toward teacher

    leadership and those of their colleagues, and external factors such as being in a

    large city and being charter schools. Using the lens of Kotter’s (1996) eight steps for

    leading change, we also inferred that some teacher leaders made key missteps early

    in the change process—particularly in the initial four phases of establishing

    urgency, creating a guiding coalition, developing a vision, and communicating that

    vision—that limited their ability to change their colleagues’ practice. Examining

    change tactics and embedded systems simultaneously, we identified key ways in

    which complexities within the interlocking systems—particularly the leadership

    teams and school contexts—greatly influenced whether, and if so how, teacher

    leaders individually and collectively enacted Kotter’s first four steps toward change.

    In the end-of-year survey of the full teaching staff, teachers at all three schools

    reported attending regular PLC meetings with genuine participation among their

    colleagues, and most teachers at all three sites agreed that mentors helped new

    teachers think about student learning. We also found, however, that teachers in the

    three schools reported using discussion-based teaching strategies with different

    frequencies at the end of the year. At Spruce and Maple Academies, only 22–25 %

    of teachers reported having students actively talk and participate in class more than

    three-quarters of the time, and only 14–18 % of teachers reported having students

    talk with a peer or in groups for more than 60 min a week. By contrast, these

    percentages at Dogwood were 66 % for students actively talking and participating

    more than three-quarters of the time, and 58 and 42 % for students spending more

    than 60 min a week talking to a peer or with a group, respectively. Although we do

    not have baseline data to assess whether the frequency of discussion-based teaching

    actually changed over the year, our qualitative data strongly support the conclusion

    that the high volume of discussion-based teaching reported at Dogwood was due in

    large part to the teacher leaders. In particular, our analyses reveal that the nature of

    teacher leadership at Dogwood was much more systematically focused on the goal

    of increasing discussion-based teaching than that at either Spruce or Maple, and the

    embedded systems at Dogwood greatly supported this teacher leadership work in

    ways we did not find at Spruce and Maple.

    To illustrate how embedded systems shaped teacher leaders’ efforts to create

    change, we present our findings on each of the three cases below. We begin with

    96 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    Dogwood Academy, the one school in which teacher leaders successfully enacted

    Kotter’s (1996) first four steps for leading change and ultimately appeared to create

    instructional change among their colleagues. We start here to lay the foundation for

    how embedded systems can support the teacher leadership process. We then present

    the Maple and Spruce cases—in which Kotter’s framework suggests that teacher

    leaders took missteps early in the change process and thus ultimately had less

    impact on the implementation of discussion-based teaching—to illustrate two ways

    in which embedded systems can hinder or undermine the teacher leadership process.

    Dogwood Academy: Embedded systems supporting the teacher leadership

    As a small charter school on a busy city street, Dogwood Academy was comprised

    of a tight-knit, sixteen-person teaching staff of primarily African American women.

    Figure 2 shows our conceptualization of how embedded systems supported the

    change process at Dogwood. Central to instructional change was the strong and

    focused leadership of the PLC leader, Daphne (shown by the gray circle at the base

    of the teacher learning arc), who had been teaching at Dogwood for 6 years. Her

    principal Donna remarked of her, ‘‘She’s personable and humble so that you know

    ego doesn’t get in the way…. She is very inclusive of the staff. She values their
    ideas. She wants them to contribute… She is the biggest cheerleader in the group.’’
    Although our PD did not explicitly address Kotter’s (1996) eight steps for leading

    change, Daphne intuitively enacted the first five steps and was well positioned to

    move into the later stages of the model.

    As the foundational step for change, Daphne did what PLC leaders at the other

    schools did not: She created a sense of urgency around the need for more

    discussion-based teaching. She did this by linking discussion-based teaching to an

    overall vision for change that she labeled ‘‘Bridging the System,’’ and which she

    linked to the particular needs of Dogwood’s urban students whom she argued

    needed consistency. Daphne described this vision in an interview:





    Leader Colleagues(16)


    Fig. 2 Change process at Dogwood Academy

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 97


    What is resonating throughout our building right now is just bridging our

    system and everybody is talking about it…. It is our system, it’s not, you
    know, 4th grade scores…. Our students should have a lot more consistency,
    and we’re doing them a disservice [when we’re inconsistent]. So our goal is to

    figure out where are we losing, why are we losing, and how can we stop losing

    it…. Everybody understands that it is the system and we have to work on our
    system in order for our students to succeed.

    As part of trying to increase consistency throughout the school, Daphne’s whole-

    school PLC meetings heavily emphasized uniform approaches to discussion across

    the grade levels. In a spring PLC meeting, Daphne asserted to her colleagues, ‘‘If

    something works, why shouldn’t it be modified for all grades?’’ During that

    meeting, Daphne had two teachers share best practices in discussion-based teaching,

    and teachers met in grade levels to modify those practices for each grade. In creating

    urgency around a vision of ‘‘bridging the system,’’ Daphne drew on the needs of

    Dogwood’s population of urban students, thereby integrating the local context, and

    urged her colleagues to consider their responsibility to scaffold student learning

    over multiple years.

