Leading by example

Rubina Majid

Achieving success as a leader, by virtually any definition, requires ‘doing right things right.’ (Leithwood, 2005, p. 3)

Effective student achievement happens when school principals choose to become instructional leaders. Becoming an instructional leader means principals wearing many hats and beginning to focus on improving teaching and learning.

A school principal’s work as an instructional leader has evolved over the last several decades. The job description of a principal has gone from manager to instructional leader to transformative leader and it also includes making sure that the bathrooms are clean.

I am a teacher who has worked under 13 principals and my favourites have been those whose rooms I could walk into to tell them how horrible or great my day was!!! The best principals are the ones that are visible. Teachers, students and parents love principals who are there to listen to and solve problems.

I loved principals who were at the gate every morning greeting the students, teachers and talking to parents who came to drop their children. Being present at the end of the day to say goodbye was a great way of letting the students and parents know that the principal was out there making sure that everything was ok. These very short interactions mean a lot to a school’s community.

My first year as a third-grade teacher was under this wonderful principal who made everyone in school feel like a part of a big family. I remember after a big event at school,it looked like a storm had hit it. Only the staff was in school and this people’s principal just took off his jacket and started clearing up. Everyone followed him and the school grounds were cleaned in less than an hour. That was an important lesson I learned.

Mingling with the students is the best way for a principal to foster strong bonds. Stopping to watch a lunchtime basketball game, discussing movies and music or last night’s cricket match will help the principal get to know her students well. The students too will begin trusting her.

Today’s instructional leaders have the social media to help them get closer to the parent and student community. There is no better way to stay connected. Of course, informal meetings with parents will always help bring the school community together. Together you can create a wonderful vision for the school and your children.

I firmly believe in research findings that show how most school variables, by themselves, have at most small effects on learning. The real payoff comes when individual variables combine to reach critical mass. Creating the conditions under which that can occur is the job of the principal. (Wallace Foundation, 2011, p. 2).

Not just for the parents and students, principals also play a big role in the development of teachers. As an instructional leader in a school, the principal should set clear goals, manage curriculum, monitor lesson plans, allocate resources and evaluate teachers regularly. Quality of instruction should be a top priority for the instructional principal.

Having worked with more than a dozen principals during my 20 plus years as a teacher, I think the best instructional leaders are those who listen and are fair.

I loved it when I had an on-going dialogue about best practices in the classroom with my principal and him giving me constructive and positive feedback about my modes of instruction. An instructional leader in a school needs to visit every teacher’s classroom with a purpose and communicate to the teacher a vision for learning. A good instructional leader sets the tone or culture of high standards for quality instruction and makes certain that high quality instruction actually occurs in his/her school.

Establishing a vision for the school that is centered on high student achievement was important for me as a teacher. Instructional leaders who emphasize the importance of having an open dialogue about the vision for the school are the best and it becomes easier for teachers to enact that vision.

In my extensive career as a teacher, I respected principals who cared more about impacting lives and providing direct instructional support. They understood that teachers need to learn and grow at the same time. These instructional leaders met all teachers in the school, found something good in what they were doing, and then provided feedback in an area that needs growth. All this was positive and helped me to learn and grow as a teacher!

It is my firm belief that principals as instructional leaders are a good beginning of positive change. To be an excellent school leader means being focused on instruction over everything. Effective education is a well-balanced leadership that guarantees great teaching to guarantee great learning.

The author is currently a teacher trainer. She works as a consultant for Scholistic Publishing Company and Tata Consultancy Services for their educational initiatives programme. She can be reached at majidrubina@gmail.com.