There has been much discussion regarding the relative effectiveness of different leadership styles in bringing about improved student performance. Instructional leadership is one of the most useful tools in creating a forward-looking, student-centered school environment.
Instructional leadership can be defined as "those actions that a principal takes, or delegates to others, to promote growth in student learning." In practice, this means that the principal encourages educational achievement by making instructional quality the top priority of the school and brings that vision to realization. The role of an instructional leader differs from that of traditional school administrator in a number of meaningful ways. Whereas a conventional principal spends the majority of his/her time dealing with strictly administrative duties, a principal who is an instructional leader is charged with redefining his/her role to become the primary learner in a community striving for excellence in education. As such, it becomes the principal’s responsibility to work with teachers to define educational objectives and set school-wide or district wide goals, provide the necessary resources for learning, and create new learning opportunities for students and staff.
The result of instructional leadership is a collaborative learning environment where learning is not confined to the classroom and is the objective of all educators. Instructional leadership is an important departure from the ancient model of administrator as authoritarian. Inherent in the concept is the idea that learning should be a top-down process. If those in charge of the school are excited about learning, then they will share their enthusiasm throughout the community.
Those who learn to be instructional leaders acquire many characteristics that are beneficial to their schools and communities. Instructional leaders exhibit a clear sense of direction for their schools and prioritize and focus attention on the things that really matter in terms of the work of students. Furthermore, instructional leaders know what is happening in their classrooms and develop the capacities of staff by building on their strengths and reducing their weaknesses. These leaders also attempt to sustain improvement and change in their schools by anticipating and overcoming the obstacles that inevitably will emerge along the way.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals is one type of association that offers workshops to help educators acquire the skills necessary to become an effective instructional leader. For example, Leader 1 2 3 - A Development Program for Instructional Leaders is a three-day program designed to help principals build instructional leadership skills. This unique experience focuses on planning, developing, implementing, and measuring skills required to support quality learning in the school and includes practice in team leadership and shared decision-making.
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- What Is It?
- Principles of Effective Administrative Leadership and Examples of Descriptors
- The Massachusetts Department of Education provides a good starting point for administrators investigating Instructional Leadership. This page hosts an outline of principles of effective leadership as well as examples of their applied usage.
- What School Principals Need to Know about Curriculum and Instruction
- This excellent, 5-page "primer" provides guidelines for school leaders to understand and prepare for their changing role--having in-depth knowledge of curriculum, instruction and student achievement. It provides answers to questions of what a principal needs to know about: 1) curriculum and instruction, 2) instructional practices, 3) organizing a school for greater student learning, 4) supporting teachers with continuous opportunities for growth and development, and 5) balancing the needs for ongoing school improvement with the demands of non-instructional issues and emergencies. (From Bottoms, Gene. Southern Regional Education Board. 2001.)
- Tools & Resources
- Introducing Principals to the Role of Instructional Leadership
- This is an online handbook that introduces instructional leadership, discusses its relevance to contemporary learning environments, and suggests ways of strengthening instructional leadership skills.
- Pathwise School Leadership Series
- Quality schools are created when principals set a school's agenda and strategy using improved student achievement as the goal. School Leadership Resources, a suite of inter-related books, workshops and workbooks designed for principals and other leaders, can help. (From Educational Testing Service)
- Teacher Working Conditions Toolkit
- This resource-laden website was created as part of a working conditions project in North Carolina. But it's a major "find" for anyone interested in strategies to address persistent problems in schools that block teacher effectiveness and student achievement. The topics include time, leadership, empowerment, professional development and facilities. The resources are organized around five key recommendations based on the Center's extensive research. And you'll find separate resources for teachers, principals, district offices, policymakers and community leaders. (From Southeast Center for Teaching Quality)
- Model Programs
- Development and Assessment Programs
- NASSP offers “Leader 1 2 3 - A Development Program for Instructional Leaders,” a three-day program designed to help principals build instructional leadership skills. This unique experience focuses on planning, developing, implementing, and measuring skills required to support quality learning in the school and includes practice in team leadership and shared decision-making.
- Instructional Leadership for the New Millennium
- Linda Orozco compares the Greek educational system to that of the United States. Based on her observations, she highlights four primary skills of instructional leadership. This page also provides links to what she refers to as the "Top-Ten Websites for ’Savvy‘ Instructional Leaders."
- Statewide Leadership Academies: A 50-State Scan
- The Education Commission of the States lists leadership academies by state, and includes a brief synopsis of each academies’ emphasis.
- Superintendent Leadership Network Program
- In keeping with a focus on higher student achievement as an ultimate goal, the superintendent Leadership Program emphasizes professional development activities that highlight superintendents' roles as instructional leaders. The networks represent a place where superintendents can learn and improve as instructional leaders, rather than be held immediately accountable for results. Activities may include an increased focus on effective principal conferences; training for and modeling of school walk-throughs and follow-up letters; and an examination and discussion of Principal Performance Reviews and the Board of Education's New York City Standards for School Leaders. (From New Visions for Public Schools)
- Selected Research & Articles
- A Radical Role for Superintendents
- This American Association of School Administrators (AASA) article focuses on the management challenges principals encounter and advocates that successful leadership that enables children to be educated to high standards requires that we embrace a radical change in the superintendency.