    This compelling, urgent focus on discussion-based teaching also appeared in the

    practice of two mentors, Debbie and Dianne. In a representative exchange, Debbie

    and a mentee debriefed a lesson. The mentee reflected, ‘‘I suppose it’s my job to

    make sure [the students] know prior to playing the game that the most important

    thing is student discussion. And I might not have set that up quite as well as I could

    have.’’ Debbie concurred, and they considered strategies for more successfully

    structuring group conversations. Despite the consistent focus among Daphne,

    Debbie, and Dianne (as shown by overlapping circles in the model), the third

    mentor, Dawn, did not contribute to increasing discussion-based teaching. As a

    counselor, rather than a teacher, Dawn’s mentoring interactions tended to center on

    students’ psychological needs and rarely addressed instructional strategies. The

    other three teacher leaders all reinforced one another’s messages that discussion was

    central to the vision of effective teaching at Dogwood Academy.

    School leader Donna reinforced the vision and functioned as a co-visionary with

    Daphne. She also supported the change process by creating structures to support

    teacher learning (represented on the model by the arc with arrows), and she

    regularly attended our PD sessions for school leaders, actively participating and

    sharing her inclusive vision of teacher leadership with other principals. Daphne

    noted of Donna, ‘‘She models what she hears from the large PLCs…. That’s the way
    she carries her meetings…. We all have input; she listens to us. So I know that she
    feels that student talk is important, I know it.’’ Despite modeling the vision herself,

    Donna enabled Daphne to guide PLC meetings. Donna explained,

    I don’t always stay for the entire [meeting] as long as I have had a

    conversation with Daphne beforehand and we know what the agenda is. She’s

    very good about sharing what they’re going to do and saying, ‘Is this in line

    with what you would like to see?’ And a lot of times I say, ‘Well we’re

    working this together. It’s not so much what I want to see you do as long as

    we’re all on the same page.’

    98 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    Enacting a unified and clearly communicated vision for instructional change, the

    guiding coalition of three teacher leaders and the principal were able to move into

    Kotter’s (1996) fifth step for leading change by empowering broad-based action.

    Dogwood’s collegial culture of safety and shared expertise supported frequent

    conversations about teaching practice that enabled broad-based action to take hold.

    Indeed, everyone we interviewed at Dogwood described a highly collegial

    professional context. Mentor Debbie described, ‘‘This is like a family, and we

    have one another’s back…. This is a great, great environment.’’ In one video,
    Debbie’s mentee remarked, ‘‘You know, Debbie, I appreciate you and some of the

    other middle school teachers…. I appreciate the help you’ve given me and just the
    acceptance [and] the professional relationship that we’ve had over the last eight,

    nine months.’’ This highly collegial tone permeated the interactions we witnessed in

    the videos, our own interactions with this leadership team, and our campus visits to

    Dogwood. In this context, the teacher leaders were able to position themselves as

    co-learners with colleagues and influence broad implementation of discussion-based


    As depicted in Fig. 2, the evidence illustrates that the structure and culture of the

    leadership team and school context at Dogwood created the space and conditions to

    support teacher-leader-driven change. Discussion-based teaching was clearly a

    common focus of teacher learning at Dogwood at all levels throughout the year, and

    conversations in the videos along with the end-of-year survey results suggest that

    discussion-based teaching encompassed the practice of many of the sixteen

    colleagues in the school by the end of the year.

    Maple Academy: Embedded systems pulling in many directions

    At the outset, Maple Academy appeared to have many key elements that we

    envisioned would support instructional change through teacher leadership. The

    school had a strong principal, Marie, who was popular with her staff and highly

    invested in the instructional quality of her school. Marie always attended our PD,

    volunteering for her team to share ideas and smiling proudly as staff members

    shared what was happening in their school. The staff of primarily young white

    women also had very low turnover, with all thirty of the 2012–2013 teachers having

    taught at Maple the year prior. Two experienced Maple teachers, Michelle and

    Morgan, shared the PLC leader role, and worked as part-time administrators in tight

    collaboration with Marie. The three mentors were experienced teachers, whom

    Marie described as ‘‘my strong classroom leaders, grade level team leaders.’’

    However, we ultimately found that the embedded systems at Maple were relatively

    rigid and disconnected, pulling the leadership team in many directions and

    seemingly undermining the teacher leaders’ ability to create change. In Fig. 3, we

    illustrate our conceptualization of the change process at Maple. The most noticeable

    feature of this graphic is the number of arrows pointing to various initiatives. Video

    analyses of PLC meetings and mentoring sessions at Maple revealed a fairly diffuse,

    disconnected vision for instructional change due to the large number of initiatives

    and emphases during the 2012–2013 school year. These included implementation of

    Common Core State Standards, preparing for the new Smarter Balance assessment,

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 99


    monthly trainings on Classroom Instruction that Works, Daily Five literacy centers,

    posting objectives on the board, cooperative learning, small-group Data Analysis

    Teams, meeting the goals outlined in the School Improvement Plan and Maple’s

    charter, and discussion-based teaching. With so many simultaneous initiatives each

    being treated as a separate endeavor, discussion-based teaching was only one

    strategy among many (hence the small PD overlap in Fig. 3). Not only could we not

    locate discussion-based teaching within the school’s vision, we could not identify a

    singular clear, unified vision for effective teaching at Maple. We further noted that

    the list of initiatives underway at Maple were context independent; they were not

    framed as being responsive to the particular learning needs of Maple students. This

    stood in stark contrast to Daphne’s assertion that Dogwood students needed

    consistency across grade levels.

