Saturday, August 18, 2012

Resource for 21st Century School Leaders Who Are Instructional Leaders

No one argues any more that principals must take on the role of being an instructional leader in their schools. It is widely accepted, but often having credibility in that role is difficult when principals do not have experience teaching, or don’t really understand what being an instructional leader means. Author of the book The Principal as Instructional Leader: A Practical Handbook, Sally Zepeda points out that, “Principals who are instructional leaders ‘link’ the work of leadership and learning to everyone in the school.” Furthermore, these school leaders are charged with building an instructional program that “links the mission and vision of their schools to:
  • supervising instruction
  • evaluating teachers
  • providing professional development and other learning opportunities for teachers
  • modeling proactive uses of data to make informed decisions that positively affect student learning
  • promoting a climate of instructional excellence
  • establishing collegial relationships with teachers.
With this list of charges to principals as instructional leaders, it is easy to see why leading instruction in a school is a daunting task, and that does not even consider all the other roles principals assume, from facilities management, budgeting, to public relations and customer service. But for 21st century school leaders, being an instructional leader is not an add-on role any longer, it is at the core of transforming schools in 21st century institutions with learning at the center. Zepeda’s book The Principal as Instructional Leader is a hands-on guidebook for the school leader as instructional leader taking on this role.

The Principal As Instructional Leader: A Practical Handbook
Book Cover

The Principal as Instructional Leader: A Practical Guidebook is just as its title implies, a practical guidebook to instructional leadership that avoids becoming entangled in all the theories of learning,curriculum, and instruction that other books on instructional leadership often do. It provides principals, potential principals, and teacher leaders with comprehensive but concise information needed to tackle those things instructional leaders must tackle to improve student learning.

Often, books on instructional leadership get enmeshed in theory and rationale and never recover enough to rise above “textbookese” to give school leaders the tools to take on this most important role. This book does that. It relentlessly focuses on the practical side of supervising instruction. Readers are provided with an overview of what instructional leadership is, what the process looks like, and then given specific tools to carry out that role  in their schools or educational institutions.

After Zepeda briefly describes what instructional leadership is, she then ties that role to the vision and culture of the school. She also includes a complete overview of the instructional supervision process, and provides an extensive list of observational tools as supplemental downloads. These downloadable tools give principals the means to walk into classrooms and observe specific instructional elements such as “Beginning of Class Routines” or “Using Bloom’s Taxonomy and Levels of questions.” Each of the downloads are observation instruments to gather data regarding specific aspects of classroom teaching and student learning.

The Principal as Instructional Leader: A Practical Handbook is a definite reference book that every school leader, from teacher leader to district superintendent needs to have in their school administration library. I have read other books on this aspect of school leadership, but Zepeda provides the most no-nonsense approach to instructional leadership yet. Definitely an excellent addition to your reading list.


  1. I looked at the list that you described from the book and the first thought that came to my head is, "Is this about doing more or doing things better?"

    It really feels like it is about doing more. I am 100% behind the idea of principal as instructional leader. But why do those things make it "21st century"?

    1. In my case, it isn't about doing more. We are already doing all these things in our roles as principals, and it is part of our own principal evaluation. And, I think it is about doing some things better. Zepeda offers some interesting tools, for example, that allow the principal to focus on specific aspects of instruction. Her list by itself isn't 21st century. But if we want to lead our schools to 21st century instructional models, the things she suggests could very well take us there. Thanks for commenting.