Signaling A New Educational Policy Age Education Essay


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Although the most influential individual impacting student learning daily is the classroom teacher, the principal, according to Glanz (2006), "coordinates, facilitates, and oversees the instructional process on a school-wide basis" (p.19). Monitoring the overall instruction in schools, Glanz goes so far as to claim that the principal "is the most important link or ingredient to ensure high student achievement" (p. 20). Others (Center for Comprehensive Reform and Improvement, 2005; Hargreaves & Fink, 2006) continue this thought by heralding that without powerful principal instructional leadership, schools are unlikely to improve student learning. Moody and Amos (1975) conducted a longitudinal study of one school where achievement scores increased over a two-year period when the principal was present. During his one-year absence, student achievement remained static, neither increasing nor decreasing. When the principal returned, once again achievement scores improved, yielding evidence of the importance of the principal's presence. With leadership amidst all other school-related variables contributing to the academic knowledge and skills acquired in schools (Leithwood et al., 2004), one must ask if there are specific leadership behaviors of principals that facilitate increased student academic performance. A review of the literature on the topics of instructional leadership and student achievement supported this study. First, the evolution of instructional leadership is presented followed by a discussion of principal leadership behaviors. Next is a synthesis of instructional leadership and student achievement literature. Lastly, a discussion of Hallinger's (2008) framework of instructional leadership completes the review.

The Evolution of Instructional Leadership

The construct of instructional leadership emerged from empirical research supporting both school improvement and the need for strong leadership (Brookover & Lezotte, 1977). Emanating from the report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, Coleman (1966) unveiled various social variables impacting school effectiveness, calling particular attention to the academic performance of impoverished children in the US, which emphasized the urgency for school improvement. Further substantiating this urgency, in 1979 Edmonds and his colleagues perpetuated the need for school improvement through their Effective Schools correlates in which they identified the principal as a key factor in improving student learning outcomes in thriving schools.

Continuing to bring national attention to the low and mediocre performance of students existing in US public schools, in the 1983 study A Nation at Risk, the National Commission for Excellence in Education revealed that 13% of 17 year olds were "functionally illiterate" (NCEE, 1983, p. 5) and 40% of minority youth struggled with literacy. Implying that students did not possess the reading and writing skills necessary to compete in a changing world, this study catapulted public officials and school boards to seek fundamental ways to reform the US educational system, looking to leadership as one of the necessary school improvement mechanisms.

Seeking to evaluate the progress of US students 25 years after A Nation at Risk indicted public and education leaders for low student academic performance, the US Department of Education (US DOE; 2008) in their report, A Nation Accountable: Twenty-five Years After a Nation at Risk asserted that the US remained "a nation at risk" (p. 3). Student learning outcomes had yet to substantively increase implying that the country's education system was "at best, running in place" (p. 9). Most noticeably according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP; as cited in US DOE, 2008) given in the fourth grade, of 20 students born in 1983, six (30%) met the reading standards while only four (20%) achieved the math standards. In contrast, of 20 children born in 1997, approximately seven (35%) were proficient in reading and eight (40%) in math. Although from 1983 to 1997 an improvement was noted in mathematics, two-thirds of the US fourth graders still lacked reading proficiency. Specifically, only 14% of black students and 6% of Hispanic students were proficient in this area. Progress remained dismal for minority students, reinforcing that the absence of momentous student improvement still existed. For example, when compared to their white peers, black students were two to three years behind in both reading and math.

While the US education system continues to face significant challenges, the current 21st century accountability movement has established a "new transparency in student achievement" (US DOE, 2008, p. 14). Demanding high performance, NCLB places accountability in the center of the US education system. This act requires each of the 50 states to enact a strong accountability structure based on high academic standards accompanied by annual assessments, which measures student progress against those standards (Paige, 2002). Moreover, NCLB expects all students (100%) including students with disabilities, limited English proficiency, racial minorities, and those economically disadvantaged, to demonstrate "adequately yearly progress" (AYP) on state assessments by 2014 (USDOE, 2002), placing the burden for improved academic achievement precisely on the shoulders of principals. NCLB demands principals refocus their energies on increasing student achievement (Gentilucci & Muto, 2007). Requiring all principals to produce high levels of academic performance for all students, NCLB calls for "a necessary but often missing, ingredient for satisfactorily achieving learning results": instructional leadership (Ruebling, Stow, Kayona, & Clarke, 2004, p. 243).

