Being a school administrator is an enormous responsibility. There are a variety of roles school administrators must fill. They must be excellent communicators, great relationship builders, and good managers of people, resources, and processes. School administrators have the audacious task of serving students, parents, teachers, and staff. This is not an easy task. It is complex and difficult. The days are long, the rewards great, and the pressure to do it all and do it well is present. At the heartbeat of school administration however, is instructional leadership. Too often, folks pursue the leadership role for its surface structure. They think it might be fun to be the face of the school or perhaps they are attracted to the idea of being in charge…whatever that means. What happens often in school administration is that those with a love of instruction and curriculum, with teaching and pedagogy see the administrative route as a mismatch for their skill set and passion. I contend that those people are exactly who we need as instructional leaders and school administrators.
High-Expectations are not enough.
So many school leaders believe they are charged with setting high expectations for staff and students, and while that may be true, high expectations alone aren’t enough. A leader who compells his her staff to change and provides an explanation of why change is neccessary isn’t the same as one who also shows staff how to change. Of all the time school adminstrators spend in school buildings, providing valuable feedback to teachers around the how of change is most critical. Too often the focus is centered on what and on why, with little attention given to the how, and teachers find themselves searching and trying to figure out exactly what the principal wants to see in their classroom. Instructional leaders must move beyond a compelling why and a clearly defined what. They must give teachers a clear articulation of how their teaching and/or pedagaogy should change to improve student outcomes. An instructional leader sees this as the most important mechanisim by which her or she can effectuate change in instructional practices and thereby advance student learning. A simple demand for teachers to perform better, be more effective, and the like just isn’t enough.
Coach the behavior to coach the data.
My sister, who has a career in business, said to me in one of our many conversations, “You can’t coach data. You coach behaviors.” I was awestruck by her idea. In a field like public education where we use the term data-driven as often as an article in the English language, I took a few minutes to process what she was saying. She went on to explain that in order to help people produce better results, you have to focus on the behaviors that are neccessary for such improvement. A simple conversation around data, around a percentage of students who have not met standards, around the number of students who didn’t fare well on the assessment, won’t produce a change in practice. To change practice, we must coach behavior. That is, we must coach teachers around the instructional practices that impact student learning. Data in and of itself tells us what’s wrong and where to look, but it does not tell us how to fix it and that is precisely what people need to know: how to fix it. Instructional leaders don’t just point out what is wrong. They are precise in guiding and coaching teachers on how to fix those areas of ineffectiveness.
Start with your learning.
I want to know what makes effective teachers effective. I want to be certain about what practices are those that make learning most possible for students. To learn that, I read a great deal. I study. Recently, I’ve been digging deep into Cognitive Science. This has been a very interesting personal research study because it makes clear what many scholars have written about in terms of high-yield learning strategies. Our brains are in best shape to learn when we account for cognitive overload, analogical transfer, and constructivisim. If we know this, our duty as professionals is to dig deep into the pedagogical structures and strategies that best account for these. Instructional leaders don’t guess about how to make academic learning and effective teaching happen. They study it. They read. They research. Instructional leaders are learners first and foremost.
At the core of being a school administrator, is the responsibility for teaching and learning. Instructional leaders see their purpose as two fold: to improve teacher practice and to advance student learning. Everything else is icing on the cake.
Until next time, Be you. Be true. Be a hope builder.