An E-newsletter on EXCELLENCE in Leadership

April 2023 | Volume 11, No. 8

Instructional Leadership NAD Principals’ Handbook Excerpt


The primary function of a principal is to ensure that students achieve. Research (Gallup) indicates that the fastest way to make a difference in student achievement is to change the principal of the school. Effective principals engage in work that supports teachers in improving their instructional practices. This type of support occurs in classrooms, not the principal’s office. Effective principals are instructional leaders because they make a commitment to learning, and they connect the work of improved student learning and teaching by building strong teams of teachers.

While some aspects of instructional leadership may be delegated, it is the principal who makes the difference in the quality of the teaching and learning process. Instructional leadership includes several components:

  • Supervision of instruction
  • Professional development
  • Teacher evaluation

Each component is discussed further in the NAD Principals’ Handbook. Additional explanations can be found in the Supervision Handbook.


Ways to Provide Coaching

By Rachel Romero
Coordinator of Small School Support & Instructional
Coaching—Southeastern California Conference




Finding opportunities to support and grow our teachers may be just as unique as our schools. From a large academy to a small one-teacher school, instructional coaching can help us intentionally plan for effective instruction, increase teacher confidence and motivation, and ultimately improve student achievement.

Getting Started

To set up our teachers for coaching success, identify and establish a clear vision and purpose for instructional coaching that aligns with the school's mission and goals. Create a culture of trust and respect, where feedback is seen as an opportunity for growth and improvement, not as a judgment or evaluation. As you work toward building trust among your teachers, emphasize that each student's achievement is the work and mission of the whole team. Now, let's explore a few creative ways to provide coaching to our teachers.

Identify Partnerships

Consider existing relationships and how time is used during the regular school day for coaching opportunities. Identify a lead teacher (or teachers) that would support teams of two or three for weekly goal setting, coaching conversations, and planning. For example, peer coaching collaborative teams could be adopted during the weekly faculty meeting. Begin by developing your lead teachers in coaching conversation protocols and skills, but train everyone in what is expected of them during peer coaching time (i.e., equal partnerships and shared goals, healthy communication and active listening, reflective inquiry questioning, confronting difficult topics). Need more peer coaches? Reach out to an administrative colleague at one of our schools and collaborate in training and facilitating time for peer coaching video calls for regular and ongoing feedback.

As part of the coaching cycle, be prepared to facilitate peer observations (video recording or in-person visits) at least a few times a year. Provide a simple rubric or checklist of what peer coaches can look for and a few pre-/post-observation questions for them to discuss together (Goodwin & Taylor, 2019).

Principal-Coach Approach

Just as teachers are our students' greatest resource for achievement, our leadership behaviors are instrumental in growing teacher capacity. Education leaders agree that although administrators may not have time to move through a complete coaching cycle, a coaching approach is still possible. Being a principal-coach embodies the characteristics of a lead learner—interested in listening and learning for improvement. Here are four coaching behaviors that a principal could adopt (Knight, 2018):

  • Treat your teachers as partners. During coaching conversations, trust your teachers to choose what is best for their students while respecting their autonomy. According to research, teachers are more likely to implement what leaders share in this approach.
  • Listen more. Talk less. Listen for understanding and be present. Be patient, avoid interrupting, affirm those who have shared with you, and mute your distracting inner voice. A good listener looks for deeper meaning beneath what is being said.
  • Ask powerful questions. Effective questioning is at the very heart of coaching. Ask open-ended questions to help you better understand your teacher's thinking and focus the conversation. Questions like, "What's on your mind? ", "And, what else?" or "What is the real challenge here for you?" are a few examples (Stanier, 2016).
  • Engage in dialogue. "When we listen to our conversation partners, ask good questions, and position them as partners, who make most decisions about what they do in classrooms, a different kind of conversation emerges—a dialogue" where all voices are heard. Promote this type of dialogue by taking a humble position, demonstrating compassion toward your teachers' needs, and being willing to learn from them (Knight, 2018).

Encourage teachers to reflect on their practice, help them identify their strengths and areas of growth, and celebrate success together. As you begin to plan in this direction, the Lord will inspire your creativity in helping our teachers reach their full potential for His glory.