    Also prominent in Fig. 3 is the thick, all-encompassing arc representing principal

    Marie’s top-down managerial style. In an interview, Marie listed ‘‘non-negotiables’’

    for teachers, including posting instructional objectives and using cooperative groups

    and ‘‘Daily Five’’ literacy centers. In many ways, the teacher leaders were Marie’s

    enforcers. Mentor Madeline relayed,

    Maggie had an issue where Daily Five was really not even being done at all

    [by a mentee]. It was called Daily Five, but it wasn’t [really Daily Five], and

    so she went to the principal and said, ‘How important is it that this teacher is

    doing this?’ And the principal said, ‘Well, it’s very important.’ And she said,

    ‘Well, it’s a huge problem because it’s not happening at all.’

    Through such anecdotes, it became clear that urgency at Maple was centered on

    using the teaching strategies Marie advocated and that Marie was the driving force

    for teacher learning. As a group, the principal and teacher leaders at Maple had a

    relatively large team of six to serve as a guiding coalition. Yet, because the

    instructional agenda came from the principal and was not owned nor shaped by the

    teacher leaders, they had little autonomy and few opportunities for leading change.




    Posting instructional objectives

    Cooperative learning

    Daily Five

    Common Core State Standards

    Preparing for Smarter Balance

    Instruction that Works

    Teacher data analysis teams

    Discussion-based Teaching



    Fig. 3 Change process at Maple Academy

    100 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    Thus, in Fig. 3, none of the teacher leaders are shaded because none took the lead in

    creating a vision for or movement toward discussion-based teaching. Although a

    few mentors mentioned discussion-based teaching when talking with mentees, those

    practices got lost in the myriad of initiatives and, therefore, never took hold as a

    means to school-wide change.

    One area where teacher leaders at Maple did have an opportunity to lead change

    was in communicating a vision, Kotter’s (1996) fourth step. Here, the PLC leaders

    in particular possessed leadership opportunities as they ran PLC meetings and

    attempted to guide their colleagues’ understanding of discussion-based teaching and

    other initiatives. Through this communication, they had the potential to identify

    common threads across various initiatives and weave them together in a way that

    could solidify a change vision. However, Michelle and Morgan tended to preserve

    the disconnected nature of the initiatives by talking about them separately rather

    than synthesizing them into a cohesive vision. Michelle acknowledged, ‘‘I feel like

    it’s hard to get in everything especially, you know, with all the other things that

    we’re trying to do here. So, we’re trying to get as much as possible in without being

    overwhelming.’’ Mentors reported using a written list of expectations. Madeline

    described, ‘‘We have a checklist of objectives we’re supposed to discuss each

    month, so we kind of go through those things. And then otherwise we talk about the

    culture of talk and partner work and different ways to incorporate talk.’’ In these

    ways, even though the teacher leaders had an opportunity to lead through

    communication, they did not experience the autonomy to engage in such leadership.

    Spruce Academy: Embedded systems lost in transition

    We found that the school context at Spruce Academy was not well suited for

    instructional change during the 2012–2013 school year due to the transition to

    separate campuses, the tripling of the staff, the hiring of seventeen new teachers

    (primarily young white women and men fresh out of college), and the promotion of

    the principal to superintendent. In the midst of all this change, the embedded

    systems surrounding teacher leadership were compromised and struggling to

    become re-systematized. In large part due to this shifting context, the change efforts

    of the two teacher leaders at Spruce were relatively disjointed and ineffective for

    fostering wide implementation of discussion-based teaching across classrooms.

    Prior to the transition, principal Sophia, mentor Sarah, and the original PLC leader

    attended our PD sessions together and planned as a team. Sophia attended our

    sessions for school leaders, facilitated leadership team conversations, and provided

    regular release time for mentoring and two early-release days for students each

    month so that teachers could work in PLCs. However, in this second year, with an

    expanded role, Sophia was rarely present at the PD, left two administrative interns

    to oversee the elementary building, and reduced release time for mentors and PLCs.

    This new administrative ‘‘hands off’’ approach is represented in Fig. 4 by the wide

    arc, denoting that the school leader did very little to create a context for teacher

    learning. In her second year as a mentor, Sarah mentored eight beginning teachers,

    far more than we recommended, in addition to teaching her own class. Stacy took

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 101


    over early in the 2012–2013 year as the new PLC leader at the elementary campus,

    which meant she missed more than a full year of our PD.

    It is within this changing, taxed context that we asked Sarah and Stacy to promote

    discussion-based teaching as an instructional change agenda for their fellow teachers.

    In examining Stacy’s efforts as the new PLC leader, we found that she did not

    employ any of Kotter’s (1996) strategies for creating change. In regards to urgency,

    which Kotter positions as the first step toward change, we found that Stacy’s sense of

    urgency was centered on acclimating the large number of new teachers. As such,

    Stacy prioritized building a professional community with high morale over

    promoting any specific teaching practice, and she emphasized what she saw as the

    needs of new teachers, including ‘‘things that… either they’re already implementing
    in their classroom or they can pretty quickly implement.’’ At the end of the year,

    Stacy reflected, ‘‘I think any changes have been better morale among the teachers.’’

    Although discussion-based teaching was included in some PLC meetings, Stacy

    presented the strategies in the form of ‘‘tips’’ for teachers, rather than research-based

    practices for enhancing student learning. In one PLC meeting, Stacy explained,

    Something [the PD team] mentioned the other day, and I want to do this

    myself, is set your phone out during your lesson and put it aside and record

    your voice…. How much are you talking verses your students talking? … I
    think that was a really great idea and I want to do that myself. Just press

    ‘record’ so I can hear my voice and analyze and look back and reflect on

    myself. How much talking am I doing as opposed to my kids? So that’s a

    really good idea.

