DIY Instructional Leadership Team

In many Oklahoma districts, a single principal can lead a 40-member staff in charge of nearly 600 students. With such a demanding job, principals need a team who’s committed to building instructional skills and getting things done even when the principal is pulled away. 

Typically, instructional leadership teams include teacher leaders, instructional coaches, additional administrators, and reading specialists. While conventional wisdom usually pulls one representative per grade level, consider selecting leadership for performance, coachability, and influence instead. After all, some grades may easily contribute two strong contributors while others may yield none. The big idea is to build a reliable, get-it-done kind of team so selecting leadership based on grade-level alone risks the efficacy and reputation of the team.

What does an instructional leadership team do?

Denver Public Schools and Leading Educators provide strong models for what instructional leadership teams do. The overall goal is to support change in response to data including roles like these:

  • Gather and analyze data related to school-wide trends, school culture, student achievement data, and strategic priorities
  • Develop and monitor strategic plans 
  • Set vision for and maintain school culture
  • Create curriculum and assessment strategy
  • Calibrate on tools and protocols (TLE, observation/feedback protocols, data protocols)
  • Plan and progress monitor professional learning

How to establish a strong instructional leadership team

Building a strong instructional leadership team moves responsibility away from the principal towards distributive leadership. But it takes some work to get there. First, principals need to select and train leaders. Decide what traits matter and what skills you can train.

Distributive leadership is a critical part of a school’s success but it takes consistent work. By establishing clear responsibilities, training the team, and supporting their work, a principal can shift their focus from leading the entire school to developing the capacity of a few.

Coaching Confidentiality vs. Principal Collaboration: Where Is The Line?

Although instructional coaching evolved from research on teacher supervision and instructional leadership (Knight, 2009; Neumerski, 2013), most instructional coaches do not have the formal authority to evaluate teachers. In contrast to principals who also coach teachers, instructional coaches are usually positioned in a non-evaluatory, supportive role. 

Despite shared teacher and school improvement goals, the difference in evaluatory roles can make it easy to clash over the question of how much to share and with whom. 

Coaching guru Elena Aguilar (2013) suggests that coaching must be confidential to maintain a positive and trusting relationship between the coach and teacher. From a teacher’s perspective, it makes sense. With the promise of confidentiality, teachers can share openly and vulnerably with their coach in ways that they might not want to share with a boss or evaluating supervisor. 

Unfortunately, coaching confidentiality can lead to mistrust between instructional coach and principal. After all, a principal who is expecting continuous classroom growth may get frustrated to be left out of the loop and unaware of specific classroom issues. It can also lead to frustration for the teacher if instructional coaches and principals are sending conflicting or mis-aligned messages.  

To balance the need for trusting coaching relationships and school leader collaboration, we recommend sharing high-level analysis about classroom performance, action steps, and look fors. For example, a coach might share that a teacher is focused on giving consistent consequences and flag that the principal should look for a clear direction followed by narration before a consequence. With that information, the principal can communicate clearly and positively reinforce progress and recognize accomplishments, as Todd Whitaker (2015) recommends. 

With this delicate balance, the instructional coach can still maintain a degree of teacher confidentiality too. The instructional coach needn’t share the teacher’s concerns about making class fun if she’s always giving consequences or that the teacher is stressed about the lesson plan requirements. 

Regardless of where you fall in the confidentiality spectrum, teachers deserve to know what will be communicated and to whom. We suggest re-visiting the question of confidentiality early and often to make sure everyone knows the expectations. 

References:

Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching: effective strategies for school transformation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Knight, J. (2009). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.

Neumerski, C. (2013). Rethinking Instructional Leadership, a Review: What Do We Know About Principal, Teacher, and Coach Instructional Leadership, and Where Should We Go from Here? Educational Administration Quarterly, 49(2), 310-347.

Whitaker, T. (2015). What great principals do differently: eighteen things that matter most. New York, NY: Routledge.

