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Professor engaged in conversation with students in the classroom

Public education doesn’t afford us the luxury of selecting our students. To achieve academic goals, instructional leadership is primary and most crucial. Both the first wave of effective schools research (Edmonds, 1979) and the second wave of effective schools research (Levine & Lezottte, 1990) found strong leadership to be present in effective schools. Often when we refer to instructional leadership we think of the educational leader, but teachers can and do play a major role in providing instructional leadership.

Leadership has been defined in many ways. Burns (1978) defined it as inducing followers to act for goals that represent the values and the motivations – the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations – of both leader and followers. Hersey and Blanchard (1988) described it as influencing the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation. Terry (1960) summed it up as influencing people to strive willingly for group objectives. Kawjewski, Martin, and Walden (1983) saw leadership as encompassing all of the above and even more. Glickman et al. (2005) stated that education is a collective rather than an individual enterprise for successful schools. In team building, lead teachers have the ability to positively influence others towards success-seeking strategies.

  • Most principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents have the best intentions for students in mind. What then prevents schools from creating shared vision and positive cultures? The answer in part is communication. Instructional leaders, in order to build “professional togetherness” (Glickman, et al., 2005), understand the importance of and are proficient in the skills associated with communication. They keep in mind a number of considerations related to communication. They keep in mind their audiences; they chose the right channels (formal and informal) of communications; and they reflect on the effect of their communication. They understand the levels of communication and they know when to use one-way versus two-way communication. There is compelling evidence that communication skills developed and effectively used by instructional leaders are key variables in determining effective practices (Kowalski, 2003).
  • Computers and other modern technologies have expanded and changed instructional methods. They have served to redefine effective practices in both teaching and administration (Kowalski, 2003). With the development of technology and the demands for reform, a school either moves ahead or falls behind. Which occurs is determined by the quality of educational leaders and lead teachers.

    Modern technologies allow educators to access and use large quantities of information, thus allowing them to identify and solve problems more quickly and effectively. They give educators assess to best practices and enable those in leadership to become more empowered to be effective change agents. Effectiveness in improving instruction and increasing student achievement requires lead teachers who are informed and competent in using technology.

  • Before state mandated testing, Whitaker (2003) noted that the textbook for many was the curriculum. Mandated tests caused educators to focus on state standards. As a result, for many schools the state standards have become the curriculum. Whitaker warns us to never allow state standards to become the center of the school because if the standards change, then we have lost the core of our school. However, standardized tests and state standards can provide a powerful foundation for improving instruction and increasing student learning. Keeping testing in the proper perspective, the lead teacher understands the real purpose of testing and uses data to identify the school’s areas of academic weakness and pinpoint those students who score low in a subject area.

    Eby (1998) suggested that the teacher’s role in diagnosing students’ need is quite similar to the role of the physician in diagnosing disease. Doctors find that laboratory tests provide them with valuable information about the patient. Likewise lead teachers understand that achievement tests can provide them with valuable data about their students. However, effective, reflective lead teachers interpret the information gained on standardized achievement with great caution and use the scores as only one contributor to the diagnosis of a student’s needs. They take a holistic view of the student. Utilizing data derived from testing, they prepare a plan of action, a plan of remediation for low achieving students. Additionally, they identify those who have mastered the basic skills in one or more subjects so that they can provide those students with more challenging learning experiences.

  • In recent years two-way communications, collaboration, school-community relations and overall school public relations have increased in importance. Holliday (1997) defined school and public or community relations as a program established on all levels of a school corporation to improve and maintain optimal levels of student achievement, and to build and maintain public support. The effective lead teacher understands the goals of a school community-relations program, and communicates and collaborates with parents and the community.

    Lead teachers are active and visible in the community and communicate with the overall community. They reach out to different business, religious, political, and service entities. Relationships are established and nurtured with community leaders. They communicate the vision and goals of the school and enlist all stakeholders to play a role in building and sustaining a learning community focused on academic excellence.

