What Is Instructional Leadership?

Instructional leadership in education places focus on learning for children and adults alike. It particularly focuses on learning that can be measured by development in instruction and in the distinction of student learning.  

Instructional leadership development calls for teams of leaders becoming involved, with the principal at the helm. For effective instructional leadership to be impactful there has to be a culture of public practice.  Inside the school community, cultural, learning, linguistic and socioeconomic diversities are all tackled via instructional leadership.  Additionally, instructional leaders place focus on managing individuals and resources effectively.

Instructional leadership is different in many ways from the roles undertaken by a manager or school administrator.  Principals who provide supervision and instructional leadership do not become overly preoccupied with dealing strictly with administrative duties.  They undertake roles involving the setting of clear goals, managing the curriculum, evaluating teachers, monitoring lesson plans and assigning resources to instruction.  Instructional leadership essentially involves the actions taken on by a principal or the duties delegated to other members of the team to foster development in student learning.

In recent times, the instructional leadership definition has been expanded to include more in depth involvement in teaching and learning, which are the nucleus of schooling.  Attention has been shifted to learning and the focus is not placed so much on teaching.  Instructional leaders give precedence to adult learning as well.  This is done by soliciting community support for school success, setting high performance expectations and creating a culture of continuous learning.

Instructional leadership has also been expressed in specific behaviors like giving feedback, making suggestions, praising team members for effective teaching, soliciting opinions, modeling effective instructions, providing opportunities for professional development and supporting collaboration.

While in a number of different countries the principal is typically considered to be both instructional leader and manager-administrator, the principal generally embodies the role of manager-administrator.  The assistant principal usually takes on the role of the instructional leader.  Even in such a situation, the term "instructional leader" is seldom used to describe any one individual but it is presumed to be the duty of every teacher on staff.  Nevertheless, there is now a trend towards being resolute that the principal takes on the significant position of an instructional leader.  The task will be quite formidable to convince principals to give up their manager-administrator image and embrace the position of instructional leaders.  Principals do not usually see themselves in the role of instructional leaders and a number of principals believe that teachers are best suited for anything involving teaching and learning.

In a number of cases, principals experience a feeling of inadequacy to start and develop instructional programs, due to the wide range of subject areas that are covered and each being pedagogically unique.  For example, training students to read is unlike teaching science and being knowledgeable about the different instructional strategies can be quite daunting.  In spite of these hesitations, proponents of the idea of instructional leadership in education are gaining serious attention.  As such, principals need to have the latest knowledge on the curriculum, assessment and instruction.

  • As it concerns the curriculum, principals must be aware of the shifting conceptions of curriculum, beliefs and educational philosophies, fragmentation and knowledge specialization, curriculum assessment and improvement and conflict and curricular sources.
  • Where assessment is concerned, principals must be aware of the principles of student assessment, evaluation procedures highlighting alternative assessment methods and evaluation that aims to improve instead of prove student learning.
  • As it relates to instruction, principals must be aware of different teaching models, the theoretical rationale for adopting a specific teaching model and the theories supporting technology-based learning.

In addition to being knowledgeable in the foundation of education, principals must possess the necessary skills to undertake the duties of instructional leaders.  The skills include interpersonal skills, skills in research and assessment, instructional observation skills and planning skills.

People or interpersonal skills are essential characteristics of a successful principal.  They are skills that build trust, enhance collegiality and provide empowerment and encourage enthusiasm.  Relationships are based on trust and duties are accomplished via empowerment and motivation wherein team members are involved in designing, planning and assessing instructional programs.  Empowerment results in commitment and ownership as teachers recognize problems and personally plan strategies.  Sharing, collaboration and cooperation are promoted by collegiality, in which teachers and the principal communicate on the topic of teaching and learning.

Planning starts with clearly identifying vision or goals to work towards and to induce enthusiasm and commitment as well.  Next is assessing the changes that are necessary and how to go about making those changes.

Supervision and instructional leadership aims to give teachers feedback to think about.  However, teachers must make their own judgments and arrive at their own conclusions.  Research and assessment skills are required to seriously question the accomplishments of initiated instructional programs and action research is among the skills that are most useful.

The undertaking involved in becoming an effective instructional leader is both multidimensional and complex.  If principals are of the belief that student learning development is the most significant goal of schooling, it then becomes a task that is worth learning.  If these skills and knowledge are possessed by a principal, he or she is likely to become an advocate of effective instructional leadership.  This involves sharing, guiding and smoothing the progress of making decisions regarding instructional improvement that will enhance the education of the student.

Principals who view the position of instructional leader as a significant one will have to relinquish certain bureaucratic tasks and concentrate their efforts towards enhancing teaching and learning.  Instructional leadership development is an essential goal that is worth seeking.  In addition, instructional leadership is a goal which, when implemented, enables both teachers and students to be in control of their own fate in creating a learning environment that is more meaningful.

Instructional leadership is a vital feature of school management.  The function of instructional leaders is to make sure that all students receive the highest class of instruction every day.  Doing this requires instructional leaders to direct the enhancement of student learning.