    Like much of what occurred in Stacy’s PLC meetings, this excerpt illustrates a

    casual yet upbeat attitude toward the ideas from our PD and a sense that her role as

    PLC leader was to collect ‘‘tips’’ and pass those on to her fellow teachers. She did

    Acclimating New Teachers

    Discussion-based Teaching





    Fig. 4 Change process at Spruce Academy

    102 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    not create a sense of urgency for teachers to develop expertise in discussion-based

    teaching as a way to increase student learning. We also found some evidence that

    Stacy was still in the process of developing her own understanding of discussion-

    based teaching, as she sometimes conflated different practices in her PLC meetings.

    For example, she regularly interchanged the terms ‘‘whole class discussion’’ and

    ‘‘whole class instruction.’’

    Amidst Stacy’s focus on acclimation and her still-developing understanding of

    discussion-based teaching, we found little evidence of a school-wide vision for

    instruction at Spruce. In part, Stacy’s hesitancy to formulate a vision appeared to be

    rooted in her personal orientation toward leadership and her interest in remaining

    just one of the staff. She commented, ‘‘One of the things I still struggle with, from

    time to time, is maintaining a level of leadership without making others feel I ‘know

    all.’… I try to be as low-key and relatable as possible.’’ Reflecting this orientation,
    Stacy closed a PLC sharing session among teachers by saying, ‘‘These are some

    really good ideas and what I’ll do is copy all of these down and email them to

    everyone, so if there’s one that you want to try in your classroom, you can do that.’’

    It was clear from Stacy’s videos and interviews that her PLC meetings primarily

    consisted of teachers sharing ideas without any criteria for those ideas or any central

    thread connecting different practices around a particular vision of teaching. In this

    way, Stacy did not appear to possess a vision for change and seemed to resist the

    idea that she could be a visionary for Spruce.

    In contrast to Stacy, we found that Sarah emphasized discussion-based teaching

    more regularly and revealed stronger understanding of the student learning benefits.

    Figure 4 includes divergent arrows to indicate that the two teacher leaders were

    working toward different goals and so not aligned in pursuit of a common vision of

    good teaching. Sarah as the mentor (shaded gray) was the driver toward discussion-

    based teaching with her small group of beginning teachers (denoted by the BT circle

    as a subset of the overall colleagues). Stacy, as the PLC leader, was more concerned

    with acclimating new teachers as she engaged with the staff at large. Although

    Sarah also had this goal, she embraced discussion-based teaching as a means for

    acclimation. Just the same, we did not sense great urgency in Sarah’s mentoring, as

    her tone was more soft and suggestive. In interviews, however, Sarah reported

    observing and celebrating her mentees’ use of discussion-based teaching, suggesting

    a more intentional focus than her mentoring tone revealed. She noted of one mentee,

    ‘‘The Spanish teacher, I love him to pieces because he actually is using ‘turn and

    talk’ that I do with my kids…. They’re now sitting with each other and [having]
    conversations with each other in Spanish and practicing polite mannerisms.’’

    One clear issue impeding teacher leadership for change at Spruce was the small

    number of teacher leaders. Kotter (1996) argues that change requires a guiding

    coalition of powerful leaders who will collaborate on steering the change. Unlike at

    Dogwood and Maple, where there were four or five teacher leaders and an on-site

    principal, Spruce had only two teacher leaders who were functioning with very little

    administrative oversight. In this way, Spruce’s guiding coalition appeared to be too

    small, particularly compared to their staff of 34 teachers. In some ways, Sarah’s

    cadre of eight mentees became something of a small coalition, meeting occasionally

    to review discussion-based teaching. However, this coalition was not particularly

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 103


    powerful given their status as primarily new teachers, and they were not a force for

    change throughout the school. Without a real champion for a school-wide vision

    centered on discussion-based teaching and without a sense of urgency around the

    need for such a vision, instruction at Spruce Academy did not broadly appear to

    integrate discussion-based teaching during the 2012–2013 school year beyond the

    small cohort of Sarah’s mentees. In this case, the transitional context of the school

    clearly played a role in the minimal impact of teacher leadership.


    Looking across these cases, we gain insight into the process of teacher leadership as

    it occurs within embedded systems and how those systems support, direct, or

    impede instructional change. This study is not meant to be an endorsement or

    critique of any particular school or school leader, as these school settings are much

    more complex than what we can account for through only two theoretical lenses.

    Rather, we provide comparisons across the schools in an effort to provide insight

    into how schools that would like to affect change through teacher leadership might

    learn from examples of schools and teacher leaders in similar contexts. The findings

    from this study suggest that when teacher leaders work within networks of

    supportive embedded systems, they can develop and drive change towards an

    instructional vision that is clear and reinforced. However, when teacher leaders

    work in environments that are disconnected or compromised, their ability to

    influence or change their peers’ instruction is highly limited. Below, we discuss five

    embedded systems that we found to impact the teacher leadership change process:

    the teacher leader’s personal orientations toward leadership, the school principal’s

    orientations toward leadership, the leadership team, the school context, and the local

    context outside of the school. Throughout this discussion, we consider Kotter’s

    (1996) first four steps for leading change—establishing urgency, creating a guiding

    coalition, and developing and communicating a vision. Although these four steps

    might oversimplify the complexity of leading change within dynamic organizations,

    they help us begin to illuminate how various systems can impact whether and how

    teacher leaders engage in initial steps toward creating change.

