Being an instructional leader is an enormous responsibility, and sometimes can feel like a lonely job. Your role is to have an impact to the instructional core and influence how teachers and students engage with content so we get to teaching and learning.
While every school and every staff are different, there are certain key characteristics that principals share.
Below, we’ve outlined five strategies so that you can use the assets you have as principal to improve overall instructional leadership.
1. Instructional Leadership Starts in the Classroom
Instructional leadership starts with just that: instruction. Carve out time each day for informal walk-throughs. Commit (and calendar) to getting into at least 10 classrooms per day and providing teachers with targeted and focused feedback that will help them improve and grow.
These informal walk-throughs are vital for developing teachers, maintaining visibility with students and staff. It builds accountability in a culture of and for learning. They also help you to develop a data-driven snapshot of strengths and challenges. This helps you know where to spend your time and allocate resources and support.
These visits could be short, and the feedback you provide can simply be a “kudo” and “a wondering”. The key is to use the wondering to start a dialogue.
For example, “I wonder if you considered ways to make this lesson more culturally relevant to your students, if the level of engagement might increase?”
2. Give Consistent and Comprehensive Feedback
Both formal and informal observations should provide teachers with effective and manageable feedback. Post-observation discussions should be conversations about what was observed. Allow teachers to share the planning process they used, what students were learning, what mastery would look like, and to share student work products. Requesting specific questions they may want you to help them explore is important.
Post observation feedback is not an autopsy. It is an opportunity to for teachers to take the feedback, implement the suggested improvements, with time for practice and revisiting the impact of the feedback.
These feedback discussions should be part of a cycle for ongoing continuous improvement. They should allow teachers time and space to act on the feedback. Provide the chance to close the feedback loop without feeling that it will negatively impact their evaluation.
As an instructional leader, your greatest asset is working with teachers to deliver high-quality instruction. Much like when teachers provide students with effective feedback, it improves their performance, so too is the case when principals communicate consistently with their faculty and staff.
Keep feedback constructive, open and direct. Make sure that you plan for it by setting up formal appointments to discuss teacher performance. Planning and being prepared for feedback conversations helps insure that you are meaningfully engaged with the teacher in a two-way discussion. This signals mutual respect and value of the work being done to improve instructional quality.
3. Remember to Still Be a Teacher
Instructional leaders are still teachers despite a change in formal title to principal or assistant principal. Your audience may not be students, but as the instructional leader, you serve as the model.
Make sure you understand, and are willing to do what you’re requiring of your teachers. This doesn’t require you to be an expert in all content areas, but it does require that you maintain an understanding of best practice for teaching and learning.
Coach your teachers and provide shoulder to shoulder support as needed.
4. Continue to Learn and Stay Current
Professional development workshops and conferences are just one way to stay on top of current trends in education. Explore opportunities to learn from your professional peers on topics that interest you. This could be useful in your school.
Subscribe to journals and magazines such as ASCD Ed Leadership, read the Marshall Memo, Journal for Curriculum and Instruction, Insight, Journal of Teacher Leadership and Urban Educational Leadership, and ED Week to name a few.
School leadership doesn’t have to be a lonely job. Find and engage with colleagues who are willing to share what they’ve learned, and do the same as a member of a community of practice.
These conversations will be at the core of your growth as a leader and models your commitment to continuous improvement.
5. Reflect on Your Leadership
In the middle of a busy day, it can be hard to find the time for reflection, so it requires that you are intentional in giving yourself that time.
Take a few minutes at the end of each day to make note of anything that stood out to you. Keep your notes in a single place, and read through them to notice any patterns that emerge. Determine what you might need to do more of, start doing, stop doing, or figure out how to scale.
Where are you spending your time and energies?
How did a decision you made impact stakeholders?
What might you have done differently, better, sooner, next time?
Building in opportunities for you to reflect will help build your capacity to be an authentic leader. This helps you become aware of your own mistakes. Be clear about ways to address your challenge areas. Reflecting on your own practice allows you to seek to learn as well as help others to learn.
Ready to Become the Best Leader You Can Be?
Strong and effective instructional leadership can make a big difference in your school and for your teachers.
If you’re interested in learning new techniques or have any questions, contact us today.
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Ms. Valda Valbrun is an established Educational Leader known for passion toward inclusive, research-based, data-driven pedagogy, a systems change facilitator with a proven track record of supporting schools and districts to change educational practices and establish systems, and a dynamic Professional Developer, Teacher, Administrator, Entrepreneur, Advocate and Student Champion.