Developing Instructional Leadership: 10 Questions with Experts Robert Crowe and Jane Kennedy


By: Robert Crowe and Jane Kennedy


Classroom board drawing of one larger blue fish leading a group of smaller white fish. Being a school leader is hard work. But of all the hats principals wear, we think that of instructional leader is most vital.

In this blog post, we answer 10 key questions based on our latest book, Developing Instructional Leadership: Creating a Culture of Ownership Through the Use of Strategic Learning Practices.

You can create a learning environment where students, teachers, and administrators feel motivated, take ownership, and elevate achievement – the journey starts with reflecting on your instructional leadership practices.


1. Why did you decide to write this book?

For more than 30 years, we have worked with school districts: large to small, urban to rural, and high-performing to low-performing.

Beyond instruction in the classroom, principals have the greatest impact on student learning. We have seen the research in action.

While teachers are the greatest direct influence on students, if a school is looking to make a collective lift – if they want all teachers working towards a common goal focused on student achievement – the role of the leader is crucial.

There have been many books written about the research that supports this thinking. We wanted to write a practical book that outlined how to put that research into practice.

What are the specific actions of a school or district leader intent on leading a student achievement initiative that requires all stakeholders to work together towards the common goal? This book describes the actions and provides the tools that support the work.

Beyond instruction in the classroom, PRINCIPALS have the greatest impact on student learning (Vega, 2013). Principals have the power to drive a “collective lift” in their school.


2. Who is this book for?

This book is for principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, department or grade-level chairs, and district administrators.

In other words, this book is for anyone in an instructional leadership role. It is for anyone in the role of inspiring and leading a group of people toward achieving the goal of increasing academic achievement.


3. How can this book help educators develop their instructional leadership skills?

Classroom board checklist of the 3 steps plan, action, and success.This book provides practical solutions to develop the skills of instructional leadership.

Educators may read this book to:

    • Confirm the actions they are already taking and through this reflective practice become even more intentional and explicit
    • Refine and develop skills that will take them to a higher level, so they have a greater impact
    • Discover new skills and through the examples and the tools begin to develop those skills


4. You asked readers to envision their dream school in your recent blog post for school administrators and aspiring leaders. How did you arrive at the idea of a dream school and why do you think this exercise is important?

The research of Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins (2012) clarified the value of backward mapping for classroom learning. The same value of backward mapping holds true for adult learning.

First, we must determine what results we want to accomplish – school administrators and aspiring leaders must determine their ideal (dream school). Then, they will use the skills and actions of instructional leadership, as outlined in the book, to make that ideal their reality.


5. How would you describe the difference between a boss and a leader?

Classroom board drawing of a large yellow arrow that says “leadership” with smaller white arrows following it. In the simplest terms, a boss manages employees, whereas a leader inspires and supports them to innovate, think creatively, and strive for perfection. We believe that being a leader is the only way to successfully run a school or district.

To that end, it’s important to state that when we talk about instructional leadership, we are talking about the art of inspiring a group of people toward achieving a common set of goals for learning and academic achievement.

K-12 principals can be BOSSES or LEADERS: What’s the difference? Instructional leadership means more than simply managing the building and employees.


6. Can you share the most common challenge principals deal with?

The most common challenge for principals is the misunderstanding of their role.

As we said before, many school leaders see themselves as bosses who can just tell teachers what to do, and then the teachers will do it. These principals get frustrated with teachers when they don’t “follow orders.” If these principals don’t change their mindset, they are bound to be disappointed.

We have worked in hundreds of schools across the nation and, unfortunately, this mindset is still prevalent in many schools. Many identify their challenges as the outside forces—teacher unions, unmotivated or disciplinary students, difficult teachers, or uninvolved parents. These aren’t the biggest challenge.

The biggest and most common challenge—and the one that the principal is in control of—is understanding their own role as a principal and the actions they must take to ensure student success.