While there have been many efforts to reform education, although comparatively fewer in instructional leadership, accountability measures have called principals to move beyond their reliance on the individual leadership traits echoed in Carlyle's "Great Man Theory" of the 19th century (as cited in Chemers, 1997). To improve the quality of schools as measured by student achievement, the focus must now shift to the instructional behaviors (Hallinger & Murphy, 1986; Andrews & Soder, 1989) of those principals. So, what instructional behaviors are best designed to enhance the effectiveness of schools?

Instructional Leadership Behaviors

After four decades of reformation and improvement efforts, the principal continues to emerge as a key element in school effectiveness. Considerable attention, if not rigorous inquiry, has been particularly devoted to one dimension of the principalship: instructional leadership (Hallinger & Murphy, 1987; Portin et al., 2003; Ruebling et al., 2004; Ruff & Shoho, 2005). During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, two dichotomous perspectives of instructional leadership emanated: the narrow and the broad (Sheppard, 1990). From the "narrow" view, researchers characterized instructional leadership as a distinctly separate entity of the principal's duties and responsibilities (Murphy, 1988). For example, Leithwood (1994) concretized the principal's instructional leadership as solely the behaviors influencing curriculum, instruction, professional development, and supervision. These behaviors were seen not only apart from the regular duties of managing the school, but also disconnected from the mission, the vision, and the overall school culture (Murphy, 1988).

From the "broad" perspective of instructional leadership, all practices affecting student learning are embraced (Donmoyer & Wagstaff, 1990; Murphy, 1988). DiPaola and Tschannen-Moran (2003) described this type of leadership as a broad set of principal responsibilities designed to address the needs of teachers and improve academic achievement. Further reinforcing this perspective, Zepeda (2004) noted,

Instructional leadership involves knowing what good teaching is and how good teaching leads to student learning. Building a vision for student success and instructional leadership is an ongoing reflective process, and building the vision among the members of the school community is an iterative process that begins with the instructional leader looking within for the core values and beliefs that motivate her to act on these values and beliefs. (p. 1)

Establishing the Vision

Fulfilling the responsibilities of an instructional leader requires principals to establish a vision. Effective principals understand that clearly defining the direction of their schools garners the commitment of teachers and creates the foundation for increasing student achievement (Stronge et al., 2008). Engaging all stakeholders including teachers, students, parents, and community constituents to participate in establishing the vision, principals work intensely to articulate this vision through daily leadership practices (Mendez-Morse, 1991). Studying 24 thriving schools, Peterson, Gok, and Warren (1995) found that successful "principals talked enthusiastically and engagingly about what the school stands for in a language that all stakeholders could understand" and "they used multiple approaches to developing, communicating, and applying an educational vision. Sometimes the vision for the school was part of a mission, statement of beliefs, or slogans-but leaders were able to tell people what they stand for" (p.5).

Similarly, in their study of successful urban minority schools, Johnson and Asera (1999) indicated that nine principals articulated and pursued an attainable first goal: an important vision. Focusing on the achievement of this initial goal, they gained success and then utilized it to adventure toward more aggressive objectives. Mendez-Morse (1991) went so far as to say that principals should not just have a strong vision; they must have a specific vision driven by commitment and the "belief that there are ways to do schooling so that literally all children do well" (p. 468). These actions are observed and interpreted by all stakeholders as what is important.

Sharing Leadership

Sharing leadership throughout the local school is indispensable to a school's effectiveness (Hargreaves & Fink, 2003). Recognizing that the quality of any school depends upon synergy, effective principals, according to Stronge et al. (2008), know that working in isolation makes achieving instructional goals fundamentally impossible. Furthermore, these principals understand that achieving common objectives demands extensive and constant collaboration (Kyrtheotis & Pashiardis, 1998).

