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The Changing Nature of Instructional Leadership in the 21st Century

reviewed by Sharon Spencer - July 26, 2013

coverTitle: The Changing Nature of Instructional Leadership in the 21st Century
Author(s): Bruce G. Barnett, Alan R. Shoho, & Autumn Tooms Cyprés (eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617359386, Pages: 230, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com

A volume in International Research on School Leadership, The Changing Nature of Instructional Leadership in the 21st Century is an edited collection divided into three sections:

1) The Context for Instructional Leadership and School Improvement; 2) International Perspectives of Instructional Leadership Development; and 3) Obstacles and Constraints Confronting Instructional Leaders.

In Section One, the three chapters include a theoretical framework for the issue of principal judgment, a quantitative research study of the impact of instruction-focused leadership on teacher and school effectiveness, and a comparison of leadership in linked-learning schools.  Chapter Two provides an examination of principals judgmentswhy it is an important focus, how it is different from decision-making, and how complex the context is within which principals must make judgments. Typically, the research on school leadership focuses on behaviors, not judgments. Using several examples from principals who attended the School Turnaround Specialist Program at the University of Virginia, Daniel Duke illustrates how challenging and tough making judgments and maintaining or improving school morale can be.  This chapter provides an opportunity for rich reflection by the reader as Duke discusses options and potential problems for principals tasked to make quick, positive change in a school.  Planning, staffing, operational, programmatic, and leadership decisions are just a few of the tough calls a principal in a turnaround school must make, and the order, speed, and intensity of these changes can make or break the success of the school leader in affecting dramatic school improvement.

Chapter Three presents a quantitative research study about the impact of instruction-focused leadership on teacher and school effectiveness. The significance of Hecks study is that it provides the next step in empirical data to support school-level practices that may impact teacher effectiveness and student achievement.  The coordinating role of school leadership seems to, at least indirectly, impact teacher and school effectiveness.

As school improvement alternatives to the traditional high school have gradually emerged, Chapter Four focuses on leadership in linked- learning high schools, formerly known as multiple pathways, in which curricula for college preparation and career preparation are integrated, and, thus, is considered an equity-based approach.  Along with the college- and career-preparatory components is a field-based component that provides real-life experiences within the school (leadership in organizations, school-based projects), within the community (business internships, mentoring, job-shadowing), and/or within virtual apprenticeships.  A fourth component is individualized supports, which may be academic, social-emotional, and/or college/career planning.  Drawn from a larger studys pool of linked-learning schools, four case studies are presented and the similarities and differences in leadership discussed, including autocratic, collaborative, division of labor, and parallel performance leadership practices. Hamilton and Crawford-Lima found that the leadership could be described and illustrated as bottom-up, just opposite a traditional schools (primarily) top-down leadership. In these small linked-learning schools, the emphasis is on autocratic and collaborative leadership practices, with less frequent references in interviews conducted at the schools on division-of-labor and parallel- performance leadership. Additionally, the significance of school vision, resources, and instructional autonomy are examined.  These schools are characterized by a commonly held and referred to vision and, when the resources were in place, the schools were successful in achieving their individual schools visions of linked learning.  Teacher autonomy appeared to have a positive effect on collaborative planning, reflection, and mentoring new teachers.

In Section Two, international perspectives are highlighted, in both cases teachers become leaders, but in different ways.  Chapter Five focuses more on teacher leadership in a small-scale study using the Numeracy Coaching Program. Although the sample size is small and may not be generalizable, the results indicate that developing knowledge and skills in coaching increased even though confidence in these abilities was still in progress.  It was clear, however, that they did use these skills with other teachers at the school, particularly with respect to listening and questioning techniques to guide reflective thinking and data-driven practice, as well as to deepen content knowledge.  This impacted the teacher-coach leadership ability since the coaches took on greater responsibilities for making the numeracy program a success within the school and within their own classrooms.

In Chapter Six, Responding to a Changing World, Indriani, Zellner, and Rose provide an overview of changes in Indonesian education and the particular challenges, and share the results of a pilot study on a Principal Preparation Program (PPP) and Continued Professional Development Program (CPD).  Many factors come into play in Indonesia, which consists of numerous islands in a widespread geographical area with great diversity (ethnicity, culture, language, religion, economics). In 1999, the Indonesian National Education System was decentralized in favor of developing curricula that was more locally relevant and sensitive to the culture, differences, and needs of the local student population, yet still provided national standards for principals, teachers, and student outcomes.  Typically, teachers had been assigned as principals with little to no training. Currently, the government is in the process of rolling out a new plan with PPP and CPD, and this qualitative study focuses on the effectiveness of these training programs in five diverse school districts (with 420 participants).  The standards for principals and, thus, the components of the program include both transformational and instructional leadership development.  Transformational leadership training is particularly important because it is effective for school reform efforts, like those currently underway in Indonesia; instructional leadership provides a strong base for ongoing curriculum development, teacher support, and increasing student outcomes.  An advantage of this pilot study was that it enabled revisions to the PPP and CPDmodule-by-module and prior to being implemented across all school districts. The feedback from participants also indicates that the training and on-the-job experience were both helpfulgiving the participants greater confidence in their ability to perform the role of principaland that ongoing professional development and support were needed and desired by participants. At the cusp of change, Indonesia is not unlike other developing countries trying to establish an educated citizenry through education reform. Like many places with established education systems and leadership-preparation programs, Indonesia is preparing school leaders, not by using traditional approaches to principal preparation, but instead by using cutting-edge research to define and design the PPP and CPD modules for todays leaders of school reform.

