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Dear Principal,

We know this last year has been stressful. We know that next year’s challenges are already cropping up. We know you are looking for support to help your students recover the learning lost last year. We are here to support you with a series of articles that don’t just talk about learning loss recovery, but provide tools and examples you can use to make learning loss recovery a reality in your school.

In our first article, we answered the question, “What are the actions of a principal who effectively leads a school with the outcome of learning loss recovery in order to increase academic achievement for each and every student?” In other words, “What are the four actions of instructional leadership?”

In our second and third articles we focused on the first two actions of instructional leadership:

  1. Determine an initiative whose successful implementation will ensure learning loss recovery and increase student achievement.
  2. Determine the support for the implementation of the initiative.

Last week’s article focused on the third action of instructional leadership: Determine the monitoring system for the implementation of the initiative. We also provided a tool to support implementation and detailed example of what it looks like when a principal utilizing this action.

This week we are focused on the fourth action of instructional leadership: Build a community of leaders for the implementation of the initiative.

The Fourth Action of Instructional Leadership

The fourth action is to build a community of leaders. The initiative you are implementing, the support you are offering, and the success you are monitoring are too big for you to be the only leader. Thus, you need a team of stakeholders who are as dedicated to this initiative as you are. As a principal, you can think of this community as the climate of the initiative.

In order to lead the successful implementation of an initiative, the principal needs to understand and share the answers to the following questions:

  • What is the teachers’ role in the implementation of the initiative?
  • How will the teachers support each other in the implementation of the initiative?
  • How will the teachers be supported to take risks in the implementation of the initiative?
  • How will this information be shared with the teachers?

This means that the principal must identify the role of each stakeholder in the implementation of the initiative, foster cooperation among and between stakeholders, establish a plan for collaboration, and share this information with the staff.

This tool is provided as a resource for you to use when building a community of leaders for the implementation of your initiative.

An Example of Instructional Leadership in Climate

When speaking with Principal Balsamo, he determined that in order to focus on learning loss recovery he would need his teachers to implement a data protocol for next year. He explained that he knew his task was to determine and lead these actions:

  • Identify the role of each stakeholder in the implementation of the initiative.
  • Foster cooperation among and between stakeholders.
  • Establish a plan for collaboration.
  • Share this information with the staff.

He began the process by answering the question from the planning tool above.

What is the role of the teacher in the implementation of the initiative?

What is the role of the principal in the implementation of the initiative?

What is the role of the coach in the implementation of the initiative?

PRINCIPAL BALSAMO:

“This past year has been difficult for my students, especially when it came to math. This past year has also been difficult for my teachers, especially because we never had a chance to physically be in the same room together to discuss idea. Online meetings only go so far.”

“Many of our teachers were not adapting to the new expectations but were instead doing what they had always done in math instruction. This was not serving our students well at all. But me just telling the teachers that we needed to change didn’t do anything. We had to really understand what our students were and were not grasping in math. We needed a process to analyze data and instruction and make changes based on it.”

“I know that the teachers will have the most critical role in this initiative. They will be  the ones that will ask to take risks, share their successes and challenges with each other, and make changes. We need a process that will hold them accountable to themselves and each other. By looking at the data collectively and making sure our conversations were about student learning and not about teachers, we hope to find greater participation and cooperation than before.”

“But I know that even though they have the most crucial role, this work cannot rest on their shoulders alone. They will need support from me and from our math coach. My most important role is to communicate, communicate, communicate. I have to be certain every teacher understands the goals and success criteria of the initiative, that they understand the plan we have in place to support them as they implement it, and that we are all accountable for the success of it. My second most important role is to be available for the teachers and to have strong conversations with them. When I meet with grade levels or individuals, I must make sure I am asking the right questions and honoring the strong decisions they are making, the risks they are taking, and how they are supporting each other. We must make sure we celebrate our successes along the way.”

“Our math coach also has an important role. He will attend each PLC meeting. He is our school expert on the standards, the assessment expectations, and a variety of instructional resources and strategies. When teachers hit roadblocks with skills, his role will be to help them understand the skill better and to find approaches will support learning. Because he will be in classrooms more than ever, he will know which teachers are showing success and will set up visits to have them be observed. He also will do demonstration lessons so teachers can see the new strategies in action.”

Once the roles have been determined, Principal Balsamo then had to determine the following:

How will the teachers be supported and encouraged to take risks in the implementation of the initiative?

