4 ways principals can excel as instructional leaders

Why principal supervisors are uniquely positioned to boost the focus on instruction
By: | April 16, 2021

Principals can collaborate more with teachers on instruction when principal supervisors focus on coaching rather than compliance, a new report says.

Though principals can accelerate student learning by more than two months, they neither get the support they need in guiding instruction nor do they have sufficient time to work with teachers, says “The Untapped Potential of the Principal Supervisor” by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

“Given the urgency of addressing student learning needs in light of the pandemic, there has never been a better time for principal supervisors to lean into their role as the head coach of principals,” said Candice McQueen, the institute’s CEO. “Principals need support and coaching that enables them to use the high-impact strategies that research shows have the biggest impact for students.”

The report suggests four strategies for maximizing support for principals:

1. Model being a lead learner. Principal supervisors are in the best positions to guide principals in reflecting on their practices in ways that enable them to grow as instructional leaders and increase the learning happening in their schools.

2. Develop a common vision. Principal supervisors should use a shared language to set expectations for principals around instructional leadership. Principal supervisors can help principals develop their vision by strengthening connections between practice, classroom teaching and student work.

3. Align a feedback system with evaluation expectations. To help principals become better coaches, supervisors should observe principals in a variety of different settings and tie feedback to leadership standards and curriculum

4. Create opportunities for collaboration and capacity-building. Principals need to identify, engage, and develop other members of their team as leaders to more efficiently meet everyday challenges and focus on supporting teachers as much as possible.

In Arizona, Rio Colorado Elementary School Principal Bethany Loucks said she has helped to train teacher leaders who eventually became principals.

“You have to see potential and focus on strengths,” Loucks said. “You find that skill and build on it—sending a teacher to see how other teachers do something, analyzing how that skill advances student learning in the classroom, and presenting on that skill in a collaborative group. I encourage them to be learners themselves.”