During my journey as an administrator, I have learned from others as I have strived for excellence. Part of this work has been refining my own practices, beliefs and core values as a leader. From my perspective, there are five core beliefs leaders use to create great schools and establish strong cultures. These include:
- Foster Effective Relationships
- Instructional Leadership
- Embody Visionary Leadership
- Develop Leadership Capacity within others
- Create Sustainable Change
In this blog post I want to focus on Instructional Leadership including what does this look like within a leader’s role, and how can someone excel in this area. Instructional Leadership represents the work leaders do as they create the learning environment where staff feel empowered, take risks and change practices to best meet the learning needs of students. Here are the key components of instructional leadership:
- Building trust and relationships
While Instructional Leadership has several components, the most essential is building the relationships and trust with your staff. This takes time and only happens if the leader puts the needs of their staff before theirs and makes intentional efforts to support teachers. Teachers want to do their best for students and leaders must recognize that by supporting teachers they indirectly are supporting kids and helping create amazing school experiences. The relationships and trust happen over time by leaders who:
- Care about each staff member as a person
- Celebrate the small wins with the staff member when they try a new strategy
- Take time to have authentic conversations with each staff member where you listen to their thoughts and ideas.
- Model the desired behaviors you seek to create in the building including positivity, kindness and mindsets.
2. Maximizing teachers
Research shows the most significant factor impacting student learning is the teacher within the classroom. Every school has professionals with varied experience, content expertise, and passion to improve. Leaders must understand that they need to focus not on getting all teachers to the same point of excellence, but maximize the strengths of each teacher as they grow as an educator. This occurs by:
- Supporting their desire to improve as a professional
- Push them to improve by understanding their passions, motivate them to see they can be the difference for kids and then empower them to be the change.
- Build their confidence; influence their thinking that in turns leads to improved professional practices.
- When you visit classrooms and see growth, share with that staff member praise that is authentic, specific, and immediate.
Leaders must remember that great schools exist because of great teachers. It is all about utilizing the talents of the staff, maximizing strengths and working together.
- Challenge the status quo
As leaders strive for excellence, they also must strive to be lifelong learners. This simply means they maintain a desire to grow as a leader and most importantly, help their teachers to have the same desire. This process can be stimulated by the questions “Why have we done it this way” and “could we do it better”. Leaders can model for teachers this mindset the following ways:
- Model new strategies with staff through Professional Learning. It is impactful for teachers when they see their administrators be vulnerable and stumble as they try a new approach.
- Leaders themselves being current on latest education research and best practices.
- Support teachers when they try something new and it may not work. Leaders need to be there to encourage-support and help the continued growth.
- Provide the spark for teachers to become “connected educators” with other content specialists and teachers across our country. Share blogs, podcasts, articles and videos with teachers to stimulate their passion to improve.
- Provide feedback to teachers that supports their work while also stimulating deep learning.
- Help instill with the staff the mindset of being focused on Growth as an educator. This can be done by having your own staff share best practices with each other.
- Leaders need to be able to adjust to meet staff needs that in turn impact student needs.
- Provide platforms consistently that spark reflection upon the instructional work. The concept of reflection is the process that allows an individual to identify what worked, what did not and how changes must need to occur for improvement. True growth and changing our practices only happens with reflection.
- Consistent vision
Instructional practices across a building must have the same key focus or vision to truly impact student learning. Leaders create this work by:
- Clearly articulating the instructional vision for their school. This should be based on best practices that are research based and supports the work of the district and standards.
- All professional learning work supports these endeavors.
- Leaders get into the classrooms and have conversations with teachers about “what is working/what is not working”. The conversation drives the relationships and keeps everyone focused on the same path.
- Remove barriers that are limiting teacher effectiveness. Teachers want to do the best for students, but sometimes our systems limit their effectiveness.
- Leaders must engage with staff about the change efforts with instruction and empower them to be part of this change.
5. Instructional Practices that students need
As our work force and society change, so too does the importance of how we are instructing our students. Instructional leadership is critical as it provides the framework that teachers will use to develop lessons and activities that students need to prepare for anything in the future. We must remember that the focus is on student learning and what instructional practices can be used to help students learn at high levels, develop skills, become empowered and engaged in the learning process. Here are the key aspects leaders must remember as an Instructional leader:
- Students need to be actively engaged in the classroom activities. This engagement will lead to students developing skills to become empowered of their own learning.
- The instruction must include key content but the focus should be on skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. Strategies such as Design Thinking, Project Based Learning and Blended Learning are effective at the appropriate times as they provide relevance topics and deliver rigorous standards.
- The instructional practices must be researched based that we know impact student learning. This includes:
- Formative assessment
- Personalization (student choice)
- Engaging students and then empowering learners
- Providing quality feedback to students
- Students self-assessing their own work
Instructional Leadership is just one area in a building administrator’s role. However, it must be a focus area where the administrator spends considerable amount of time and energy working with teachers. This ensures all students are receiving instructional practices that provide deep learning. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts and ideas related to Instructional Leadership.
I look forward to hearing from you about your thoughts on ways you grow as an instructional leader. Comment below or reach out to me on Twitter @clegleiter or at firstname.lastname@example.org