It is through instructional leadership and supervision that principals have the ability to influence the educational practices of teachers, and the learning environment of students. Thus, it is imperative for school building leaders to understand, and be equipped with various strategies to engage and reflect with teachers around instructional practices. Instructional leaders have the responsibility of guiding their faculties through critical analysis, and refinement of instructional design and delivery, with the ultimate goal of improving student learning outcomes. There are specific actions that building leaders can take that will help to drive professional growth and lead to an increased willingness amongst faculty to innovate, take risks and share. These actions include: being visible, actively listening and observing, facilitating dynamic and open discussions, providing support and guidance, empowering teacher leaders and supporting peer observation and mentoring initiatives along with formal observations and individual conferences. When instructional leaders facilitate, rather than direct, they empower other in the learning community to take leading roles and strengthen collaborative practices. The key to all of this however, lies in laying the appropriate foundation and creating a culture that embraces self-reflection, thoughtful and critical analysis, leading to professional learning and growth.
Building trusting relationships amongst the stakeholders is critically important work. Getting to know teachers as individuals, as well as professionals, establishing rapport and demonstrating care and concern are essential. I’ve heard the following many times in relation to student learners, and have found it to be just as true of adult learners as well, “they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Instructional leaders must be present and take a genuine interest in the work and the learning of those around them. Instructional leaders are visible and spend as much of their time as possible in classrooms observing, learning and reflecting on what motivates their learning community. The goal for the instructional leader should be to complete a number of walkthrough observations with each teacher several times a year, and to provide timely formative feedback on what was observed during each of the walkthrough observations. In addition to frequent walkthrough observations being valuable to individual teachers, and improving instruction and learning in individual classrooms, frequent walkthroughs allow building leaders to gain an understanding of the instructional practices of the building as a whole, and this is an important frame of reference.
Beyond building relationships amongst themselves and their faculty, it is critical for instructional leaders to connect their faculty to one another and to colleagues outside their learning communities. Instructional leaders do this by fostering purposeful, and continuous collegial interactions within their school by establishing professional learning communities, implementing mentoring relationships, peer observation and coaching, and supporting these efforts through time, training and resources. Instructional leaders also encourage their staff members to connect beyond their building through the creation of professional learning networks. These actions can motivate and empower educators to take charge of their collective professional learning and growth. With these elements in place instructional leaders help to shape and build capacity within their organizations, with direct consequences for student learning and achievement.
Exceptional instructional leaders understand that leadership is larger than themselves; they recognize that one of their greatest responsibilities is to build upon and further develop the leadership qualities of others in the organization. When leaders take the time to invest in others, the result is trust, shared understanding, and ultimately an increase in the instructional leader’s sphere of influence. One way that instructional leaders can nurture teacher leadership is through the use of peer observation and coaching. Peer observation and coaching has been proven to increase collaboration, lead to positive curriculum changes, and improve student results. It is a great complement to clinical supervision, as it supports goal setting, extends conversations about teaching and learning beyond a single classroom teacher and the building leader, further promotes reflection and critical analysis, and refinement of practice. Further it encourages teachers to come together to solve common problems, acquire knowledge and expertise together and to celebrate one another’s successes.
The key to any model or system of instructional supervision lies in laying the foundation and creating a culture that embraces self-reflection, thoughtful, critical analysis, professional growth and learning. Beyond that, it is critical to connect teachers with a purpose by fostering purposeful and continuous collegial interactions and empowering them to take charge of their professional learning and growth. When instructional leaders do this they build capacity within their organizations, with direct consequences for student learning and achievement.