In Section Three, the two chapters address how a principal deals with significant budget challenges in todays economic crisis and how one leads in challenging environments. In Chapter Seven, Lochmiller presents a case study to explore how an urban, K-7 principal prepares her staff for budget cuts, how she involves her staff in resource allocation decisions, and how the principals decisions and practices relate to current conceptions of leadership and resource allocations.  Extensive observations and interviews were conducted with the principal, teachers on the leadership team, the whole staff (in staff meetings), and district-level personnel who had a role in the allocation and flow of monies to the school (e.g., the Title I director). Using a qualitative approach, Lochmiller uses a coding system developed as the patterns began to emerge.  The principals actions were clear. First, she made her teachers aware that cuts were coming and gathered information at grade-level meetings about the needs of the teachers. Second, she met with her leadership team to examine the needs together and come up with scenarios to present to the whole staff about possible ways to meet the needs of the students given the inevitability of budget cuts. Third, when meeting with the whole staff, the principal informed them up-front about the non-negotiables--one of which was based on teacher input (maintaining at least a half-time counselor) and one of which was based on the principals need to get into the classrooms (keeping the assistant principal).  What is important about this case study is that it not only identifies the principals specific actions which led to a shared decision about resource re-allocations during austere times, but it also shows that this is possible.  This case study also demonstrates that managerial- and instructional-leadership are intertwined; resource allocations will impact school improvement, instructional programs, and student success. Additionally, teachers engaged in managerial aspects will be empowered to make decisions that will focus on positive instructional outcomes.

In Chapter Eight, Knapp, Mkhwanazi, and Portin examine the literature on instructional leadership and focus on the new challenges. They set the stage by discussing the Core work of principals, which includes transformational, instructional, and managerial roles. Frequently, the managerial demands on principals prevent transformational and instructional leadership to the extent that each may be needed to create an effective school with successful student achievement. Around the Core work, Knapp et al. identify four areas of new work and what is new about these areas. These four areas include: 1) focusing instructional improvement on the diversity on todays classrooms; 2) making data-driven instructional decisions; 3) using instructional leadership teams effectively to improve instruction; and 4) using environmental/ contextual demands as a resource for improvement, not as a barrier.  Thus, learning to differentiate instruction, strategically using data and data systems to improve instruction, sharing in the decision-making/working as a team, and using the leadership team to help bridge classroom expectations and the district level-agenda become the new work beyond the Core.


Due to the broad scope of studies in this book, readers get a full review of the literature on leadership as it pertains to each topic.  This book addresses important issues about principal preparation, continued professional development, leadership in challenging times with respect to dwindling resources and demanding environments, and global perspectives.  This book is a must-read for those in leadership- preparation programs and those already in leadership roles, thoroughly grounding them in a wide range of leadership research, both quantitative and qualitative, and challenging them to reflect on their roles as leaders.  A final note: District leaders should be included in professional development on these topics as well because, whether centralized or decentralized decision making occurs, there must still be a flow of demands and supports from district to school and back again.  Many of the chapters in this book relay the important message that leadership is not an individual, no matter how talented, but a team composed of people from all levelsthe classroom to the district office.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 26, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17191, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 10:24:29 PM

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About the Author
  • Sharon Spencer
    North Carolina Central University
    E-mail Author
    SHARON L. SPENCER is and educational consultant who recently retired from her position as Assistant Dean/Director of Teacher Education in the School of Education at North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC after 33 years in public education. She taught in the public schools as a Reading Specialist before she joined the School of Education faculty at NCCU in 1990. She earned her B.A. (1979) in Early Childhood Education at Guilford College, completed her M.Ed. (1982) in Elementary Education with a focus on literacy at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and her Ph.D. (1991) in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Spencer is licensed in elementary, reading, mentoring, curriculum and instruction, and academically and intellectually gifted education. She has received a teaching excellence award. While literacy was her first love, mathematical literacy has also taken a strong hold on her heart. She is a mathematics implementation specialist and trainer for the Algebra Project. Spencer has provided teacher leadership and coaching training to university faculty, and in-service teachers across North Carolina. She has provided professional development and coaching for pre-service and in-service teachers for the last 22 years. Along with writing several chapters in books, she has co-authored two books-- CLASH!: Superheroic, Yet Sensible, Strategies for Teaching 21st Century Literacy Despite the Status Quo (2011) and The Perfect Norm: How to Teach Differentially, Assess Effectively, and Manage a Classroom Ethically in Ways that are “Brain-friendly” and Culturally Responsive (2009). She is currently completing her third book with co-author S.A. Vavra on common core standards implementation.
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