Voluminous research (Cotton, 2003; Hallinger & Heck, 1996; Hargreaves & Fink, 2003; Leech et al., 2008; Leithwood & Riehl, 2003; Marzano et al 2003; Portin et al., 2003; Quinn, 2002; Shen & Hsieh; 1999; Spillane et al., 2001) has repeatedly confirmed that when principals invest in teachers through shared leadership and governance, "everybody benefits, including students" (Cotton, 2003, p. 6). In their study on teacher empowerment, Blase and Blase (1994) found that "successful principals were those whose staffs had attained high levels of empowerment and participative decision making" (p. 12). Such a need for shared leadership emerged not solely from the monotonous truism that "many heads are better than one" (Cotton, 2003, p. 22), but also from the fact that there is an unusual abundance of decisions in local schools for one individual to manage successfully. After examining the time-use patterns of five average and five highly successful principals, Gaziel (1995) concluded that

the excessive work load, with the variety of activities, the mixture of external and internal

concerns, the range of people encountered, and the dominance of information transmission involved in the work, indicates that the principal should adopt a team managerial view. He or she cannot run the organization alone. The delegation of authority can help in overcoming interruptions and the excessive workload, as indicated by the distribution of time of the principals at high-performing schools as opposed to that of the principals at average schools. (p. 188-189)

Entrusting teachers with such a critical responsibility of authority empowers them. In a qualitative meta-analysis exploring leadership styles of principals expanding over a 50-year time span, Thomas (1997) found that involving all faculty and staff in the decision-making process fundamentally affected the school's success, having the greatest impact on both teacher morale and student achievement. Additionally, he noted there were extensively more interactions in thriving schools than those considered ordinary. Thomas further characterized these schools as more effective in accomplishing desired outcomes including quality professional development, improved teaching and learning, and a responsive and innovative environment. Conley and Goldman (1994) ascertained that sharing authority and leadership not only empowered teachers but it also enhanced the overall climate of the school. Most noticeably, the school instructional programs improved, resulting in high student performance levels. Implicit in the notion of shared leadership is that the attainment of school goals requires the collective efforts of both principals and teachers (Krytheotis & Pashiardis, 1998). According to Stronge et al. (2008), if principals are to transform their schools into learning-focused communities, they must tap into the expertise of teachers located within the local schools. As school leaders, it is also necessary to provide teachers with professional developmental opportunities in order to ensure school effectiveness.

Providing Professional Development Opportunities

Brody (1977) stated, "once in a great while, an outstanding teacher is born. But in most cases, excellent teachers are made. People have to be encouraged and helped to become good teachers" (p. 28). Research (Blase & Blase, 2001; Cotton, 2003; Fullan et al., 2004) has consistently attributed principals' success to the professional learning opportunities they provide to their staffs. Advancing this notion, Stronge et al. (2008) confirmed that principals who afforded teachers and support personnel every chance to grow and develop professionally, established productive environments where students and teachers excel. Acknowledging that professional development is anchored in learning, improved instructional practice, and increased student achievement, the National Staff Development Council (NSDC, 2001) noted that "quality teaching in all classrooms necessitates skillful leadership" (¶ 2) at all levels including the local school and the classroom. When it comes to developing teachers, highly effective principals not only go the distance in implementing professional development initiatives but also in supporting and coordinating them.

Supporting professional development. The principal's support of professional development impacts overall school improvement. Weiss and Pasley (2006), while evaluating the effectiveness of content-specific professional learning, concluded that the principal's support was crucial. They noted that those leading professional development (PD) efforts "cited principal support as the most important factor in determining teacher participation in PD and developing a supportive context for reform in schools" (p. 11). In a similar school reform study, Bodily et al. (1998) further confirmed the principal support of professional learning as a vital component for program implementation, effectiveness, and sustainment. Additionally, they noted in schools where implementation was ineffective, teachers characterized principals as non- supportive, which often led to internal contentions that frequently hindered school success. In contrast, after comparing principals in high-performing schools with those in low-performing, Gaziel (1995) revealed that those leaders in high achieving schools allotted the largest amount of time for professional development. He went on to note that these principals not only developed creative ways to make professional development happen but also established meaningful ways to support it. From Bamburg and Andrews (1991) viewpoint, principals supported professional learning by locating and providing funds, personnel, time, training, and materials aimed at addressing schools instructional needs. Given the preceding context, successful principals, according to Johnson and Asera (1999), ensure teachers have adequate resources and training needed to assist students in achieving at high levels. When principals support professional learning, the needs of teachers and students are met, resulting in measured school improvement (Blase & Blase, 2001; Cotton, 2003; Fullan et al., 2004).

