How My Teacher Leadership Degree Helped Advance My Career

Khristina Russell
Khristina Russell
Exceptional Children's Facilitator in English and Social Studies Departments; Ed.S. in Teacher Leadership from Thomas University, GA
Two teachers walk and talk together down a hallway.

Why I Chose to Pursue a Teacher Leadership Degree

It takes so much to run a school. By default, administrators and local school leadership are the face of success and failures. But, when successful schools succeed, it’s not only because of the principal, it’s also majorly because of the teachers and teacher leaders committed to student success.

I chose to pursue a teacher leadership degree because, after years of serving on various committees and leadership teams, I wanted to truly hone in on the craft of leadership. Not really having a desire to fall into educational leadership, I was so pleased to learn that a degree in teacher leadership would help me build my capacity. In my state, I would also be eligible for a pay increase once obtaining certification. As I already had earned a master’s degree, adding the terminal Ed.S. felt like the perfect next step.

Once my program began, I knew I had made the best choice. Having recently moved out of the classroom and into instructional coaching, I could immediately apply what I was learning into my day-to-day work activities. I had spent 15-plus years learning how to work with students. This was the first time I had focused on working with adult learners in my career. I learned so much about managing the adult learning curve, guiding seasoned teachers into change, and empowering novice teachers towards success.

I learned a lot about data, compliance, and emotional intelligence. I also learned that I already had so many skills that aided my growth and career advancement with minor leadership opportunities. However, the classes I traversed and the coursework I tackled really challenged me to think differently and with a different focus.

How My Teacher Leadership Degree Helped My Career

I was able to move from the classroom and into an instructional coaching position with my teaching leadership degree. I was in the first year of coursework when I interviewed, and I can remember answering questions confidently because of newly gained information and experiences from my lessons. I was fortunate enough to pick up classes before the pandemic, so some of our classes met face-to-face. I was in a cohort, so I traveled with the same adult learners for the duration of the program. When we met face-to-face, we were able to really dig into our learning.

We practiced scenarios, managed nuances like body language, and were able to spread out tangible artifacts and break them down in real-time. This prepared me for how to approach and initiate difficult conversations. It also allowed me to consider how to others might react to my own facial expressions and body language. Those experiences were invaluable. Moving into the pandemic as new coach, I am so glad I had a chance to practice those skills in my teacher leadership courses.


My teacher leadership degree also helped me learned how to self-advocate for myself. During my program, I went through several personal struggles. Truthfully, with one class to go, I almost didn’t make it. However, the same skills I was challenging my staff to use, I needed to apply to myself. I reached out to my professor and plainly explained what I was going through, sought the medical attention that I needed, solicited support from my local support system, and was able to buy myself a little more time.

Instead of finishing in May with my classmates, I finished my graduate degree in June. That experience with almost failing humbled me. It also empowered me to have empathy for those that are struggling. I also learned to have even more empathy for those that are struggling, but don’t know how to ask for help. I learned how to truly be a teacher advocate, not just in front of teachers and administrators, but also behind closed doors when the world is slowly crashing down.

What I Learned Through a Teacher Leadership Degree that I Still Use

I don’t know if there is anything from my teacher leadership degree that I don’t still use. I took classes like Educational Law, Building Collaborative Teams, and Using Data to Improve Schools. I have recently transitioned from my coaching position, back into the classroom to work with students with special needs. All of the information and the skills I learned have significantly impacted my communication and efficacy.

I’m able to:

  • Gently tell colleagues when I notice an inequity
  • Guide meetings and ensure that they stay focused and resolve conflicts
  • Make space for parents to vent without being offended and then find common ground to aid their children in finding success
  • Solicit outside resources when needed in order to support my students

Network of Professional Colleagues

The most important thing I’ve gained is a network of professional colleagues I can lean on whenever I need a thought partner. The power of collaboration is a skill that teachers can often overlook because we all want to be excellent, creative, and efficient.

Collaboration in Education

My teacher leadership degree has shown me how much and how imperative it is that education is treated as a collaborative effort. A huge interweaving team of individuals who all strive to ensure student success. As a teacher leader, I don’t have to make decisions in isolation like administrators. I’m not responsible for evaluations, discipline, or making final decisions for school-wide improvements. As a teacher leader I’m not always the face of success, but I get to celebrate all the little wins along the way.

Interested in teacher leadership and advancing your career? Explore our available teacher leader graduate programs and enroll today!

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