In his most recent book, Leadership for Teacher Learning, Dylan Wiliam asserts that the key to improving education is to improve the quality of instructional practice. Further, he argues that a primary function of school leaders is to “improve the performance of those they lead.”
Wiliam is not alone on this. Many of today’s well-known educational researchers underscore the vital role of the principal, as instructional leader, in creating systems
and environments that promote and support instructional success for all teachers and ultimately for student learning.
The 2014 report, The Future of the Principalship in Canada, published by the Canadian Association of Principals and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, recognized the increased focus on instructional leadership for principals today and its findings suggest that most principals welcome and value this role.
Principals agree that the ability to coach and support the growth and development for each teacher is a key educational leadership skill. However, given increasing demands on principal time and attention, this also happens to be one of the biggest challenges for school-based administrators.
By nature, schools are distinct communities. Schools around Saskatchewan boast a diverse group of teachers, students and community members. Recognizing this, the successful instructional and curriculum leader has an excellent understanding of the unique circumstances influencing the learning process in his or her school.
Understanding and responding to school context is integral to successful instructional and curriculum leadership. For example, in schools where there are several new teachers, much of the leader’s initial time and energy may be on developing the necessary interpersonal, collegial linkages that are a prerequisite to a collaborative learning environment.
Regardless of school size, the principal’s actions, decisions and interactions undoubtedly have a profound influence on the teaching and learning in the classroom.
Thus, the question remains, where to begin, or what next? What follows highlights relevant research regarding how successful principals guide and support teachers in their daily progress of providing meaningful learning experiences for their students.
Effective curriculum leaders influence and support teachers’ professional growth decisions and plans. As such, it is critical that leaders have a clear understanding of the context and classroom practice for the teachers in his or her building.
Curriculum leaders regularly visit classrooms and observe the learning process. They do not hesitate to ask questions to clarify or extend their understanding and they listen carefully to the responses.
In doing so, curriculum leaders gain a realistic understanding of how best to support teachers and student learning in the classroom.
Curriculum and instructional leaders have a habit of engaging in professional and reflective dialogue with their teachers. These conversations highlight valuable information such as: In what areas of the curriculum does this teacher excel? In what areas might he or she require coaching or support? What are the unique challenges confronting this teacher as he or she plans for and delivers the curriculum? What additional resources or growth opportunities (e.g., peer observations) might be valuable?
Not only do these interactions provide the leader with much-needed information about the learning in his or her school, they also go a long way in developing and reinforcing a common framework and language for teacher and student learning in the school.
Through shared leadership and decision-making practices, successful curriculum leaders underscore and reinforce a collective commitment to the school’s instructional vision and goals for students. Essentially curriculum and instructional leadership embodies the contributions of the larger
Finally, curriculum leaders have a foundational understanding of the curriculum. They are informed regarding the key outcomes for student learning as well as suitable instructional approaches, including assessment practices.
School-based administrators, knowledgeable about what students are expected to learn, are able to confidently support teachers as they implement and adapt their instructional practice to the local context to ensure that they meet the needs of all learners.
Principals today understand the interdependent element of their leadership roles and instructional leaders recognize the importance of deliberately involving key staff members as they establish quality and relevant instructional programs for their students.
The collaborative nature of the team’s work can effectively model and reinforce the values of their ongoing professional commitment to teacher and student success.
Without question, this is time well-spent.