Coordinating professional development. Coordinating professional development opportunities manifests as another essential component influencing school improvement (Stronge et al., 2008). Although professional learning can be initiated by anyone, it is the principal who must ensure that the learning experiences meet the teachers' needs and accomplishes the overall school goal (Blase & Blase, 2001). After examining what leads to successful school reformation, Fullan and his colleagues (2004) noted the significance of planning and offering organized professional learning opportunities. They revealed that in Chicago Public Schools, "principals and teacher leaders head teams that drive the school's coordinated professional learning and goals" (p. 43). In addition, the Charlotte Advocates for Education (2004), in a study involving 20 principals from North Carolina schools, denoted that successful school leaders offered specialized opportunities embedded within the school for staff members to learn continuously, recognizing the connection between student learning and professional development.

Portin et al. (2003) provided a summary of the integral role principals play in coordinating professional development. He stated, "finally, the human resource function included professional development of staff. For teachers, school-based inservice training and development required a nimble principal who could both gain access to resources and match development activities to the school's strategic goals" (p. 26). Successful "principals [need to] make quality professional development happen and count in their schools" (Stronge et al., 2008, p. 52) by employing leadership behaviors and targeted actions. Fundamentally, this ensures professional learning opportunities that are meaningful and focused on student learning (Rueblin et al., 2004).

Focusing on High Levels of Student Learning

Beyond establishing a vision, sharing school leadership, and providing professional development opportunities, effective principals consistently remain focused on achieving high levels of student learning (Cotton, 2003). Receiving empirical support, a targeted focus on student achievement tarries as the only mediating variable consistently interacting with school leadership (Cotton, 2003; Leithwood & Riehl, 2003; Hallinger & Heck, 1996; Manassee, 1985; Marzano et al., 2005; Portin et al., 2003; Shen & Hsieh, 1999; Wise, 2001; Zmuda, Kuklis, & Kline, 2004). Mendro's (1998) study of the Dallas Independent School District revealed the strength of zeroing in on student learning outcomes. For several years, this school district utilized benchmarks to determine the qualities of effective and ineffective schools. Using benchmark data, the district along with Mendro examined elements common among high achieving schools. The findings unveiled the following:

1. Effective schools had achievement as a major focus.

2. The staff in effective schools expected students to achieve.

3. The principals of effective schools did not tolerate ineffective teachers. (p. 264)

Of the three elements noted by Mendro, two-student performance as a building wide focus and high learning expectations for students-are focused unambiguously on establishing desired student outcomes and holding stead-fast to them. The third element, not tolerating ineffective teachers, is a coherent and vigorous practice in which principals of high-performing schools hold all personnel including themselves responsible for student achievement. In a similar study, Cawelti (1999) examined one benchmark school located in the following states: New York, Texas, Ontario, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kansas. He concluded that each school consistently committed their efforts toward increasing student achievement. Further revealing this focus, he noted, "in four of the six schools, the principals stated unabashedly that their main goal is to improve results on state assessments and other standardized tests" (p. 63). On the contrary, Sammons, Hillman, and Mortimore (1995) studied and compared high, low, and average performing schools. They asserted that

schools in the less effective group acknowledged that, in the past, too little emphasis had been placed on student achievement, and it was recognized that considerable efforts to raise teachers' and students' expectations and emphasize the school's teaching and learning functions were needed. (p. 306)

Similarly, Reed, along with his colleagues (2001), explored principal behaviors regarding student learning and high-stakes assessments. They professed,

principals in lower performing schools are more likely to modify their leadership focus to place a greater emphasis on improving test scores. Principals in higher performing schools seemed to focus on educating the whole child rather than simply concentrating on raising test scores. (p. 12)

Considering principal leadership to be more about focusing on student performance, effective principals demonstrate "a constant push for improvement and the right combination of pressure to improve, along with meaningful support for the improvement initiatives" (Sergiovanni, 1984, p. 13). Fundamentally, according to Stellar (1998), the principal has one singular leadership thrust: "to ensure that all students learn" (p. 18) and it exemplifies the focused actions principals take to make this goal a reality. For successful principals, "everything they do is about the students" (Stronge et al., 2008, p. 145) in which they serve. The most substantial measure of principals' effectiveness is that in the end, students are better for having spent time in their schools (Stronge et al., 2008).