Goodwin, B. & Taylor, M. (2019). Finding the right glue: Peer coaching – done well – can make professional learning stick. ASCD, 77(3), 84 – 85. www.ascd.org/el/articles/finding-the-right-glue.

Knight, J. (2018). Can principals be coaches? Principal Connections, 22(2), 42 – 44.

Stanier, M.B. (2016). The coaching habit. Box of Crayons Press.

Learning Leaders Supervise

By Leslie Bartsch

Principal—Chico Oaks Adventist School

Supervision of Instruction in the classroom ensures that effective teaching and learning take place. The process of supervision that I use at Chico Oaks includes pre-conferencing, observation, and assessment of teachers' instructional practices, followed by feedback and support to enhance teaching effectiveness and student learning outcomes.

I have recently changed how I go through this process with my teachers. At the beginning of the year or semester, I meet with each teacher to talk with them about their teaching goals for the upcoming school year. I want to know where they see a need for improvement or refinement. Maybe there are new instructional strategies they would like to incorporate into their classrooms. As we sit and talk, I want to ensure the teacher has a plan and timeline for accomplishing their goals. I also want to ask how I can help them. My role as their administrator is not to tell them what I think they should work on, but to partner with them, helping them to develop the new instructional methods they want to strengthen.

Pre-conferencing allows us to focus on their specific goals together. A vital component needed when working toward their teaching goals is participating in Professional Development. Professional Development is most meaningful when it is designed to meet the teacher's specific needs; it can include taking classes, attending workshops or seminars, subscribing to professional associations, or working towards higher certification. In addition, our conference offers resources such as the use of substitutes, reimbursement, and other support for our teachers. I also want to ensure that the teachers know how to access and take full advantage of these resources.

As teachers begin to work on their goals, a critical component of supervision is through Classroom Observations. Observations can be formal or informal and take place in various settings, including whole-class instruction, small-group work, and individual instruction. It provides an opportunity to see firsthand how well the teachers are working on their goals and allows me to provide teachers with feedback; I can be specific about what's working well and what could be improved.

It can be hard to find the time to be in the classrooms every day, especially when you are a Teaching-Principal. However, this is something I make one of my top priorities. Spending time in the different classrooms helps me ensure consistency in instruction throughout the school and that we are all working on our school-wide learning goals. Lastly, classroom observations also build trust in our relationships; it gives me an opportunity to show support for their work and offer them encouragement.

After the observations, I meet with the teacher in their classroom. Because we are working together on their individualized goals, the feedback is specific and based on the evidence gathered during the observations. I want this feedback to help the teacher identify areas of strength and areas for improvement. It is also vital to listen to how the teacher feels the lesson went. I try to ask questions that allow them to come up with their own assessment of their lesson. If other concerns come up during the observations, we can talk about those as well. Above everything else, I want my teachers to know that I am there to support them, that I see all the positive things they do in their classrooms, and I appreciate all of their hard work.

Ultimately, the goal of Supervision of Instruction is to create a culture of continuous improvement where teachers are supported and encouraged to grow and develop as professionals while students are meeting their learning goals.

My role as their administrator is not to tell them what I think they should work on, but to partner with them, helping them to develop the new instructional methods they want to strengthen.

As teachers begin to work on their goals, a critical component of supervision is through Classroom Observations.

“Effectivizing” Your Educators

By Berit von Pohle
Vice President for Education—Pacific Union Conference




As school leaders, we have the opportunity to ensure that our students master the standards we have determined are the essential curriculum. Without minimizing the overarching spiritual climate, schools exist for student learning.

Even more, than the opportunity to ensure student learning, it is the responsibility of every school leader to "effectivize" the educators on the school campus. According to The Wallace Foundation 2021 Report, How Principals Affect Students and Schools, the principal is second only to the classroom teacher in impacting what a student learns in school. They further state that principals matter substantially to student achievement.

Be the Lead Learner

Two quotes from Michael Fullan’s book, The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, summarize the role of the learning leader:

The principal must "lead the school's teachers in a process of learning to improve their teaching, while learning alongside them about what works and what doesn't." He goes on to state that "if principals merely enable teachers to work together and do not help forge the final link to actual learning, the process will fail."

