As a former school administrator, the words I heard most to describe my job function was “instructional leader.” This phrase was number one on the job description, used throughout the interview, and the focus of many training topics I attended, yet, if the truth be told, most of what consumed my days as an administrator had little to do with instruction.
My mornings were consumed with supervising 1,200 eager teenage bus riders as they entered the campus, greeting 50 bike riders, directing parent traffic during student drop off, insuring that those students needing breakfast were fed and trying to contain several hundred students in a gymnasium until it was time to report to first period.
The remainder of the day was just as fast paced as I secured substitute teachers, supervised 1500+ students during three lunch periods, met with parents, supervised hallways between classes, and made sure that all 1500+ students were safely on their way home in less than 20 minutes during after school dismissal. I won’t even delve into the time spent taking care of discipline, I’ll just let the 6,900 office referrals we processed my last year as an administrator speak for themselves. Don’t be misled, all of these aspects of an administrator’s day are vital to the safety and well-being of students and directly impact student success, but I doubt if that is what they envisioned when they hired me to be an “instructional leader.”
Effective instructional leadership is when one understands best practices so well that their students are engaged in activities and experience deep and meaningful learning. It means having a clear vision of what is needed instructionally to provide students with access to the curriculum while using data to support campus wide decisions that impact how, when and where students receive instruction. Serving as a mentor and coach to my campus teachers, I tried to guide them as they struggled to meet the diverse learning needs in their classrooms. Building and nurturing teacher-leaders has always been a personal goal of mine that included providing quality professional development in order to build capacity in my staff and insure teachers have the necessary resources to address the various learning styles and interests of their students. Even though I had clear goals set and I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish as instructional leader, I struggled to find the time to act.
Of course I conducted classroom walk-throughs and fulfilled my PDAS requirements, but insuring that my teachers were using research-based instructional practices that supported student achievement was not one of my key instructional leadership duties since most of those were surface level.
If only my teaching staff would have realized that if more of my day was spent being an instructional leader, many of the classroom management issues they were experiencing would diminish. As a result, there would be less need for students to miss instructional time by sitting in my office. Reducing the number of disciplinary infractions would allow me more flexibility to visit classrooms where I could be visible and engage with students, observe and offer feedback to teachers and have a firsthand view of what the campus needed systemically to move to the next level.
What I know for sure is that good instruction leads to more student engagement, which leads to a deeper level of learning, which leads to better retention, which will hopefully leads to greater success on state assessments and overall more successful students. The role of administrators as true, influential instructional leaders on campuses should be a top priority. How are your administrators spending most of their day?