Instructional Leadership and Student Achievement

Several researchers (Cotton, 2003; Dinham, 2004; Fisher & Frey, 2002; Gamage, 2009; Hallinger & Heck, 1998; Janerette & Sherretz, 2007; Kearney, 2005) have acknowledged instructional leadership as the most significant variable enhancing student achievement. Andrew and Soder (1987) explored this phenomenon in a two-year study involving 33 elementary schools within the Seattle School District. They identified 12 leadership functions of principals presumed to increase student performance. Andrew and his colleague further connected four of these behaviors including resource provider, instructional resource, communicator, and visible presence to both reading and mathematics performance. For example, they noted a normal equivalent gain of 59 points in reading and a 44-point gain in mathematics over a two-year period. The findings from Andrew and Soder's study validated the influence of leadership on student learning outcomes and perpetuated further exploration of the two constructs.

Heck, Larsen, and Marcoulides (1990) used previous instructional leadership frameworks (Bossert et al., 1982; Hallinger & Murphy, 1987; Pitner & Hocevar, 1987) to examine the relationship between student learning outcomes and instructional leadership. They endeavored to "test a theoretical causal model concerning how elementary and secondary school principals can influence school-wide student achievement through the frequency of implementation of certain instructional leadership behaviors" (p. 94). Seeking to enhance an awareness of the degree by which principals within various social contexts impact student learning performance, Heck and his colleagues administered the Instructional Activity Questionnaire (IAQ)-which measure the frequency of 34 instructional leadership practices of principals (Larsen & Hartry, 1987)-to 18 elementary and high schools principals in California. In their findings, Heck et al. concluded:

The instructional leadership role of the principal is one key element in a conceptual framework that recognizes the importance of the school's social context in determining

student achievement. Clearly, instructional leadership is a multidimensional construct. How the principal and teachers are able to organize and coordinate the work life of the

school shapes not only the learning experiences and achievement of students, but also the

environment in which the work is carried out. The identification of a set of principal instructional leadership behaviors that are directly associated with school achievement

outcomes serves as the basis for developing criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of

principal performance and lead to more effective preparation programs for school

administrators. (p. 122)

Further establishing the importance of instructional leadership as one of the key factors in creating student success, Cotton (2003), in a meta-analysis also evaluated the relationship between principals and the academic outcomes of students. She analyzed 81 reports, encompassing 49 studies at the elementary level, 23 at the high school level, five comprehensive studies and four handbook synthesis and empirical protocols on principals' leadership behaviors. The reports were primarily from high poverty US schools. Based on her review, Cotton ascertained that those principals who were competent and actively engaged within the school's academic program had high levels of student achievement than those who focused solely on the managerial functions in their schools. Moreover, she further advanced that principals in high performing schools exhibited 25 leadership behaviors:

1. Safe and orderly environment

2. Vision and goals focused on high levels of student learning

3. High expectations for student learning

4. Self-confidence, responsibility, and perseverance

5. Visibility and accessibility

6. Positive and supportive climate

7. Communication and interaction

8. Emotional and interpersonal support

9. Parent and community outreach and involvement

10. Rituals, ceremonies, and other symbolic actions

11. Shared leadership, decision making, and staff empowerment

12. Collaboration

13. Instructional leadership

14. Ongoing pursuit of high levels of student learning

15. Norm of continuous improvement

16. Discussion of instructional issues

17. Classroom observation and feedback to teachers

18. Support of teachers' autonomy

19. Support of risk taking

20. Professional development opportunities and resources

21. Protecting instructional time

22. Monitoring student progress and sharing findings

23. Use of student progress for program improvement

24. Recognition of student and staff achievement and

25. Role modeling. (p. 67)

Although Cotton did not quantify her findings, her conclusions were straightforward denoting that principal leadership does have an effect on student learning outcomes.

Employing a narrative approach similar to Cotton's (2003), Leithwood et al. (2004) in their meta-analysis study also investigated effective practices in school leadership and the effect on student learning. Estimating the correlation of the two constructs to be between .17 and .22, they concluded, "leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn in school" (p. 7). Whereas Cotton (2003) purported 25 leadership practices, Leithwood et al. established three distinctive practices as the "core of successful leadership" (p.8): setting direction, developing people, and redesigning the organization.