    The teacher leader’s orientations toward leadership as a system

    Critical components of teacher leadership included the teacher leader’s beliefs,

    language, prior experiences, and knowledge base, which collectively constituted

    their orientations toward leading and served as individual-level subsystems within

    schools and leadership teams (Opfer and Pedder 2011). Certainly, not all of these

    teacher leaders believed that they were, or could be, change agents, and such self-

    perceptions impacted the level of boldness in their language and assertions. This

    was most profoundly evident in the contrast between PLC leaders Daphne and

    Stacy. Whereas Daphne tended to make strong assertions (e.g., ‘‘Our students

    should have a lot more consistency.’’ ‘‘We have to work on our system.’’), Stacy’s

    language was much more tempered (e.g., ‘‘If there’s one you want to try… you can

    104 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    do that.’’ ‘‘So, that’s a really good idea.’’). Given that Kotter (1996) positions

    creating a sense of urgency as the first step in leading change, we surmise that the

    differences in the linguistic tones of these two teacher leaders had differing impacts

    on how compelled their colleagues felt to try new practices in their classrooms.

    As prior research has noted (Stein and Nelson 2003; Timperley 2005), we also

    found that teacher leaders’ depth of knowledge of the teaching practices they were

    promoting influenced their change efforts. In delivering our PD, we felt we

    presented our participants with adequate information on the rationale for and most

    effective implementation of discussion-based teaching. However, in watching

    eleven teacher leaders talk about these practices in the videos of PLC meetings and

    mentoring sessions, we questioned the level of understanding among some of our

    participants and reconsidered our own assumptions about the background knowl-

    edge of principal-identified teacher leaders. Similarly, we identified a critical need

    for teacher leaders to possess a substantial knowledge base about instructional

    leadership and strategies for leading change. In training teacher leaders, we focused

    on developing understanding of professional learning communities, mentoring, and

    the types of collaborative practices that support teacher learning. What we failed to

    consider was the need to also prepare teacher leaders to understand organizational

    change and strategies for driving change among their peers—a process that turned

    out to require much more assertive leadership and purposeful visioning than we

    anticipated. As a result, teacher leaders at Maple and Spruce did not take action

    toward leading change around discussion-based teaching that was as purposeful as

    that taken at Dogwood.

    The school principal’s orientations toward leadership as a system

    Kotter (1996) argues that organizational change requires change agents to create a

    guiding coalition of powerful leaders who will collaborate to take action on steering

    the change. It is within this guiding coalition that teacher leaders can become

    instructional change agents if principals provide them with appropriate amounts of

    autonomy and support (Stein and Nelson 2003). As prior research has shown, the

    extent to which teacher leaders have autonomy to actually engage in leadership lies

    in great part with the principal (Mangin 2007; York-Barr and Duke 2004). By

    examining how principals’ orientations toward leadership interact with other

    systems to shape the teacher leadership process, we found that when the principal

    made room for the voices of teacher leaders and was a member—as opposed to the

    leader—of the guiding coalition, those teacher leaders effectively drove school-

    wide change. Yet, when the principal did not relinquish control or was largely

    absent, teacher leadership was somewhat stifled and minimized. Fundamentally,

    then, teacher-leader-driven change must consist of a coalition of teacher leaders

    with the principal playing nothing more nor less than a supportive role in those

    particular change efforts. One reason why it is important to have the most powerful

    player in the organization, such as the principal, on-board with the change is that

    having the principal on board symbolically adds value to the change and makes the

    improvement efforts more likely to take broad effect. We saw this at Dogwood

    where the principal’s support for the PLC work was ongoing, and yet she made way

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 105


    for the PLC leader to develop and act on a vision for change. By contrast, the

    principals’ roles within the guiding coalitions at the other two schools did not

    support teacher leadership in promoting discussion-based teaching. At Maple, the

    principal positioned herself as the director of her teacher leaders’ work, rather than

    supporting it from a distance and offering support. At Spruce, given that the

    principal was largely absent, the opposite was true. There was plenty of space for

    teacher leadership but few structures or gestures of support and guidance.

    Collectively then, these cases suggest the critical importance of the school

    principal’s orientation toward leadership in creating and maintaining conditions that

    enable authentic teacher leadership.

    The leadership team as a system

    Beyond just the principal’s orientation toward leadership, the dynamics among the

    full guiding coalition—the principal and the teacher leaders—played a key role in

    whether or not the leadership team worked harmoniously to propel change.

    Figures 2, 3, and 4 convey our sense of how each leadership team functioned. We

    found that the team that had the greatest success in implementing discussion-based

    teaching was at Dogwood (Fig. 2), where there was a strong sense of momentum

    toward discussion-based teaching and a high level of cohesion among four of the

    five team members as they consistently reinforced the same vision of effective

    teaching. The team also had a clear champion for the work in their PLC leader, and

    the principal struck a balanced position of providing guidance and support while

    enabling autonomy. Although individual team members expressed strong commit-

    ments toward the change endeavors at the other two schools, the team dynamics at

    Maple and Spruce (Figs. 3, 4) were much less cohesive in how the members

    operated as a unit and less focused in their pursuits, both of which undermined their

    ability to develop and communicate a consistent vision. As such, we found that only

    Dogwood actually had a clear vision that could be captured in a few, succinct words

    and clearly communicated to staff. Notably, Kotter (1996) proposes that formulating

    and then communicating a vision for change are pivotal. If this is indeed the case,

    then it is not surprising that broad instructional change did not emerge at either

    Spruce or Maple, where we found little evidence of cohesive guiding coalitions or

    coherent visions of effective instruction.

