1703 North Beauregard St.
Alexandria, VA 22311-1714
Tel: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday
Local to the D.C. area: 1-703-578-9600, press 2
Toll-free from U.S. and Canada: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723), press 2
All other countries: (International Access Code) + 1-703-578-9600, press 2
by James H. Stronge, Holly B. Richard and Nancy Catano
Table of Contents
Beth entered the education profession as a middle school science teacher who wanted to make a difference in the lives of her students. After teaching for a number of years, she wanted to accomplish more than the work that she could do within her classroom and, thus, became a grade-level chair. Beth also worked on the district's science curriculum committee, and then began taking classes at the university at night to earn her administrative and supervision license. Beth was an outstanding teacher, and her first administrative position as the assistant principal for instruction seemed tailor-made for her strengths. Her instructional expertise and knowledge of curriculum provided her with a sound foundation for leading instructional efforts in her school. Beth's office walls looked like a strategic command center of data disaggregation and data tracking. She traveled through classrooms daily, observing instruction and student learning. Her observations helped her to identify classroom needs and strengths. She collaborated regularly with grade-level teams to monitor the needs of students and to determine strategies and resources that could better support students and teachers. And she continued to meet with students to talk about their education goals and progress. In essence, Beth is committed to make teaching and learning in her school the most positive experience it can be.
One major emphasis in the educational arena in the early 21st century has been the continuing demand for greater accountability to increase student performance. National and state expectations require schools to ensure that all students achieve mastery of curriculum objectives, and local schools focus on implementing those requirements to the best of their ability. As a result, leading instructional efforts in a school has evolved into a primary role for school principals.
In order to meet the challenges associated with national and state expectations, principals must focus on teaching and learning—especially in terms of measurable student progress—to a greater degree than heretofore. Consequently, today's principals concentrate on building a vision for their schools, sharing leadership with teachers, and influencing schools to operate as learning communities. Accomplishing these essential school improvement efforts requires gathering and assessing data to determine needs, and monitoring instruction and curriculum to determine if the identified needs are addressed. This chapter summarizes existing research related to instructional leadership and methods principals use to exhibit and harness that leadership to meet their school goals. In particular, we focus on the following goals:
Figure 1.1 outlines key references relating to these elements of instructional leadership.
Building a Vision
Leading a Learning Community
Monitoring Curriculum and Instruction
Blase & Blase, 1999
Brimijoin et al., 2003
Cooper et al., 2005
Education Commission of the States, 2002
Fink & Resnick, 2001
Hallinger et al., 1996
Hallinger & Heck, 1996
Hargreaves & Fink, 2003
Harrison & Killion, 2007
Kyrtheotis & Pashiardis, 1998b
Leithwood et al., 2004
Leithwood & Riehl, 2003
Lieberman & Friedrich, 2007
Marks & Printy, 2003
Marzano et al., 2005
Mendel et al., 2002
Pajak & McAfee, 1992
Portin et al., 2003
Prestine & Nelson, 2003
Reason & Reason, 2007
Ruebling et al., 2004
Shen & Hsieh, 1999
Tucker & Tschannen-Moran, 2002
Wade & Ferriter, 2007
Zmuda et al., 2004
If you are not sure of where you want to go, how will you ever get there? Furthermore, how will you know when and how to take corrective action along the way? And how will you know when you've arrived at the destination? A successful principal must have a clear vision that shows how all components of a school will operate at some point in the future. Having a clear image of their schools helps principals avoid becoming consumed by the administrative requirements of their jobs. In fact, principals may need two types of vision: one vision of their schools and the roles they play in those schools, and another vision of how the change process will proceed (Manasse, 1985).
Clearly, multiple role expectations exist for school leaders. All schools need principals to exercise their roles as instructional leaders who ensure the quality of instruction (Portin et al., 2003). Thus, there is a need to spend time in classrooms observing the process of teaching and learning while also balancing other needs such as student safety and parent relationships. Fulfilling these multiple responsibilities well requires principals to possess an inner compass that consistently points them toward the future interests of the school, never losing sight of their schools' visions, missions, and goals.
