Systemic Instructional Coherence

Based on Michael Fullan’s Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems”, Paul Cobb’s “Systems for Instructional Improvement”, Dr. Greg Firn’s “Best of Class” and “Best of Class Leadership Convictions”, and Peter Dewitt’s “Instructional Leadership: Creating Practice Out of Theory”

All of the processes, procedures, protocols, events, and actions within an organization must be aligned in the same direction of improving student academic achievement. These drivers and leverage points work synchronously for school instructional improvements.

systemic instructional coherence

Instructional coherence in a school is critical for school improvement, school turnaround, and to create a synergistic effect from all acts of intentional improvement. Newman’s research (2001) demonstrated that schools with stronger instructional program coherence make higher gains in student achievement and school improvement frameworks that incorporate instructional program coherence are more likely to advance student achievement than multiple, unrelated efforts.

Fullan - Coherent Change Framework

One of the keys to coherence is putting the right drivers into practice to see the entire organization improve as a whole. These drivers actually sharpen and deep the impacts of each of the other drivers in systems change situations.

Principals must ensure that all efforts in a school align for improvement in a school. In aligning all the arrows, all operational and management processes, procedures, and protocols must support the entire instructional framework. In short, everything in a school and every part of the school must support teaching and learning, learning is a top priority. This requires principals/school administrators to “see the big picture” of the roadmap to achieving the school’s goals and school improvement initiatives. School leadership should also build capacity for teachers and staff to understand the framework of instructional coherence in how all of the parts work together to continuous school improvement.

random acts of improvement

A random act of improvement might include hiring one good teacher or having great teaching in isolated classrooms. This could also be the implementation of a policy that helps the school improve. These could happen by chance or a single act.

better random acts of improvement

Better random acts of improvement is a step forward from random acts of improvement. This might be one strong department in a school or series of operational adjustments that improves the school. This is where more things are starting to align for continuous improvement.

intentional & focused improvement

What a great leader does is make sure all the arrows are aligned to support effective teaching and learning through intentional and focused acts of improvement. This is the target for school leadership ensuring every part of the school is pulling in the same direction.

“Principals are spending more and more time on instruction, but it is not time well spent, in that it does not yield widespread results. They should direct their energies to developing the group. The principal’s role is to lead the school’s teachers in a process of learning to improve their teaching, while learning alongside them what works and what doesn’t work” (p. 56). The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact (2014). Leadership practices are the foundation of instructional coherence. As these lead to whole school improvement efforts, processes, procedures, protocols, and beliefs change to make a positive impact on student learning.

Within the framework of school-wide instructional coherence, all instructional components must work effectively and efficiently together to support the common instructional mission of the school. This includes curriculum analysis and alignement, instructional framework and facilitation, all assessments and processes to utilize data for instruction, professional development activities, formal and informal feedback protocols, and support processes throughout every facet of the school. This includes: operational functions, management functions, curriculum, instruction, assessment, technology, RTI/MTSS, maximizing instructional time, professional development, instructional and leadership coaching, instructional feedback, teacher feedback, peer feedback models, and all instructional supports.

leverage points

There are leverage points that leadership can use for school improvement. These leverage points include curriculum, instruction, assessments, data, instructional time, professional development, technology, and human capital. Maximizing each of these leverage points helps the organization improve.

The goal of leadership within a school should be to make sure each of these leverage points is aligned in the same direction and support the goal of effective teaching and learning.


Calfee, R. (1991). Schoolwide Programs To Improve Literacy Instruction for Students at Risk.
Cosner, S., & Jones, M. F. (2016). Leading school-wide improvement in low-performing schools facing conditions of accountability. Journal of Educational Administration. Fiarman, S. (2017). Building a schoolwide leadership mindset.Educational Leadership, 74(8), 22-27. Johnson, D. (2008). A correlational study exploring the possible link between instructional program coherence and student achievement in North Carolina middle schools. Newmann, F., Smith, B., Allensworth, E., & Bryk, A. (2001). Instructional Program Coherence: What It Is and Why It Should Guide School Improvement Policy. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 23(4), 297-321. Retrieved July 28, 2020, from
Robinson, V., Bendikson, L., McNaughton, S., Wilson, A., & Zhu, T. (2017). Joining the dots: The challenge of creating coherent school improvement. Teachers College Record,119(8), 1-44. Stosich, E. L., Bocala, C., & Forman, M. (2018). Building coherence for instructional improvement through professional development: A design-based implementation research study.Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 46(5), 864-880.