Teaming Up for Teaching and Learning: Instructional Leadership Teams Are Helping This District Refocus the Role of the Principal to Improve Teaching and Learning, and to Develop Leadership Capacity through Coaching and Professional Learning

Article excerpt

Leadership in a 21st century school must focus on student achievement, providing a supportive environment where the educational staff can expand its capacity to learn, lead and work together. The Glendale Unified School District has worked for two years with Focus On Results, an external consulting group, to implement protocols for measurable, lasting improvements in student performance, school leadership and decision-making.

This is being done through training school Instructional Leadership Teams (ILTs), and through professional development embedded in day-to-day work of the schools. The central office has also been organized to provide ongoing support, time for school site walk-throughs by teachers and ILTs, and principal coaching to ensure that words translate into action. The success of our practice rests in the following research-based elements:

* Improve teaching and learning on a large scale, with the whole district involved.

* Re-focus the role of the school principal. Emphasize that his or her highest priority should be improving teaching and learning.

* Give equal focus to the "how" as well as the "what" of improving teaching and learning.

* Develop capacity through professional development and ongoing coaching with follow-up.

Seven areas of focus

Today's accountability requires we implement new hierarchical patterns of leadership that recognize and use every person's leadership qualities. With volumes of new knowledge and research in hand, and with coaching by Focus on Results consultants, our district is opening doors to classrooms and developing new relationships between teachers, principals and the central office staff.

Instructional Leadership Teams have been created or restructured at 22 schools (K-12) over the past two years. The teams, consisting of three to six members, have received more than 100 hours of professional development built around engaging their school communities in implementation of a strategic framework for whole school reform.

The process has seven areas of focus:

1. Identify and implement a school-wide instructional focus.

2. Develop professional collaboration teams to improve teaching and learning for all students.

3. Identify, learn and use effective evidence-based teaching practices to meet the needs of each student.

4. Create a targeted professional development plan that builds expertise in selected best practices.

5. Re-align resources (people, time, talent, energy and money) to support the instructional focus.

6. Engage families and the community in supporting the instructional focus of the school.

7. Create an internal accountability system growing out of student learning goals that promotes measurable gains in learning for every student and eliminates achievement gaps.

Teachers in leadership roles

The ILTs have created teacher leaders who are facilitators and coaches as conceived by Peter Senge. Teachers who in the past may have followed are now given time to collaborate and empowered to lead with their site administrators. In their new leadership roles they provide multiple perspectives while recognizing their interdependence in improving student achievement in a district whose schools have APIs ranging from 730-908. It is by looking at data, identifying a schoolwide focus and measuring progress that district schools will continue their growth and success in reaching NCLB targets.

Richard Elmore observed, "Learning about improvement occurs in the growth and development of common understandings about why things happen the way they do." This development is happening school-by-school, as each school is engaged in the process. It works well because each school moves at its own speed. Several schools have found it wise to "move slow to move fast."

Three perspectives on the process

So what does this reform look like from the prospective of a teacher leader, a principal and the central office? …