Tomorrow we will be gathering with our entire Learning Leadership Team to start the school year. I always start with an address to set the tone and share my excitement and enthusiasm for the upcoming school year. In last week’s blog post, Quality School Leadership, Teaching and Optimum Learning, I touched on the importance of being an instructional leader and therefore I would be remiss if I didn’t focus on that role in tomorrow’s address.
It is easy for people to hold on to the truth that the teacher the student has makes a difference. Research is pretty clear that the teacher has the most in school influence on student learning. Teaching quality matters! What is less well-known or ignored by some is the impact of leadership on student learning. While not as important as teaching quality, it is still number two!!!
Given the importance of school leadership on student learning, it makes great sense to support the role of instructional leader. That support must begin at the top, with the Superintendent of Schools and must be operationalized in a couple of ways. One, as I’ve stated before, is my own commitment to being an instructional leader and that comes from research AND practice. Although I still teach adults, I left the classroom in 2001 and so it is imperative that I keep up with current research on practice. Lead learner cannot just be a title, it must be the ongoing action of the superintendent. Practice comes not only from sharpening my own skills through cognitive coaching but also getting into schools and working elbow to elbow with our school leaders. I’ve committed to being in every school in our division (morning or afternoon) for formal instructional leadership work twice per year. It is in my schedule and principals will sign up their preferred dates tomorrow.
The second way to operationalize commitment to instructional leadership is my direction to senior staff. I’ve asked each of them to have the same focus on instructional leadership in their own work. In other words, it should be part of all that they do. Now, this makes sense for our educational leaders but I’ve also requested our business services personnel to do the same. Obviously they are not providing instructional leadership direct, but I have asked them to in essence, “Create efficiencies and effective processes to free up time for all leaders to focus their time and efforts on instructional leadership.”
I’m not suggesting that because I’ve made this an expectation, it is going to suddenly free up time in our principals’ days to become more involved in instructional leadership. Education is still a multi-billion dollar business and there are procedures that are non-negotiable and internal controls that are simply law. Insurance and liability concerns are grossly limiting learning opportunities in today’s educational world and although new health and safety legislation is positive, the time commitment of our principals to support and manage is exceedingly high.
But, if there is not commitment from all senior staff and we are all singing from the same page, instructional leadership will fall down on the list of just another thing to do when there is time. My message tomorrow will be quite clear, “Quality teaching and optimum learning requires instructional leadership.” Without clearing my own calendar and making it a priority, I can’t ask any of my leaders to do the same. This year and going forward, make the commitment to support instructional leadership.