Focusing on Instructional Leadership

“Teachers have a huge effect on their students. Great teachers inspire students to do more than they thought they could do, they help students make up lost ground, and they put students on the path to success. But teachers aren’t born knowing how to do this. They need help to become great … This kind of help comes from great school leaders who understand how to organize schools that support instruction and help every teacher improve.”  — from The Education Trust

I think about the interdependent relationship between teachers and instructional leadership as similar to the wheels on your bike. To get to your intended destination – which in the summer hopefully involves a swimming hole, ice cream, or both — the bicycle wheels have to work in unison. Likewise, to reach the goal of improved learning for all students, teachers and instructional leaders together must establish the conditions that promote student learning. In the absence of instructionally-focused leaders, teachers become isolated and their impact limited. And without effective teaching, leadership teams can do little to improve instruction.

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Video Playlist: Support Structures That Help Teachers R-O-A-R

When you think about empowered learners, what comes to mind? Lately, I imagine students belting out a Katy Perry lyric: “I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar.” And yet, we know as teachers that picturing the outcome isn’t enough. We need structures to help our students succeed. This is complex work, but let me offer four components that I think are integral to building what I’ll call a “roar-enabling environment.”

Recognition: Teachers see their students as individuals and recognize their unique learning strengths and deficits. As students grow, their progress is acknowledged and celebrated.

Options: Teachers draw upon a wide range of instructional methods as they recognize their students’ varied learning needs. Students can take multiple paths to master skills and express their knowledge.

Access: Teachers present challenging content using methods that engage and make sense to students. All students benefit from a rigorous curriculum that asks them to stretch and do their best.

Resources: Teachers work with each other and with support staff to assess students’ needs and provide resources. When students have ample access to help, their confidence and achievement grow.

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Video Playlist: Active and Exploratory Instruction

I recently came across a fun infographic from We Are Teachers titled, A Teacher’s Guide to the Perfect Summer in 15 Simple Steps. Step #6 suggests that summer provides an opportunity for reflection — on what kind of teacher I am now, what kind of teacher I want to be, and how I get from where I am to where I want to be.

Watching classroom-based videos can help inspire such reflection. As you see other teachers and students in action, you gain insight into your own practice and cultivate a growth mindset. And specific strategies or practices from other classrooms can provide a path for such growth.

Below are 10 titles to add to your summer watchlist. All of the videos focus on active and exploratory instruction and spotlight what students do, under their teachers’ direction and facilitation. The featured strategies actively engage students in a range of hands-on activities, cooperative learning, and peer-teaching. These videos are from Success at the Core, an online toolkit designed to improve school leadership, classroom instruction, and student outcomes.


  • How does this video help me to better understand the teacher that I am now?
  • In what ways does this video inspire me to grow in my practice?
  • What practical strategies from this video can I incorporate into my own teaching?


The Big Brain: A Cooperative Learning ProtocolStudents in Barbara Cleveland’s class utilize a four-step protocol as they solve math problems in small groups. See how they discuss possible solutions, cite evidence, and review one another’s work, and notice the role that the teacher plays in this process.

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Video Playlist: Authentic Assessments

At this time of the year, there’s typically a lot of anxiety around summative assessments. What if my students haven’t learned what I assume they have? Before end-of-course or end-of-year assessments roll around, it’s a great time to check what students really do know. And, if necessary, made some instructional decisions based on that real data.

We’re excited to launch a series of videos that profile effective formative assessment practices. These videos, developed as part of an online professional development toolkit called Success at the Core, show students as active partners in the assessment process and teachers making real-time decisions based on assessment data.


  • How do I incorporate formative assessment practices into my daily instruction?
  • In what ways do I challenge students to demonstrate their understanding in real and meaningful ways?
  • How do I use what I learn about students’ progress as I plan my lessons?
  • What role do my students play in the assessment process?


Show Your Cards: Science teacher Steven English asks his students to utilize colored cards throughout this lesson to indicate their level of understanding. You’ll see and hear how he adjusts his instruction in real-time based on what the cards tell him.

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Video Playlist: Relevant and Real Content to Engage Students

The French origins of the word “Mayday” suggest an only coincidental connection between this call for help and the fifth month of the year. However, as any teacher knows, this is a time of year when distress calls are common. “Mayday – how do I keep my students productive and engaged in these waning days of the school year?”

For those of you in distress, help is on the way. This month, we are excited to launch a series of videos from Success at the Core, a professional development toolkit. This collection includes several videos specifically focused on engaging students through relevant and real content. These videos showcase instruction that connects content to students’ pre-existing knowledge, their lives, and the world around them. See students take ownership of their learning as they see its purpose, and apply it to new contexts. See teachers offering opportunities to apply content to real-world problems and guiding students to make interdisciplinary connections.


  • How do I ground the content I teach in real-life experiences?
  • What strategies do I use to help students assess what they know about the content of a new lesson?
  • In what ways do I design or adapt lessons to make them relevant to my students?


Supply and Demand Made Relevant: As seventh graders struggle to understand a supply and demand story problem, math teacher Mark Egger asks students to consider how the cost of items they purchase impacts their buying decisions. Notice how recognizing the relevance of the content helps students to build understanding.

Preparing Students to Read: Word and Inference Walls: Prior to assigning a new chapter of The Outsiders, teacher Cathy Farrell hooks her students by connecting vocabulary from the text to prior knowledge, and by asking students to infer what the chapter will be about, based on several clues. The vocabulary and inference work deliberately connects to cross-subject learning targets as well.

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