The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Instructional Leaders

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The Game Changers of Educational Leadership

Studies show that schools that go from "good to great" always have a strong Instructional Leader (IL) at the helm.   (“School Leaders Matter” study) and (McRel study)

This is great news as we learn more about what these GAME CHANGING leaders do; we can educate, support and grow more leaders who make the difference when it comes to student learning.

Having worked with some of the best ILs in the world, these are the collective characteristics I have witnessed them share.

Highly Effective Instructional Leaders:

#1.  Understand Neuroscience

The young brain is very different than a mature brain.   Science shows that a female brain does not fully develop until 20 years old (approximately) and a male brain fully develops as late as 24 years old.  The last part of the brain to develop is the pre frontal cortex, which is in charge of processing cause and effect, impulse control, organization skills, attention span and emotional stability.  This has serious implications for educators as we sometimes place the same expectations on the young brain that we have for the mature brain, essentially setting a child up for failure.

Instructional Leaders are knowledgeable regarding the latest neuroscience and they share ideas with colleagues to ensure routines, expectations, and assignments are developmentally appropriate, while simultaneously fostering healthy brain growth.

#2. Provide PD in Critical Thinking & Content Area Literacy

Instructional Leaders are educated in best instructional practices and establish a climate that is conducive to learning for students AND adults.  On-going PD, coaching and support is necessary for teachers to be prepared and accountable for implementation of best practices that boost student comprehension and competence.  Professional development is most effective when sessions are provided by in-house and outside experts who can provide on-going coaching so implementation can occur.  On-going training, collaboration and support for the adults allows for a healthy and productive learning environment for the students.

#3.  Understand the 4 Types of Teachers & Utilize the 4 Strategic Conversations

Instructional Leaders are effective communicators; therefore, it is essential that ILs are well-versed in the 4 types of teachers:

*high will/high skill

*high will/low skill

*low will/high skill

*low will/low skill

In addition to identifying the type of teacher, ILs determine a goal for each type and then utilize one of the 4 strategic conversations (reflective, facilitative, coaching, directive) most appropriate to meet the goal for each teacher.  Dr. Robyn Jackson’s book, The Instructional Leader’s Guide to Strategic Conversations with Teachers, explicitly outlines the 4 types of teachers and conversations and provides scenarios to enhance productive communication between the IL and teacher-a worthwhile book to have in your arsenal.

#4.  Implement Instructional & Peer Coaching

Instructional Leaders understand the difference between instructional coaching and peer coaching and they utilize both to increase teacher effectiveness.

Instructional coaching involves an outside expert mentoring a teacher via training, observing, and coaching in best practices over an extended period of time, usually 2-3 years.

Peer coaching is allowing teachers to choose a colleague to partner with so they can observe each other and collect data in an area the observed teacher has asked for feedback in, such as questioning, modeling, feedback, etc. The observing colleague does not act as an expert, his/her role is to simply collect data and then ask reflective questions of the observed teacher so he/she can analyze his own practices in a non-evaluative manner.

The more teachers analyze and discuss instructional practices, the better instruction becomes.  Instructional coaching allows for an expert to share best practices and hold the teacher accountable for using them, while peer coaching allows for data collection from a trusted colleague so one can analyze his own practices.  Both types of coaching are necessary to develop teachers who are pedagogically sound.

#5.  Develop PLCs and Use Meeting Time Wisely

PLCs are a strategic gathering of educators focused on data analysis to determine what students need to succeed and what needs to happen to meet those needs.  It is helpful if teachers receive on-going training in best practices so when a student need is identified, educators have a repertoire of strategies in which to analyze and implement for student success.

I have witnessed PLC time used to discuss the school fundraiser, etc.  If that is what the discussion is centered around, it is not a PLC meeting.  Productive PLC sessions include: incorporating a webinar to learn a best practice, allowing teachers to share a favorite app or strategy that boosts student learning, analyzing student work with colleagues and discussing the various types of feedback that would benefit the student or determining how to best organize a unit so student engagement and learning are maximized.

PLCs are focused on increasing teacher and student learning; the meeting time is precious and should be focused on sharing best practices to meet the learning and growth needs of the students and teachers.

#6.  Are Connected & Cutting-Edge

Student and teacher needs change, from MOOCs to PBL to 1:1 deployment, education is an evolving entity.  To stay current and cutting-edge, it is imperative that ILs are voracious readers of educational content and connected to the experts and think tanks who share new ideas and studies; one of the best ways to accomplish this is through Twitter.

Twitter is a powerful and free personal learning network (PLN) fostering collaboration with educators all around the world via “chats” and webinars centered on topics such as Common Core Standards, edtech, ELs or PLCs.  I always learn new ideas from ILs and they invariably share they learned them by reading such and such book or on Twitter.

#7.  Foster Positive Relationships

“People forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

The secret behind great leadership is fostering positive relationships. Relationships are particularly important to Instructional Leaders because they are often asking educators to spend time and energy changing their practices, or essentially sacrificing the sacred cow.  Change is difficult, but it is helpful when undergoing the process to have powerful and positive communicative relationships with each other.

Though educators are surrounded by people all the time, it can be an isolating and overwhelming profession.  Positive relationships reinforce what we are called to do…accomplish what’s best for students…every time.

Which of these "Habits" are you already skilled at and which would you like to improve? 

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, www.effectiveteachingpd.com