Successful principals understand that it is important to establish clear learning goals and garner schoolwide—and even communitywide—commitment to these goals. The development of a clear vision and goals for learning is emphasized by principals of high-achieving schools (Leithwood & Riehl, 2003). They hold high expectations that teachers and students will meet these goals and hold themselves accountable for the success of the school. These principals provide emotional support for teachers and are viewed as possessing the ability to foster positive interpersonal relationships. They protect instructional time by limiting loudspeaker announcements and scheduling building maintenance to minimize disruptions. They ensure that student progress is monitored through the continual aggregation and disaggregation of student performance data that are directly related to the school's mission and goals. Principals of high-achieving schools are confident that they will accomplish their vision and goals despite challenges and setbacks and, thus, serve as role models for staff and students (Cotton, 2003). And when milestone achievements are reached, those successful results are celebrated.
The following conclusions can be drawn from the research related to the role of the principal and building and sustaining the school's vision:
Guiding a school staff to reach a common vision requires intensive and sustained collaboration. After all, it is the expertise of teachers upon which any quality educational system is built. Wise principals know that going it alone makes meeting instructional goals virtually impossible. A key responsibility of school leaders is to sustain learning, and this can best be accomplished through leading learning endeavors that are focused on long-term outcomes rather than short-term returns. Additionally, distributing leadership throughout a school and providing for leadership succession are indispensable to a school's success (Hargreaves & Fink, 2003). "Leaders influence others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how. This process requires the facilitation of individual and shared efforts to accomplish common objectives" (Kyrtheotis & Pashiardis, 1998b, p. 3).
There is no evidence of troubled schools turning around without the influence of strong leadership. Effective leadership sets the direction and influences members of the organization to work together toward meeting organizational goals. Principals can accomplish this essential responsibility by providing individual support, challenging teachers to examine their own practices, and securing models of best practice. Additionally, effective principals develop and depend on leadership contributions from a variety of stakeholders, including teachers and parents (Leithwood et al., 2004). As key instructional leaders, principals share their leadership with teachers to promote reflection and collaborative investigation to improve teaching and learning. Subsequently, teacher leaders lead change from the classroom by asking questions related to school improvement, and they feel empowered to help find the answer (Reason & Reason, 2007).
In practical terms, principals talk to teachers, provide staff development, and support lifelong learning about teaching and learning (Blase & Blase, 1999). They also create opportunities for teachers to work together and share teaching practices with one another. What they tend not to do, however, is to exhibit directive leadership styles (Mendel, Watson, & MacGregor, 2002). Consequently, principals are not the only instructional leaders in a school.
In sharing leadership, principals collaborate with teachers to evaluate issues related to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. As part of this collaborative process, teacher leaders provide valuable insight and ideas to principals as they work together toward school improvement. Principals who tap into the expertise of teachers throughout the process of transforming their schools and increasing the focus on learning are more successful. And a valuable byproduct for principals who collaboratively focus on instructional leadership is that they are less likely to burn out (Marks & Printy, 2003).
Interestingly, some evidence suggests that female elementary school principals participate more actively in instructional leadership than their male counterparts. Also, they spend more years in the classroom before entering their first administrative post and, consequently, may possess greater knowledge in instructional matters (Cotton, 2003; Hallinger, Bickman, & Davis, 1996). Perhaps most telling is the suggestion that because female administrators tend to assume a major instructional role as central to their work, they shape teachers' attitudes regarding students' ability to master subject matter, thus, having an indirect effect on student outcomes through their teachers (Cotton, 2003; Hallinger et al., 1996; Hallinger & Heck, 1996).