Instructional Leadership Kick-Off

Liv, a rural Oklahoma principal who attended one of our recent workshops, desperately wanted to improve the quality of instruction across her elementary school. The problem? She wasn’t sure where to start. After all, her schedule seemed full and the task was daunting. 

Like Liv, principals and school leaders across the country are eager to improve instructional leadership skills. 

The primary focus of instructional leadership is to improve the quality of instruction happening in classrooms–a tall task for school leaders with limited time and extensive scheduling demands. Leaders need an intensive focus on the inputs (curriculum + instructional strategies), outputs (data), and a thoughtful analysis of where to focus time and energy in order to have the greatest impact on student learning (Whitaker, 2015). 

We hope this blog series contributes to the larger conversation about the different leadership roles that contribute to quality instruction in schools.

We’ll start by spotlighting best practices for the instructional coach-principal relationship. Then, we’ll explore the major roles of district-level curriculum leadership and the school-based instructional leadership team including teacher leadership. Finally, we’ll round out the series with some insights into deciding who to coach and why. 

Whitaker, T. (2015). What great principals do differently: eighteen things that matter most. New York, NY: Routledge.

Making Time: The Case for School Leader Coaching

It’s no secret that school administrators have jam-packed schedules and daunting to-do lists. With so much to do, it’s easy to shy away from leadership development due to time constraints. 

TLI’s Director of Leader Programs Nina Fitzerman-Blue urges leaders to make a different choice. 

“This is how we make time. Leadership coaching is how we learn to efficiently and effectively use the very small amount of time you have.”

Nina, who coaches School Leader Cohort Fellows each week, points out that leader coaching shouldn’t feel like just another task to check off the to-do list. After all, with each coaching session, leaders work on doing their jobs more effectively.

Leader coaching happens in your school building, focusing on what you want and need most.  Often, leaders collaborate with their coach to get those tough-to-finish tasks off their plate. Stuck on how to introduce the latest data to staff? Leaders work with their coach to analyze data and design a plan for a data dive with teachers. Spinning your wheels about how to coach new teachers? Walk through the process with your coach, getting face-to-face support and feedback. 


Listen in as a few of the 2019 School Leader Cohort Fellows why they’re glad they invested leadership coaching.

“Take the time for leader development. It will pay off in the end.” -Nicole

School Leader Cohort: What Is Leader Coaching Like?

School leadership can be isolating work. TLI’s Director of Leadership Programs Nina Fitzerman-Blue is working to change that. Each week, she offers focused, personalized coaching for school leaders in TLI’s School Leader Cohort. Under Nina’s direction, our fellows receive year-long support to develop instructional leadership skills, ranging from teacher coaching to adult culture to managing performance. 

While each leader coaching session is customized, coaching often includes instructional walkthroughs, observation and feedback practice, data analysis and planning, personal organization, professional development, and crucial conversations. 

Here’s a peek into what some of this year’s cohort members think about their coaching:

Even the sharpest leader benefits from a thought partner, pointed feedback, and another pair of eyes. Here’s how one leader describes our weekly coaching meetings: “Having weekly meetings with Nina has allowed me to take a more proactive approach to leadership. As part of the School Leader Cohort, I’ve sharpened my instructional eye, learned to give effective feedback, and ultimately raised the instructional rigor in my school.”

Are you ready to push your leadership to the next level? Applications for the 2020-2021 School Leader Cohort are open now! Grab a quick information sheet here and start your application here.  

“Leadership coaching is like partnering with my biggest cheerleader for one hour a week. I always have an action plan and the support I need to make change.”


Still have questions or want more information? Leave a comment, send us a message, or follow us on social media.

What We’re Listening To: Staff Edition

In preparation for the long road trips and airport delays as we return home from holiday travels, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite things to listen to and learn. Cue up the podcasts, friends. We’ve got some recommendations from TLI staff and friends.

Education Updates

Listen to the researchers and leaders behind major education innovation and discoveries on the Harvard EdCast. Each short, informative podcast episode features a world-class guest. 