The learning leader is a resource for the campus on current trends in education, best instructional practices, and resources for teachers as they continue to develop their skills.

Create a Culture of Achievement

The beliefs exhibited by the staff at the school can make all the difference for the success of the students. For example, do the teachers believe that all students can learn? Are the teachers committed to working with each student to ensure mastery of the standards? Are academic successes celebrated?

Can You Define Effective Instruction?

When the topic of Instructional Leadership is raised, we often immediately think about classroom observations and teacher evaluations. But before we go to a teacher's classroom, it is imperative that we have a collective understanding of what effective instruction looks like. In an article titled, A Job Description for Teachers, Grant Wiggins suggests that a teacher has three specific tasks:

  1. To cause successful learning (for all students) related to school program and course goals, as determined by appropriate local, state, and national assessments.
  2. To cause greater interest in the subject and learning than before, as determined by observations, surveys, and client feedback.
  3. To cause greater confidence, feelings of efficacy, and intellectual direction in learners.

Hire ONLY the Best Teachers!

In his book, What Great Principals Do Differently, Todd Whitaker notes that "the best thing a principal can do to build parent relations is to ensure every student has a phenomenal teacher."

Every time there is an opening on the staff, great care must be taken to clearly define the characteristics necessary in the person being sought. It is also critical that the candidate be carefully researched to provide the best opportunity for success.

Coaching – It’s Not Just for Athlete

Lead learners (principals) have three different but overlapping activities involved with instructional leadership. Coaching, classroom observations, and evaluations will all have an impact on the learning of students.

Coaching is the actions involved with assisting teachers continually improve their teaching abilities. Principals can create a culture of reflective instruction, collaborative inquiry into what causes (or impedes) student learning, and ongoing professional development.

Another Set of Eyes

Classroom observations (not to be consumed with teacher evaluations) provide teachers with another set of eyes. Observations, informal and formal, should be planned to assist teachers with perceived areas of growth. These areas of growth may be determined by the teacher or the principal or in collaboration. Classroom observations don't need to be the same every time. But, it is essential that feedback is provided to the teacher at the end of each observation.

How Do They Measure Up?

In addition to teacher evaluations being a requirement of employment, this is a regular opportunity for teachers to be aware of the areas in which they are doing well and shouldn't be changed, as well as to be aware of areas in which they can grow.

Successful teacher evaluations are not focused solely on classroom instruction. Instead, they are summative documents and include two additional questions from Grant Wiggins, A Job Description for Teachers:

  1. What is my job when I’m not with the students?
  2. What is my job when I’m with my colleagues?

Teacher evaluations should align with the model of instruction agreed upon for the campus.

Deal with the Marginal Teachers

No one is a "bad" teacher because they want to be. As the principal, it is important to determine what resources might assist a teacher in improving their teaching skills. It may also be necessary to determine whether teaching isn't the right career for this individual or whether teaching at this particular school isn't where this teacher will be most effective. No one wants to terminate a teacher or counsel them to resign, but when student learning is the priority, sometimes it becomes necessary.

Remember that marginal teachers shortchange students, contribute to parental dissatisfaction, and tarnish the reputation of the profession and the school.

Keeping the Edges Sharp

In another quote from What Great Principals Do Differently, Whitaker says, "The best ways to improve a school are hire better teachers or make the ones you have better. Great Principals do both!"

As the lead learner, the principal is learning alongside the teachers and providing or facilitating professional development, which will enhance student learning.

If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

One of the most common responses when principals are urged to focus on instructional leadership is that they don't have time. There's no question that the role of a principal involves full days, weeks, and months. But if student learning is a priority for every school, then principals will find ways to plan for the priority of leading the learning on campus.

Leading a school is hard, time-consuming, and often thankless work. But it is also an incredible privilege. Learning alongside dedicated educators and sparking their passion for doing their best work results in all students reaching their greatest potential.

Issue Coordinator

Berit von Pohle

Vice President for Education

Pacific Union Conference



Newsletter Editor

Berit von Pohle, Editor

Vice President for Education

Ed Boyatt, Editorial Advisor