The research shows that effective principals (both men and women) facilitate shared leadership and collaboration among their staffs to include the following:
Related Resources: Danielson, 2007; Donaldson, 2007; Dozier, 2007; Harrison & Killion, 2007; Lieberman & Friedrich, 2007; Wade & Ferriter, 2007.
Today's principals must become role models for learning while continually (or at least regularly) seeking tools and ideas that foster school improvement (Lashway, 2003). Simply put, schooling is organized around two key functions: (1) teaching and learning, and (2) organizing for teaching and learning. Thus, it seems clear that school principals need to manage the structures and processes of their schools around instruction.
Effective principals make student success pivotal to their work and, accordingly, pay attention to and communicate about instruction, curriculum, and student mastery of learning objectives, and are visible in the school. Learning needs to occur throughout an organization, and principals need to become participants in the learning process in order to shape and encourage the implementation of effective learning models in their schools. To illustrate, effective principals don't just arrange for professional development; rather, they participate in staff training provided to their staffs. Additionally, good principals foster the idea of working together as a valuable enterprise because they understand that this kind of collaborative learning community ultimately will build trust, collective responsibility, and a schoolwide focus on improved student learning (Prestine & Nelson, 2003).
Keeping staff informed about current research and practice and possessing a belief system that schools are learning communities are crucial to school success. Principals use a variety of staff development tools to focus awareness on research-based strategies that facilitate improved instructional effectiveness (Blase & Blase, 1999). In an effort to infuse instructional know-how across the entire faculty, the concept of an instructional leader needs to become broadened beyond that of increasing student learning. Principals also need to mobilize teachers' energy and capacities. This requires a transformation of the learning cultures of schools—a capacity in which effective principals are adept (Fullan, 2002).
To summarize, principals—that is, effective principals—support instructional activities and programs by modeling expected behaviors and consistently prioritizing instructional concerns day-to-day. They strive to become a learner among learners. Involvement in curriculum, instruction, and assessment are crucial to the idea of instructional leadership. As part of their ongoing instructional leadership responsibilities, effective school principals are highly visible through contact and interaction with teachers, students, and parents, thus promoting the concept of a learning community (Marzano et al., 2005).
Particular features of effective principals and their role in leading the learning community include the following:
Data sources inform and guide action, or at least they should. Without meaningful data it is impossible to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of school initiatives. Effective principals skillfully gather information that determines how well a school organization is meeting goals and use that information to refine strategies designed to meet or extend the goals. Thus, they find themselves in a constant state of analysis, reflection, and refinement. They challenge their staff to reexamine assumptions about their work and how it can be performed. Beyond the ability to successfully gather and analyze school data, principals need to possess basic skills for using these data for setting directions, developing people, and reinventing the organization. The use of appropriate data helps to maintain a consistent focus on improving teaching and learning, and, consequently, effective principals accept no excuses for lack of success to improve student learning (Leithwood & Riehl, 2003).
Many proponents of school improvement stress the importance of data-driven decision making. Today, school districts collect demographic, achievement, instructional, and perceptual data in an effort to improve teaching and learning. For example, information is gathered to diagnose student learning and to prescribe interventions that will best support students in need (Education Commission of the States, 2002). At the building level it is vital that principals employ data-gathering processes to determine staff and student needs.
The demands that accompany high-stakes testing compel principals to guide their schools to learn from their results and experiences. Doing so will lead to coherence within a school and offer better opportunities to sustain results. Additionally, continuous improvement requires principals to examine data and find means to address inconsistencies with expected results (Fullan, 2005).
Useful and properly mined data can inform staff about the gaps between desired outcomes and the reality of the results. Furthermore, this knowledge should result in changes in practice. Encouraging staff to collect, analyze, and determine appropriate actions based upon the results should be a collective enterprise. When staff members assume an active role in the data analysis process, it promotes solutions and actions for improving results (Zmuda et al., 2004), and facilitating the active involvement of all staff in information gathering and analysis is the prerogative of the principal.