If you’re ready to delve into reading research, check out The Science of Reading, a podcast by Amplify Education. For a more general list of education topics, TLI summer intern and PhD student Jennifer Burris likes Cult of Pedagogy. Episodes range from technology integration to graphic novel use. If you want a taste, check out Burris’ favorite episode Think Twice Before Doing Another Historical Simulation

Go local, OK! 

Fortunately, Oklahoma has plenty of homegrown talent on the podcast scene. Executive Director Jo Lein recommends listening in on the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center’s new podcast, School Zoned. Each Friday, host Brent Bushey interviews influential #oklaEd educators from the 2019 Teacher of the Year to State Superintendent of Instruction, Joy Hofmeister

OU doctoral student and reading research fanatic Tiffany Peltier turned us on to Education Trust’s ExtraOrdinary Districts podcast. Check out this episode featuring two rural Oklahoma districts: Lane Public Schools and Cottonwood Public Schools. 

The OklaEd Podcast Network offers a plethora of other local podcast talent. We’re partial to Passing Notes including this interview with TLI’s own Dr. Jo Lein,  and the ReThink ELA podcast with Michelle Waters. 

School leaders should also check out the Principal Matters podcast with Cooperative Council of School Administrator’s Will Parker for a wide range of interviews on school issues. 

Audio Documentaries and Books

Audio means more than just podcasts, of course. Improved public library audio book lending and paid subscriptions to streaming services like Audible mean you have thousands of listening options at your fingertips. You can listen to everything from Fostering Resilient Learners to Paul Tough’s latest book, The Years that Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. Look for books read by the author!  

Tiffany Peltier recommends listening to audio documentaries too. Her top choice? At a Loss for Words: What’s Wrong with How Schools Teach Reading

What’s queued up on your phone or podcast app? Drop us a comment below or send us a message. We’d love to hear from you! 


Staff Bookshelf: Winter Edition

Winter break is the perfect time to cozy up on the couch with a warm quilt and a new book. To kick off our own winter reading, we peeked into our staff bookshelf to reminisce on inspiring education reads and general lit picks. 

Jo Lein, Executive Director

Jo can’t stop talking about Hollowing Out the Middle, a great pick for those interested in the future of rural education. Written by sociologists, the book follows the young people in small Iowa towns as they struggle with what the beauty and limitations of small town life might mean for their futures. If you’re ready for a break from school reading, Jo recommends David and Goliath by heady perennial favorite Malcolm Gladwell.


Angie Cline, Teacher Development Manager

Tera Westover’s Educated is captivating enough that you’ll want to read it in one, long irresponsible session. For a quirky, relatable, and road-trip ready read, grab The Overdue Life of Amy Byler. It’ll have you snickering to yourself in no time. 

If you’re already amping up for a New Year’s Resolution or just need to get organized, check out The Together Teacher or the Together Leader. Both offer practical advice you’ll want to implement right away.   


Nina Fitzerman-Blue, Director of Leadership Programs 

Need to have some hard conversations or just want to improve your relationships? Nina recommends Radical Candor by Kim Scotts. For a reference text on child development and social-emotional stages, Nina loves Yardsticks. Although you might not charge through the text in one setting, it may turn into a bookshelf favorite in your life as an educator, parent, or keen observer of children. 


Marissa King, Chief of Staff

Run to your local bookstore to grab Richard Powers’ The Overstory. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, this intricately-connected plot will have you noticing all of nature’s little glories and ready to plant a few trees of your own. For another nature-inspired read, check out Braiding Sweetgrass by botanist and Potawatomi Nation citizen Robin Wall Kimmerer. The book offers an inspiring glimpse into hands-on science education and a window into a world connected deeply to nature. 


Jennifer Burris, Professional Development Specialist

Ibram X. Kendi’s newest book How to Be an Antiracist, is a current favorite on Jennifer’s bookshelf. The book is thought-provoking and challenging- exactly the kind of read to end the year and shape your newest resolutions. 


What’s on your bookshelf or winter reading list? Drop us a comment below or send us a message. We’d love to hear from you! 