PRINCIPAL BALSAMO:

“The best way I have learned to support others to take risks is to take them myself. I am very vocal with the teachers about the decisions I make. I let them know when I am taking a smart risk and why. I let them know when my risks pay off and when I fail miserably. But I always share with them what I learned from each risk—the successful and unsuccessful ones. Modeling is the best way I can support and encourage them to take risks. But it doesn’t stop with modeling. I also need them to know that risk-taking is safe and encouraged at this school. We publicly celebrate how we get out of our comfort zone for our students’ learning. I know that these acknowledgments need to be real, relevant, and public. The more the teachers see each other taking risks and that all that comes from it is learning, not judgment or evaluation, the more they are willing to take risks and support each other.”

Principal Balsamo knows that he could not do all of the work alone. He needed the teachers to work as a team. He then determined:

What is the purpose and value of collaborative support?

What is the role of each teacher in a collaborative opportunity?

When will teachers work together to support each other in the implementation of the initiative?

PRINCIPAL BALSAMO:

“At a leadership session I attended, the presenter talked about a book called Change or Die. It sounded quite gruesome. But the speaker told us the book was about how sustainable change happens. And it happens when individuals are accountable to themselves and others. He gave a quick example of going to the gym. It is easy for us to tell ourselves we will change and go there regularly. It is just as easy to not go. But if your friend is meeting you at the gym, you’re not going to not meet them. I shared this with my teachers and let them know that we need to be a group that works together for our common goals. That we couldn’t be a school of ‘I’s but needed to be a ‘We.’ This was the theme of our last meeting of this year.”

“But this is easy to espouse. The harder part is to get teachers, especially those who are used to just staying in their classroom and closing the door, to believe in and value this. This comes from making certain the teachers are very clear on their role in collaboration. Some of the teachers are willing participants. But for others, they need a defined role and expectation until it just becomes what we do. This will be the theme of our first meeting of the coming year.”

“For our weekly PLCs, each teacher will bring their agreed-upon formative data for the skills taught that week. They first will share the data and look for patterns and trends across the classrooms. They will then identify areas of success and areas of challenge. Whether it was successful or not, the teachers must share their instructional approach and why they chose that approach. I think that these conversations could be a bit stilted at the beginning. But it will become the way we talk about data and learning. They will all have a role in sharing.”

To ensure that his message is clearly articulated and understood, Principal Balsamo had to determine:

How will this information be shared in as many distinct ways as possible?

PRINCIPAL BALSAMO:

“There are parts of the initiative that I’ve shared with the staff and parts that I will need them to determine. Even when I share a part—for example, the goal and success criteria of the data analysis protocol—I will make certain they have time to discuss it and then articulate it in their own words. An example of the part I will need them to determine is their role in a PLC meeting. We will outline the purpose and value of the meetings. I will then have the teachers come up with what will be their role, what will be expected of each individual and what will be expected of the group.”

“I plan to use each staff meeting as a time to remind ourselves about our initiative and then to check in on our progress. I have found that this level of consistent communication and articulation will help us become what we want—A school of ‘we’ rather than a school of individual ‘I’s.”

So, What’s Next for Principal Balsamo?

PRINCIPAL BALSAMO:

“I plan to relax and reenergize. When I come back the last week of July, I will review all of my notes regarding our decisions around our data-analysis protocol and revise as needed. Before school starts, I will meet with the team leaders and make sure we are all on the same page. And the Math Coach is going to attend a three-day professional development of PLCs.”

So, What’s Next for You?

This month, we are concerned with the practical answer to the question, “What are the actions of a principal who effectively leads a school with the outcome of learning loss recovery in order to increase academic achievement for each and every student?”

In other words, “What are the actions of instructional leadership?” There are four.

This week’s article has focused on the fourth action of instructional leadership: Build a community of leaders for the implementation of the initiative whose successful implementation will ensure learning loss recovery and increase student achievement. We have shown you how to utilize the fourth action of instructional leadership. We have offered you a tool to support implementation. We have provided a detailed example of what it looks like when a principal utilizing this action.

This is our final article for this series. Want to know more about the actions of instructional leadership? Check out our book Developing Instructional Leadership: Creating a Culture of Ownership through the Use of Strategic Learning Practices.

The Learning Brief

In this article you learned…
  • The fourth action of instructional leadership.
  • How to build a community of leaders for an initiative whose successful implementation will ensure learning loss recovery and increase student achievement.
  • How to implement the fourth action of instructional leadership with a tool and an example.
Reading Time: 10 minutes

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