  • State tests are increasingly emphasizing thinking and problem solving skills (Hummel & Huitt, 1994). There are various labels for these new goals – creative thinking, reasoning, critical thinking, infusion, metacognition, and transfer, among others. Critical thinking is probably the most current label for what many call analytical reasoning, synthesis, problem-solving, or higher mental processes (Scriven & Paul, 1992).

    Although there has long been a focus on higher order thinking skills (HOTS), few schools have understood the overt correlation of HOTS to their students’ performance on state standardized tests. Hummel and Huitt (1994) noted that we assumed that critical thinking would automatically develop as we taught specific disciplines. Most teachers do not know how to harness intelligence to master the increasingly complex curricula with which students are challenged. It is a simple but sad fact that too many public school districts in the United States have been stuck in the doldrums for many years and lack the understanding and power to make the drastic changes necessary to improve student performance.

    Lead teachers understand that in order to effectively prepare students to think, more so than to prepare them to master a standardized state test, they must improve student’s critical thinking skills. They know that we teach students to think by having them think. Lead teachers use questioning strategies to probe students’ minds. They are competent in using higher-level questions. They can successfully convert a lower level question to a higher-level one.

    In addition, lead teachers think critically themselves in order to make decisions. They reflect on their decisions, justify their choices, and defend their actions based on what is good for the student.

  • Lunenberg and Ornstein (2000) noted that most people think that it is easier to keep things the way they are. They add that frequently teachers view change as adding more work to an already overloaded schedule. Friedenberg (1965) stated that people who go into teaching tend to be conformist in nature, not innovative, and they have succeeded in the school system, as it has existed. Lunenberg and Ornstein suggested the uncertainty of the future, the rapidity of change, and the lack of financial support or additional time as additional reasons why people resist change. Many people believe that teachers are professional and can be trusted to commit themselves to the learning needs of children despite their discomfort with change (Sowell, 1987). When teachers do not respond to the “ideal,” it is thought to be because of factors they don’t control. Yet, Fullan (1993) noted a successful change agent knows how people react to change and how to encourage them to be receptive to change.

    Lead teachers are aware and understand the need to change sometimes. They are aware and understand some of the forces that encourage or obstruct change (Fullan, 1993). As lead teachers, they know the need to develop a climate for change. They are knowledgeable and trustworthy so other teachers feel comfortable in following them. They understand and utilize the guideline for change. They establish a need for change and don’t move others too fast.

  • Hunter (1984) defined teaching as the constant stream of professional decisions that affects the probability of learning: learning activities, classroom management, planning, curriculum deliberation, and content. Shavelson (1983) reviewed the research on teacher decision-making and noted that although teachers make about 10 interactive decisions per hour, they tend to consider few alternatives. These decisions, it is thought, would be purposeful if they were based on best practices.

    The effective lead teacher seeks teaching techniques verified by effective-teaching research, supported by learning theory, tested by teachers, and essential to every teacher’s practice (Wilen, Ishler, Hutchinson, & Kindsvatter, 2000). The lead teacher explores the literature to accumulate a repertoire of methods that might be employed effectively to achieve lesson objectives and unit goals. They are constantly seeking teaching strategies that will promote learning and achievement. Moreover, lead teachers chose the methods and strategies that best fit their students and put them into practice within their classrooms.

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    Fullan, M. G. (1993). Why teachers must become change agents. Educational Leadership, 50, 12-17.

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    Holliday, A. E. (1997, January). 106 ways to better school-community relations. Education Digest, 62 (5), 15-20.

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    Scriven, M., & Paul, R. (1992, November). Critical thinking defined. Handout given at the Critical Thinking Conference, Atlanta, GA.

    Terry, G. R. (1960). Principles of management. Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin, Inc.

    Whitaker, T. (2003). What great principals do differently. Larchmont, N. Y: Eye on Education.

    Wilen, W., Ishler, M., Hutchinson, J., & Kindsvatter, R. (2000). Dynamics of effective teaching. New York: Longman.

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