Dr. Matthew X. Joseph – Follow on Twitter @MatthewXJoseph
In my 11 years of being a principal and now the past two years as a district leader, I have seen the role of school administrator evolve from a building manager into an instructional leader. Shaping instructional curriculum and supervising teachers are two of the many roles of an instructional leader and the two I want to share my thoughts about both in this blog post. I have shared a lot regarding digital learning and leadership, and as a past building principal, I also want to continue to push myself as an educational leader.
I feel instructional leadership consists of assisting in teaching and learning situations and educational needs of a school and its educators. As an instructional leader, you must guide teachers to align learning experiences with the stated or planned objectives. Then create learning activities to be aligned with the chosen objectives to optimize pupil achievement.
Leaders should monitor instruction relentlessly and develop a clear and well-defined curriculum. All while ensuring quality instruction, promoting best practices, monitoring the implementation of the curriculum, provide resources, and examine assessment data.
Wow that is a lot. How are educational leaders going to do that? My answer is visibility and having a pulse on the building. I think there are four strategies leaders can use to gain this knowledge of the school: Formal and informal Observations, Classroom Walkthroughs, Management by Wandering Around, and Collaborative Observations.
I will start with the Old School Formal Lesson Observation
This consists of once or twice a year observation with a Pre-observation conference a classroom observation and a post lesson meeting. Current research suggests that observing an educator once or twice a year is a model that will not support learning, but it will help educational leaders to start to gather information about instructional practices. Informal observations will allow you to stop in more frequently and talk with students about learning. Informal observations can also be called classroom walkthrough. A classroom walkthrough is a brief classroom visit that occurs frequently and school leaders can observe first-hand the teaching and learning that is occurring in the classroom. These visits are brief and focused but reflection areas could be identified. Leaders can gather information about curriculum and instruction and can frame follow-up conversations.
One of my favorite methods is Management by Wandering Around. This method of leadership was a strategy incorporated by Hewlett Packard in the early stages of the company.
Peters & Waterman wrote about it stating the three fundamental values to Management by Wandering Around applicable to its use in schools is caring, openness, and trust. I think visibility is critical, however visibility alone will do little in improving a schools’ productivity unless it is coupled with a well-focused visit. So, if you are using the Management by Wandering Around strategy, ensure you are focused and capture visual evidence of what you saw and maybe even keep a journal of your walks. Also vary the times and locations to include pick up or drop off, lunch, team meetings, and other non-instructional settings.
Next I want to talk about collaborative journeys leaders can organize and facilitate. The two I will focus on will be Learning Walks and Instructional Rounds
A learning walk is conducted by a group of the current school based educators working with the building administrator. Before they walk, the team will identify the instructional focus observed during the walk and which classrooms to visit. These visits will be about 5 to 10 minutes each classroom and visit multiple classrooms. The groups should be split up into multiple small groups. After the meeting, the team member shares his/her observations provides evidence collected to support any claim made about the observation. This is a good way to see a cross-section of the school in a short period of time and build collaboration with educators.
Another collaborative journey is called Instructional Rounds method of observation. This is like a learning walk however, the focus of Instructional Rounds is firmly on the instructional core and the relationship between the teacher, the student, and the content. I read a lot of Elizabeth City’s work and would recommend reading more from her about Rounds.
For Instructional Rounds is starts with meeting as a team and identify a problem of practice. This is a key component, identification of a problem of practice. Then the team will observe identified classrooms to gather information directly on the work of teaching and learning.
After the rounds, the team will meet and debrief observations as it relates to the problem in practice.
For school leaders to be visible and have the knowledge of instructional practice to deliver growth-providing feedback, he/she will need multiple methods of class visits to collect data. The methods described will help leaders understand practice and understand the building. Speaking of feedback, maybe my longer answer can be a focus of an upcoming blog, but for my short answer I will leave you with this – I believe characteristics of Effective Feedback include:
FOCUSED: feedback should focus on what was observed
EVIDENCE-BASED: feedback should be grounded in evidence of practice
CONSTRUCTIVE: feedback should reinforce effective practice and identify areas for continued growth
And lastly, TIMELY: feedback should be provided shortly after the observation
A building principal has the responsibility of assuming and fulfilling the role of educational leader. Being visible and establishing a presence as an active, involved member of the daily school routines can help build relationships and in turn support teachers.
This is one school leader’s voice, would love for you to comment and add how YOU are visible and supporting educators in your school.