Engaging an instructional leadership team (ILT) is a proven strategy for strengthening instruction and building educator capacity – but establishing a school leadership structure is only the first step. When implemented effectively, ILTs serve as the heartbeat for the entire school. School leaders leverage the ILT structure to create coherence by setting clear instructional goals and a plan to achieve those goals that supports the entire school team. In addition, the ILT structure promotes consistent accountability at every level of the school.
At Chandler Elementary School in Goshen, Indiana, school leaders have used their ILT to prioritize coherence and consistency across their school. "[Coherence and consistency] is what we want to see in our teachers and classrooms," said Megan Krug, a master teacher at Chandler Elementary. "We want everything we do to be streamlined, so we all know the roadway."
Chandler Elementary began its partnership with NIET ten years ago, and since that time, they’ve used NIET practices and processes to strengthen instruction and improve student learning. Five years ago, Principal Cheryl Williams established Chandler's first ILT to create cohesion and provide a sustainable structure to guide the school’s work. "I knew the structure could lead us to a place of cohesiveness, so we were all on the same page and rowing in the same direction," said Principal Williams. "Effective leadership does not have the word 'I.' It takes a team of people who share not only vision, but the desire to learn to impact our school through a mindset of continuous improvement."
Setting the Goals and Vision
To ensure ILT members are "rowing" in the same direction, Chandler has outlined a clear set of goals and a vision that are focused on transforming learning to develop critical thinking in students. During the ILT’s weekly hour-and-fifteen-minute meetings, educators follow a set of meeting norms they have developed to ensure meetings are efficient and maximize their time together. The leadership team also uses a long-range plan to keep their vision and goals at the forefront and avoid losing their focus. Specifically, Chandler’s ILT team uses NIET’s Five Steps for Effective Learning as a planning guide.
The leadership team has also prioritized student data by putting it at the center of their work. "[When I came to Chandler], we had to change our thinking to make sure our actions supported the belief that all students can learn and grow no matter their external circumstances," said Principal Williams. "We had to transform our thinking from our jobs being teachers teaching to students learning."
Maintaining Consistency Through Vertical Alignment
One of the keys to Chandler's ILT success is creating a team that represents all teacher groups. ILT members were chosen because they bring varied experiences and strengths to the team and provide the depth needed to transform instructional practice. This intentional representation from multiple roles and levels of leadership supports the ILT's alignment from the classroom through multiple levels of leadership.
The ILT's effectiveness and consistency are derived from the intentional vertical alignment between the school’s administrative leadership team, ILT, learning clusters, and classroom-level coaching. The administrators serve as a model for the entire school by bringing their learning to the ILT, which in turn helps instructional leaders build capacity so they can facilitate the learning happening in clusters. The ILT works to refine what supports are needed to extend learning from cluster meetings into the classroom through coaching and mentoring. "When the ILT is focused on its goals and outcomes while being consistent with the structures of cluster and coaching, adult learning manifests in the classrooms where the students become the beneficiaries," said Principal Williams.
Empowering Teacher and Student Ownership
The success of Chandler's ILT is being felt by both teachers and students across the school. The school has seen an increase in teacher collaboration, made easier by the common language established by their ILT. This common language creates clearer communication between educators around objectives, success criteria, and assessments. The leadership team has also helped teachers see themselves as adult learners and embrace their own learning. "Not only are teachers being more intentional about students taking ownership of learning by setting goals, they are also setting their own goals based on their needs in learning," said Dr. Lisa Puckett, a master teacher at the school.
The leadership team's focus on student data has made students aware of their own data, so they can track their progress themselves. This increase in student engagement has decreased off-task behaviors, and students are embracing ownership of their learning. "Students can articulate much more clearly what they are learning and why," said Principal Williams. "They have moved from being observers of teaching to active participants in learning."
Strengthening instructional practice to improve student achievement takes a comprehensive approach, and Chandler's instructional leadership team is an excellent example of what is possible when leaders go first and align their strategies at every level. When asked about advice for schools struggling to keep their ILT coherent and consistent, Principal Williams said, "Create a long-range plan that leads [with] learning to reach your goals, create short-term checks, and celebrate every success along the way. Success is not linear, so in the squiggles along the way, keep focused on your goals and outcomes."