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What is instructional leadership and why is it important for educational leaders?

School leaders matter for schools success (Hattie, 2012). It is universally acknowledged that effective leadership is an essential element in achieving school improvement (Leithwood & Jantzi, 1998; Hopkins, 2001). “At the heart of school capacity are principals focused on the development of teachers' knowledge and skills, professional community, program coherence, and technical resources” (Fullan, 2002, p16).

“The old model of formal, one-person leadership leaves the substantial talents of teachers largely untapped” (Lambert, 2002, p.37). This one-person theory of instructional leadership that was promerate in the years previous to 2000 (Hallinger & Heck, 1998). It was an archetype where the principal would lead from the front being across all levels of leadership (Spillane, Halverson & Diamond, 2001). However, with the increasing complexities of schools, the development of other philosophies of instructional leadership, which can be defined as the guidance or management of curriculum and instruction by a key leader or team have grown (Hallinger, 2010).

This transformation sees the principal serve as the leader of leaders by guiding the organisations vision and building capacity within their staff and students (Timperley, 2005b) through distributing and empowering leadership of specific areas of curriculum (Ainscow & Sandill, 2010). Hallinger (2005) proposed the dimensions of instructional leadership were defining the school’s mission, managing the pedagogical programme and promoting a positive school learning climate.

Kouzes & Posner (2010) establish that any form of effective leadership can not be accomplished alone and should not be for the extraordinary few. Empowering teachers who have passion, purpose and the desire to challenge the status quo (Harris, 2003; Timperley, 2005a; Sherer, 2008) will establish learner focused interventions (Andrews, 1987). Fullan’s (2001a) stance is that teachers are the key to school change. In essence, the empowerment of teachers (Harris & Muijs, 2002) who have a sophisticated understanding of effective instruction is essential to drive curriculum and pedagogical changes (Devaney, 1987) that enrich students learning capabilities (Lambert, 2003; McLaughlin & Lee, 1988; Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009). As such, instructional leadership sets a tone that supports continual professional learning and promotes the instructional climate.

Hattie (2009), identify instructional leadership as the most effective style of leadership; however, position’s himself by singling out that it is distributed and reinforce the priorities of the leadership team (Dinham 2005, cited in ACER 2008). In addition, the extent to which leadership can be distributed in a school will reflect the agility of a school’s circumstances (Breakspear, 2015) and its ability to incite change (Hallinger 2010; Schrum & Levin 2013). As this collaborative effort promotes academic growth (Danielson, 2007; Harris & Muijs, 2002a; Fullan, 2001b) it collectively draws on the teacher voice and parallel leadership, to build professional learning, mastery, collective efficiency, school-wide pedagogy and culture (Crowther, Hann & McMaster, 2001; Crowther, Kaagan, Ferguson & Hann, 2002; Sashkin & Sashkin, 1990). This aligns with Senge’s (1990) thoughts as he suggests a learning organisation only discovers how to tap the commitment and capacity of a team by continually nurturing expansive patterns of thinking.

There is an extensive correlation between instructional leadership (Snyder, 1983), collective or distributed leadership (Spillane & Diamond, 2007) and teacher leadership (Harris, 2003).

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