Instructional Leadership: Start Preparing Now

By Evthokia Stephanie Saclarides

An instructional leader’s work is complex. This list of suggestions will guide aspiring instructional leaders as they consider taking the leap from the classroom into instructional leadership.

Be a Content and Pedagogical Expert

Instructional leaders must deeply understand the content teachers are expected to teach, as well as the strategies that can most effectively convey that content to students. In a single day, an instructional leader might help a new fourth-grade teacher deepen her content knowledge by discussing factors, factor pairs, and multiples, and then support a group of second-grade teachers as they design literacy centers.

One way to continuously build your content and pedagogical knowledge is by attending local, regional, and national conferences sponsored by teacher associations. Another way is to gaining teaching experience from multiple grade levels. It’s helpful to teach in the primary grades (K–2), as well as upper elementary (3–5) grades prior to becoming an instructional leader in a K–5 setting. 

Develop Your Leadership Knowledge

While being a content and pedagogical expert is important, it is not enough to be an effective instructional leader. Developing leadership knowledge to foster effective teaching and growth among teachers is essential. This includes having knowledge of teacher practice, development and learning strategies; data collection, analysis, and application; and group dynamics, social norms, confidentiality, trust building, and relationships.

Seek Out Leadership Opportunities

Try on the hat of instructional leader and apply your leadership knowledge by seeking out opportunities in which you can support others to improve their instruction. Ask your principal if you can either help a student intern complete some of his or her observation hours or request a full-time student teacher. Volunteer to facilitate a professional development session for teachers at your grade level or for your entire school. If your school has formal mentoring positions to support either new teachers or a grade-level team of teachers, apply for the position. Or volunteer to be in charge of a school committee. Don’t wait for these opportunities to come to you. Seek them out!  

Stay Up-to-Date with National Education Issues

Education issues like changing curriculum standards, state assessments, teacher evaluation systems, or new laws for special education are constantly shifting. As an instructional leader, you must be up-to-date with the latest issues so that you not only understand how they affect the teachers and students at your school but so you also can consistently make decisions that are in the best interest of the individuals with whom you work.

Shadow an Instructional Leader

Ask the instructional leaders at your school if you can shadow them during several of your prep periods to better understand their work. As an instructional leader’s work is multi-faceted, classroom teachers might not necessarily have the opportunity to observe all parts of an instructional leader’s work. Observing an instructional leader in action will help you decide if the position is right for you.

Evthokia Stephanie Saclarides, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Alabama.