Refine Systems to Regain Time for Instructional Leadership

Instructional Leadership
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You’ve received your student achievement results from the past school year. Your leadership team and you reflected on the data and are in the process of setting goals for continued improvement this year. As your own professional goal, you want to allocate more time to ensure you can grow and support your campus as an instructional leader.

You’ve decided you’ll do more walkthroughs and provide more instructional feedback. You will also attend PLCs and support data meetings to support your teachers, staff, and students for continued improvement. You understand that one of the best leadership moves you can make to improve learning on your campus is through regular instructional feedback, coaching, and collaboration with your instructional teams.

Learn more about how to regain control of your time and provide the support your students need with our Systems for School Leaders PD Series!

But you also recognize that you had similar goals and intentions for last year. Many tasks and urgencies interfered with your plans each day, and you had to move the walkthroughs, conference cycles, and PLC meetings to the back burner. Unless you can clone yourself or convince Human Resources to give you another support staff, you don’t know how to achieve your goals to increase instructional leadership.

One crucial step you can take is to refine the systems that impact day-to-day operations on your campus. Very often, we don’t have the time to proactively plan all of these operations systematically, and in turn, they can drain much of your time during the school day.

Reflect on the Barriers to Instructional Leadership

The first step is to look into the causes that stopped you from completing your walkthrough and feedback goals. Perhaps there was a student in need of immediate support. You reflect on what kept you from staying in the PLCs- maybe an unplanned parent requesting a meeting with you or a staff member popping by your office to discuss a question about the upcoming community outreach night. While those interruptions are also important to campus safety, student success, and community relations, they have interfered with your top priority of ensuring that students are learning and growing to their maximum potential.

STEP 1: Think back to the most recent few weeks you can remember (you might even look back at your work calendar if you keep detailed records). Make a quick list of the things that came up and stopped you from completing your instructional walks or participating in meetings to discuss students’ data and learning.

What Can You Systemize for Efficiency?

Now that you have identified a few areas that have prevented you from your ideal vision of instructional leadership, you are ready to look at ways to systemize the response to handle it more efficiently. 

Example 1: Dealing with Student Behaviors

Are student behaviors and immediate needs preventing you from instructional leadership? Then consider staggering your schedule with a few other staff members that can be on call if a student requires immediate support (other administrators, counselors, behavior support team, coaches, interventionists, or even a paraprofessional).

If it doesn’t directly align with their responsibilities, they might act as a first responder to the situation, allowing you a chunk of time to complete your walks or wrap up your meeting instead of rushing off. They could follow a de-escalation protocol and give the student the space they need to safely and productively calm down or work through the problem. Frequent collaboration of your schedules with the leadership team and support staff to ensure someone is “on call” while you are out of pocket is an essential and proactive step to ensure that you can attend to the instructional leadership needs of your campus.

Example 2: Dealing with Communication Interruptions

Are unplanned communication needs a common interruption? You should work with your front office team to define a protocol for handling those requests. You can share your calendar with them so they can refer to your schedule or let them know what times you are not available for unplanned meetings. A proactive plan will empower your team to handle requests with customer service and clarity while prioritizing the value of instructional leadership you provide to the campus.

An open-door policy is not always the most helpful for a school leader. While it’s crucial to build relationships with your stakeholders, an open-door approach can interfere with your productivity and even prevent you from being able to focus when someone has taken the time to schedule a meeting with you. An alternative to the “open door policy” is having office hours so that your stakeholders can pop in and meet or chat with you.

Identify the Barrier

STEP 2: Identify the top 1-2 areas that would impact allowing you to lead instructionally on your campus. These 1-2 areas are the ones for which you will focus on creating an efficient system. Only choose one or two; it’s important to be strategic. Photographer Bruce Herwig said, “If EVERYTHING is a focus, NOTHING is a focus.” While he was using this idea to teach photography best practices, it also applies to school leadership. Campus systems are interconnected, one or two changes will impact other areas, so it’s important to prioritize those changes so you can refine the system well. 

Become More Proficient in the Art of Delegation

As you reflect on your list of barriers, consider how much of the work is being completed by you as the school leader versus how much you are sharing leadership opportunities with your team of trusted staff. An effective school leader does not juggle all the tasks thrown at them daily. But an overwhelmed school leader’s head might be spinning from all the tasks. It can be difficult for them to see their way out of the unending tasks and urgencies that arise.

To become more effective in leadership, you must be adept at delegating tasks to your team. An effective delegator defines the roles and responsibilities of those on their team so they can quickly determine which duties to assign. They also clearly define the desired outcome, set a point of contact in case additional questions arise, and establish clear short-term goals and check-ins. As a school leader, it can feel like a lot to remember, and you might feel it is easier to do it yourself. Do not fall into that trap! Trying to tackle all those tasks will prevent you from authentic leadership and instructional guidance for your team.

The RACI Tool

RACI Template Example
RACI Tool Example

The RACI template is one way to effectively brainstorm, manage, and track the tasks involved in the job. This tool allows you to list the steps required for a project and determine who is responsible for the task, who will be the one to approve decisions along the way, who is available to consult as a sounding board, and lastly, who needs to be informed of the tasks to complete the project along the way. By using this template, the school leader can monitor that the work is done without being the person that is directly responsible for planning, executing, and maintaining the project. 

Check out our free download of an editable RACI chart that you can use today. Here’s a video explaining the roles and how a RACI chart can benefit the delegation process. 

Define Your Action Steps, Check-In Points, and Goals

Now you’ve identified your barriers and chosen one or two systems that you can refine. Remember, adjusting one system will cause a change in other areas, so don’t worry about choosing to focus on one or two areas. Bring your leadership and teacher teams into the planning for the systems- it’s essential to share the leadership opportunities and create buy-in. Bring those to the table that are close to the problem; often, they will be aware of circumstances that you might not have on your radar.

STEP 3: Establish a team of stakeholders that are or would be impacted by the system and plan or refine the system to create an efficient response to the need.

Congrats school leader, you reflected on common barriers preventing you from getting out of your office and into the classroom. You determined what systems you want to focus on to improve and the possible steps you will take to improve their efficiency. Finally, you formed a team of decision-makers to refine the system and determine the next steps that allow for your instructional leadership on your campus. Armed with these tools and self-reflection, you will start the next school year smoothly.

Let us know your thoughts or other ideas in the comments below!

Natalie is an Educator Evaluation and Leadership Administrative Specialist at ESC Region 13.

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