Instructional Leadership Research Paper Starter

Instructional Leadership

(Research Starters)

Instructional leadership is a leadership policy primarily used by school principals. The policy shifts principals' focus from day-to-day school administration to the improvement of curriculum and classroom instructional practices. While the principal retains a pivotal role in the policy's current form, leadership responsibilities are also disseminated among teachers, school administrators, and district and state supervisors. Studies have shown the policy to be effective when it is fully supported by principals, teachers, and administrators. Principals can improve its probability for success by creating a climate of collaboration among the involved parties, preparing themselves through practical study, offering teachers and administrators professional development opportunities, and becoming adept at data collection and analysis.

Keywords Autonomous Climate; Curriculum; Data Driven Reform; High-Stakes Testing; Instruction; Leadership; Principal; Professional Development; School Improvement; School Management; Student Outcomes; Teaching

School Administration


Instructional leadership is a policy implemented by schools which redefines the roles of the various parties involved in a school, especially principals and administrators, towards the end of improving curriculum and instruction. Prior to the 1980s, the roles of school principals and administrators in the United States and other developed countries focused on administrative duties such as evaluating teachers and managing school budgets, schedules, and facilities. Today, however, principals and administrators are increasingly involved in classroom practices and teaching. In these new roles as "learning leaders" they are responsible for planning curriculum, observing classrooms, and teaching classroom instructors educational methods and philosophies (Lashway, 2002). The National Association of Elementary School Principals (2001, as cited by Lashway, 2002) builds the concept of instructional leadership around the goal of transforming schools into communities in which continuous learning is a central part of everyone's job function, including school leaders.

The concept of instructional leadership first became popular in the United States in the 1980s as researchers concluded from various studies that the principals who lead the most effective schools were primarily focused on curriculum and instruction rather than on other administrative matters (Hallinger, 2005). In the 1990s, as the concept of school-based management made its way into mainstream practice, instructional leadership took a backseat in school leadership discussions (Lashway, 2002). Recently though, in the current climate of standards-based learning, high stakes accountability, and relentless attention to improving educational opportunities for underserved students, instructional leadership has made its way back to the forefront of education policy (Lashway, 2002). Today, a school principal's main responsibility is not performing the day-to-day tasks related to school administration, but accounting for student achievement (Zepeda, 2004).

Research has proven that principal leadership can indeed affect student outcomes (Zepeda, 2004). However, instructional leadership today is very different from the form it took during the 1980s. When it was first introduced, the policy cast the principal as a singular, heroic, and charismatic leader brought in to direct, control, and revitalizes the school (Lashway, 2002). However, Elmore (2000) points out that such natural leaders are few and far between. Today, the responsibility for implementing successful instructional leadership now falls on a variety of parties within the school system. Administrators, policy-making bodies, and teachers are all as significant and involved and as the principal (Lashway, 2002).

While principals are responsible for successfully adapting the instructional leadership model to improve their schools, policymakers, superintendents, researchers, and teachers also all have specific roles in implementing instructional leadership (Elmore, 2000). The principal must work with administrators and others outside of the school to develop the best strategies for school improvement as well as work with instructors inside the school to raise student achievement. Teachers are then responsible for implementing these strategies in the classroom to realize improved learning outcomes. These roles are all interdependent; each group has an impact on the overall success of the reform.


The Principal's Role

Principals who employ instructional leadership as a strategy for improving student learning attend more closely to classroom practices than other matters related to school administration. While principals are still not directly responsible for teaching students, their roles as instructional leaders are pivotal in influencing student outcomes (Zepeda, 2004).

Principals who are transitioning into instructional leadership must develop a number of competencies for the transition to produce successful outcomes. Elmore (2000) isolates several that are important instructional leaders. First, instructional leaders must direct their actions towards improving teaching, and in turn, improving student outcomes. This requires instructional leaders to be up to date on instructional methods and model what they expect of their teachers. Instructional leadership also demands that a culture of collective learning be established and valued within the school. To affect this culture, the principle must again be a model to the teachers.

Another major aspect of leadership is teaching others to lead (Elmore, 2000). Instructional leaders provide teachers with the tools they need become leaders themselves. This development of leadership can strengthen the organization of a school. In this way, a principal can directly affect classroom practices and align them with the school's mission of improvement (Zepeda, 2004).

Instructional leaders support teachers in curriculum development and provide opportunities for teachers to shape the cultures of their schools (Zepeda, 2004). Barth (2001a) calls for teacher to contribute to a number of aspects of running a school including developing curriculum, choosing materials, evaluating performance, building the budget, and setting policy and practices for hiring, promotion, and retention.

Research has also shown that the most tangible improvement in student outcomes is made by placing highly qualified teachers in the classroom (Zepeda, 2004). The instructors at any school bring to the institution a broad range of experiences and competencies. Principals who are instructional leaders must recognize and support these competencies while also providing professional development opportunities for those who need greater support in improving classroom practices (Zepeda, 2004). Instructional leaders may mentor teachers towards becoming leaders, establish times when teachers can directly contribute to important school conversations, and develop a school culture in which teachers feel invested in one another and the school (Zepeda, 2004). Principals must recognize a variety of teacher needs.

The District's Role

Instructional leaders must be supported by the districts in which they work. In the current era of standards based reform, school districts have a responsibility to ensure that their students are learning. Districts can support principals and teachers by providing professional development opportunities that target instructional leadership issues (Lashway, 2002). Furthermore, they must carefully negotiate any barriers their policies may pose to instructional leaders. These barriers are further discussed in the Viewpoints section below.

The Teachers' Role

With the advent of instructional leadership, teacher leadership has evolved to become as much of a factor for success as principal leadership. Frost and Durrant (2002, as cited by Zepeda, 2004) conclude that leadership development in teachers is fundamental to improving schools.

As a school's principal and administrators develop teachers' leadership skills, teachers may be called upon to perform a variety of tasks which may change their roles within the school. Teachers in public schools are often isolated in their classrooms; they may feel a clear delineation between their classroom and the rest of the school. With the implementation of instructional leadership, teachers may be called upon to contribute to school functions like choosing instructional materials, writing curriculum, deciding school policies and hiring practices, and analyzing and evaluating budgets (Zepeda, 2004).

Imperative to the success of this new role is the acceptance of new teaching practices and a new school culture. Instructional leaders will usually observe classroom practices more often and...

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