Top 6 Teacher Gifts for the Holiday Season

The Teaching & Leading Initiative (TLI) staff have compiled our favorite educator-centered gifts to make your holiday gift buying a little easier this year. Whether you need a gift for the teacher next door, the school principal, or your educator bestie, this list has you covered.

  1. If you’re looking for a practical gift to use in the classroom, we love this high-quality, magnetic red timer for student practice activities or transitions. It’s big enough for students to see the countdown from anywhere in the room, and the robust magnet will keep the timer in place without sliding. Or, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, Executive Director Jo Lein swears by these quirky little cube timers.
  2. During the chilly winter season, a self-warming coffee mug can add a touch of comfort (and caffeine) to long days in the classroom. Chief of Staff Marissa King also suggests an electric water kettle for teachers who need to brew a quick cup of tea between classes.
  3. If you want to inject a bit of flair into your otherwise practical educator gifts, Director of Leader Programs Nina Fitzerman-Blue has a couple suggestions: Nab a pack of Gelly Roll pens for the teacher with a case of middle school nostalgia, or enliven classroom charts with multicolor bullet-tip Sharpies. The teacher on your holiday shopping list would probably get a kick out of these personalized pencils, too.
  4. Summer Professional Development Intern and PhD student Jennifer Burris loves public schools and local businesses. This easy-to-gift sweatshirt supports both! It also comes in multiple sizes so the whole family can display their school pride together.
  5. Manager of Teacher Development, Angie Cline, recommends Bath & Body Works Stress Relief Eucalyptus lotion because it’s so calming, even during the grueling months of indoor recess. This German-made lotion is another winter luxury that easily slips into a tote or desk drawer.
  6. The TLI office thrives on Google Calendar, but pen and paper are still so satisfying. We’re fans of the Moleskine notebook (easily customizable) or more intricate planner options from Minted. A good notebook demands a good writing tool. Le Pens offers a sleek fine-tip pen that won’t break the bank, but if you like to edit and erase on the fly, don’t discount these cult-favorite pencils from Blackwings.

Whatever you decide to give, remember the most important element: a heartfelt message to remind educators how important their work is to you and your communities. 

Did we miss one of your go-to educator gifts? Drop us a comment below or send us a message. We’d love to hear from you!

Planning for the Seven Elements of Change Management

Change is inevitable. Schools are constantly changing in response to student needs, new data, leader vision, district initiatives, and state mandates. While change itself may not be a choice, we choose how to manage it.

Successfully managing change isn’t about putting on a smile and adjusting your attitude– although that may not hurt either. Effective change management requires a thoughtful plan.

This change management graphic adapted from Knoster (2000) and Lippitt (1987) depicts the seven elements of change management for which leaders must plan. Effective change requires vision, buy-in, skills, incentives, resources, an action plan, and assessment.

Change may be possible without each of the seven elements, but it’s a lot harder. Consider a district initiative for new math curriculum. Without teacher buy-in, one element of change management, a school leader can purchase new resources and plan professional development. But missing teacher investment will likely result in a poor implementation, angry staff, and hours of extra time. A lack of teacher buy-in might point to larger issues too: Are teachers frustrated with a lack of planning time required for new curriculum? Do they need time or support to build new skills? Missing one change element may mean the change isn’t successful long-term or it may have high costs for teacher satisfaction and retention. A more successful option is to plan for each of the seven elements of change management so change can be rolled out with strategy and people in mind. 

We like to use the change management to pre-plan for change and to assess an in-progress or past change. 

