Graduate Certificate Programs in Teacher and School Leadership (PK-12)
Graduate certificate programs in teacher and school leadership are academic training programs designed for preschool and K-12 educators who want formal training in peer mentoring, instructional coaching, and team-based curriculum development, assessment, and improvement strategies. These programs provide college graduates and current teachers who hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with access to professional development through career-oriented, efficient graduate-level coursework in leadership skills. Indeed, students can typically complete a graduate certificate in teacher and school leadership program in one year or less, as opposed to master’s programs in educational leadership, which can take two or more years to complete. Thus, for teachers who are interested in career advancement, graduate certificate programs in teacher and school leadership represent a relatively direct route to acquiring and cultivating new leadership, assessment, coaching, and mentoring skills.
Teacher and School Leadership Explained
School leadership and teacher leadership are terms used to describe the roles of elementary, secondary, middle, and high school teachers whose professional responsibilities extend beyond their classrooms and the students they teach and into areas of school administration, teacher training, mentoring, and new program development. Teacher leaders are generally experienced public and private school teachers who possess advanced training in one or more of the following areas: organizational leadership; instructional coaching; educational assessment; classroom and online learning technologies; and curriculum design and improvement. While they continue to serve as classroom teachers, school and teacher leaders use interpersonal skills, pedagogical and organizational knowledge, and training in areas of educational innovation to work from inside classrooms, schools, and districts to improve the quality of education and student learning outcomes.
Identifying and Classifying Graduate Certificate Programs in K-12 School and Teacher Leadership
Teacher leadership and school leadership graduate certificate programs are post-baccalaureate academic training programs that consist of a small cluster of graduate courses that help teachers cultivate advanced leadership skills. These programs are typically offered by schools, departments, and/or divisions of education at colleges and universities that offer graduate degree programs in teaching and education. However, unlike a degree program, a graduate certificate program culminates in the conferral of an academic certificate rather than a degree. This makes graduate certificate programs an ideal option for teachers who do not need to earn an additional degree in order to advance in their careers, but who are interested in adding new leadership, administrative, and teaching skills while completing professional development coursework. In addition, graduate certificate programs in school and teacher leadership can help prepare licensed teachers to apply for a teacher leadership endorsement in the states that provide such a credential.
Another identifying characteristic of teacher and school leadership graduate certificate programs is that they are designed for student who hold a bachelor’s, master’s*, or doctoral degree and do not accept applicants who have yet to complete a four-year undergraduate degree. Furthermore, these programs commonly require candidates to be practicing and/or licensed teachers prior to enrollment. While there is no formal naming convention for these programs, they may be designated as graduate or post-baccalaureate certificate programs in teacher leadership, school leadership, or instructional leadership, and some programs focus on a specific type of teaching, such digital or online teaching.
Note: Depending on their place of employment and how teacher salaries are determined for their school district (for example, districts that use a step and column pay scale), earning graduate credits may lead to an increase in salary.
Teacher and School Leadership Graduate Certificate Coursework
The curricular details of graduate certificate programs in teacher and school leadership vary by school and by program. However, a typical teacher or school leadership certificate program curriculum includes several courses (four or five is common) that cover topics in teamwork and professional collaboration, evidence-based school improvement initiatives, peer mentoring and instructional coaching, and the use of learning technologies and other instructional tools. This training is generally appropriate for teachers at all levels of education, from preschool up through elementary, secondary, middle, and high school. While many programs focus on general teacher leadership skills, some programs target specific types of teaching, such as online teaching, gifted education, or special education.
The list below provides a representative overview of the types of courses that students commonly complete as part of teacher leadership graduate certificate programs.
- Management and Leadership in K-12 Education
- Instructional Leadership and Supervision
- Teacher Leadership for Student Learning
- Coaching for Student Learning
- Research and Evaluation of Emerging Technologies in Education
- Learning Technologies & Disabilities
In addition to didactic courses of the type listed above, some school leadership graduate certificate programs require students to complete practicums and/or internships. Teachers are generally allowed to complete these field experiences at the school in which they are already employed, and some programs require applicants to be working as teachers at suitable schools for this purpose. Potential applicants to teacher leader graduate certificate programs who are concerned about internship placements should contact program administrators, as each program has its own policies and procedures regarding internship requirements.
Note: For students specifically interested in special education or gifted education certificate programs, check out our Graduate Certificate Programs in Special Education and Graduate Certificate Programs in Gifted Education pages for more information about programs dedicated to instruction and leadership in these two fields of education.
