Being an instructional leader!

It is already September 15th and the question is, “Have you visited a classroom yet?”  Most school administrators will probably be able to answer that question in the affirmative. Within the first couple of weeks and generally throughout the year, principals and associates find themselves walking through and visiting many classrooms. However, if I rated this activity on the basis of improving teaching quality using a modified version of  Bloom’s Taxonomy, I’d probably rate it as lower level. Visitations or walkthroughs are  better than not being in classrooms at all, but not by much.

I fully understand why some administrators default to this type of “supervision” in the early part of the school year. The urgent seems to always usurp the important. But at some point and time, (the sooner the better) the important must replace the urgent. Being an instructional leader requires administrators to engage in a robust supervision model that provides effective feedback to teachers about their practice. Teaching and learning has become so complex that teachers require their administrators (and their colleagues) to assist them in developing their professional craft. Professional judgment must not only be informed but more importantly collective through ongoing feedback from administrators and other colleagues.

At the end of the summer I began reading Visible Learning for Teachers- Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie. Early in the book he writes,

The most important conclusion that can be drawn from Figure 1.1 is that ‘everything works’; if the criterion of success is ‘enhancing achievement’, then 95 percent of all effect sizes in education are positive. When teachers claim that they are having a positive effect on achievement, or when it is claimed that a policy improves achievement, it is a trivial claim, because virtually everything works: the bar for deciding ‘what works’ in teaching and learning is often, inappropriately, set at zero.

With the bar set at zero, it is no wonder every teacher can claim that he or she is making a difference; no wonder we can find many answers as to how to enhance achievement; no wonder there is some evidence that every student improves, and no wonder there are no ‘below-average’ teachers. Setting the bar at zero means that we do not need any changes in our system! We need only more of what we already have- more money, more resources, more teachers per students, more… But this approach, I would suggest, is the wrong answer.

This quote was debated by our own Learning Leadership Team as well as to the administrators from Kainai Board of Education last week. In both instances, some rather insightful dialogue ensued. The discussion did not see Hattie’s comments as being the gospel truth but neither was it fully dismissed. My intent was to illustrate that instructional leadership requires an indepth and ongoing review of current teaching practice in all of our schools. And one of  the best ways to accomplish this is for administrators to commit to a supervision plan that provides support and guidance to the educators in their buildings.  

Supervision is not just being in a teacher’s classroom…visiting! Rather, the Alberta Teacher Growth, Supervision and Evaluation policy requires ongoing supervision of teachers by principals that focuses on:

  1. Providing support and guidance to teachers;
  2. Observing and receiving information from any source about the quality of teaching a teacher provides to students; and
  3. Identifying the behaviours or practices of a teacher that for any reason may require an evaluation.

Being an instructional leader takes the notion of providing support and guidance to teachers very seriously.  It is my belief that in order to be an effective instructional leader you must have the following qualities:

  • —Master teacher
  • —Know what excellence looks like
  • —Data knowledgeable
  • —Understand current research
  • Excellent communicator
  • Ability to provide meaningful objective data
  • —Focus on teaching practice and learning outcomes

Strong administrators excel at these qualities. But instructional leaders require that these qualities to be put into action. Good intention is just that and does nothing to improve the quality of instruction in our classrooms. Administrators must make the commitment to engage in high quality supervision to make the necessary difference in our schools.

So, as you begin this week, what are you going to do to be an instructional leader?


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  1. Great posting as always Chris! I would like to chime in on the discussion of instructional leadership and supervision. DuFour and Marzano, in their joint text Leaders of Learning, encourage us to supplant traditional individual classroom supervision (aka walkthroughs, etc.) with supervision and support in team meetings. I would whole-heartedly support this assertion. As a principal in my last couple years, I would clear my schedule to ensure that I could be a part of the grade-level team meetings in my building. When I first started at my last school, I would try to visit every classroom daily (5 minutes or less – just a drop in) and then at least for a 30 minute period during the week. It took a ton of my time and in the end, didn’t amount to much influence upon existing classroom practice. However, I ended up shifting my supervision to the daily classroom visit (again, 5 minutes or less – just allowed me to touch base daily, allowed students to see me in classrooms and helped build levels of trust with staff as they saw me in classrooms to support the great work they were doing) as well as sitting in on grade-level weekly meetings. It was awesome to work with teams on their instructional planning, building common assessments and talking about kids. Allowed me to build unprecedented levels of trust with staff as I worked through their planning with them, allowed me to ensure teams (and individual teachers) were working towards our school goals and allowed me to learn areas of further support (for kids and teachers). A thousand times more effective than time spent in individual classrooms. Although I still had individual supervision for beginning teachers, those on evaluation or any that I suspected needed further support, the team supervision concept ended up being the way to go!

    As always, great post showing your role as a thought leader in your district. All the best as the new school year gains momentum!

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