5 Tips for Effective School Leadership

The new school year is always stressful, no matter how many years of education experience you have. School leaders are meeting new students, parents, and staff members and trying to make sure that everything runs smoothly.

This year, remember these 5 tips related to school leadership for the 2019 school year:

  1. Work on relationships with your teachers.
  2. To be an instructional leader, you need to build your instructional practices expertise.
  3. Someone needs to make the tough decisions.
  4. You need to be in classrooms on a regular and consistent basis.
  5. Instruction is critical.

1)  Work on relationships with your teachers!

Working on relationships with my teachers was an important part of addressing the achievement gaps in student learning.

I could demand compliance with any new initiative, but to build a collaborative effort, I needed to listen to the people who are in the classroom each day with students. Being aware of the school culture and climate is critical to your success in the future. 

Even when you must make changes in instruction, you can listen to the teachers’ concerns before moving forward. A lot of school leadership simply involves sitting and listening to your staff’s concerns.

2) To be an instructional leader, you need to build your instructional practices expertise.

As a high school principal, I certainly didn’t know the standards or the content of all of my teachers. I will never be a calculus or physics expert! But I knew what good instruction looked like. I kept myself informed about the latest educational research and what has been proven to work in boosting student learning.

I wasn’t a content expert, but I was an instructional practices expert. I told them I was like the architect who didn’t know how to lay brick or any of the other construction skills but I knew what the building was going to look like. 

3) Someone needs to make the tough decisions.

Making the tough but necessary decisions that are part of a principal’s job will make people mad and often unhappy, but you’re the one who has to make them. On any day, a principal needs to make hundreds of decisions that affect teachers, staff, and students.

The judgments need to be as fair and as impartial as possible, but you’ll still have to listen to people complain about you. Often those complaints are voiced in the staff lounge. 

4) You need to be in classrooms on a regular and consistent basis.

Remember that need to know what good instruction looks like? If you’re going to demand effective teaching practices in every classroom that impacts the learning of each student (and you should) then you as the leader need to observe the teaching and learning.

There are a million things each day that will demand your attention. But none are more important than having teachers know you’re going to be in their classroom regularly. Get your calendar and block out an hour or two at least each week. Write it on your calendar. Tell your admin assistant and everyone else that these are urgent appointments that only a true emergency can interrupt. 

5) Instruction. Instruction. Instruction.

If you don’t change what Dr. Richard Elmore calls “the instructional core,” you won’t change student learning. The instructional core contains three components: the teacher, the students, and the content. If you change one, you change them all. You need to improve the teachers’ skills and knowledge, to engage students in learning, and to provide academically challenging content.

Working with teachers a principal can create what Jim Knight calls an “instructional playbook.” Having a set number of clearly defined instructional practices helps teachers know your expectations and helps you as a leader know if you’re changing the instructional practices and, therefore, student learning. 

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