kitchen table math, the sequel: "Confessions of an Instructional Leader"

Monday, June 11, 2012

"Confessions of an Instructional Leader"

excerpt from:
The Learning-Centered Principal by Richard DuFour
Educational Leadership - May 2002
When I entered the principalship a quarter century ago, the research on effective schools warned that without strong administrative leadership, the disparate elements of good schooling could be neither brought together nor kept together (Lezotte, 1997). I heeded the message and embraced my role as a strong leader with gusto. I was determined to rise above the mundane managerial tasks of the job and focus instead on instruction—I hoped to be an instructional leader. I asked teachers to submit their course syllabi and curriculum guides so that I could monitor what they were teaching. I collected weekly lesson plans to ensure that teachers were teaching the prescribed curriculum. I read voraciously about instructional strategies in different content areas and shared pertinent articles with staff members.

But my devotion to the clinical supervision process at the school was the single greatest illustration of my commitment to function as an instructional leader. I developed a three-part process that required me to be a student of good teaching and to help teachers become more reflective and insightful about their instruction.

During the pre-observation conference, I met with teachers individually and asked them to talk me through the lesson I would be observing in their classroom. I asked a series of questions, including What will you teach? How will you teach it? What instructional strategies will you use? What instructional materials will you use? During the classroom observation, I worked furiously to script as accurately as possible what the teacher said and did.

During the postobservation conference, the teacher and I reconstructed the lesson from my notes and his or her recollections. We looked for patterns or trends in what the teacher had said and done, and we discussed the relationship between those patterns and the lesson's objectives. Finally, I asked the teacher what he or she might change in the lesson before teaching it again. I then wrote a summary of the classroom observation and our postobservation discussion, offered recommendations for effective teaching strategies, and suggested ways in which the teacher might become more effective.

The observation process was time-consuming, but I was convinced that my focus on individual teachers and their instructional strategies was an effective use of my time. And the process was not without benefits. As a new pair of eyes in the classroom, I was able to help teachers become aware of unintended instructional or classroom management patterns. I could express my appreciation for the wonderful work that teachers were doing because I had witnessed it firsthand. I observed powerful instructional strategies and was able to share those strategies with other teachers. I learned a lot about what effective teaching looks like.

In Hot Pursuit of the Wrong Questions

Eventually, after years as a principal, I realized that even though my efforts had been well intentioned—and even though I had devoted countless hours each school year to those efforts—I had been focusing on the wrong questions. I had focused on the questions, What are the teachers teaching? and How can I help them to teach it more effectively? Instead, my efforts should have been driven by the questions, To what extent are the students learning the intended outcomes of each course? and What steps can I take to give both students and teachers the additional time and support they need to improve learning?

This shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning is more than semantics. When learning becomes the preoccupation of the school, when all the school's educators examine the efforts and initiatives of the school through the lens of their impact on learning, the structure and culture of the school begin to change in substantive ways. Principals foster this structural and cultural transformation when they shift their emphasis from helping individual teachers improve instruction to helping teams of teachers ensure that students achieve the intended outcomes of their schooling. More succinctly, teachers and students benefit when principals function as learning leaders rather than instructional leaders.


By concentrating on teaching, the instructional leader of the past emphasized the inputs of the learning process. By concentrating on learning, today's school leaders shift both their own focus and that of the school community from inputs to outcomes and from intentions to results. Schools need principal leadership as much as ever. But only those who understand that the essence of their job is promoting student and teacher learning will be able to provide that leadership.
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ruining Lemov


Allison said...

and this is the source of the false dichotomy of teaching and learning. Once you decide to shift a focus to learning instead of teaching, you get guided inquiry, heavy constructivism, downgrading the value of lecture, etc.

It should be and/both. Not either or.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Allison, I disagree. Putting a focus on learning doesn't automatically switch you to guided inquiry, constructivism, or downgrading lectures. Putting a focus on learning means figuring out what students are actually learning and finding ways to improve that. It can lead to guided inquiry (if that works better) or to direct instruction. It can lead to flipped classrooms or to more lecturing.

The key is to look at the outputs of the education, rather than the inputs, when trying to decide whether or not things are working.

Anonymous said...

Looking at outputs without looking at inputs is idiotic.

There are many assumptions underlying the belief that looking at the output is enough to information to infer what went wrong.

Looking at outputs when the teacher has almost no content knowledge is meaningless. The teacher doesn't know what the students don't know. The teacher may not know what they don't know. You can't fix those outputs without fixing the inputs too.

The average middle school math teacher can not explain to another adult why you multiply numerators and multiply denominators in fraction multiplication but don't add numerators and add denominators in addition. They might make some gestures "you need a common denominator" but can't explain why you do in ne case but not the other. The average grade school teacher does not know why .8 is the same as .80 other than to say zeroes to the right don't matter.

Focusing on outputs alone can't ever fix those problems. Again, it is and/both. Inputs and outputs. Teaching and learning. Why that is even remotely questionable is beyond me.

Catherine Johnson said...

Once you decide to shift a focus to learning instead of teaching, you get guided inquiry, heavy constructivism, downgrading the value of lecture, etc.

You can just as easily move to direct instruction.

More easily, in fact.

(Although the use of the participle does invite a process approach...)

Catherine Johnson said...

Why that is even remotely questionable is beyond me.

After all this time??

It is questionable because public schools have never looked at outputs at all.

All of these debates - and all of this pain - is taking place in a particular historical context.

Catherine Johnson said...

For me, the issue isn't 'both' in the sense of 'teaching' and 'learning.'

The issue is 'both' in the sense of curriculum and learning.

Curriculum - and a teacher's content knowledge - are the constantly slighted and ignored elements, and they are the core elements.

DuFour STOPPED looking at individual lesson plans, and STARTED looking at 'units,' which is to say coherent, sequential curriculum.