Characteristics of Effective Instructional Leadership

Establish a Focus on Learning over Teaching

The primary purpose of any school is to ensure that every student served learns and achieves. This is why the building was built, why the adults were hired, and why the supplies were purchased. To ensure a high quality educational experience for every student, instructional leaders must critically examine the level of student learning happening in the building on a daily basis. They must engage in frequent learning walks to monitor the level of student learning happening across the building.

Effective instructional leaders critically examine student learning data on an ongoing basis, both formative and summative. They disaggregate achievement data into subgroups, look for patterns and trends, and examine root causes for performance gaps. Most importantly, they cultivate a mindset among their staff of “all means all”, encouraging teachers to use phrasing like “our students” as opposed to “my students” because they recognize that schools are evaluated based on the performance of all students, not just small cohorts of students served in individual classrooms.


A focus on relationships

Being an effective instructional leader is largely about creating followers of your vision and that isn’t likely to happen if the people the leader works with do not feel supported and appreciated. Instructional leaders cannot effectively lead while operating in isolation. The responsibilities are too big for any one person to go it alone. School dictators don’t last very long. They get burned trying to convince people to follow them. While people may comply with their orders, they will not be fully committed to them. It will be a constant battle trying to get anything done using such an approach. Therefore, it is essential for leaders to demonstrate a genuine interest in and care for those they serve. They must identify and empower current and emerging leaders in their building, and view themselves as a leader of leaders, not just a leader of all.


Simplify and Prioritize

Prior to rolling out any new initiative to staff, effective instructional leaders critically examine any pre-existing initiatives and assess the value-added nature of these initiatives as they relate to creating improved learning outcomes for students. If they are working well, and staff understand and are invested in them, making major changes for the sake of change is inappropriate and a pathway to disaster.

However, if they aren’t working and can’t be salvaged, instructional leaders must take ownership over this and let staff know that efforts will no longer be focused on that work. It will be taken off the plate. One of the most damning indictments of any school system is the number of initiatives that have been allowed to linger around for years on the back burner, despite the fact they may be less effective and with complete disregard for the time they parasitically waste away from the current work that staff should be engaged in.

Effective Instructional leaders have let go of the illusion that teachers can effectively manage many different initiatives simultaneously. They understand that assigning priority and simplifying expectations minimizes the level of confusion and animosity among the staff about the focus of the work. This helps them to build and maintain stronger relationships and trust among their staff. Therefore, to be an effective instructional leader, you must stand for something and, at the same time, not stand for everything.


Establish and sustain a clear vision for learning

Teachers working in any school building seek ongoing clarity regarding the future direction and vision for their building. Among the components of any vision for learning must be a message that establishes both a sense of purpose and a sense of urgency about the work that is required to fulfill the vision. Teachers also must understand and be invested in how and why this vision will work. To accomplish this, the details behind achieving the vision should be developed collectively between the instructional leader and his/her leadership team. This will ensure a shared accountability and ownership among staff for the work and increase the likelihood the vision will become reality.

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