What does it really mean to be an instructional leader?
Ever since I was in graduate school, studying to become a principal, this was the lingo of the great leader—be an instructional leader. At first I thought this meant I had to be the best teacher in the building, and when I walked into classrooms, I might show a teacher a few moves. But every time I went into a classroom that was “someone else’s classroom” (who, by the way, I was also in charge of evaluating), getting up and interrupting the teacher’s lesson with my own brilliant ideas never seemed like the right move. Over the next eight years, I often wondered whether I was being an instructional leader. If this is the gold standard of being a principal, of course that is what I was aiming for, but how was I to know if I had gotten there?
How can principals help teachers build energy? It's an enduring question for a reason, with many possible answers. Don Graves once visited a school where each Wednesday morning the faculty met to have a breakfast of rolls, juice, and coffee and then moved into various curriculum focus groups. The faculty had one half hour together before school and then one halof hour after the children arrived on the busses. The staff ran the sessions and discussion groups. “I have but one requirement,” the principal said, “that everyone attend and no one be alone in their room. I make sure the kids are in a good situation for their half hour. Every June we reevaluate the Wednesday morning program and decide what specific interest groups will follow for the next year. In previous years we’ve produced lots of things: parent forums, a new math curriculum; we prepared a language arts presentation for parents.” This particular program had been going on for ten years. There is renewal for the staff in the middle of the week, and above all, keeps the staff in touch with each other and develops new ideas.