I have an idea … instructional leadership in secondary education

In 2015, I was fortunate enough to have an instructional leadership role for technology as part of my school’s BYOD program.  I worked with every faculty in the school across Year 7-12 to build the capacity of teachers to use technology to transform learning. A Twitter conversation led me to revisit a more formalised instructional leadership strategy, Early Action for Success (EAfS). EAfS involves instructional leaders working in schools to build capacities of teachers in teaching literacy and numeracy. A look at their online resources revealed some interesting ideas to me, particularly the progressions of how children learn early numeracy skills like place value, mental calculations and using symbols. I also really liked the idea of instructional leaders building collaborative cultures of inquiry and supporting teachers in collecting, evaluating and using data to inform their practice.

So I started thinking about how a similar strategy of instructional leadership would look like in a secondary school context. Instead of literacy and numeracy, what would subject-based instructional leadership look like in secondary schools, particularly in Year 11 and 12?

Some of the challenges facing secondary schools include low numbers of students choosing to study Year 11 and 12 physics and higher levels of mathematics, lower numbers of girls studying Year 11 and 12 science and high level mathematics and implementation of integrated learning. How can we further improve curriculum instruction in these subjects to better meet the needs of students in local school contexts? What does quality physics instruction look like? Can instructional leaders play a role in this?

I tweeted this and it led to a very rich and diverse conversation about instructional leadership in secondary schools (click on the embedded tweet below to see the thread of conversation).

What if there were instructional leaders who work alongside head teachers, deputy principals and principals to support the school (or community of schools) for a specific need in time (eg. curriculum instruction in mathematics extension, science extension or integrated STEM)? These instructional leaders are selected by schools. They want to work with, and grow with the school. They aren’t experts parachuted in.

These instructional leaders work with school teams to build collaborative cultures of inquiry where teachers work together to use data and evidence to improve their practice. These instructional leaders are school-based and will continue teaching themselves (at a reduced load, say, 1 class).

How is this different to existing systems? How is this different to the role of existing head teachers, deputy principals and principals? These additional instructional leaders are for areas where the school may not have existing expertise. For example, a school implementing marine studies for the first time may not have anyone with expertise in that subject except for the classroom teacher of that class. An instructional leader for a community of schools requiring instructional expertise in marine studies can work with those teachers (and their head teachers) to build their capacities,

Like my tweet said, it is just an idea that came to me at 5am. And I like documenting and sharing crazy ideas.

What are your thoughts? Do you have instructional leaders at your school that are in addition to heads of department and are specific to a subject or area (eg gifted and talented; integrated learning)?

3 thoughts on “I have an idea … instructional leadership in secondary education

  1. Hi Alice,

    Although I don”t work in high schools, my partner does. I currently work as a Language Specialist in University bridging programs, where my role involves working in collaborative projects with subject specialists to develop specialised literacy materials. This requires strong understanding of the ways in which language in used in different disciplines, and the ability to recontextualise theoretical knowledge and academic research in the development of student-facing materials. I have found that these skills are not yet seen as ‘legitimate’ within the educational paradigm in which we find ourselves.

    I participate in research and academic conferences related to educational linguistics, literacy and numeracy, multi-modality, systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and Legitimation Code Theory (LCT).

    Regarding physics, I strongly recommend Yaegan Doran’s work on physics. His recently published book offers amazing insight into the knowledge principles of the subject https://www.routledge.com/The-Discourse-of-Physics-Building-Knowledge-through-Language-Mathematics/Doran/p/book/9781138744318. I’m aware that you also follow Helen Gregoriou on Twitter, who also has excellent insight into what is required in physics.

    I hope that there is more discussion about how instructional leadership may incorporate both content and language & literacy specialists to ensure Australian kids receive quality education.

  2. This is my role next year, STEAM coordinator, developing projects that are being integrated across the whole school except HSIE, English and PDHPE.
    I will let you know how it goes.

    Maths love the idea as they don’t know how to teach practically and are scared about the prospects of the new stage 6 curriculum,

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