- Building a New Structure for School Leadership
- In a major research analysis, Richard Elmore explores the problems with the structure and leadership of public education. The report features successful efforts in districts where exemplary superintendents and principals are making it possible for teachers to offer excellent instruction. (From Richard F. Elmore. The Albert Shanker Institute. Winter 2000.)
- Can Instructional Leaders be Facilitative Leaders?
- When the concept of instructional leadership emerged in the early 1980s, the "rules" changed for school administrators. Today, prevailing views of leadership suggest that the principal's role should not be to direct others but to create a school culture in which decisions are made collaboratively. This article discusses whether instructive leaders can also act as facilitative leaders.
- How Leadership Influences Student Learning
- It turns out that leadership not only matters: it is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning, according to the evidence compiled and analyzed by the authors. And, say the authors, the impact of leadership tends to be greatest in schools where the learning needs of students are most acute. How do high-quality leaders achieve this impact? By setting directions, by developing people, and by making the organization work. (From Kenneth Leithwood, Karen Seashore Louis, Stephen Anderson and Kyla Wahlstrom. Commissioned by The Wallace Foundation. September 2004.)
- Leading for Learning
- Despite the current push for principals to become "instructional leaders," large majorities of principals spend time every day on administrative matters such as maintaining the security of students, faculty and staff (86 percent), and managing school facilities, resources and procedures (82 percent), according to this report, which analyzes a nationally representative survey of principals and teachers. (From Education Week Special Report. Education Week's Research Center. September 15, 2004. With Support from The Wallace Foundation. )
- Leading from the Middle: Mid-level Distict Staff and Instructional Improvement
- This report--first in a series of research reports from the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform--examines the "critical leadership role that mid-level central office staff play in implementing district reforms." The findings suggest that mid-level staff would be more effective as a community of practice that brokers resources, knowledge, and ideas across the district. Access the Cross City website to read the executive summary or to order the complete report. (From Dr. Tricia Burch and Dr. James Spillane. Cross City Campaign for Urban Reform. )
- Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn: Improving School Quality through Principal Professional Development
- This report calls for a national strategy to ensure that all principals learn to become instructional leaders--spending large amounts of time observing teaching and helping teachers focus attention where it is needed most to raise student achievement. It also urges that a portion of federal funds be targeted for professional development for principals who work in schools serving disadvantaged students. (From National Staff Development Council. 2001.)
- Rural School Leadership in the Deep South: The Double-Edged Legacy of School Desegregation
- This report is the first installment of a two-part series intended to give public voice to school leaders in the South. The report comes from discussions with the Rural School Leaders Working Group comprising 20 principals, superintendents and instructional supervisors from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi to discuss the issues, challenges and opportunities for school leadership. (From Doris Williams and Jereann King. October 2002. The Rural School and Community Trust)
- Tapping the Potential: Retaining and Developing High-Quality New Teachers
- This report includes federal policy recommendations, in-depth analysis of new teacher induction practices, and four case studies: Connecticut BEST, Santa Cruz New Teacher Project (California), Tangipahoa FIRST (Louisiana), and The Toledo Plan (Ohio). While the report is focused on teachers specifically, it provides a cogent and brief overview of teacher induction issues and challenges. And, to some extent, discusses the role of the principal in supporting quality teacher induction. The full case studies noted are provided in the report's appendix. (From Alliance for Excellent Education. June 2004.)
- The Changing Role of Principals: An Interview With Philip Hallinger
- NCREL hosts this interview with Philip Hallinger, a professor in educational leadership at Vanderbilt University. Hallinger examines the evolution of principals as instructional leaders and addresses several concerns that are raised as principals shift more and more into these roles.
- The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: An Examination of School Leadership
- In schools across the country, more and more emphasis is being placed on the importance of leadership. The school principal is increasingly regarded as the primary factor in implementing reform and raising student achievement. However, those most closely involved with schools – principals, teachers, students and parents – all have different ideas of what school leadership actually means. What should a principal’s priorities be? What are the key elements of the principal’s job? How do other members of the school community perceive principals? The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, 2003 examines the attitudes and opinions of teachers, principals, parents and students regarding these and other areas of school leadership. (From Dana Markow and Marc Scheer. Harris Interactive, Inc. Copyright 2003.)
- Trends and Issues: Role of the School Leader – Instructional Leadership
- This page provides numerous article abstracts related to instructional leadership. While these articles are not easily accessible through local libraries, they are available through ERIC and can be ordered online.
- Working Smarter to Leave No Child Behind: Practical Insights for School Leaders
- Accountability based on student test results is the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act, which assumes that schools can solve their problems if given proper incentives and technical assistance, and that parents should have educational alternatives if the schools fail to do so. This paper discusses evidence on accountability systems, describes the act’s accountability model and its underlying assumptions, and offers educators specific recommendations for effective operation in an era of accountability. (From Brian Stecher, Laura Hamilton & Gabriella Gonzales. RAND Education. 2003.)