Similarly, Waters et al. (2004) in a meta-analytic study examined whether the effectiveness of principal leadership had a significant relationship to student performance. In addition, they endeavored to identify leadership functions that impacted student achievement the most. Analyzing 70 leadership studies involving 2,894 schools, 14,000 teachers, and 1.4 million students, they concluded that instructional leadership was an essential variable, as it correlates positively with student achievement (r =.25). Additionally, Waters and his colleagues (2004) revealed 21 leadership responsibilities that also correlate positively with student learning outcomes (see Table 1).

Table 1

The 21 Responsibilities and their Correlations (r) with Student Academic Achievement


Responsibilities Correlation (r)


Affirmation .19

Change agent .25

Contingent rewards .25

Communication .23

Culture .25

Discipline .27

Flexibility .28

Focus .24

Ideals and beliefs .22

Input .25

Intellectual stimulation .24

Involvement in curriculum, instruction, and assessment .20

Knowledge of curriculum, instruction, and assessment .25

Monitoring and evaluating .27

Optimizer .20

Order .25

Outreach .27

Relationships .18

Resource .25

Situational awareness .33

Visibility .20


Findings from this study revealed that successful principals have an extensive understanding of these leadership practices and have become cognizant of when to apply them (Waters et al., 2004). Furthermore, these principals as instructional leaders know how to balance the various components of the school such that high academic performance is promoted pervasively.

Principal as Instructional Leader

When inquiring about the role of the principal as an instructional leader, few people would disagree that the principalship is "multifaceted, hectic, and fraught with uncertainties" (Zepeda, 2007, p. 1). As a result of the consistent pressure for accountability, the position of principal has shifted from a managerial to a results focus. Although there are several important daily administrative activities that often distract them from the essential work of instructional leadership, Hoy and Hoy (2006) maintained, "no matter how important this 'other' work is, schools are about teaching and learning; all other activities are secondary to these basic goals" (p. 1). Principals must consistently be in a posture advancing continuous learning while simultaneously cultivating teachers who are expected to educate students to a higher level of achievement (Zepeda, 2007).

In addition, Tirozzi (2001) has asserted that, "The principals of tomorrow's schools must be instructional leaders who possess the requisite skills, capacities, and commitment to lead the accountability parade, not follow it" (p. 438). To secure this challenge, he further declared that principals will need to establish themselves as instructional leaders by

1. Setting the tone for their building;

2. Facilitating the teacher and learning process;

3. Providing leadership and direction to their schools' instructional programs and


4. Spending significantly more time evaluating staff and mentoring new teachers;

5. Sustaining professional development for themselves and their staff members; and

6. Nurturing personalized school environments for all students. (p. 438)

Since school stakeholders hold principals accountable for placing learning at the forefront for both teachers and students, principals as instructional leaders must be equipped to lead now (Zepeda, 2007).

A review of the literature illustrated several viewpoints relative to the role of principals as instructional leaders. In 1999, a Policy Brief by the US Department of Education, noted that principals, as instructional leaders must commit

the bulk of their time, energy, and talents to improving the quality of teaching and

learning. Leaders… have a deep understanding of teaching and learning, including

new teaching methods that emphasize problem solving and student construction of

knowledge. Good instructional leaders have a strong commitment to success for all

students and are especially committed to improving instruction for groups of students

who are not learning now. (¶ 2)

In 1996, the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA), which governs the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC), composed a set of standards for instructional leaders. These standards represent the broad, high-priority theme that instructional leaders must address in order to promote the success of every student. One standard explicitly addresses teaching and learning. It states, "A school administrator is an instructional leader who promotes the success of all students by advocating, nurturing, and sustaining a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth" (p. 12). Subsequently, in 2001, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) characterized principals as instructional leaders who make student and adult learning the priority; set high expectations for performance; gear content and instruction to standards; create a culture of continuous learning for adults; use multiple sources of data to assess learning; and activate the community's support for school success.