    The school as a system

    We found that the teacher leadership process was greatly shaped by and dependent

    upon the contextual conditions within the schools, as prior research has noted, but

    we also found that those conditions were not stable or transparent. The rapidly

    changing context at Spruce Academy illustrates how quickly the foundational

    conditions for teacher leadership described by York-Barr and Duke (2004) can

    change and how such rapid change can undermine the potential impact of teacher

    leadership. Considering these foundational conditions as ‘‘pre-requisites’’ for

    effective teacher leadership, as we did in identifying three schools to study, turned

    out to be inaccurate. Conditions within schools are not established and solidified

    106 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    before teacher leadership begins, but are constantly shifting. As Payne (2008) and

    Ingersoll (2001) note, urban, high-poverty schools in particular have rapidly

    changing contexts due to the high volume of turnover among students, teachers, and

    administrators. Given this lack of stability, teacher leadership does not occur in the

    linear fashion suggested by York-Barr and Duke’s graphic depiction of their model,

    in which arrows pointing to the right convey a step-by-step process. Instead, we

    found that the volatility of life in urban schools makes complex systems theory

    (Opfer and Pedder 2011) a more useful model for understanding the dynamic role of

    context in teacher leadership because it allows us to account for the multitude of

    challenges that can impede positive change.

    In addition to finding that foundational conditions can change rapidly, we also

    found that such conditions were difficult to identify from the outside, even when

    assessing a more stable school environment like Maple Academy. As PD providers

    working with Maple for over a year, we invited the leadership team to participate in

    our study because it appeared they met the foundational conditions in school

    culture, relationships, and structures (York-Barr and Duke 2004). Ultimately,

    however, we found that leadership at Maple was not shared among the principal and

    teacher leaders; rather, it was primarily the domain of the principal. From the

    outside, this hierarchical leadership was not apparent to us prior to the study, and we

    question the extent to which it was even acknowledged and voiced among members

    of the leadership team. If teacher leaders themselves do not realize that the nature of

    leadership in their school is not well suited for teacher leadership, their efforts to

    lead may be ineffective, regardless of how they enact the process. In such a case,

    even attempting to enact Kotter’s (1996) strategies for leading change could have

    little impact if the setting is not conducive to teacher-leadership-driven change.

    Similarly, if teacher leaders do see limitations to their leadership potential due to the

    principal’s style, the power imbalance between the teacher leader and the principal

    can make this something that goes unspoken. Such power imbalances and an

    associated lack of teacher involvement in decision-making are particularly common

    in low-performing urban schools (Payne 2008), making such schools potentially

    challenging environments for authentic teacher leadership. In such cases, teacher

    leaders may take on leadership roles without any expectation for actually leading

    change and may simply go through the motions. As such, inadequate school

    conditions for effective teacher leadership are not necessarily observable or

    acknowledgeable, despite the fact that these inadequacies can undermine teacher

    leadership efforts.

    The external context as a system

    Kotter (1996) asserts that the first step in leading change is to establish a sense of

    urgency that makes members of the organization strongly believe in a pressing need

    for change. Across our three school cases, we believe this was done most effectively

    at Dogwood, where Daphne positioned the vision of Bridging the System as being

    directly in response to students’ learning needs. This localization of urgency

    appeared to create a compelling rationale for teachers to wholeheartedly engage in

    professional activities that would serve the school’s particular student population.

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 107


    By contrast, we found that urgency at Maple centered on implementing the

    principal’s many initiatives, and urgency at Spruce Academy was around

    acclimating new teachers. Certainly, teacher leaders in these schools pursued these

    objectives in purposeful ways with the ultimate goal of improving instruction for

    students. Yet, Kotter’s theory suggests that the Maple and Spruce leadership teams

    made a misstep by not creating a more compelling sense of urgency that focused on

    the external context of their schools. Like Dogwood, Maple and Spruce are urban

    charter schools serving high-needs populations with low test scores—particularly in

    math, where none of the schools had more than 15 % of students scoring advanced

    or proficient on state assessments. Yet, the foci of urgency at these two schools

    seemed decontextualized from this reality. We believe that the contexts at Maple

    and Spruce could have been used to make a case for increasing the quantity and

    quality of discussion-based teaching, but that these opportunities were missed. At

    Maple, although teachers experienced pressure to meet the principal’s expectations

    of raising student test scores, there was no contextual rationale for mastering any

    particular teaching practice to serve students’ needs. At Spruce, helping new

    teachers develop their instructional skills in one particular area—such as discussion-

    based teaching—could have increased their success in the classroom while

    simultaneously helping acclimate them to the profession through collectively

    developing shared instructional skills. In pointing out these missed opportunities,

    we do not mean to discredit the important goals of promoting good teaching

    practices and building staff morale and stability, which we applaud Maple and

    Spruce for taking on. Rather, we suggest that utilizing the contexts of their schools

    to provide rationale for these goals could have propelled these efforts even further.

