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.
This post is the second of a two-part series by Jennifer Burris, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland and Summer Professional Development Specialist at TLI.
If you’re looking for social justice leadership reading or maybe you need more text-heavy resources after reading “What is Social Justice Leadership?,” this list is for you. Below are the books that I grab when I am looking for inspiration, guidance, reaffirmation, and tools to push myself when working towards educational equity.
“These Kids Are Out of Control”: Why We Must Reimagine “Classroom Management” for Equity by Richard Milner IV, Heather Cunningham, Lori Delale-O’Connor, and Erika Kestenberg is an excellent resource for classroom management. This book examines several different factors that influence classroom management: the cradle-to prison pipeline, effective instruction, creating a caring environment, and restorative discipline. Milner also defines three different categories of urban schools: intensive, emergent, and characteristic. Many schools in rural Oklahoma are beginning to fit Milner’s category of urban characteristic. Despite having locations outside big cities, they “may be beginning to experience increases in characteristics and realities that are sometimes associated with urban contexts, such as an increase in English language learners in a community” (Milner, 2019, p.8). This book also includes classroom vignettes and easy-to-follow reflections at the end of each chapter.
The School Leaders Our Children Deserve by George Theoharis follows real principals “who came to their positions with a desire to enact social justice.” (2009, p.18). These principals embody the seven keys to equity, social justice, and school reform through their experiences leading schools. Theoharis also examines barriers to social justice leadership at the school, district, and institutional level.
Culturally Responsive School Leadership by Muhammad Khalifa is a great pick if you like your literature rooted in history. While this book is a deep dive into the life of a culturally responsive principal, it also offers a background to schooling and society providing a more nuanced understanding of educational inequity. Each of the activities throughout the book include tasks for the teachers, principals, and superintendents as they work together in their culturally responsive practices.
Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education by Paul Gorski is the first book I grab when I am leading workshops or classes for educators. Each vignette is a two to three page situation that could happen at any school – but there are no endings. Educators must work together to think through possible short and long term solutions to the problem at hand. They must examine several different points of view as they think through “what would I do?”
Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education by Ozlem Sensoy, Robin DiAngelo, and James Banks has it all. Bite-sized chapters. Perspective checks. Stop and think activities. Comprehensive glossary. If you are looking for an all-in-one guide to social justice education – this is it. This would be a great resource for professional development, weekly workshops, or training before the school year starts. Make sure to get the second edition with up-to-date data.
This post is the first of a two-part series by Jennifer Burris, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland and Summer Professional Development Specialist at TLI.
Social justice leadership is not just for administrators. All stakeholders who strive for educational equity must be committed to continuously evaluating themselves and the systems they work in through a lens of justice for all students. It requires reflection and action from teachers, instructional coaches, administrators, the central office, and preparation programs.
Educators may enact social justice leadership in several different ways. I like to think of social justice leadership as an encapsulation of several of different methods aimed at educational equity like trauma-informed education, anti-racist education, multicultural education, culturally responsive pedagogy, and culturally sustaining pedagogy.
I often rely on Gail Furman’s conceptualization to social justice leadership as praxis model which centers on three concepts: 1) leadership involves both reflectionand action, 2) social justice leadership spans several dimensions, and 3) we must develop the capacities of social justice leadership for reflection and action across all dimensions.
Resources to Develop Social Justice Leadership Reflection and Action
Good Starting Points
Criteria for an Equitable School – Equity Audit– this equity audit from the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium provides a good starting point for those wondering what social justice inside of a school could look like. There can and never will be a perfect checklist for your school. The needs and resources for your students and community are constantly changing. Use when you are ready to assess equitable access, processes, treatment, and outcomes for all students.
Equity Literacy for Educators – Equity literacy is not equity inside of an English Language Arts classroom. Equity literacy provides a framework all stakeholders in your school to be literate in concepts of educational equity. This handout and the other resources from EdChange explain the basic principles that will help educators commit to social justice for all of their students.
The following websites also offer some great resources for teachers, instructional coaches, principals, and superintendents when developing the capacities for social justice leadership in your school.
In the last decade, school districts have invested a lot of money, time, and energy into building instructional coaching programs. Districts may have reading coaches, math coaches, turnaround coaches, classroom management coaches, gifted specialists, or general instructional coaches. Sometimes coaching positions are tailored to grant-funded priorities, focused on specific implementation efforts, or aimed at student-level needs.
Too often, instructional coaches are used in ways that do not directly support the instructional goals of the school. Sometimes, coaches are tasked with administrative tasks that directly detract from their core duties and, subsequently, their effectiveness. Other times, their schedules are filled with lunch duties and student management crisis instead of teacher coaching cycles. When coaches en up as a dumping ground for unfinished tasks, the work quality often suffers in all areas.
To best meet the needs of a school, leaders must be clear on the instructional coach role and fiercely protect the time of these individuals to squarely focus on their various aspects of their defined role.
How does an instructional coach truly define their job?
As with an instructional leadership team, there are 4 core functions of an instructional coach:
1. Serve as a member of the campus leadership team.
2. Work with content coordinator and campus administration to design and provide professional development focused on improving alignment and delivery of the written, taught, and tested curriculum to increase student success and close performance gaps.
3. Work with teachers and campus administration to analyze student data, diagnose instructional needs and identify research-based instructional strategies to close achievement gaps.
4. Provide job-embedded professional development for teachers through modeling engaging, standards-based teaching as needed.
5. Collaborate with content coordinator, campus administration, and teachers to review and develop aligned curriculum components including assessments.
6. Provide individual and/or group instructional coaching and mentoring to teachers to improve classroom instruction for all learners.
7. Conduct teacher observations and/or walk-throughs and provide feedback that facilitates teacher reflection and growth.
8. Work with content coordinators, campus administration, and team and/or grade level teachers in planning standards-based lessons and assessments aligned to the district curriculum.
9. Manage and distribute instructional resources to teachers and provide training on the use of those resources.
Notice that this job description does not include “other duties as assigned.” The goal is to narrow in on the core work of an instructional coach so the bulk of a coach’s time is spent improving the instructional capacity of the district.
If you’re looking for a few texts to kickstart your instructional leadership practice, we suggest starting with these easy-to-read but information-packed texts. Below we’ve offered a few details to help you decide where to start.