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Sunday / September 24

Instructional Leaders: The Ultimate Web-Masters

Forget about being the person in charge, the one at the top of the pyramid, the “my way or the highway” manager. While that stale management paradigm was all about command and control of people and things, the new leadership standard is all about connecting people and resources together. Effective instructional leaders are web-masters who weave together a network of human capital!

The real sway that instructional leaders have comes from assuming the role of “broker-in-chief” of relationships and scaling collective efficacy within the organization. Today’s schools are highly complex organizations. Mini cities. Instructional leaders must be able to:

  • Leverage accountability and revolutionary technology
  • Proficiently implement performance-based evaluation systems
  • Reengineer outdated management structures
  • Recruit and cultivate nontraditional staff
  • Drive decisions with data (both cause and effect)
  • Build professional cultures
  • Ensure that every child achieves the identified behavioral and academic standards

To accomplish these expectations, instructional leaders must make certain that everyone has easy access to the organization’s expertise, its collective brain. Everyone within the organization needs to be sufficiently linked so they know where they are in relation to the organizations’ goals and what next steps to take for themselves. A highly integrated system such as this operates only when there is a tight web of informed, coordinated effort.

How do you pull this off? You make it easy for everyone to connect with each other, resolve problems at their level, generate ideas, and make and learn from mistakes. Highly skilled instructional leaders hook people up and help them link the accounting of her or his own teaching/leading to its actual or probable impact on students. They activate and scale collaborative expertise by orchestrating opportunities for teachers and leaders to come together and reflect and act on their impact. To do this, you’ll need to circulate. Use strategies that link people up and grow your human capital. This is where the practice of LinkingWalks comes into play.

LinkingWalks Scale Collaborative Expertise

We often suggest to clients that LinkingWalks (LW) is an excellent practice to connect people together to activate and scale “collaborative expertise” (Hattie, 2015). Viviane Robinson (2011) in her writing about instructional leadership and the relationship between teaching and student learning coined the phrase “linking talk.” She uses the phrase “linking talks” to describe the connection between the practices teachers’ use and the impact these practices have on learning.

Similarly, we believe skilled instructional leaders must also link their accounts of their leadership and of the collective efforts of teachers to its actual or possible influence on student achievement. In our development of this highly effective practice, we have coined the term LinkingWalks to describe this process. The LinkingWalk participants typically include groups of district leaders, school principals, teams of teachers and/or school/district coaches.

The Purpose of LinkingWalks

The purpose of LinkingWalks is to provide instructional leaders an opportunity to:

  • Collect system-wide data to stimulate collegial dialogue around specific classroom instructional practices aligned with school improvement plan and leader improvement plan priorities and the impact on learning—to become evaluators of our impact
  • Identify trends and patterns in classroom instructional practices
  • Learn from other’s by listening to their observations, inquiry, and perspectives
  • Scale collaborative expertise
  • Deepen collective understandings and practices related to continuous improvement efforts

Describing the LinkingWalk Process

The LinkingWalk process takes approximately 4 hours to complete. The process includes the following components:

  1.  Setting up the LWThe LW team assembles at a school site where the LW activator guides the group dialogue focusing on key targets within the school improvement plan, faculty deliberate practice plans, and linked to the specific 1-2 high-probability instructional practices the school has targeted to scale up. Once the focus has been determined, the group collectively determines the specific LW evidence gathering tools the teams will use during the LW. Next, “expert teams” (i.e., team members who will collect similar data in select classrooms) engage in a clarifying discussion so that each member of the “expert team” understands the specific data to collect and how it will be collected.
  2. Conducting the LWTeams of 4 to 5 members conduct 15 to 20 minute LWs in four different classrooms using the designated evidence gathering tools. (Depending on the size of the school and the number of participants in the LW process you can have 1 to 4 teams walking the school all assigned to different classrooms).
  3. Debriefing following the LWOnce the classroom observations are complete, “expert team” members reconvene and analyze their data as “expert groups,” write baseline evidence statements (i.e., brief non-judgmental statements that reflect the data collected from the evidence collected), create graphs and/or charts that reflect the data collected, and then display them throughout the room for all to see in “public displays of effection.
  4. Collaborative Discussion—Information is shared with the entire LW team using non-judgmental language (non-evaluative) while the principal of the school takes notes and asks clarifying questions. During this time all members are exploring the “links” between what teachers and students were doing, what the students were learning, and how students’ perceived the learning.
  5. Personal Application–The group then moves to thinking about personal application (how what they learned could be applied to their own work) and personal learning as a result of the LW.
  6. Continuous Improvement–The LW process culminates with the LW activator engaging group members in a Plus/Delta/Interesting Chart (what about the LW went well, and what about the LW needed to be improved upon, and what were Aha moments for group members).

Instructional leaders have to serve as the organization’s web-masters. You’re assigned primary responsibility is to assure that everybody’s mental efforts and practices are linked together and function collectively as one powerful integrated brain. The LinkingWalks process helps school and district leaders identify critical high-probability practices in which to engage, collect data on and use to improve student achievement thereby keeping a finger on the pulse of the organization.

Learn more about Linking Walks:

Read how the LinkingWalk process has been implemented by a school district and the positive impact it has had on teaching and learning in a newly released case study.

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Written by

Julie Smith is an accomplished author and a former school administrator with more than 35 years of experience in school and district leadership. Follow Julie on Twitter @DrJulie0689.

Raymond Smith is an accomplished author and former high school principal, Director of High School Education, and adjunct professor with more than 34 years of experience in leadership development. Follow Ray on Twitter @DrRLSmith.

Julie and Ray are the authors of Evaluating Instructional Leadership.

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