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Working with unions to empower teachers - learning circles

In 2010, I was invited to speak at Education International’s Research Network conference. For those who are not yet familiar with Education International (EI), it is the global federation of teacher unions. They have a huge reach, representing more than 32 million teachers through 386 affiliated unions (

I was nervous about making a presentation about teacher leadership to a room full of union leaders from across the worlds. I was expecting a bad reception. I had assumed that their sole focus would be the pursuit of better working conditions and salaries; they might see the stuff I was peddling - notions of maximising human agency and empowering teachers as agents of change - as diluting their agendas. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. There was a strong feeling in the room that what I was proposing had the potential to be of real benefit to members of their unions. It became clear to me that union leaders are also interested in improving teachers’ self-efficacy and enabling them to participate in decision making in their schools, something that John Bangs and I were able to substantiate in a subsequent research project commissioned by EI (Bangs & Frost, 2012).

Following the Brussels meeting, I was invited to speak about the idea of support for ‘non-positional teacher leadership’ (Frost, 2012; 2017) at EI events in Dublin, London, Reykjavik, Johannesburg and so on. Eventually, all this talk was replaced by concrete action. In 2022, HertsCam entered into a partnership with EI to design and operate a programme of support for teachers who would lead the development of formative assessment practice in their schools. We would collaborate with researchers, union representatives and school principals to establish ‘Learning Circles’ in Brazil, Columbia, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Malaysia, South Korea and Switzerland.

In each country we have a number of facilitators who are using the teacher-led development work methodology (Frost, 2013) to empower and enable teachers to lead change in their schools. At HertsCam, our core commitment is to ‘non-positional teacher leadership’ which means that we believe that teachers, regardless of their position or status in the school, can contribute to improving practice by exercising leadership. We agree with Linda Lambert’s argument (1998; 2003) that in a democratic society, teachers are entitled to see this as a dimension of their professionality (Frost, 2019).

The Learning Circles project is just getting underway. So far, we have established groups in Cote D’Ivoire and Switzerland and will launch others in South Korea and Brazil early in the new year. Within a few months we will have them all up and running and will begin to see new practices emerging. The aim will be to collect accounts of these innovative approaches to teachers’ formative assessment practice and share them globally. Alongside that, I am most excited by the prospect of being able to demonstrate how layers of teacher leadership can work to transform education. I say ‘layers’ because in this project we have teachers in HertsCam who have become successful facilitators of teacher leadership groups. In the Learning Circles project, some of the more experienced HertsCam facilitators are now acting as ‘link facilitators’ who induct and support the teachers who have been asked to become facilitators of learning circles. They in turn will enable the teachers in their circles to lead projects in which they will collaborate with colleagues in their schools to develop aspects of formative assessment practice. In this layered way, we can mobilise many teachers as agents of change. This will generate innovation focused on formative assessment and will build leadership capacity along the way.


Bangs, J. and Frost, D. (2012) Teacher self-efficacy, voice and leadership: towards a policy framework for Education International, Brussels: Education International.

Frost, D. (2012) From professional development to system change: teacher leadership and innovation, Professional Development in Education (special issue on Teacher Leadership and Professional Development) 38 (2), 205-227.

Frost, D. (2013) Teacher-led development work: a methodology for building professional

knowledge, HertsCam Occasional Papers April 2013, HertsCam Publications.

Frost, D. (2017) Empowering teachers as agents of change: a non-positional approach to teacher leadership. Cambridge: LfL the Cambridge Network. Download at:

Frost, D. (2019) Teacher Leadership and Professionality Oxford Encyclopaedia of Global Perspectives on Teacher Education, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lambert, L. (1998) Building leadership capacity in schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Lambert, L. (2003) Leadership redefined: An evocative context for teacher leadership. School Leadership & Management, 23(4), 421–430.

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I am inspired with your work and passion towards building leadership capacity of teachers. I also believe in teachers' positive impact. In fact, we can never know and measure the power of influence our teachers have on us. Teachers can safe our world today, as they have a multiplier effect and spread ideas to generation. When teacher promotes peace and uses inclusive approach in education, for instance, he/she automatically transfer those values to the students. In the real life those students will value diversity and contributions of all the members of society later. Besides, any violations of peace in the world will cause negative emotions and they will not support war. This means that teachers build future active citizens and…

David Frost
David Frost
Jan 03, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for this comment Aigul. I am sure that you are right in recognising that teachers are in a position to influence their students, but I believe that they can also influence their colleagues. They can help to build collaborative professional cultures and cultivate the sort of values that lead not only to more effective schools but also to wider social change.

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