Are You an Instructional Leader?
July 22, 2020
The phrase “instructional leader” can mean a lot of things. Like many titles, it can take on different meanings, given our unique perspectives. Yet, the perception begins to contrast sharply when comparing instructional leadership from the role of school administrators versus classroom teachers.
Personally, I’ve been a listening ear to several conversations over the years on this one, particular label. Every time I read or hear these two words in the same sentence, I keep a watchful eye for another learning opportunity.
Having been invested as a long-time classroom teacher and also as an administrative intern recently, I think I finally have it figured out…
The Classroom Teacher–Instructional Leader
Check it out, y’all. I was reading Baruti Kafele’s latest book: The Assistant Principal 50, and I came across this quote:
"Your goal must be to position yourself as an instructional leader so that there is no mistake in your teachers' minds that they are better teachers *because* of the collegial relationship that they have with you" (Kafele, 2020, p. 23). #TheAssistantPrincipal50 2/2
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) July 21, 2020
I’m not sure if I totally agree with this statement–totally. After all, shouldn’t the classroom teachers know the most about: 1) Their own kids, 2) Their own content, 3) Their own instructional strategies, and 4) Where to find help and support when appropriate?
Especially in such a connected world nowadays, are the principals and assistant principals the ultimate gatekeepers of instructional strategies, effective pedagogy, and content knowledge?
There’s no way that any administrator can possibly know the needs of each learner to the extent that the classroom teacher does, right?
Over 18 years ago, I started my career in education as a classroom teacher. Let’s just say that I have [at least] a general idea of just how hard classroom teachers work. In many ways, my heart will always be with the classroom teacher. I believe that the classroom teaching role is one of the most influential and powerful opportunities in the world. There’s nothing more special than this calling. To say the least, classroom teachers are over-worked, underpaid, and waaay under-appreciated.
Another reason why classroom teachers matter so much is because they have the most face-to-face interaction with students on any given day. More than parents. More than extracurricular coaches. More than anyone.
Think about that.
That means that classroom teachers have the greatest capacity to strengthen relationships with students, grow their potential, address their individual learning needs, and have the deepest impact on their lives.
Yet, done well–teaching is hard. To differentiate instruction for each learner is really, really hard work. Therefore, in order to know exactly how to meet the needs of each learner, educators have to know their stuff. They have to be fluent in their people skills, standards, pedagogy, and better practices.
In fact, I’d argue, that no one knows kids, families, communities, instruction, and everything in between–better than the classroom teacher. Period. End stop. Full stop. Or whatever phrases you see on the twitters that people use for exclamatory points nowadays.
Clearly, classroom teachers are THE Instructional Leaders.
The School Administrator–Instructional Leader
Then again, having just completed my administrative internship, I got a taste of the many, many items on the full plate of the school administrator. Needless to say, in the past, I can see how I usually bit off more than I could chew about administrators.
There are eight main, overarching North Carolina Standards for School Executives, with a plethora of clarifying objectives for each standard. Only one (out of eight) of those standards directly and explicitly defines instructional duties. Here is…
Standard 2: Instructional Leadership
“School executives will set high standards for the professional practice of 21st century instruction and assessment that result in a no-nonsense, accountable environment. The school executive must be knowledgeable of best instructional and school practices and must use this knowledge to cause the creation of collaborative structures within the school for the design of highly engaging schoolwork for students, the on-going peer review of this work and the sharing of this work throughout the professional community.”
Ultimately, the goal of a school administrator is to grow all learners, right? Kids learn. Adults learn how to improve kids’ learning. The whole community wins. Together, we move the learning forward.
Danny Steele’s tweet on the administrator’s role as an instructional leaders really resonated with me:
Especially from an administrative point of view, the title of "instructional leader" has always fascinated me. I've been thinking a lot about this lately. #HamstraHighlights #ecumsa #steelethoughts https://t.co/UQEqTwRTa9
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) July 10, 2018
It’s true. Administrators simply aren’t there, face-to-face, to have the same frequency or depth of interaction with individual learners that the classroom teacher does every day.
Yet, what most people neither see, experience, nor appreciate first-hand were the three, five, or ten structural supports and steps put in place by administrators waaay before the student learning experience ever occurred in the classroom.
It might have been hiring the right team teacher, creating classes, adjusting the master schedule, budgeting for unique allotments, changing school spaces, ordering instructional materials, adhering to state and district guidelines, shielding parent complaints, relaying messages from the Governor, Board of Education, or superintendents, chipping in for another position that would affect another position, or… about… 1,000 other things that were neither seen, appreciated, nor validated nearly 100% of the time.
In many ways, my heart is leaning towards the administrator as the structural leader that ultimately affects instruction. And yet, I know I can only say that as far as my experience takes me, which is just shy of an administrator position. Yet.
Clearly, administrators are THE Instructional Leaders.
My Perspective–Instructional Leader
Here’s my perspective–and I can’t wait to hear yours!
I believe instructional leadership is shared by many stakeholders. In fact, I believe instructional leadership is more about collaboration than it is about any one individual.
I believe that there are several instructional leaders who contribute to the overall instructional leadership that invaluably influence student learning experiences.
You don’t need a title to be a leader–let alone an instructional leader.
Instead of calling it "instructional leader," which implies content-specific learning, how about if we shift that label to "pedagogical leader," which refers to more comprehensive methods and practices of teaching? #satchat
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) February 9, 2019
I'm reflecting: Do you have any resources to share related to:
1) Are principals instructional leaders?
2) What's the diff between an instructional leader and instructional coach? #edchat #piachat #principalsinaction #admin2b #educoach #leadupchat #satchat https://t.co/aiF15ONCdx
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) July 21, 2018
"Where are the instructional leaders? As an instructional leader, 'How are you maximizing student understanding?'” I'm rereading another great @ASCD post by @curriculumblog. #ASCDILC https://t.co/QS5tJEav65
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) July 19, 2018
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) January 4, 2018
1-Teachers Demonstrate Leadership, 2-Teachers Establish a Respectful Environment for a Diverse Population of Students, 3-Teachers Know the Content They Teach, 4-Teachers Facilitate Learning for Their Students, 5-Teachers Reflect on Their Practice, NCSSE 1-Strategic Leadership, NCSSE 2-Instructional Leadership, NCSSE 3-Cultural Leadership, NCSSE 4-Human Resource Leadership, NCSSE 5-Managerial Leadership