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Instructional Leadership, 5 Keys to Success - Principal Tribe

Instructional Leadership, 5 Keys

Five Keys to Instructional Leadership Success

Instructional leadership represents the work leaders do as they create the learning environment where staff members feel empowered, take risks and change practices to best meet the learning needs of students. Here are the key components of instructional leadership.

In this blog post, I want to focus on Instructional Leadership including:

  1. What does instructional leadership look like within the leader’s role?
  2. How can someone excel in this area?

5 Core Beliefs

During my journey as an administrator, I have learned from others as I strive for excellence. Part of this work has been refining my own practices, beliefs and core values as a leader.

From my perspective, there are five core beliefs leaders use to create great schools and establish strong cultures. These include:

  1. Foster Effective Relationships
  2. Instructional Leadership
  3. Embody Visionary Leadership
  4. Develop Leadership Capacity within others
  5. Create Sustainable Change

Building Trust and Relationships

The most essential ingredient for instructional leadership is building the relationships and trust with your staff.

While instructional leadership has several components, the most essential is building the relationships and trust with your staff. This takes time and only happens if the leader puts the needs of their staff before theirs and makes intentional efforts to support teachers.

Teachers want to do their best for students and leaders must recognize that by supporting teachers they indirectly are supporting kids and helping create amazing school experiences.

In leadership, character is more important than strategy.

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The relationships and trust happen over time by leaders who:

  • Care about each staff member as a person
  • Celebrate the small wins with the staff member when they try a new strategy
  • Take time to have authentic conversations with each staff member where you listen to their thoughts and ideas.
  • Model the desired behaviors you seek to create in the building including positivity, kindness, and mindsets.

Maximizing Teachers

Research shows the most significant factor impacting student learning is the teacher within the classroom.

Every school has professionals with varied experience, content expertise, and passion to improve. Instructional leadership is about tapping into this massive instructional and human resource base.

Leaders must understand that they need to focus not on getting all teachers to the same point of excellence, but maximize the strengths of each teacher as they grow as an educator. It is all about utilizing the talents of the staff, maximizing strengths and working together.

If your actions inspire others to learn more, dream more, and do more, you are a leader.

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How do you maximize your teachers? This occurs by:

  • Supporting their desire to improve as a professional.
  • Push them to improve by understanding their passions, motivate them to see they can be the difference for kids.
  • Empower them to be the change.
  • Build their confidence.
  • Influence their thinking that in ways that lead to improved professional practices.
  • When you visit classrooms and see growth, give the staff member praise that is authentic, specific, and immediate.

Leaders must remember that great schools exist because of great teachers. 

Challenge the Status Quo

It’s okay to let teachers see you stumble as you try something new. Ultimately, we are building a culture of reflective practice.

As leaders strive for excellence, they also must strive to be lifelong learners. This simply means they maintain a desire to grow as a leader and most importantly, help their teachers to have the same desire.

This process can be stimulated by the questions, “Why have we done it this way?” and “Could we do it better?”

We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.

John Dewey

Instructional leaders can model this mindset for teachers by:

  • Model new strategies with staff through professional learning.
  • Stay current on the latest education research and best practices.
  • Support teachers when they try something new and it may not work.
  • Provide the spark for teachers to become “connected educators” with other content specialists and teachers across our country.
  • Provide feedback to teachers that supports their work while also stimulating deep learning.
  • Cultivate the mindset of being focused on growth as an educator.
  • Leaders need to be able to adjust to meet staff needs that in turn impact student needs.
  • Provide platforms consistently that spark reflection upon the instructional work.

It is impactful for teachers when they see their administrators be vulnerable and stumble as they try a new approach. Likewise, instructional leaders need to be there to encourage-support and help the continued growth.

Encourage growth and connectivity by sharing blogs, podcasts, articles and videos with teachers to stimulate their passion to improve. Also have your own staff share best practices with each other.

Ultimately, we are trying to build reflective practices. The concept of reflection is the process that allows an individual to identify what worked, what did not and how changes must need to occur for improvement.

Consistent Vision

Instructional practices across a building must have the same key focus or vision to trulyimpact student learning.

Leaders create this work by:

  • Clearly articulating the instructional vision for their school.
  • All professional learning work supports these endeavors.
  • Leaders get into the classrooms and have conversations with teachers about “what is working/what is not working”.
  • Remove barriers that are limiting teacher effectiveness. 
  • Leaders must engage with staff about the change efforts with instruction and empower them to be part of this change.

Aligning the instructional vision should be based on best practices that are research-based and supports the work of the district and standards.

If serving is below you, leadership is beyond you.

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The vision is followed by getting into the classrooms and having conversations. The conversation is where instructional leadership gets active. It drives relationships and keeps everyone focused on the same path.

As instructional leaders, we clear the path to success. Teachers want to do the best for students, but sometimes our systems limit their effectiveness.

Instructional Practices That Students Need

As our workforce and society change, so too does the importance of how we are instructing our students.

Instructional leadership is critical as it provides the framework that teachers will use to develop lessons and activities that students need to prepare for anything in the future.

We must remember that the focus is on student learning. The focus is on instructional practices can be used to help students 1) learn at high levels, 2) develop skills, and 3) remain empowered and engaged in the learning process. 

Here are the key reminders for instructional leaders:

  • Students need to be actively engaged in classroom activities.
  • Active engagement will lead to students developing skills to become empowered of their own learning.
  • Instruction must include key content but the focus should be on skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and, creativity.
  • The instructional practices must be researched-based to assure we are going to impact student learning. This includes:
    • Formative assessment
    • Personalization (student choice)
    • Engaging students and then empowering learners
    • Providing quality feedback to students
    • Students self-assessing their own work

Other instructional strategies that meet students’ needs are: design thinking, project based learning, and blended learning.

These instructional strategies are effective when used at the appropriate times. They can provide relevant topics and deliver rigorous standards.

Instructional Leadership, A Priority

Instructional Leadership is just one area in a building administrator’s role. However, it must be a focus area where the administrator spends a considerable amount of time and energy working with teachers.

This ensures all students are receiving instructional practices that provide deep learning. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts and ideas related to Instructional Leadership.


You can visit my blog site Leadlearnerperspectives.com or follow me on Twitter @clegleiter.

About the author

Chris Legleiter

A Principal with a Lead Learner focus on helping others to collectively grow and learn from each other. Principal in Blue Valley Schools, Kansas City.

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