Magazine article AMLE Magazine

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Instructional Leaders

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Instructional Leaders

Article excerpt

"What's the point, Mrs. Adams?" asked Brian.

I will never forget the confused yet honest look on my 8th grade student's face when he asked me this question after I had concluded my riveting lecture about the causes of the Civil War.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

Brian again repeated, "What's the point... of our lesson?"

To be honest, his question both irritated and baffled me, as I wasn't sure how to answer it. I shrugged and told him the point was for him to know the information because it would be on the test.

It was 20 years ago and I was in my second year of teaching 8th grade Core, a three-period Humanities block of reading, English, and U.S. History in California. I began my teaching career for the same reason many other educators do - I wanted to inspire and teach students to reach their fullest potentials. The only problem was that I had shelves of textbooks filled with educational theory but still a nearly empty toolkit with which to accomplish my goal.

"What's the point, Mrs. Adams?"

To this day, Brian's provocative yet earnest question lingers in my mind. However, his question provided the impetus that pushed me to seek wisdom from Instructional Leaders (ILs) and examine and build my instructional philosophy and repertoire.

Teacher leadership comes in many forms and among the most influential in promoting student success and positive school culture are those educators who serve as Instructional Leaders. It has been said that great leaders do not set out to be leaders, they set out to make a difference; and that is particularly true when it comes to ILs.

Studies show that student achievement is directly related to the effectiveness of the classroom teacher but the million-dollar question is, "How does a teacher become effective?"

The golden rule in any leadership position is to develop and nurture positive relationships. Perhaps Ghandi said it best, "I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles, but today it means getting along with people." People do not want to collaborate with someone who is negative, confrontational, or critical, and successful ILs quickly learn that principle. First and foremost, they work to establish positive relationships with colleagues so learning and growth are possible.

Instructional Leaders also provide clarity, support, and resources for teachers to identify "the point" in our instruction and in our students' learning, thereby increasing effective teaching.

Since I have had the privilege of working with many skilled ILs, I know there are several habits they have in common that cultivate an environment that is conducive to learning, reflection, and growth for both students and teachers.

Habit #1-lnstructional Leaders Understand Neuroscience

The young brain is very different from the mature brain and we see examples of it all the time in the learning environment. When Jeremiah makes a bad choice and we ask him why he made that choice, he almost always responds with a shoulder shrug and an, "I don't know."

The brain develops from the stem forward, with the last area of the brain to activate called the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC). The PFC, otherwise known as the Executive Functioning Center, is in charge of processing cause and effect, impulse control, attention span, organizational skills, and emotional stability.

Experts believe the PFC fully activates in the female around 20 years old. The male PFC often takes a little longer, fully activating in the mid-twenties. This has serious implications for educators as we sometimes place the same expectations on the young brain that we have for the mature brain, which sets our students up for failure.

The good news is that we can accelerate healthy brain development and help students develop the skills they need for success. When we provide students explicit instruction in literacy, communication and critical thinking strategies, reflection, social-emotional learning, and growth mindset, the neural connections in the PFC increase. …

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