    In considering whether and how the external context impacted how the leadership

    teams framed their senses of urgency, we could not help but note that the only

    school that focused on the specific needs of their mostly African American students

    was the one school staffed by primarily African American women. In the other two

    schools, where the faculty was primarily white, we noted no references to the

    specific needs of ‘‘our students’’ in the videos, reflections, or interviews. Although

    we hesitate to draw conclusions based on omissions that may simply be a product of

    our data collection procedures, we suggest that future research examine this

    potentially compelling link between how teacher leaders identify with the local

    community and how they frame the urgency for instructional change. It may be the

    case that some of the impediments to urban school reform described by Payne

    (2008)—including low expectations for students or pessimistic views on reforms—

    could vary depending on the demographic composition of the educators. Research

    examining this possibility might help us better understand the role of the external

    context in teacher leadership among teachers from various racial and ethnic

    backgrounds who are working in urban communities.

    Teacher leadership for influence or change?

    In conducting this study, we sought to examine the assumptions that teacher leaders

    both have a means to influence their colleagues’ work and engage in actions that

    lead their colleagues to change their practice. Given these assumptions, we looked

    108 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    for both means of influence, which we conceptualized as opportunities to share

    one’s practice and inform the thinking of others, and actions that lead to change,

    which we identified as specific tactics that propel others to do something different in

    a specific, intentioned way. During conversations among the members of our

    research team, we discussed whether or not influence and change are substantively

    different concepts and whether the optimal goal of teacher leadership is to influence

    or change the instruction of the teacher leaders’ colleagues. Importantly, York-Barr

    and Duke’s model examines teacher leadership influence, whereas Kotter’s (1996)

    eight steps target change. As we considered our data using these varying lenses, we

    debated whether the differences between the two terms were more than simply

    semantics, and we found it useful to consult the definitions provided by Merriam-

    Webster’s online dictionary. This source defines influence as ‘‘to affect or change

    someone or something in an indirect but usually important way’’ and change as ‘‘to

    make someone or something different.’’ We see the distinction between these two

    words as being the indirect nature of influence and the more intentional, direct

    nature of change. Given the intentional nature of change, we inferred that teacher

    leaders engaged in conscious change efforts were seeking to foster more substantial,

    specific changes in teaching practice. They had a specific end goal in mind—a

    vision for change—that transcended simply wanting their colleagues to learn some

    new techniques and practices.

    Our comparisons of teacher leadership across the three schools furthered this

    influence versus change distinction. We found Daphne’s Bridging the System

    approach at Dogwood to be most strongly aligned with Kotter’s (1996) first four

    steps for leading change, and we felt convinced that broad-based change toward

    discussion-based teaching was well underway. As evidence, our videos captured

    Dogwood teachers examining the nuances of discussion-based teaching, such as

    during a PLC conversation in response to the question ‘‘What are some possible

    reasons why a student might not feel comfortable talking in class?’’ and in a lesson

    debrief in which a mentor and mentee discussed why a basketball review game

    might not be the best way to get students to collaborate in preparation for a social

    studies test. Throughout such interactions, it was clear that Dogwood teachers were

    integrating discussion-based teaching into their instruction and grappling collec-

    tively with some of the challenges of changing one’s practice in these specific ways.

    By contrast, the teacher leadership efforts at Spruce and Maple appeared directed

    toward the less intentional, less impactful outcome of influence. This was certainly

    the case at Spruce, where given Stacy’s passive language and presentation of

    teaching ‘‘tips,’’ her primary means of changing teaching would be through indirect

    influence if someone were to try a strategy she shared and ultimately integrate it into

    their practice. At Maple, the emphasis on influence rather than change was evident

    in the disconnected nature of multiple initiatives that confused the vision and

    overextended teachers’ abilities to focus on particular changes in their teaching.

    Whereas teacher leaders at Spruce seemed to purposefully limit their efforts to

    influence, the team at Maple seemed to default to influence due to an ineffective

    approach to producing change, even when direct change in teaching practice

    appeared to be their objective.

    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 109


    We posit that actors targeting either influence or change might have different

    expectations for the depth and gravity of the outcomes of teacher leadership.

    Influence suggests that teachers ultimately integrate some new practices into their

    teaching—akin to Piaget’s (2000) concept of assimilation of new knowledge that

    becomes incorporated into existing schema within the learner’s mind. Yet, change

    implies a more emboldened reframing of a teacher’s instruction—akin to Piaget’s

    concept of accommodation, wherein the learner reconfigures their mental schema to

    represent altered understanding of a concept. We assert that this influence versus

    change distinction could be critical to understanding the teacher leadership process

    if intentional, direct change requires decisive, clear action, as our study suggests. In

    this way, York-Barr and Duke’s (2004) language of maintaining a focus on teaching

    and learning, establishing trusting and constructive relationships, and interacting

    through formal and informal points of influence really does seem to target influence.

