Creating Instructional LeadersBy Jill Anderson
Before Greta Anderson, Ed.M.’10, had even left Appian Way, she had already landed her “dream job.” Today she works as department math chair at John Dibert Community School — a turnaround charter belonging to the FirstLine Schools network — in New Orleans, where she says her education, particularly her participation in a pilot program called Instructional Leadership (IL) at HGSE has significantly influenced and shaped her daily duties.
“Without IL, I would come away without a more macro view of the systems and change in the classroom,” Anderson says. “When I think about what I’m doing right now like data analysis, I think about all the decisions we need to make and the gaps in math content knowledge.”
Anderson was one of eight students, who participated last year in the pilot program of IL, a one-year master’s program aimed toward educators who want to teach and take on leadership roles in their schools or districts. And, their experience proved valuable enough that IL has been adopted as a permanent strand under the Learning and Teaching Program (L&T).
“The pilot was very well received,” said Senior Lecturer Katherine Boles, director of the L&T and IL. “Students wanted a program that would be geared to them as instructional leaders. They did not want to be school principals but to improve their teaching craft and that’s exactly what they got last year.”
This new strand came at the perfect time, as Boles, along with Professor Susan Moore Johnson and Senior Lecturer Katherine Merseth, recognized a lack of focus in education on instructional leadership. IL is designed for individuals who have taught a minimum of three years in K-12 classrooms, but also seek to increase their influence in instruction and curriculum outside the classroom. The strand’s curriculum emphasizes leadership and content knowledge. Students are required to study school organization, adult development, special education or English Language Learning, as well as instructional leadership in a subject matter of their choosing. Additionally, IL students complete an internship focused on leadership at a school, district, or organization.
Boles notes IL’s curriculum strength is how it focuses on learning about leadership in a variety of ways. “They’re learning how to maneuver through schools’ bureaucracies and how to enlist administrators into their goal of developing instructional — not necessarily administrative — leadership roles for our finest teachers,” she says.
Kathryn Ribay, Ed.M.’10, says IL changed her thoughts on leadership. “I am more aware of the broad spectrum of leadership opportunities,” she shares. “I can recognize the many different types of leaders that exist within a school, both official and unofficial. In a system where those at the top often have no teaching experience, I am convinced of the need for educators who are highly effective as both leaders and teachers. I am also more aware than ever that teachers are often not respected as leaders or professionals, and that can be a major stumbling block.”
Currently, Ribay, works at a chemistry teacher at a public high school, where she continually uses what she learned in IL. “My practicum in particular gave me concrete ideas about organization and working within the system for the benefit of my students,” she says, noting that many aspects of the program helped her grow as an educator including advanced teaching methods courses with Associate Professor Tina Grotzer and Boles’ course Teachers, Leadership, and Power, where she learned that teaching goes beyond being able to work alongside other teachers.
“I have become braver at breaking down the barriers between classrooms by asking questions and problem solving together, because I realize that this is key to constantly improving our practice,” Ribay says. “Although I am not in an official leadership position, the Instructional Leadership Program’s two-pronged approach – developing as a teacher and developing as a leader – has proven highly useful in my current position.”
While Anderson recognizes that there is a unique opportunity in New Orleans for education reform, she foresees more positions geared toward instructional leaders in the future.
Johnson agrees. “Many schools have come to recognize the potential of increasing their instructional capacity by creating leadership roles for expert teachers, but they seldom are organized to prepare teachers for that work,” she says. ″Our IL Program does just that. Schools can look to us for teacher leaders to carry out this work and prospective teacher leaders will find a program that provides the courses and experiences they seek.”