Aiming to examine the impact of effective instructional leadership on classroom teaching, Blase and Blase (2000) conducted research on the principal role as an instructional leader and it impacts teaching and learning. Utilizing 809 elementary, middle, and senior high school teachers in the Southeastern, Midwestern, and Northeastern region of the US, they collected data by administering open-ended questionnaires. Their findings postulated that effective instructional leaders empowered teachers to judiciously reflect on their instructional practices. Additional conclusions indicated that the role of principals as instructional leaders involve focusing on professional learning and enhancing in teaching and learning.

Quinn (2002) also conducted a study exploring the role of school principal as an instructional leader. Employing questionnaires, he investigated the power of the principal as a change agent to improve student learning. He randomly surveyed 24 schools across Missouri using the Achieving Success through School Improvement Site Teams (ASSIST). The ASSIST contained 94 Likert-type items measuring the organizational components of schools such as strong leadership, dedicated staff, student progress, high expectations, positive learning climate, early identification of learning problems, curriculum continuity, multicultural education, and gender equity. Quinn also used subscales to assess the instructional leadership of principals. In an effort to determine the level of active classroom involvement for students and teachers, observations based on the Instructional Practices Inventory (IPI) were completed. After analyzing the data and performing a Pearson-product moment correlation, he found that a relationship existed between principals who were strong instructional leaders and academic performance. In addition, he asserted that the role of principals as instructional leaders entailed "providing resources and instructional support, communicating, and being visible" (p. 459).

Likewise, Hallinger and Murphy (1986) examined the procedures of chosen successful school factors in eight effective California elementary schools of varying student socioeconomic status (SES). In their study based on various research modes including survey, interviews, and documentary analyses, they purposed to extend an understanding of how schools serving student populations of varying SES promoted high levels of student learning. They used a conceptual framework established from effective schools research, effective instruction, organizational change, and student delinquency. Within their framework, Hallinger and Murphy viewed school effectiveness as actions and processes that included clearing school mission, tightly coupled curriculum, opportunity to learn, instructional leadership, home-school cooperation and support, widespread student rewards and high expectations. Finding differing degrees of variances between high- and low- SES effective schools across all seven factors, Hallinger and Murphy (1986) further advanced strong instructional leadership as a key factor in creating effective schools and identified three characteristics of effective school principals as instructional leaders:

1. A strong results orientation,

2. A related concern for systematically monitoring student progress, and

3. A preference for high visibility and informal supervisory strategies. (p. 342)

Although differences existed in the appearance of the principals' instructional leadership, it was evident in seven of the eight effective schools. Hallinger and Murphy ascertained that the differences in the principals' instructional leadership styles were related to the context of the school. In the low SES schools, principals took a very directive role in the choosing, developing, and implementing academic programs. Having a clear vision of how the school needed to be organized, they maintained tight control over classroom instruction. In addition, these principals were forceful in instituting high expectations and high standards school wide. They also held themselves and teachers accountable for student achievement, and were characterized by teachers as being integral to the school's high achievement levels and influenced the behavior and attitudes of teachers.

On the other hand, principals in the high-SES schools tended to have less direct control over classroom instruction, respecting teacher autonomy with regard to instructional decision-making. Orchestrating more from the background, these principals exclusively exerted control over the decision-making process when achievement scores fail below the established target. Whereas teachers described them as successful instructional leaders, they seldom characterized them as the essential factor to school effectiveness (Hallinger & Murphy, 1986). These findings yield support to the argument that "leadership is malleable and context dependent rather than fixed" (p. 343). Specifically, Hallinger and Murphy's findings imply that the very nature of instructional leadership is subject to the context of the organization (Bossert et al., 1982).

Philip Hallinger's Instructional Leadership Dimensions

School improvement research conducted in the 1970s deemed principal leadership essential to successfully executing reform. Findings from this research were further confirmed by researchers (Hallinger, 1992; Smith & Andrews, 1984; Tucker, 2003) who endeavored to identify the characteristics of "instructionally effective schools" (Hallinger, 2009, ¶ 2). Emanating from such successful schools research was the notion that effective schools had principals who engaged in leading curriculum and instructional programs within their schools. Principals engaged as instructional leaders contrasted with the typical depiction of school leaders who mainly focused on managerial activities of the principalship. This portrayal created a sense of urgency causing principals to give instructional leadership priority in the 1980s. Subsequently, researchers have made significant progress in defining the roles of instructional leaders, presenting key leadership techniques, approaches and behaviors. These advances led to the construction of the first instrument designed to measure instructional leadership. More specifically, they led to the development of Hallinger's (1982) Principal Instructional Management Rating Scale (PIMRS).