Planning For Change

We suggest school leaders make a full, detailed plan for managing any major, adaptive change. Think through each element of change with a detailed timeline for getting things done. Watch out for these common errors: 

  • Forgetting Time: Even if few physical or monetary resources are required, some changes demands significant time from teachers or families. Use your plan for stakeholder buy-in to get more information and double-check your ideas to make sure you account for everyone’s time. 
  • Assuming Skill: Change requires more than a quick glance towards skill building. Consider a school that’s implementing a close reading strategy. Even teachers who already know how to guide students through analysis of text structure, word choice, grammar, and sentence-level meaning may not know what to cut or replace in their curriculum. The entire change could stall out if the reading strategy feels like just another thing instead of replacing a less-impactful strategy. 
  • Forgetting Process Assessment: Excellent change management assessments include both outcomes and processes. Process assessments like observation checklists, walkthrough data, and interim student achievement data help you celebrate small wins and evaluate effectiveness before you get to the big end-of-semester outcome data. 
  • Starting Too Big: Often, leaders want to quickly roll out a school-wide change when piloting the change in one grade or subject might be wiser. Narrow pilots allow school leaders to work out the kinks and get essential staff feedback to adapt the plan. 

Assessing Change 

The change management graphic is also a helpful reflection tool for analyzing in-process initiatives or past change. If a change never moved past the pilot stage or stalled out due to sheer frustration, analyze which of the seven elements are missing. 

Complex, school-wide change is hard but careful change management planning can increase effectiveness and reduce friction. We may not always get to choose when to change, but we can plan for managing it.

*This is the last of a 6-part series on school-based change management. Catch the series introduction here. Send us an email or leave a comment with thoughts!

Greasing The Skids

In this 6-week change management series, TLI staff examine the big ideas and often-overlooked strategies for successfully leading school change.  Catch the series introduction or earlier blogs here.

Successful building-level shifts require more than a strong leader. A new curriculum is worthless without the teachers to skillfully integrate it into class. A new technology initiative won’t make it past the storage closet without the people to weave it into courses. 

Too often, the human side of change is treated as an afterthought or given a one-size-fits-all approach. After all, it’s hard to help staff navigate the emotion, time pressures, and skill building that change often brings. It’s hard to thoughtfully engage with skeptical faculty and listen carefully to painful criticism. 

Regardless of difficulty, planning for how you’ll guide faculty and staff through a big change is a crucial component of successful change. In this blog, we offer a concrete, time-tested strategy to keep people at the center of your change process. 

Grease the Skids, a strategy employed by many successful principals with whom we work, is designed to make change run more smoothly. This strategy takes its name from the pallets that easily slide across a factory floor with a little lubrication. We hope it helps eases the burden of change in your school, too.

To Grease the Skids of major change, school leaders start by identifying highly-influential people who aren’t on board with a new initiative. The key is to identify the teachers or school staff members who can quickly influence the people that are on the fence or on the bus (see our earlier post to identify those two groups).  

Pilot the Plan

The most popular version of Greasing the Skids is to pilot a new program or initiative with select teachers. Instead of rolling out one-to-one laptops to an entire school, test the idea of a laptop cart with one teacher or a highly-influential grade-level team. The small scale allows leaders to check in regularly, encourage growth, and adjust the plan as needed. It also builds relationships with influential staff members so leaders can eventually rely on these staff members to influence others.

After testing a change with a small group, ask pilot teachers to prepare a testimonial, share data, or offer illustrations on how the change worked. The teachers who used the laptop cart can quickly offer guidance to the full staff on how to build their own tech skills or give examples of how much the laptops helped with the writing process. Not only did you work out the kinks with a small group, but you’ve probably expedited the staff’s buy-in by leveraging influential teachers.   

Test the Message

Greasing the Skids can also be a way to test your message with an influential staff member before speaking to the entire faculty. Instead of announcing a new guided reading effort to everyone at once, seek out a few influential teachers for an advance check-in. Explain the rationale and ask for feedback about your approach. Are you taking on the work in the right way? What’s exciting or concerning for the teacher?

By testing the message, school leaders hear important criticism about the change itself and the messaging. If a teacher offers skepticism about the new guided reading initiative being just another under-resourced, under-funded change, the leader can immediately brainstorm how to make sure teachers are well-supported this time. Suddenly, the new teacher is an ally in solving a problem and helping the leader avoid dangerous potholes. 

One superintendent we work with teaches his principals to test the message with at least two people before each major announcement or meeting. 

Whether you’re launching a change or training faculty on new skills, try to Grease the Skids before you take a change to your whole school.