Online Graduate Certificate in K-12 Teacher and School Leadership
Online teacher and school leadership graduate certificate programs represent a more flexible and convenient alternative to traditional, campus-based programs. Students in online programs take the same types of courses and receive the same kind of training as students in campus-based programs, but they do so via distance learning technologies and learning management systems (LMSs) that facilitate the streaming of live and pre-recorded lectures and virtual class sessions. This allows schools to broaden the reach of a certificate program to students who are not able to commute to campus for in-person classes, and it allows students who are working full-time or have other commitments outside of school to complete a certificate program from home, work, or any other suitable location with a secure internet connection.
For students who are not familiar with online education, not all online programs use the same types of instruction methods. Some programs utilize synchronous instruction for some of their courses, while others rely solely on asynchronous instruction. Synchronous instruction takes place in real-time and requires students to be logged on to a program’s LMS to attend live lectures and discussions. In contrast, asynchronous instruction does not have a real-time component and thus consists of pre-recorded lectures that can be streamed at a student’s convenience, as well as learning modules and other assignments that students complete whenever they have time in their schedules to devote to school (as long as they abide by set assignment deadlines).
While all online programs incorporate materials that students can access asynchronously, not all programs use or require live synchronous sessions. There are pros and cons to each mode of instruction. In general, asynchronous instruction affords more scheduling flexibility than synchronous instruction, but it requires students to be more proactive and have better time management skills to keep up with readings and course materials without weekly live lectures or discussions. Synchronous instruction provides students with more structure than asynchronous instruction, but it can create scheduling conflicts for students who cannot attend weekly live sessions (which are typically during the week in the evening) due to work or personal reasons.
GraduateCertificate.com classifies programs that offer all of their instruction via distance learning technologies as online programs. Programs that require a limited number of campus visits may also be classified as online programs as long as they do not require more than three campus visits per year. In addition, programs that offer all of their instruction online but that require students to complete site-based internships are also classified as online programs. Programs that require students to attend four or more campus-based residency sessions per year are classified as blended or hybrid programs.
Graduate certificate programs that employ a blended or hybrid model offer more convenience and flexibility than fully campus-based programs; however, hybrid programs with a significant number of campus-based requirements may not be practical for students whose schedule does not allow for regular trips to a school’s campus or for students who do not live within commuting range of the school offering the program.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Teacher and School Leadership
The programs listed below are offered by accredited, non-profit colleges and universities. They are meant to provide a representative overview of the types of teacher and school leadership graduate certificate programs that are currently offered online.
The University of Northern Colorado offers an online Teacher Leadership Graduate Certificate program through its UNC Extended Campus division. The 16-credit program is designed for preK-12 teachers and requires applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree and a teaching position. Students in the program complete four didactic courses online and a site-based internship at their school. All 16 credits from the Teacher Leadership Graduate Certificate program can be applied toward the Educational Leadership Master of Arts (MA), Educational Specialist (EdS), or Principal Licensure programs offered by UNC Extended Campus, if and when a graduate from the certificate program opts to pursue further studies. The certificate program does not require any campus visits. For more information on the program, visit UNC Extended Campus at extended.unco.edu.
The University of South Florida (USF) offers an online Teacher Leader for Student Learning Graduate Certificate program through its College of Education. The program is designed for current K-12 teachers who hold a state license and have completed a bachelor’s degree. Students in the program must complete four courses for 12 graduate credits and can do so in two semesters, or less than one year. The program does not require any campus visits. For more information on this program, visit USF’s College of Education at www.usf.edu/education/.
Drexel University in Pennsylvania offers a school leadership graduate certificate program with a curriculum that focuses on virtual and online learning for elementary and secondary school teachers. The 18-credit online Graduate Certificate in K-12 Virtual School Leadership program, which is offered by Drexel’s School of Education, consists of six courses that cover core topics in virtual learning and instruction. Applicants to the program are required to hold a bachelor’s degree but are not required to be licensed teachers. The program’s curriculum can be completed entirely online and does not require students to attend any campus-based sessions. For more information on the program, visit Drexel’s School of Education at drexel.edu/soe/.
More Graduate Certificates in Teacher and School Leadership (K-12)
*For teachers who have already earned a master’s degree and are interested in pursuing administrative positions in schools and school districts (e.g., principal or superintendent), there are post-masters or post-graduate certificate programs in K-12 Educational Administration. For more information about these programs, check out our Postgraduate Certificate Programs in K-12 Educational Administration page.
Transparency and accuracy form the foundation of all the resources we create. For more details on our sources of data, program classifications, and other important information, please review our Sources and Disclaimers page.