Skip to main content

Instructional Leadership Strand Prepares Teachers for Additional Roles

For over 150 years, the teaching career has remained largely the same, with one teacher assigned to a set of courses and a class of students for the duration of the year. Today, however, more and more teachers are taking on new roles within their districts as teacher leaders, curriculum developers, mentors, and coaches.

This year the Ed School is piloting a new program under Learning and Teaching dubbed the Instructional Leadership (IL) strand -- a one-year master's program specifically aimed at those teachers who want to stay involved in teaching, while taking on leadership roles in their schools or districts. 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. Each teacher will be grounded in a subject area - science, mathematics, social studies, or English Language Arts at the elementary or secondary level.

"The goal is to provide teachers with avenues for growth without totally leaving the classroom," says Senior Lecturer Katherine Boles, director of the Learning and Teaching Program and IL. "Through the IL strand we will prepare teachers for roles in addition to classroom teaching."

Due to the pressures of high-stakes testing and No Child Left Behind, schools today need experts in subjects like math and English, who can help other teachers to improve their work. Boles and Professor Susan Moore Johnson realized schools were in dire need of guidance and instruction on such positions and served on an HGSE committee that explored ways to support experienced teachers through degree programs and professional development.

"Although there are efforts to create teams of teachers to improve teaching and learning in schools, only recently has there been a broad effort to appoint expert teachers as instructional coaches or teacher leaders," Johnson says. Yet, for many school districts, this process remains largely unstructured and with few professional requirements. More often than not, teachers are selected for these positions by what Johnson describes as "happenstance" rather than a deliberate process.

Many teachers find themselves being asked to assume these roles that include, for example, running a new teacher induction program, convening professional development with teachers, advising on technology, or consulting with teachers on assisting and evaluating teachers in need of improvement. As Boles and Johnson point out - all of these positions require additional expertise.

"There are many proposals for various teachers as leaders in their districts, but there really hasn't been an extensive preparation program that ensures they are grounded in a particular subject. These graduates will also have a specialty beyond that," Johnson says. "We have built elements into this program that are valuable to teachers but also to the schools and districts where they work."

"IL's unique curriculum, with its emphasis on organizational leadership and adult development, is vital for teachers who take on these leadership roles working with and advising colleagues," Boles says. Additionally, all students must undertake advanced study in their particular subject area. An internship component that focuses on leadership specialization at a school, district, or organization provides relevant work experience for the candidates.

This year there are eight students enrolled in the pilot program. The students say they are excited to be part of this trial run, especially something with a focus on instructional leadership, which they found particularly attractive for their careers.

"The Instructional Leadership strand of the Learning and Teaching Program allows me to explore in greater depth the complex interactions between the teacher, student, and subject matter," says master's candidate Therese Arsenault. "Foundation courses in organizational change, adult development, and advanced methods in teaching science provide varied lenses to view the role of instructional leader. An internship in a leadership capacity gives me the opportunity to apply theory to practice and to shape my purposes and philosophies. Monthly meetings with cohort peers provide an opportunity to share, question, and explore current instructional leadership topics. Overall, the program is broadening my understanding and opening up possibilities."

"In Singapore, the demand on school leaders to be effective instructional leaders is very high -- schools have the autonomy to explore innovative teaching approaches, and tailor curriculum to meet the needs of students," says master's student Haslinda Zamani. "The primary reason behind my coming to HGSE is so that I can improve my capacity as an instructional leader. I was thrilled that HGSE introduced Instructional Leadership as a pilot program. I felt confident that the learning offered by the Instructional Leadership pilot program would be rigorous and stimulating, and that it would enable me to return to Singapore a better school leader."

Next year the program hopes to attract and enroll between 20 and 25 students. Candidates must have at least three years of teaching experience and demonstrate a dedication to teaching and learning. Additionally, candidates must show an interest in continuing their involvement with classroom instruction while also working in the larger school environment. Graduates of the program will be well suited for part-time teaching in their respective subject, while also serving in specialized roles.

"If a district is looking for an experienced teacher, who is also an expert in data analysis, and how assessment data can inform instruction in school, then we will have those experts," Johnson says. "We expect our graduates to be in great demand."

A sampling of the students in the Instructional Leadership strand:

  • Greta Anderson
  • Therese Arsenault
  • Michael Holt
  • Kathryn Ribay
  • Haslinda Zamani


The latest research, perspectives, and highlights from the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Related Articles