I work with principals on a number of initiatives that require them to take an active instructional leadership role in their school. In talking with them, I often touch on two themes: the symbolic nature of their role and how to take advantage of it; and the need for them to engage with teachers around classroom instruction and student learning. If principals are to prompt student learning, both themes are important. My experience as a high school principal taught me that what the principal pays attention to, the teachers pay attention to. Here is a quick self-assessment to help school leaders examine the extent to which they address these themes.
1. In what way do I use the authority of my role to focus on improvement efforts at my school? If our focus is on differentiating instruction for example, how do I communicate that this focus is important?
2. If a visitor to my school asked the faculty and students, “What are your principal’s two or three top priorities,” what would they say?
3. How often am I present in classrooms, and when I am, how do I show that I consider teaching and learning to be our school’s core work?
4. How often do I participate in professional development alongside my teachers, stay current with content pedagogy, and talk with them about their classroom practice?
These self-assessment questions can support principals in focusing their efforts, and by returning to the questions a few times a year, help them self-monitor their leadership behavior.