Taking Matters Into Our Own Hands

Instructional leadership is always hard work, but it’s even harder when our plates are overflowing with other responsibilities.

The truth, for a lot of us a lot of the time, is that we can barely even get to the work of leading learning improvement. We squeeze it in, but it’s far from our primary focus.

Sometimes the best intentions can make this even worse: By requiring principals to complete plans, hold meetings, and take other steps aimed at instructional improvement, a lot of districts are making the job of instructional leadership even more un-doable.

I know principals who are required to complete 14, 18, or even 21 written plans a year, leaving very little time for getting into classrooms and talking with teachers.

So whose job is it to make sure the principalship is a “doable” job? My favorite researchers have an answer:

District leaders should acknowledge, and begin to reduce, ways in which secondary school principals are limited in their capacity to exercise instructional leadership by the work required of them in their role as it is currently structured…secondary school principals do not, according to our data, interact with teachers frequently and directly about instructional practice. District leaders need to find ways to help secondary and elementary school principals work with teachers in order to improve. They also need to help principals structure their work schedules in order to find sufficient time to do this…Most districts will need to have honest and in-depth discussions with their principals to develop procedures for systematically and practically monitoring implementation of instructional leadership. The needs and circumstances of elementary and secondary school principals may need to be differently addressed, however the bottom line would have each principal expected to take specific steps to enact instructional leadership in his or her school.

Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning, from the Wallace Foundation Knowledge Center, by Karen Seashore Louis, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom, and Stephen E. Anderson, p. 92-93

Well-said…but I don’t think we can simply wait for superintendents and central office leaders to dramatically redefine the work of principals.

I think district leaders play a hugely important role in making the job of principals doable—empowering principals to be true instructional leaders—but I also think we need to take matters into our own hands.

I’ve seen what happens when principals wait for the central office to fix things. I’ve heard my colleagues complain, helplessly, that “the district” isn’t spoon-feeding them every tool they need for success.

Guess what? This is a hard job. It demands that we give our all.

But it also demands that we work smarter. It demands that we use technology, and smarter strategies, to get more done and get to the “important but not urgent” work of instructional leadership.

At conferences, I often give a presentation subtitled “Working Smarter with 21st Century Tools.” And you know what’s encouraging? Lots of people always come, which tells me plenty of principals are taking their productivity into their own hands.

Making instructional leadership “doable” is a joint responsibility: district leaders have to make sure they’re not crushing us with work that takes our eyes off the ball, and we have to make sure we’re developing our capacity to handle the ever-growing demands of the job.

What helps you get to the important work?


Share:Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on LinkedIn
About Justin Baeder

Justin Baeder helps school administrators increase their productivity through the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. Learn More »

  • David Britten

    One of the problems with this is in many districts like mine, we’ve significantly cut the district central administration to the bone to keep money flowing into schools and the classrooms. Somebody has to accomplish all these unfunded mandates and the people just aren’t available in the district office anymore. Principals and their associations need to stand up to the state and federal government and say, enough is enough.

  • eduleadership

    Great point, David – thanks for your comment.