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Ask Dr. Lynch: Being an Effective Instructional Leader

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

This week, reader Celeste L. asks:

I am about to assume my first principal's position during the upcoming school year, and I am a little nervous. I know that I am expected to be an instructional leader, but I am totally uncomfortable with being the go-to person when it comes to instruction. Any advice on how I can become an effective instructional leader?

Dr. Matthew Lynch


Celeste, I am sure you will do well. In instructional leadership, the principal is deeply involved with setting the school's direction. The “mission” dimension focuses on the principal’s role in cooperating with staff, ensuring the school continuously runs on clear, measurable and time-based goals that result in the academic progress of students. Principals are responsible for communicating goals, which should be widely known and supported throughout the school.

Ensuring that staff incorporate performance goals into their daily routines is crucial in instructional leadership. Vague, ill-defined goals must be put aside in favor of a clear dividing line between academically focused efforts and "teaching to the test."

The following bullet points delineate best practices for using instructional leadership to define a school’s mission:

  • The administrators' objectives are clearly expressed and modeled, in writing, all around the school. Teachers and administrators all use the same language to discuss academic priorities.
  • Teachers give priority status to the school's mission in their lesson planning and implementation.
  • The goal are well-articulated, actively backed, and modeled by the school’s administrators.

Instructional leaders can apply this research to their mission-building strategies. The questions a principal should asked him or herself while defining the school’s goals are:

  • Are the goals clear and easily understandable?
  • Are they written down and known by everyone in the school?
  • Do the goals apply to day-to-day activities at the school?
  • Do I constantly and actively reinforce and explain these goals?
  • Do the goals have the support of the rest of the school?

Managing the Instructional Program

This second dimension focuses on coordination and control of the school’s curriculum, and all instructional elements. Three leadership functions--supervising and evaluating instruction, coordinating the curriculum, and monitoring student progress--are incorporated here. Managing the instructional program requires the principal’s active participation in stimulating, supervising, guiding and monitoring teaching and learning in the school. The principal must possess expertise as well as commitment, getting “neck-deep” in the school’s instruction and curriculum.

For example, a principal might know the reading level and academic progress of almost all students in his/her school. This kind of personal engagement is not possible in every school, but reflects the degree of the principal’s involvement in observing and managing the school’s instruction and curriculum.

Promoting a Positive Learning Climate

The third dimension of instructional leadership supports several academic strategies for success:

  • Protecting instructional time;
  • Promoting professional development;
  • Maintaining high visibility of administrators;
  • Offering incentives for teacher success;
  • Developing high standards; and
  • Providing incentives for learning to students.

The broadest strategy in scope and purpose, promoting a positive learning climate, brings alive the widely held belief that effective schools create an “academic press,” by developing high standards of learning, as well as greater expectations from both students and teachers. These schools pursue a culture of continued improvement, where rewards complement the aims and practices of the school. The principal should model the values and practices that create continuous development and improvement of teaching and learning.

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.


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