The PIMRS assesses three dimensions of instructional leadership: Defining the School's Mission, Managing the Instructional Program, and Promoting a Positive School Learning Climate (Hallinger & Murphy, 1985).These dimensions are further defined into 10 specific instructional leadership functions. The following table outlines Hallinger's dimensions and the 10 job functions.

Table 2

Three Dimensions of Instructional Leadership Defined by Hallinger.

Defining the School Mission

Managing the Instructional Program

Promoting a Positive School Learning Climate

Framing the school goals

Communicating the school goals

Coordinating the curriculum

Supervising and evaluating instruction

Monitoring student progress

Protecting instructional time

Providing incentives for teachers

Providing incentives for learning

Promoting professional development

Maintaining high visibility

Two functions, Framing the School Goals and Communicating the School Goals, encompass the first dimension, Defining the School Mission. These functions entail the principal's role in working with staff members to ensure that the school has specified goals aimed at increasing on student achievement. After school goals are defined, communicating their significance widely to all staff remains an important charge for principals. The dimension does not assume principals establish the mission alone. However, it does assume that they are primarily responsible for ensuring one exists and for communicating it to all stakeholders (Hallinger, 2008).

The second dimension of Hallinger's (2008) PIMRS is Managing the Instructional Program. It involves three leadership functions: Supervising and Evaluating Instruction, Coordinating the Curriculum, and Monitoring Student Progress. Within this dimension, principals are viewed as managers of the technical core of schools. In larger schools, it is evident that the development of schools' instructional programs is a shared assignment. Nevertheless, this framework presumes that the establishment of the curriculum program is the key leadership responsibility of the principal.

The third dimension, Promoting a Positive School Learning Climate includes five leadership functions: Protecting Instructional Time, Promoting Professional Development, Maintaining High Visibility, Providing Incentives for Teachers, and Providing Incentives for Learning (Hallinger, 2008). This dimension involves a scope and purpose broader than the previous two dimensions. It conforms to the belief that effective schools create an academic press through the development of challenging standards, high expectations, and a culture of continuous improvement.

When it comes to individually measuring these dimensions, PIMRS identifies the effective behaviors of principals as self-reported by principals. In addition, it pinpoints patterns in the principal instructional leadership and can be utilized to highlight relative emphasis emitted to the different aspects of the instructional leadership role. (Hallinger & Taraseina, 2001). According to Hallinger and Taraseina, "It should be emphasized here that a high score on a particular job function does not necessarily indicated effective performance, only active leadership in that area" (p. 6). Therefore, those principals who achieve a high rating on a specific leadership function are only recognized as "engaging more frequently in instructional leadership behaviors and practices associated with effective schools" (Hallinger, 2008, p. 9).


Throughout the literature, research (Dufour, 2002; Edmonds, 1979; Lezotte, 1992) has identified school principals as significant figures in school reform. Principals have been revealed as promising elements and critical catalysts for change and increased student achievement (Barth, 1990). Cross and Rice (2000) noted that without an effective principal, it is impossible to create a successful school. They further attained, "It is the principal's passionate commitment to the student academic achievement that makes the difference between a highly successful school and one that is content with the status quo (p. 61). The common assertion in the literature is that "effective schools have principals who are effective instructional leaders" (Niece, 1993, p. 14). As instructional leaders, principals employ specific instructional leadership behaviors that impact student learning (Baron & Uhl, 1995).

While the review of the literature provides a foundation for exploring this interaction between the principal leadership behaviors and student achievement, empirical evidence supporting a direct connection is limited. The following research questions emerged rendering guidance for this study:

RQ1. How does the self-reported instructional leadership behaviors of distinguished Title I elementary school principals differ from the self-reported instructional leadership behaviors of Non-Title I elementary school principals, as measured by the PIMRS?

RQ2. Is there a significant interaction between the principal instructional leadership behavior scores as perceived by principals in Distinguished Title I and Non-Title I elementary schools, and the level of student achievement in AYP grades three, four, and five reading/language arts and mathematics as measured by the GA CRCT?

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