7. Is there a difference between how a new principal and a long-time principal might implement the strategies in your book?

Throughout this book, you will find examples of the experiences of a variety of principals as they apply the skills of instructional leadership to lead a school-wide initiative.

For a brand-new principal, this book may provide the foundation for how they need to approach leading and the critical actions that will garner them greater results.

For an experienced principal, the strategies in this book may confirm, clarify, or introduce them to actions that will only make them stronger in their role.


8. Why is it important to develop aspiring leaders in the school pipeline and how can principals become more effective at this practice?

Female teacher stands in front of a classroom board where she wrote the word “learn” with an arrow down to the word “lead”We know that beyond the instruction in the classroom, principals have the greatest impact on student learning (Vega, 2013). If this role is crucial to student achievement, we need to ensure that we have highly effective principals in all schools. This will require a strong pipeline of candidates.

The candidates in the pipeline cannot just be people who aspire to be principals. We must have people who possess the skills of effective instructional leadership.

This requires that we first define what those skills are and what they look and sound like in practice. This book does just that. As principals develop more clarity and experience with instructional leadership skills, they will be able to support the development of these skills in aspiring principals and build a strong pipeline of future leaders.


9. What is the most crucial idea you want leaders to take away from this book?

Listen to your teachers. Principals spend a lot of time telling folks what to do. We are just asking them to spend as much time—if not more—listening to what folks are telling them.

Listen to the literal words and listen for what is behind the words. You will find out what your colleagues are thinking. This will help you offer more intentional, focused, and efficient support which, in turn, will ensure deeper implementation of the work you are implementing.

And in order to ensure your listening is focused, make sure you ask more questions than you make statements. Ask teachers how they process. Ask teachers how they make decisions. Ask teachers to share their strengths. Ask teachers to share their challenges. Ask them how they are feeling about their work.

By asking questions you will learn a lot about those you lead.


10. Do you have anything else to add?

Classroom board drawing of two people communicating ideas and questions.Principals need to communicate. And communicate once again.

In fact, overcommunicate as often as possible. A principal proficient in the skills of instructional leadership knows that what their audience hears is more important than how many times they need to say it.

This is crucial because teachers want strong leadership. They want and deserve a clear focus that they can all support that will lead towards school-wide increased student achievement. They want to be a part of a team where each individual understands their role in the initiative, supports each other in their success, and holds each other accountable.

Throughout the book, you will hear from teachers about the impact that instructional leadership has on them, why it is so important, and the value of it to their success and their students’ success.

Principals must communicate, communicate again – and in fact, OVERCOMMUNICATE. Teachers want and deserve a clear focus. Clarify individual roles and how to support each other and hold one another accountable.



McTighe, J. & Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding by design® framework. ASCD.

Vega, V. (2013). Teacher development research review: Keys to educator success. Edutopia.


About the Authors

 Robert Crowe

Robert Crowe is one of the co-founders of Elevated Achievement Group, a professional development company dedicated to helping educators develop student ownership at all grade levels and at all types of schools. He has worked extensively across the United States supporting district administrators, school administrators, teachers, students, and parents at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to implement standards-based curriculum, instruction, and assessment. He is the author of Developing Instructional Leadership and Developing Student Ownership with Jane Kennedy.


Jane Kennedy

Jane began her career over 25 year ago as a self-contained classroom teacher in an inner-city, urban setting with the majority of her students receiving Title I support and free-and-reduced lunch. She has since consulted with all types of districts – urban, suburban, and rural – as they implemented the latest curriculum, managing a team that worked directly with administrators and teachers, and developing processes that successfully supported the implementation of research-based reforms. Jane is now Chief Financial Officer of Elevated Achievement Group. She is also the author of Developing Instructional Leadership and Developing Student Ownership with Robert Crowe.



About LSI

Our vision for education is to close the achievement gap. Equip all students with the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Expand equity by giving every child access to rigorous core instruction that empowers learners to free themselves from generational poverty.

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