Important Concepts of Instructional Leadership
In instructional leadership, the principal’s role is deeply involved with setting the school’s direction. The “mission” dimension focuses on the principal’s role in cooperating with staff, ensuring the school continuously runs on clear, measurable, and time-based goals that result is the academic progress of students. Principals are responsible for communicating goals, which should be widely known and supported throughout the school.
The process of goal development is not considered; its importance is less critical than meeting performance outcomes. This is a weakness in the model. The research simply accepts that goals should be set by the principal, in collaboration with staff, to achieve effectiveness.
Ensuring that the staff incorporates performance goals into their daily routines is crucial in instructional leadership. Vague, ill-defined goals must be put aside, in favor of clear a dividing line between academically focused efforts and “teaching to the test.”
A great example of the problems standardized testing can cause in a school was recorded in a study by Hallinger & Murphy in 2005. Teachers in “effective” California elementary schools were observed while teaching. One teacher had a unique activity center located at the back of the class, but researchers observed that students were not working at the center during the class period.
When questioned, the teacher stated that, although she genuinely liked the activity center, she had no time to use it, since the class hadn’t made the required ] progress in basic subjects. She then reported that her principal expected teachers to spend more time on reading, spelling, writing, and math than were necessary to achieve the expected progress in basic subjects. The principal restated this expectation almost verbatim when asked.
The following bullet points delineate best practices for using instructional leadership to define a school’s mission:
• The administrators’ objectives are clearly expressed and modeled, in writing, all around the school. Teachers and administrators all use the same language to discuss academic priorities.
• Teachers give priority status to the schools mission in their lesson planning and implementation.
• The goal are well-articulated, actively backed, and modeled by the school’s administrators.
Instructional leaders can apply this research to their mission-building strategies. The questions that this principal asked themselves while defining the school’s goals were:
• Are the goals clear and easily understandable?
• Are they written down and known by everyone in the school?
• Do the goals apply in the day-to-day activities at the school?
• Do I constantly and actively reinforce and explain these goals?
• Do the goals have the support of the rest of the school?
Managing the Instructional Program
This second dimension focuses on coordination and control of the school’s curriculum, and all instructional elements. Three leadership functions: supervising and evaluating instruction, coordinating the curriculum, and monitoring student progress are incorporated here. Managing the instructional program requires the principal’s active participation in stimulating, supervising, guiding, and monitoring teaching and learning in the school. The principal must possess expertise as well as commitment, getting “neck-deep” in the school’s instruction and curriculum.
In the California school example noted above, teachers were questioned on how they monitored student progress. Several teachers said the principal knew the reading level and academic progress of almost all students in the elementary school. This kind of personal engagement is not possible in every school, but reflects the degree of the principal’s involvement in observing and managing the school’s instruction and curriculum.
Promoting a Positive School Learning Climate
The third dimension of instructional leadership supports several academic strategies for success:
• Protecting instructional time
• Promoting professional development
• Maintaining high visibility of administrators
• Incentives for teacher success
• Developing high standards
• Providing incentives for learning to students
The broadest in scope and purpose, promoting a positive school learning climate brings alive the widely held belief that effective schools create an “academic press,” by developing high standards of learning, as well as greater expectations from both students and teachers. These schools pursue a culture of continued improvement, where rewards complement the aims and practices of the school. The principal should model the values and practices that create continuous development and improvement of teaching and learning.