    This is not surprising, as the model uses the term influence to denote the goal of

    teacher leadership. But, we question whether influence is too passive of a concept to

    generate real change, and given the great need for instructional improvement in

    urban schools, we propose that the more intentional, direct nature of targeted

    change in instruction might be the more compelling objective for teacher



    Our findings on the teacher leadership processes within these three urban charter

    schools suggest that broad-based instructional change requires teacher leaders to be

    purposeful and focused in creating change through targeted, direct, and strategic

    change efforts. To this end, we found that Kotter’s (1996) eight steps for generating

    organizational change offered insight into the process by which teacher leaders can

    undertake instructional change efforts, and we found complex systems theory

    (Opfer and Pedder 2011) to be an informative way to conceptualize the influence of

    multiple embedded systems on the teacher leadership process. By integrating these

    theoretical lenses, our work complicates and provides insight into the means by

    which teacher leadership creates change. Just the same, we acknowledge that in the

    complex contexts facing urban schools with low student achievement and high

    teacher turnover, understanding the teacher leadership process for leading change

    will ultimately require more than the theories of Kotter (1996) and Opfer and Pedder

    (2011) can provide. Urban, high-needs contexts continue to be some of the most

    challenging, yet critical, places for enacting educational change. Although we have

    sought to explain elements of the teacher leadership process in these settings, there

    is still more work to be done to understand how school and teacher leaders can

    operationalize positive instructional change in urban schools.

    In our own PD work, however, we have found direct applications of this research

    that have helped us improve the support and preparation we provide formal teacher

    leaders. In subsequent PD sessions, we have paid greater attention to not only

    providing extensive information on the rationale for discussion-based teaching, but

    also to assessing that understanding among our participants and providing

    110 J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113


    opportunities for participants to engage in metacognition about their own

    understanding and learning regarding discussion-based teaching. We have also

    provided teacher leaders with information on leading change and have specifically

    introduced them to Kotter’s (1996) eight steps for leading organizational change. In

    coaching teacher leaders in the final 2 years of our PD, we purposefully integrated

    Kotter’s terminology—urgency, guiding coalition, vision, etc.—in an effort to

    increase the impact of teacher leaders in their schools and to help them navigate the

    complex systems that frame their work. We believe that this more strategic focus on

    the preparation of teacher leaders to fully and effectively engage in the change

    process is a critical future direction for research and practice in teacher leadership.

    Acknowledgments The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the Spencer Foundation, which
    made this research possible.


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    J Educ Change (2016) 17:85–113 113


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    • The teacher leadership process: Attempting change within embedded systems
    • Abstract
      The challenge to improve urban schools
      Teacher leadership
      The process of teacher leadership
      Theoretical framework
      Professional development for teacher leaders
      Research questions
      Site and participant selection
      Data collection
      Data analysis
      Dogwood Academy: Embedded systems supporting the teacher leadership process
      Maple Academy: Embedded systems pulling in many directions
      Spruce Academy: Embedded systems lost in transition
      The teacher leader’s orientations toward leadership as a system
      The school principal’s orientations toward leadership as a system
      The leadership team as a system
      The school as a system
      The external context as a system
      Teacher leadership for influence or change?



    Global Day of Service and Your Specialization




    Specializing in social change can be an amazing experience especially during the global day of service that has been set aside to offer free social change to those in need. As an individual, I am looking forward for the day because it would be a great day of learning and getting practical with the things I have learned. For this day of the service project, I will be volunteering at an agency that works with children with disability. During this day, I will be participating in playing important roles at the agency for instance, reading books to the children, compound, washing their clothes, cooking, and feeding these children and any other task I might be allocated.

    The selected proposed project would directly support social change in my program and career because it is a project that would grant a direct engagement with the people in need. This means, that I will have a chance to get to learn what children with disabilities go through as well as the people working for the agency. This is important for social change because it is an experience that would help in developing the right feelings, values, and morals which are necessary for social change to take effect (Cooper et al., 2016). For instance, meeting and interacting with these children with disabilities would be a great chance to a build rapport and a bond. In my field, I require to offer client-oriented services. The reason is that I will be able to understand their pains, miseries, and life challenges as well as learn how to handle them in a manner that would make them feel wanted and appreciated. It would be a moment of socially changing from the things, I am familiar with to things, I am not aware of on how they are handled. According to Fullan (2016), indicates that you should “create a personal learning experience through which one can reflect on”. All these are important for my career because professionals in my career needs to have the values, personality, and attitude to offer social change services.

    According to Callahan et al., (2012), there are eight features of social change and the features are classified into three categories. Knowledge category has scholarship, system thinking, and reflection. Skills category has; practice, collaboration, advocacy, and civic engagement. Lastly, the attitude category only features the humane ethics feature. From the eight social features these are the features that will be integrated most during the voluntary work at the disabled children agency. For instance reflection, practice, collaboration, advocacy, civic engagement, and human ethics would be integrated the most. The reason is that the project will require getting civically engaged because, I will be able to reflect from the lessons learned. Also, constant practice when offering voluntary services to these children will be of value in advocating for them since they are vulnerable. A way of demonstrating humane ethics is when you show that you value and care. According to Fullan, (2016), children with a disability requires special attention since they are children with special needs. This means when someone lacks humane ethics it can obstruct one from engaging in the service effectively. This makes human ethics a mandatory feature to apply during this project.


    Callahan, D., Wilson, E., Birdsall, I., Estabrook-Fishinghawk, B., Carson, G., Ford, S., . . . Yob, I. (2012). Expanding our understanding of social change: A report from the definition task force of the HLC Special Emphasis Project [White paper]. Minneapolis, MN: Walden University.

    Cooper, K. S., Stanulis, R. N., Brondyk, S. K. Hamilton, E. R., Macaluso, M., & Meier, J. A. (2016). The teacher leadership process: Attempting change within embedded systems. Journal of Educational Change, 17(1), 85–113. doi:10.1007/s10833-015-9262-4

    Fullan, M. (2016). The new meaning of educational change (5th ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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