Connecting the Dots for Our District Learning Part 1: Instructional Leadership

Two weeks ago I was asked a simple question, “How do the Conditions for Learning connect to the Assessment for Learning Culture?”.  I realized that if this individual wasn’t sure about the connection, then many others potentially might not be sure. I then wondered if there was a common understanding of where we were going with our district learning this year.  Had we, in our eagerness to ensure that our Board Learning Plan represented the needs that had been reported by the School Learning Plan evaluations in June, missed making the connections explicit?  So I asked the Leadership Team to make a visual representation of our learning for this year.  The responses to the question provided me with excellent diagnostic/baseline information that I could then respond to. There were a number of representations, however most of them require explanation and some were too large for one photo!  Here is one that captures our thinking and the notion of balance in our worlds.

Board Improvement Plan Representation 2014

So, what does this graphic tell me about our thinking (keeping in mind that the “thinkers” behind this graphic had a mere minute to make their thinking visible orally)?  I will try to delve into this over the next couple of weeks!

1.  The weights on either side of the image represent the need to find a place of balance between instructional leadership and management. I wonder how we can find the integration of these two necessary pieces?  I recall a video from the Ontario Principal’s Council that spoke of the need to make instructional decisions through a managerial lens, and managerial decisions through an instructional lens – hence, the integrated approach.

As a district, we have been working on unpacking the effective leadership practices and actions behind Instructional Leadership (and I would actually push this a bit to call it “Shared Instructional Leadership”); to allow us to consider what we need to do in the schools to see ourselves as instructional leaders – and to determine if those practices are impacting learning.   We have started to co-construct those effective practices using our background knowledge as leaders and a resource entitled, Student Centered Leadership (2011) by Vivian Robinson.  Robinson (2011) asks us to consider the following question, “Do the decisions and actions of the school’s leadership improve teaching in ways that are reflected in better student learning, or is their focus so far removed from the classroom that leadership adds little value to student learning?”(pg. 4).  She suggests that we see the overlap between leading and managing.

As a district, as we build the “success criteria” for instructional leadership, we are making this overlap explicit.  For example, when we think about the instructional practice of strategically resourcing materials, we see our decision to purchase student texts according the goals articulated in the School Learning Plan as one that overlaps our leadership and managerial roles. Or our essential role as a member of the Health and Safety Team (which is often seen as purely operational) as one that ensures a safe and orderly environment for educators to engage in uninterrupted teaching and learning.  Our hypothesis is that perhaps instructional leadership, as a concept, was too vast and that by breaking it down into measurable, actionable, success criteria (that we can both self-assess and peer assess and provide feedback), we might begin to increasingly see ourselves as instructional leaders.

Stay tuned…next week thoughts about well-being and academic achievement.


5 responses

  1. What I am enjoying so far with regards to the blogging is that it is getting to re-visit our most recent documents (OLF, BIPSA, Conditions for Learning, Student-Centered Leadership, ect,) and reflect on the work that we have done to date. There has been a line drawn in the sand between the instructional piece and managerial piece and what I appreciate is that there are impactful connections between the two roles and we need to take the time to reflect on how they align. When reading the blog it made me think about the “Personal Leadership Resources” – specifically cognitive resources and the new section – systems thinking. The following bullet – “Being able to understand the dense, complex, and reciprocal connections among different elements of the organization” makes me think about the managerial and operational pieces. About taking the time to make those connections and not seeing them in silos.


  2. There’s no doubt that instructional leadership requires one to wear many hats and I think the image shows how trying to keep that balance can be very hard work. However, I also believe that the hard work many of you are doing around goal setting and working at ensuring progress is monitored shows that you are dedicated to being instructional leaders. By modeling behaviours of learning, focusing on objectives, and leading by example connections are being made to our conditions for learning, creating a learning environment that is responsive to all of our learners.


  3. Making sure that everyone has a clear understanding of where the ship is going is essential. Last year i tried to focus our school learning plans and make sure that everyone saw themselves as an active participant. It was on the first PD day where I got our first bit of feedback when I brought both schools together for a learning session. The first task was simple, in one or two sentences, explain what each of our schools are learning about this year. Everyone had a clear understanding and could easily articulate what we were hoping to accomplish. Ensuring clear connections between the what and the why are heavy work items up front but payoff with long term benefits in the end.


  4. Instructional Leadership is like being a leader in a classroom. There all sorts of different needs and learning styles. As Will suggested, the staff at MTPS is working hard to see themselves in the school learning plan. Where do they fit in and what are their needs? They know that their answers/conversations about these two questions will help to drive our professional learning for the year. I think that this is something that Nikki and Kathleen used to refer to repeatedly as “Responsive Instruction.” Well ladies- it is finally embedded! And for Kim….yes, you have always done this! (just checking to see who reads)


  5. As educational leaders in the 21st century, it is important that we are blending instructional and managerial leadership practices. Integration of these two leadership practices is essential to keep our goal of enhancing student learning at the forefront of our thinking. At first, I was concerned about how I could become an effective instructional leader in the eyes of my colleagues, specifically dealing with closing the numeracy gap, as numeracy is not my specialty. However, as an educational leader, I am aware of how important it is to foster the leadership capabilities that school staff members can bring to the table. The expertise, experience, and content knowledge exist within the walls of MMPS. It is my job as the school Administrator to bring these experiences to the forefront in order for all school stakeholders to grow in their leadership capacity.



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