Great Principals Are Strong Instructional Leaders First

Every principal believes that the key to success is the instructional leader first. Without a strong instructional leader, there is no way for a school to work towards its goals.

Those who have been around a while will know that good principals are great instructional leaders first. In today’s world, principals have the power to transform the culture of our schools and create a true learning environment. New leaders, however, struggle to build on the momentum of the present and maintain instructional leadership. In this article I am going to provide a few basic tips that will help you keep your momentum as a new principal.

I have always found it interesting that some people have taken the ideas of great leaders as their own. This is a very powerful, but also very dangerous thing. I have seen people use the principles of great leaders as their own, and when they are not applying the same principles to their students, they have taken a great leader and have become a mediocre leader. They have taken a gift they should be using to help and led themselves in the wrong direction.

Directors should feel like circus performers. Just as a performer must juggle a few balls, bowling pins or hanging torches with ease, so too must school leaders juggle a seemingly endless array of tasks. Finance, operations, security and legal issues are among the best-known tricks in a director’s repertoire. But there is an important responsibility that is all too often overlooked: instructional leadership.

Expertise in curricula and pedagogy may not be part of a principal’s formal job description, but its necessity cannot be denied. Efforts such as modeling effective teaching strategies, equipping teachers with strong, standards-aligned curricula, and freeing up resources for meaningful professional development of staff are essential to successful teaching and learning. Not only do good principals understand this, but among the many balls they have to juggle, they make classroom management a priority.

Effective leaders are leaders in learning

The era of school accountability, ushered in by the No Child Left Behind Act and later transformed by the Every Student Succeeds Act, has forced principals to adapt to the new role of curriculum and instructional leaders. Administrators can no longer simply control school budgets and enrollment. They should serve as a basis for improving the quality of learning in their buildings.

Among many other things, successful school leaders need to ask themselves these questions:

  • Is our school’s mission and vision of helping students reach their academic potential a priority? Are the actions of staff consistent with the mission and vision of the school?
  • Do teachers and students have access to rigorous, standards-based curricula?
  • Is there regular feedback between teachers and families about pupils’ progress?
  • If I see a teacher struggling with a new lesson, strategy, or standard, how can I help?
  • What kind of experiences do students have in every class, every day?
  • Have I become accessible to the students, staff and families of our school?
  • Am I willing to model my own advice to staff?

To become true agents of change in their school communities, school leaders must not be afraid to answer these questions honestly. A little thought can go a long way in making the school accessible to all students.

Instructional leadership means working hard, hard to make sure students succeed. Standing in front of a classroom every day as a janitor is no easy task, especially when it comes to keeping up with bus schedules and student discipline. Setting high expectations and demanding academic excellence from all students is a serious undertaking that takes time.

This is the kind of work that cannot be faked. You can speak the proverbial words, but if you don’t know how to walk, sooner or later you will be discovered.

Whether a novice struggling with classroom management, a seasoned teacher exploring new and innovative strategies, or simply a staff member needing feedback for their annual evaluation, strong school leaders can be counted on for sound advice on best practices in the classroom. There’s a reason why the best educators often make the best principals: it’s about keeping a teacher’s heart, no matter what role they’re in.

In the words of my friend Zack Wright: Strong school leaders are visible reminders of our common purpose. For students to truly succeed, principals must embody the mission they represent in their schools. Teaching well is not easy, but it may be the most important thing.

Photo: Twenty20Photos, Envato Elements-licensed.Principals have to be learners too. We need to be moving through the learning cycle to be able to keep up with the change in teaching practices, and to be able to lead our teaching staff. Leaders should be learning what works best for students, and teaching them how to do it. The best way to do this is to be an instructional leader first, and a principal second.. Read more about principal as instructional leader certification and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are principals instructional leaders?

How does a principal make a difference in their school? What form of instruction is most effective? What do principals do? What roles or duties do principals have, and what do they accomplish with them? The fact that principals are considered instructional leaders in schools is counterintuitive, given that principals are not in any way instructional. That is to say, principals do not teach.  But being a principal is not just about being a leader, it is also about being an instructional leader.  What does that mean?

What makes a good instructional leader?

The best instructional leaders are those who are willing to learn and grow. A leader’s ability to learn and grow becomes more important than any other aspect of leadership. I am often asked, “What makes a good instructional leader?” There are so many ways to answer this question, but I believe one of the most important is the willingness to grow and learn. Are you interested in being a great instructional leader? If so, here are some qualities to keep in mind as you strive to improve your instructional leadership skills.

What is the role of the principal as an instructional leader?

The principal’s role as a leader is one of the most important positions in the school. The principal’s role as instructional leader is one of the most important roles in the school. A strong instructional leader helps students learn, grow, and reach their highest potential.

The role of the instructional leader has been the topic of much debate over the past few years. In recent years, there has been a focus on the need for instructional leaders to be models of good practice, as opposed to the traditional model of the instructional leader as a “man in charge” of the classroom.

This shift in thinking has increased the role of instructional leaders to be less prescriptive. The instructional leader today must demonstrate good instructional leadership practices through a variety of different activities and behaviors. To be an effective instructional leader, one must have a wide range of skills and the ability to apply them to a variety of environments.


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