Principals as instructional leaders in schools

In their increasingly complex and demanding roles, principals face numerous challenges balancing their duties as both administrators and instructional leaders in schools. While many principals want to direct their energy toward supporting improved teaching and learning, responding to external pressures and administrative tasks can detract from the time available to connect and work with teachers directly. As principals must evaluate and guide the work of teachers, principals also need to understand how best to serve as an instructional leader, being seen as both a colleague and an approachable mentor.

Dr. Jim Brandon and his colleagues Trista Hollweck, Kent Donlevy, and Catherine Whalen investigated how principals can successfully overcome these challenges through changing their approach to school leadership. By adapting Overall Instructional Leadership, the researchers observed how principals in Alberta, British Colombia, and Québec found time and ways to effectively support teachers, without losing sight of their other responsibilities.

School leadership

A key factor in the success of these principals was promoting a shared approach to leadership. By collaborating with other leaders and advisors in the school, these principals created professional communities which joined existing expertise and human resources to help facilitate leadership endeavours. By including many different voices as part of solutions, the principals were also able to increase the impact of changes being made. These teams were also beneficial in guiding the vision and goals of different school leadership initiatives.

In addition, these principals saw teacher supervision and evaluation as part of a plan to support teaching and learning. Rather than considering it as a duty to observe and intervene, these leaders framed these responsibilities as opportunities to enhance teachers’ career-long growth. This orientation better promotes teacher development, while still ensuring the quality of teaching in the school is at its best.

This process requires finding ways to understand the teachers and their work – recognizing them as professionals with expertise, but also finding ways to help grow their practice. Building supportive and trusting relationships with the teachers is essential to such an open and meaningful interaction.

Principal’s role

These cases highlight that the principal’s role needs to extend beyond being solely an administrator, or an evaluator of teachers in a school. Effective leaders in these schools were not ‘lonely heroes’ – they built collective projects, and engaged the resources available in their schools and districts. Sharing responsibility not only supported principals in managing their workloads, but connected stakeholders with the school’s leadership initiatives.

Each principal used Overall Instructional Leadership in their own ways. While there were many commonalities, the approach of these leaders was unique to their own style and the context of their school. This reinforces that there is no single way to be an effective leader for teaching and learning, but instead policy, practice, and people must work together to build an effective educational culture.


See more from Dr. Jim Brandon on his profile

See more from Dr. Kent Donlevy on his profile


Connected Citations

Brandon, J. (2017). Teacher supervision and evaluation challenges: Canadian perspectives on overall instructional leadership. Paper presented at the 18th Biennial ISATT Conference, Salamanca, Spain.