prioritizing Instructional Leadership

Based on Research by Dr. John Hattie and Dr. Vivian Robinson's "Visible Learning" and "Instructional Leadership Meta-Analysis", Dr. Todd Whitaker's "What Great Principals Do Differently", Principal Kafele’s “Leadership Identity” and Dr. Danny Steele's "Essential Truths for Principals"

The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing!" - Stephen Covey

The main thing in every school should be student learning and instructional leaders at all levels should keep that as the focus.

Principals engage in multiple types of leadership within their role of leading a school including Strategic Leadership, Instructional Leadership, Cultural Leadership, Human Resources Leadership, Managerial Leadership, External Development Leadership, Micro-political Leadership. The heart of the role of the principal is student safety and teaching/learning. In today’s era of accountability, principals are held accountable by the academic performance of their respective schools. Principals must ensure processes, procedures, and protocols are in place to ensure efficient management of the school to ensure adequate time is devoted to instructional leadership by the principal and school administration. Prioritizing instructional leadership by the principal is critical to the school's success and increasing student achievement.

Where You Spend Your Time Demonstrates Your Priorities

Instructional leadership takes a commitment, in terms of time and focus, from the principal. Effective principals know how to ensure the managerial and operational facets of the school support the teaching and learning process and protect instructional time. Principals, as instructional leaders, should spend a minimum of 50% and target of 75% of their time devoted to improving student achievement through improving and supporting effective teaching and learning practices.

The role of the principal has changed immensely over the past two decades. Principals used to be considered as “building managers”, but the priority has shift to being the “instructional leader” of the school due to the increased accountability measures. The key role of school administrators should be instructional leadership in the current era of accountability. The review of literature shows that the job demands of school principals continue to grow and escalate. While most principals know there is a priority on instructional leadership, it is often overshadowed by school managerial demands. It is essential that school leaders learn to manage prioritizing instructional leadership as well as the managerial facets of the job.

“An instructional leader is one who creates a climate that puts learning first for students and adults, has contagious enthusiasm and excitement about learning, creates a climate free of distracters, has clear priorities for instruction, and high expectations for students and teachers.” – John Hattie, Visible Learning (p83)

The concept of instructional leadership, defined as attending to instructional matters, is characterized by leading for learning and a learning imperative. Many principals often take a managerial approach to instructional leadership, where they do some tasks that may contribute to increased student achievement; however many lack the urgency and skills sets to make instructional leadership the priority of their role in leading learning for the organization. True instructional leaders put learning in the forefront and emphasize the need to prioritize learning for all. This is critical, based on social learning theory, because the principal models the way for the rest of the school and his priorities tend to set the vision for all staff.

According to Robbins and Alvy (2003), the principal must manage challenges and relationships among different constituencies: teachers, central office personnel, as well as the school community. Setting priorities needs to be related to the overall school vision of the leader. Principals need to make distinctions about what is more important and what is less important and decide what gets done at various points in time. Oftentimes, it is difficult to prioritize in schools when everything seems equally important (Burrello, Hoffman, & Murray, 2005). Every school principal operates within the same time constraints. The most effective principals, in terms of improving student academic achievement, are instructional leaders and place instructional leadership as their top priority.

What is Your Leadership Identity?

Principals often find it difficult to remain focused on their fundamental purpose due to the nature of their job that requires attending to multiple and varied issues and problems throughout the school day. Principals must be able to work quickly, shift gears easily, and complete tasks in a compartmentalized way throughout the day. The major difference in managers and leaders is that managers are concerned with directing and leaders are concerned with influencing (Crow, Matthews, & McCleary, 1996; Turnbull et al., 2009). The key questions is "what are your big rocks, the things that matter most in a school? The biggest rock for effective instructional leaders is always student learning!

“Leadership and management must coincide; leadership makes sure that the ship gets to the right place; management makes sure that the ship (crew and cargo) is well run” (Day, Harris, Hadfield, Tolley, & Beresford, 2000, pp. 38-39).

Good instructional leadership requires effective management. Effective principals are also effective managers to protect and prioritize instructional time and their vision of teaching and learning at the forefront of the school’s purpose. Along with safety, student achievement is the top priority of instructional leaders. Instructional leaders understand which practices yield the highest gains in student achievement and work for fidelity of best practice instruction across the entire school. Effective instructional leadership designs and implements systems and processes that are always focused on student achievement.

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