Education Opinion

Redefining Instructional Leadership

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — April 17, 2018 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

We welcome as a guest blogger, John R. Jones, Ed.D., currently Clinical Associate Professor of Educational Leadership in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education at the University of Oklahoma, He has 46 years of experience in education and 30 of those years have been in public school and higher education administration.

There is no doubt about it: the American educational system has been undergoing some significant transformations in the past few decades. To maneuver through these changes and those to come, we must examine our beliefs and feelings about instructional leadership more rigorously than ever before. If our schools are to succeed in the years to come, leaders must not only have their heads in the right places, but their hearts as well. We must keep the major focus at the forefront, and they are, teaching and learning. Quality teaching is the underlying principle that makes a school great. At the same time, we must never forget that quality teaching must be nurtured by great leadership.

Particularly, compelling - especially considering some of the teacher evaluation systems so prevalent in schools today, is our role of inspiring teachers of doing a great job of teaching and becoming leaders in the classroom. In Instructional Leadership: A Research Based Guide to Learning in Schools, Wayne and Anita Hoy tell us that “good teaching matters, it is the sine qua non of schooling; in fact, good teaching is what instructional leadership is about: finding ways to improve teaching and learning”. We have simply spent too many years attempting to motivate teachers with bribes and threats. This must change! It is time we learn the value of intrinsic motivation, in which motivation, as well as its reward comes from doing an excellent job. It is time to create schools in which administrators and teachers work together and inspire each other. This inspiration should then be utilized in creating an environment where students have a desire to learn. All of this starts with quality leadership.

There are three questions that must be asked about instructional leaders and those who lead our schools. They are:

  • What makes people want to follow a leader?
  • Why do people reluctantly comply with one leader while passionately following another, anywhere?
  • What separates leadership theorists from those who really can lead effectively?

The answer to these questions lies in the character of the individual leading, not in knowledge and application of leadership theory. At its essence, leadership touches the heart and soul of everyone in the school. Therefore, leading is based on an emotional connection, rather than a rational one. Leadership is about making connections, and it requires instructional leaders to be focused in their purpose and intense in their beliefs. It must also be understood that success does not depend on one’s title, but rather on the choices that are made, and based on the principles one holds dear. These principles must be based on the relationships one makes.

It has been said that management techniques are essential, but what matters is leadership. To understand leadership, it must be understood it is not about a “system” of leadership that can be learned and then implemented. There are no systems or theories that can be installed that would help anyone effectively lead others. Therefore, instructional leadership is an art that must be learned and not a theory that is put into practice.

Leaders must learn to attract followers for pragmatic reasons. They must offer them something they feel they need, even if they help them create that need. I cannot give you a system or teach you about one that can be imposed on a school or group of followers that will cause them to accept you as their leader. Leadership must be done by the leader. He or she must lead and learn how.

It is important to know that everything rises and falls on leadership and leadership develops from the inside out, just as schools do. If you can become the leader you should be on the inside, chances are you will become the leader you need to be on the outside, and so will your school. The bottom line is this; people will desire to follow you, and when this happens you and whomever you are leading will accomplish great things. For many people, this is a complete change and some just cannot change. That is why I have always said that change is certain, but growth is optional. We must learn to grow as change takes place.

Real leadership is putting yourself in a position where your teachers will place their complete confidence in your skills and abilities and gladly follow you. As a leader in any school, it is important to learn and study what great leaders do and have done. One thing that must be learned is that great leaders surround themselves with great people, and then get out of their way and let them do their jobs. If your desire is to become a great leader, you must understand those great leaders who have paved the way and understand that leadership involves three things: relationships, trust, and influence (RTI). Once great relationships are developed, teachers will begin to trust you; then, and only then will you have the influence that is necessary to lead them somewhere. In Leadership 101 John Maxwell says, if you don’t have influence, you will never be able to lead others.


Hoy, Wayne & Hoy, Anita (2012). Instructional Leadership: A Research Based Guide to Learning in Schools (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon

Maxwell, John (2002). Leadership 101. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo by geralt courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP