What Makes a Strong Instructional Leadership Team?

Grow the leadership capacity in your building and tackle the demands of this school year with a strong instructional leadership team. What makes a team strong? Read on.
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This school year, like the previous years, is full of urgent challenges and opportunities, especially as recent NAEP results highlight the lasting impact of the pandemic on student learning. The good news is that principals don’t have to solve everything on their own. More and more schools and districts are implementing distributed leadership models in which the school community works together to share leadership and generate collective solutions that drive effective instruction.

Instructional leadership teams (ILTs) are one of the best models for accelerating student learning. A form of distributed leadership, ILTs spread decision-making processes from the principal to a representative group, including teacher leaders, department heads, social workers, assistant principals. Effective ILTs elevate more diverse voices and perspectives and that can help to build a culture of collaboration and trust. Both of which positively impact teacher retention too

Tasked with advancing equity and instructional excellence, strong ILTs use regular data cycles to prioritize focus areas including best practices in ELA and math instruction. They use data to monitor and course-correct implementation too. They ground their work in a clear school vision and develop shared definitions of what good instruction and equity-focused mindsets look like. They embrace professional development opportunities to refine their leadership skills and learn how to support the development of teachers across their grade, department, or school. Working together, with purpose and focus, effective ILTs fuel student achievement and overall school improvement.

At this point in the school year, it can be helpful to step back and reflect on what is working well on your team and what needs some improvement. Take a moment to reflect on the questions below that identify key leadership actions in five areas known to improve school success. Then discuss them with your ILT to celebrate strengths and prioritize areas of opportunity. And, if your school hasn’t launched an ILT yet, here is helpful guidance to get started.  

Learning and teaching

How often do you and your team:

  • Work with teachers to develop a shared understanding of what excellent and equitable instruction looks like?
  • Use teacher team meetings to align on effective classroom procedures and instructional strategies in ELA and math? 
  • Support teachers in analyzing data and identifying next steps to improve their practice and student learning?

School culture

How often do you and your team:

  • Develop and use shared norms, beliefs, and values to guide decisions and honor diverse points of view?
  • Implement systems and structures to foster family and community communication and relationships?
  • Facilitate important and necessary conversations with colleagues when encountering language and systems that reinforces inequities or creates barriers for collaboration?

Talent management

How often do you and your team:

  • Delegate responsibilities to various team members?
  • Create systems of support for new staff and new team members that offer regular feedback and/or coaching?
  • Reflect on teacher progress to differentiate professional development to improve learning and teaching across a grade, department, or school?

Planning and operations

How often do you and your team:

  • Use consistent processes to ensure team meetings run smoothly and objectives are met?
  • Gather actionable information from data systems to establish clear, data-driven, and measurable teaching and learning goals?
  • Ensure resources are allocated equitably across the school?

Personal leadership

How often do you and your team:

  • Spend time building strong, sustainable relationships that honor each other's strengths, time, and contributions?
  • Feel comfortable to ask for help or clarity without fear of being devalued or marginalized?
  • Self-monitor how often you hold the floor and ensure equity of voice?  

By building and strengthening ILTs, principals empower and support teachers to step into more leadership, overcome instructional challenges, and implement solutions created collaboratively with their peers. When teachers have support from their colleagues and a trusted leader, they make noticeable instructional improvements that are consistent across their grade levels or departments. As a result, student learning accelerates and teacher satisfaction soars. 

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Instructional leadership is needed now more than ever.

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