A summary of key indicators of the role of effective principals and gathering and using data in their schools is listed on the next page:
Related Resources: Brimijoin, Marquisse, & Tomlinson, 2003; Guskey, 2003; Marzano, 2003; Parsons, 2003; Schmoker, 2003.
There are good reasons to focus on school leadership. The importance of the principal's role has never been greater, taking into consideration national accountability standards for schools and the likelihood that principal job vacancies will increase in the near future. Not only do effective principals focus attention on curriculum and teaching, they also understand teaching and possess credibility in the eyes of their staff (Mazzeo, 2003). Schmoker (2006) suggested that too often school cultures discourage close scrutiny of instruction. He says that effective leaders can raise the level of importance by looking for evidence that curriculum standards are taught through the review of formative assessments, grade books, team lesson logs, and student work.
Principals support instructional activities and programs by modeling expected behaviors, participating in staff development (as noted earlier), and consistently prioritizing instructional concerns on a day-to-day basis. They strive to protect instructional time by removing issues that would detract teachers from their instructional responsibilities (Marzano et al., 2005). Moreover, principals in effective schools are involved in instruction and work to provide resources that keep teachers focused on student achievement. They are knowledgeable about curriculum and instruction and promote teacher reflection about instruction and its effect on student achievement (Cotton, 2003).
Principals build trust by supporting and nurturing teacher development by providing feedback that helps teachers to improve. This is more likely to occur when principals exercise the collegiality of leadership. Additionally, principals are in the best position to help teachers improve in areas of weakness and can accomplish this through observations and dialogue that shows respect for teachers as professionals (Cooper, Ehrensal, & Bromme, 2005). Ultimately, many principals spend too little time in classrooms or analyzing instruction with teachers. It is important to evaluate the quality of teaching in order to select and retain good teachers, which is discussed in more depth in Chapter 3. Principals must develop leadership skills that help them to build the intellectual capital that is necessary to make good curriculum choices, establish expectations for student work, and provide teachers with opportunities to learn the specifics of teaching well within their academic areas. As such, leadership skills and knowledge of instruction must be tied together (Fink & Resnick, 2001).
Some educators believe that if a school organization is not meeting curriculum expectations established by state and local policymakers, the problem is leadership. Principals must monitor how the curriculum is taught and participate in how it is developed. The knowledge that principals gain through this process can ensure that teachers understand the curriculum and have access to all the necessary tools and resources. They then can hold teachers, students, and themselves responsible for the results (Ruebling, Stow, Kayona, & Clarke, 2004). Not only do principals need adequate knowledge and skill to assess teacher performance, they also need a sense of self-efficacy that they can do so successfully. This is especially important when principals are faced with removing ineffective teachers. Knowing what is important about good teaching is different from the ability to use that knowledge well in stressful situations such as teacher removal. To do so successfully requires that principals are confident in their ability not only to assess the quality and effectiveness of teachers but also to take the necessary actions when instruction is weak (Painter, 2000). Evaluating teachers is addressed in more depth in Chapter 4. Existing research related to the role of the principal and monitoring curriculum and instruction indicates the following:
Related Resources: Armstrong, 2007; Wise, 2001.
Nothing in the principal's role is more important for ensuring successful student learning than effective instructional leadership. School principals who focus on a vision for their schools nurture the leadership capabilities of their teachers. Additionally, if their schools are moving in the right direction, they model effective leading and learning. Combining these efforts with using data appropriately, as well as monitoring what takes place at the classroom level, will increase the likelihood that schools will achieve their goals for student learning.
Copyright © 2008 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication—including the drawings, graphs, illustrations, or chapters, except for brief quotations in
critical reviews or articles—may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from ASCD.
Subscribe to ASCD Express, our twice-monthly e-mail newsletter, to have practical, actionable strategies and information delivered to your e-mail inbox twice a month.
ASCD respects intellectual property rights and adheres to the laws governing them. Learn more about our permissions policy and submit your request online.