Instructional vs. Transformational Leadership

John Hattie points out some key distinctions between Transformational Leadership and Instructional Leadership in education:

  • Transformational leaders lead around a common vision; their focus tends to be on getting teachers and students to buy in and commit to that vision.  Once they have the buy in, they turn their attention to creating an environment in which the vision can be realized.  Creating this environment includes ensuring that teachers have the right resources to move towards the common vision.  The driving questions for a transformational leader become: Do we have the same vision? And do teachers have the right resources to actualize that vision?
  • Instructional leaders worry about the positive influence that teachers are having on students.  Instructional leadership is “learning focused” and is measured by improvement in instruction and in the quality of learning.  The questions that drive an instructional leader are: What impact are we having on student learning?  And is the work that we are doing worthwhile?

I’ve had several opportunities recently to step into various leadership roles.  These opportunities have pushed me to reflect carefully on my own style of leadership.  I’ve seen great value in the transformational model, as having a clear vision for the direction of a program, a school, or a district, is certainly an important part of leadership.  But, as Hattie points out, the potential impact of instructional leadership in a site principal is four times that of transformational leadership.  When a principal sees her or his job as a teacher of teachers, creating discussions about teaching and instruction across staff, identifying areas of high impact instruction, and then backing these areas, the potential for growth is tremendous.   The 4 Dimensional Framework put out by the Center for Educational Leadership asserts that, “among school-related factors, school leadership is second only to teaching in its potential influence on student learning.”  Maximizing this influence requires that, “instructional leaders lead for the improvement of the quality of teaching and for the improvement of student learning.”

One of the challenges for an instructional leader becomes finding what Hattie calls, “defensible ways of showing impact.”  Discerning which instructional practices are most effective and having data to prove it becomes critical.   The data can come from standardized test scores, grades, and A-G completion rate (at the high school level).  Identifying areas of high impact and then bringing this data to a department discussion or an entire staff discussion has tremendous potential to impact student learning.

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