Can Administrators Be Instructional Leaders?

PicCollageMy interest in building exciting learning communities that benefit all children is what motivates me to be thinking about taking the plunge into school leadership, so I often reflect on the challenges and rewards of being an instructional leader in a school.

For the past two years, I have been privileged to take part in the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program’s Summits, where teachers share their amazing learning projects that result from a year long, job-embedded, teacher-directed professional learning.   This event attracts the attention of researchers like the Ministry of Education (Minister Liz Sandals and Paul Anthony), Ann Lieberman and Carol Campbell (Stanford University) and People for Education‘s Annie Kidder who all spoke to teachers about the profound impact of their learning and leadership on the students of the province.

My experience of being at TLLP got me thinking about some of the challenges and rewards of being an administrator with a focus on instructional leadership as supported by the Ontario Leadership Framework and these thoughts came to mind:

  1. Know that the smartest person in the room, is the room.   One person can’t know it all.  Creating a learning community where people feel comfortable sharing what they know, and what they don’t know, is essential to moving forward and starts with modeling a growth mindset from the administrators at the school.
  2. We need to change our traditional mindset about where, when and how teacher learning happens.  Options abound for valuable learning anytime, anyplace, and administrators can help meet diverse needs by offering options.
  3. Deep learning is messy, non-linear, and sometimes needs time to simmer.   Be supportive and helpful through the discord that often happens in the most productively collaborative groups.
  4. Time is a big challenge and administrators need to help find creative ways to make teacher learning a priority during the school day if possible.
  5. Structures can be put in place to help teachers develop their craft through a lens of relevant, student-centred learning goals (not to be confused with top-down, micro-managing strategies).
  6. Helping teachers tell their success stories and articulate and share their knowledge is part of how the administrator can help improve the whole school.
  7. Find the right balance between amplifying the expertise already in the building and bringing in some diverse or motivating voices from outside.
  8. Fan the fire before watering the stones, but never give up on finding what motivates a teacher who might seem disengaged.
  9. Be clear that the business of ‘school’ is about nurturing a joy of learning in our students (and teachers) and we don’t have to be sick to get better.
  10. Find ways to collect meaningful data that keeps us focused on what students need right now.