Fellow School Administrators,
We’ve called our work “instructional leadership” for a long time, but are we really instructional leaders? At its core, instructional leadership demands active involvement in the improvement of teaching and learning. This, in turn, demands that we spend time in classrooms—dramatically more time than ever before.
“But I have so many other things to do!” is the common refrain. I know. I get it. I work every day with overburdened principals who are pulled in a thousand directions. Time is always a challenge.
I’m here to tell you it’s being done. Thousands of principals around the country are spending significant time each day in classrooms—and with a little help, you can do it too.
Today, I challenge you to dramatically increase your presence in classrooms. Whether you made 100 classrooms visits last year, like most people, or 1,000, let’s make a commitment to do even better this year.
To support you, I’m providing a series of workshops at no charge to help you make time to get into classrooms, and to help you provide high-quality feedback to your staff. I’ve also arranged to provide what I believe is hands-down the best technology for providing this feedback, so you won’t be running around with a clipboard and a stack of forms.
The Instructional Leadership Challenge
You must be an instructional leader with classroom coaching or supervisory duties, e.g. a principal, assistant principal, or instructional coach. Teams are encouraged to join.
Sign up here and learn more in an online informational session (we’ll send you the dates and times).
September 1–October 31, 2013
What you get
- All participants in the Challenge gain free access to three 1-hour workshops on getting into classrooms and providing specific, evidence-rich feedback to your staff, based on your school’s instructional framework or evaluation tool.
- You’ll also get free access to a web-based tool for taking notes, providing feedback, and linking the evidence you collect to your teaching framework, all in a single, easy-to-use interface that works on your laptop or tablet, even if you don’t have wifi throughout your school.
- Access to the Challenge forum, where you can swap strategies with other participants
- Most importantly, a boost to your own efforts at improving teaching and learning in your school
What it costs
Nothing—the challenge is completely free, no strings attached. (The workshops you’ll get are normally $149–$299 each, and the software is normally priced per-teacher.)
As I talk with administrators and teachers around the country, I hear two distinct stories: Administrators strive to be instructional leaders, yet teachers see remarkably little of their administrators in the classroom.
I’ve heard teacher after teacher say “My principal only sees me teach once a year during our required observation.” I’ve heard several say they’ve never once received substantive feedback from an administrator. And even among those of us who pride ourselves on getting into classrooms and providing frequent feedback—we could be doing better.
Perhaps you’re the exception—I hope so—but the norm is for principals to spend very little time in classrooms engaged in substantive instructional leadership.
Sure, instructional coaches may have more time and expertise to provide detailed feedback to teachers. But as school leaders, we play a pivotal role in the improvement process.
We know sit-n-git professional development doesn’t do much by itself. And we know high-quality coaching can create pockets of excellence where it’s received well. But as leaders, it’s not our job to just provide PD or help a few people improve. It’s our paramount duty to drive improvement across the organizations we lead. That requires sustained, focused professional development, as well as individualized support and coaching—and the two go hand in hand.
Trying to improve a school without knowing what’s going on in classrooms at a very deep level is a fool’s errand. It doesn’t matter how much assessment data you have—if you’re trying to help your staff improve without knowing how they’re currently teaching, you’ll spin your wheels for years.
My colleague Liz Ballard understands this. Rather than sit in her office hoping her teachers are improving, she sees her primary role as in-the-classroom instructional leadership. Everything else she does to help her school improve—analyzing data, planning PD, working with district and community partners—is informed and shaped by her time in classrooms.
And it works. Liz’s school, Cadman Elementary had the highest student improvement on API (92 point increase) out of 225 schools in San Diego Unified School District, on the 2012 California State Testing.
You might think this feat was accomplished with a relentless focus on math and language arts assessments, and little else. But you’d be wrong. Ballard and her staff turned Cadman into a fine arts school, not a test prep factory, when she arrived in 2011. Because she knows what’s going on in classrooms, she knows precisely what her teachers need to do to improve, and she can work effectively with outside providers to deliver on those needs.
“My favorite part of each day is being in classrooms with our Cadman Scholars and watching the excitement in their eyes as they understand new concepts that make the world come alive to them,” Principal Ballard says. “Because I work with a staff that is focused on the whole child, we have incorporated the ‘arts’ into daily instruction to motivate and inspire our students.”
Liz Ballard is one of the educators that inspired this challenge. We hope you’ll join us as we work to develop more administrators into true instructional leaders. Take the challenge and we’ll give you the resources and support you need to get there.
Director, The Principal Center