Instructional Leadership Perceptions and Practices of Elementary School Leaders

Harris, Leslie, Administration and Supervision - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Young, Michelle, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Principals across the state of Virginia will soon find themselves held accountable for the outcomes of their instructional leadership as part of a new principal evaluation system being implemented by the Virginia Department of Education during the 2013-2014 school year. To assess and increase principal and school district readiness for this new evaluation system in Washington County Schools*, this study investigated the nature of current instructional leadership practice among elementary school leaders. It examined the current beliefs and practices of instructional leadership among three elementary school principals, as well as the relationship between those beliefs and practices.

Qualitative and quantitative data was collected and analyzed to answer the central research question: What is the nature of principal instructional leadership in Washington County Schools? Principals shared information with the researcher about their instructional leadership beliefs (espoused theory) during private interviews. These data were analyzed and compared to data from multiple sources that resulted from the administration of the Principal Instructional Management Rating Scale (PIMRS), a 360 degree instrument that measures frequency of specific principal instructional leadership behaviors. The data generated by the PIMRS instrument provided information about principal implementation (theory-in-use) of instructional leadership from the perspective of the principal, teachers in the school, and the division Director of Elementary Education.

Data analysis showed many similarities among the three principals regarding their beliefs about instructional leadership. Themes that emerged from each data set were: knowledge, support, collaboration, progress monitoring, visibility, and impact. All of the principals focused most heavily on activities related to managing the school instructional program when sharing their beliefs about what constitutes instructional leadership. Research-based instructional leadership activities that were the least emphasized by the principals during qualitative data collection were as follows: protects instructional time, provides incentives for teachers, and provides incentives for learning.

In the second phase of data collection, the PIMRS instrument results shed light on principal implementation of instructional leadership. All three of the principals seemed to implement activities related to defining the school mission at a much higher rate than their espoused theory/beliefs indicated. While principal beliefs focused heavily on activities related to managing instruction in the school, teachers perceived that principals engaged in these activities—particularly those related to supervision and evaluation of instruction—less frequently than principals themselves believed that they did. In alignment with principal beliefs, which de-emphasized the role of activities related to developing the school learning climate, sources agreed that principals did not engage in these types of activities with as much frequency as other instructional leadership functions and tasks. Additionally, teachers and school leaders frequently disagreed about which specific principal instructional leadership behaviors would be most likely to improve teacher professional capacity, fulfilling the purpose of effective instructional leadership.

This study is based upon the notion that recognizing inconsistencies between beliefs and practices can lead to changes in behavior and heightened organizational outcomes (Argyris, 1987). Therefore, the recommendations and action communications suggested in this paper are interconnected. The “solution” to the identified problem of practice lies in increasing principal self-awareness regarding their beliefs (espoused theory) and practices (theory-in-use) and the relationship between the two. Argyris asserted that congruency between the two theories leads to the most effective designs of action (1980). This suggests that purposeful alignment of principal beliefs and implementation of instructional leadership could potentially be a lever for improving leadership practice and may assist principals in meeting the requirements set forth in the new principal evaluation system.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
instructional leadership, theories of action, instructional leadership, theories of action
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