Instructional Leadership: Designing A Culture That Supports Student Understanding
Where are the instructional leaders? In schools across the world, we hire principals, assistant principals, academic interventionists, math coaches, literacy coaches, STEM coordinators, testing coordinators, behavior interventionists, technology integration specialists, and curriculum directors. It is easy for a building principal to focus on management, meetings, delegation, and teacher evaluation. Assistant principals can get lost in student discipline and testing windows that seem to get larger each time schools add a new benchmark or formative assessment. When you remove the titles, each person is hired to support teaching and learning, but schools often look like motion masquerading as progress (Parker, 1991).
Instructional leaders support teaching and learning in the following ways:
Identify what every student should know and be able to do. Communicate a plan for teaching and learning.
Provide teachers and staff with time to design curriculum, aligned to the district’s expectations.
Provide teachers and staff with assessments or time to design assessments aligned to the district’s expectations.
Analyze data with teachers and staff in real time, in order to determine how to support teaching and learning.
Minimize distractions to teaching and learning and maximize student understanding.
Frequently observe teaching and learning (formally and informally).
Provide feedback to teachers and staff and coaching to support continuous improvement.
Identify teacher leaders who can coach other teachers, provide professional development, and provide recommendations for supporting all students based on their experiences.
Design a system that focuses on high-yield instructional strategies and provide professional development to ensure that teachers continue to develop tools in their instructional toolkit.
Determine which students need additional academic intervention and support.
Provide teachers with an environment where they can take risks, try new instructional strategies, and become innovative educators who support a new generation of learners.
Avoid the temptation to make every program, initiative, app, and goal a priority. If everything is important, then nothing is important.
Instructional leaders provide a system that supports teaching and learning. In the absence of a system, students will enter class each day, participate in lessons, and at the end of the year each student will be promoted to the next grade level. Instructional leaders must strive to identify the main focus for each grade level or course and then work collaboratively to ensure that each student is challenged and provided with scaffolding as needed. Hattie suggests that principals are engaged in instructional leadership when they “have their major focus on creating a learning climate free of disruption, a system of clear teaching objectives, and high teacher expectations for teachers and students” (2012, p. 83). When instructional leadership becomes the priority for teachers, administrators, coaches, directors, and other staff, then student understanding will grow. A school without clearly defined goals is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).
Five Reasons Schools Need Instructional Leaders:
1. Instructional Leadership provides clarity.
What should every student know and be able to do?
2. Instructional Leadership provides opportunities to develop and empower future leaders.
Instructional leadership is not a solo act. How is the building principal developing teacher leaders, future principals, and providing each aspiring leader with a leadership opportunity?
3. Instructional Leadership provides the opportunity for continuous improvement.
Schools should be learning organizations.
4. Instructional Leadership provides the opportunity to establish goals.
Goals provide teachers and students with something to aim for.
5. Instructional Leadership provides the opportunity for improved alignment.
Glatthorn (1987) wrote, "One of the tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment, so that the learned curriculum is maximized" (p. 4).
As an instructional leader, “How are you maximizing student understanding?”