Balancing the demands of instructional leadership


I think most educational leaders would agree that being an instructional leader is an essential part of one’s leadership style. The ability to lead teachers through professional development, be able to undertake classroom drop-ins and give teachers feedback, whilst also being able to keep everyone updated on the latest trends in education are all important elements of instructional leadership.

Instructional leaders often say that classroom learning and teaching is the first priority and, therefore, a significant amount of time needs to be devoted to leading the pedagogical vision for the school / department. I would agree with this but I believe there are two key things, through my experience, that instructional leaders overlook:

  1. There are a number of pre-conditions that need to be met before instructional leadership can be effective.
  2. Effective instructional leaders must keep up with how technology is changing and shaping education.

It is often claimed by principals and educational leaders that they are distracted from being an instructional leader because a number other responsibilities consume their time. As Hoerr (2008) puts it, “these include student discipline, building security and cleanliness, athletics, relationships with parents, personnel supervision, test scores, and meeting adequate yearly progress goals.” To me, many of the other responsibilities that educational leaders have to address are quite often at the heart of running a good school. In particular, if we wish our schools to be pillars in the community, then building this community lies at the heart of the role of a principal.

Quality conversations between instructional leaders and teacher cannot occur unless the basic needs of teachers are met. Many of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; this also applies to to teachers. In fact it is a great exercise to gather a leadership team together and prioritise teacher needs in a school following Maslow’s theory. If we are able to meet the physiological and safety needs for teachers, a greater degree of trust and respect is given to the leader when embarking on important conversations about pedagogy and curriculum. If teachers are stressed, the school is not organised and running smoothly, then no-one is in the right frame of mind for self-reflection and discussion about how we can improve in the classroom.

With so many teachers using technology in the classroom, I believe that to be considered a good instructional leader these days, educational leaders must be tech savvy. Firstly leaders need to be able to support the technological development needed in a school, in particular the systems required for effective use and function. Furthermore, leaders have to use the technology when working with their staff. We have a responsibility to know the student management system, some of the applications used in the class and also the web-based learning platforms used by teachers, students and parents. This inspires confidence and trust from the staff in that the leaders in the school know the technology in the school, they can see the frustrations with it when it does not work, can help solve problems and also see the benefits. Instructional leaders of the 21st Century must include technology in the pedagogical vision if their school is to be relevant.

All things said, we need to find the balance between instructional leadership and leading and addressing the many other facets of the schools in which we work. Given the complexity of the task, leaders who are able to build and work through great leadership teams are often able to provide the pedagogical direction required without feeling that they need to address it on their own.

References: Hoerr. (2008). The Principal Connection / What Is Instructional Leadership? Educational Leadership. December 2007/January 2008 | Volume 65 | Number 4 Informative Assessment Pages 84-85

Originally posted at

Connect with me @richard_bruford

photo credit: Rock balancing via photopin (license)


  1. Sandy Ahu said:

    As a retired principal who is still mentoring principals as well as teachers, I couldn’t agree more with you. Mistakes I made included not being able to meet the needs of the teachers while still complying with the district and state mandates. Experience, reflection of mistakes helped move my leadership along, but I must admit it took a while. In an effort to keep up with and being an effective leader using the technology was challenging not only for me but for the experienced teachers who had been in the classroom for over 20 years. We became learners along with our students, with the students leading the way!!

    March 20, 2015
    • Hi Sandy

      Thanks for contributing. I think many of us have learned this through reflection, especially when we see our teams reluctant to get on board with things. I love a term coined by Michael Fullan – initiativitis. So many schools suffer from it because of too many changes and leaders unable to meet basic needs first. The external demands from governing bodies do add to the pressure that we all face, though the best leaders that I have worked with try to minimise the impact that external decisions have on their teachers, so that they are not distracted by too many things and can focus on, for the most part, improving learning for our students.

      All the best and I am glad you are still involved with education in a mentoring capacity.

      March 25, 2015
  2. Lisa said:

    I agree that modeling and being a technical leader is important in 2015. It seems as though this aspect of leadership has not been emphasized enough.

    March 26, 2015
    • Hi Lisa. I think there’s a fair bit of truth in that. There are not enough administrators at technology conferences such as ISTE. Leaders have to model the way and instructional leadership involves using technology.

      March 28, 2015

Comments are closed.