Guiding Principals: State Efforts to Bolster Instructional Leadership

Policy Paper
March 29, 2018

Over the last decade, the term instructional leader has worked its way into the vernacular of the education community to describe the role of school principals. What people actually mean when using this term, however, varies widely. Without a clear definition or guidance, principal instructional leadership can be—and is— interpreted in a variety of ways. But in the day-to-day management of schools, instructional leaders must have meaningful interactions with teachers and other instructional staff. They need to be providing feedback and coaching, connecting the instructional program to curricular resources, and using data to inform instruction and professional learning for teachers.

But many principals are not trained to be experts in all of these areas, and typically have many other tasks on their desks that can draw them away from instructional leadership. They are leading and managing the non-instructional aspects of the school—schedules, budgets, community and family relationships, student safety, and discipline—which can lead to an overwhelming portfolio of responsibilities. Principal evaluation and support systems can provide clarity on principals’ roles and nudge them to prioritize instructional leadership.

New America researched and analyzed principal evaluation and support systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in order to understand whether states are incorporating instructional leadership in their evaluation systems. Based on this research, we developed an interactive data visualization of instructional leadership standards across states, and an accompanying report, Guiding Principals: State Efforts to Bolster Instructional Leadership, which describes the prevalence of instructional leadership standards in principal evaluation systems and examines if and how states are supporting principals in developing instructional leadership skills.

Our research finds that while states are including instructional leadership skills and behaviors in principal evaluation systems, there is wide variation in how they are defining instructional leadership and how they are supporting implementation. Our data visualization shows that most states are providing a mix of training and resources; while some are organizing principal networks, leadership academies, and induction and mentoring programs; and others are adding more staff or creating partnerships to provide individualized support to leaders at the school and LEA level. We also show that states differ in to whom they provide support. In some cases, they are providing support directly to principals and in other cases they are providing support to principals and their supervisors

Guiding Principals delves deeper into how states are supporting implementation of evaluation systems at the local level, and spotlights how three states—Missouri, Texas, and Minnesota—are supporting instructional leadership in practice. The report also offers key challenges and recommendations for states to advance principal instructional leadership and how best to evaluate and support these leaders in service of better teaching and learning.

Related Topics
Teachers and Leaders Training School Leaders Initial Preparation Evaluation and Professional Development Evaluation Systems