Effective Instructional Leadership

Effective Instructional Leadership

Effective Instructional Leadership
By Dr. Maria Cecilia M. Genove
Director, Instructional Media and Technology Center

The concept of instructional leadership, as espoused in the article by Sharon Rallis published in the Phi Delta Kappan of May 1988, introduces a new breed of leaders emanating from the ranks. These are the classroom teachers who, as Rallis suggests, could wield influence and power not just inside their classrooms, but also beyond.

In a way, teachers are primarily leaders inside their classrooms because it is where their “turf” is, according to Rallis. After years of honing their craft and acquiring knowledge and expertise on their subject areas, teachers are considered “leaders” in their field. This explains why some teachers are called “lead teachers” or, in other instances, they are also called “master teachers.”

So, is there still a need to turn teachers into leaders when, in fact, they are already such because of the nature of their profession? Don’t we have enough leaders as it is in the academe? Is there a need to create the so-called new breed of instructional leaders? More importantly, is there still “room at the top”?

Rallis emphasizes that leadership is not limited to only a select few and definitely, there is room at the top for more than one kind of leader. However, this concept presupposes that there is a dearth of leaders in the education sector. In the Philippine setting, one of the most bloated organizations is the Department of Education with its hierarchical bureaucratic structure. With its various divisions, policies and decisions are initiated at the highest level of the rung and are disseminated to the remotest barangay for all schools to implement and follow. Because the bureaucracy is highly centralized, no major decisions are arrived at unless these are approved at the top level. This likewise goes with the leadership hierarchy in public schools. Unless something has been authorized by the Schools Division Superintendent, an Education Supervisor cannot act on it, and consequently, the school principals will have nothing to report to their constituents.

The scenario, however, may not be as stringent in the private schools sector. For one, although private schools are also within the domain of the Department of Education, these schools have individuals who own them and oversee their operations. In some situations, private schools are run by families or by an independent board of directors or board of trustees. While not all private schools may have been granted autonomy, they can institute their own policies or decisions without having to go through the rigmarole of the bureaucratic system primarily because they operate on an independent financial setup.

In such cases, the concept of instructional leadership would be most appropriate, and even very helpful. A school that has a decentralized setup or structure is perceived to be more effective in its implementation of policies, as well as in its operations. A school has to have a semblance of independence and reliability, with leadership and jurisdiction that is rightfully shared and not concentrated on just one person.

With the teachers taking on an expanded role as instructional leaders, empowerment among teachers is not far behind. With their capacities and abilities fully tapped and pushed to their limits, the self-worth of these teachers would likewise improve. If in the past these teachers may have experienced a career burnout or, perhaps, are in the midst of a midlife crisis, a new dimension of their profession would certainly do them well. It would boost their morale and do wonders to their self-esteem. Everyone, teachers included, needs a good “ego massage,” after all.

However, while the objectives of instructional leadership are laudable and noteworthy, its realization may not prove true to all teachers. Although we recognize everyone’s potentials at being good leaders and sound decision makers, not all teachers possess the sterling qualities of being instructional leaders for reasons that may, more often than not, only be known to them and would be difficult for other people to surmise.

Just as some people are cut out to become leaders, others find themselves more effective as followers. While many teachers are competent, experienced, and excellent in their teaching, not all of them can assume the roles of instructional leaders. Their reasons may vary, from domestic (“I have to be home by 6 p.m. to cook dinner for my family;” “I cannot work beyond 5 p.m. because I have to help my daughter with her homework”) to the mundane and preposterous (“My heart palpitates if I take on other jobs;” “Will it make a difference in my life?” “What do I get out of it; do I get extra pay?”).

Depending on where you are coming from, the above reasons may be seriously considered by a majority of teachers who may be potential instructional leaders. Even if a teacher may be smart, but if he/she regards teaching as a profession (as a source of livelihood, akin to a factory worker or as just something to do), not a vocation, then they cannot become instructional leaders. Being such would mean, according to Rallis’ description of what instructional leaders are expected to do, that teachers go out of their way to “speak for teachers, establish the direction of instruction, know and interpret research findings, demonstrate and explain ‘best’ practices, take risks in instruction, work well with and support teachers, encourage sharing, spread a sense of where the school is headed instructionally, and help teachers assess and evaluate their impact.”

The present leadership of Silliman University, consciously or unconsciously, has been promoting the concept of instructional leadership since Day One. It was underscored as well in the investiture address 10 years ago of the 12th University President Dr. Ben S. Malayang III when he said that the presidency is not about affirming what he might be able to do at Silliman, but about Silliman being a collective ministry of its faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

True to his word, it was not mere lip service on the part of Dr. Malayang. He has set the University in motion by appointing classroom teachers to be members of important University-wide committees with long-range goals, not only in the area of instruction but in other respects as well, like marketing and promotions, recruitment, research, and continuing fellowships, among others. Teachers are now involved in decision making and calling the shots for directions that the university has been taking in the last 10 years.

But, not all teachers can be tapped to take on such work outside of what they have been used to doing, that is, teaching within the confines of their classroom. For many teachers, their classroom is their world, their comfort zone. If you take them out of or away from their classroom, their world will go awry and they tend to be disoriented. Moreover, many teachers feel that they are already overworked, and rewarded too little – and this is, in fact, an exact quote from Rallis, which is also a general lament among teachers in the Philippines.

In the final analysis, the fact remains that it all boils down to the personal decision of the teacher whether or not to take on the challenge of instructional leadership. The opportunities, resources, autonomy, and time may be conveniently laid out for them, but if these teachers are not willing and able to take the initiative required to assume such new roles, then efforts can prove futile.

Furthermore, instructional leadership will not prosper in an atmosphere of professional jealousy and petty intrigues among colleagues. Administrators (department chairpersons, deans, and directors) should also allow teachers to grow professionally, to explore their leadership potentials, and not to stifle their creativity. There is a limit to administration and supervision; unless a department or a unit is on the brink of going haywire or is on the verge of anarchy, administrators should trust their teachers to do the right thing and support them all the way at all costs. Teamwork and collegiality is not possible amid a cloud of distrust and self-centeredness.

The nature of our educational system is such that our learning institutions are a marketplace of ideas and a warehousing of knowledge. Because of this characteristic, education has become volatile and dynamic. Until such time that schools/universities and their stakeholders are able to transcend their differences and view their roles as independent yet complementary, then our educational system still leaves much to be desired.