Instructional Leadership in Action

How to Get Started With the 4D Instructional Leadership Framework

by June Rimmer on Apr 22, 2015

4D-framework-v2-105277-editedWe developed the 4 Dimensions of Instructional Leadership™ to help principals, principal supervisors and other school leaders to become more effective in the improvement of instruction. Grounded in beliefs about equity, the use of data, and public practice, the framework describes the most important aspects of instructional leadership.

A few weeks ago we released an updated version of the 4D™ that describes the most important aspects of instructional leadership with more detail and clarity. Version 2.0 incorporates feedback from educators working as instructional leaders and reflects CEL's experience working with and learning from school leaders across the nation. This new version is also informed by CEL's review of current research published by the Wallace Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others.

If you are new to the 4D or just want to know what we changed to make the framework even more helpful, here is a short primer on some of the most important questions.

Why do school leaders need a framework?

Busy school leaders see a large number of "to-do" items cross their desks every day. Often, that means dealing with operations, discipline, compliance and other management challenges. While not mutually exclusive, the 4 Dimensions of Instructional Leadership are not designed to focus on these management issues. The 4D focuses on the improvement of instruction and offers a set of best practices that - if put into action - address the most important task for every school leader: the improvement of teaching and learning.

Just as it is important for educators in a school district and in individual schools to have a shared vision and a common language around what quality teaching looks and sounds like, it is essential that district and school leaders have a shared vision and common language on both the definition of instructional leadership and the description of effective instructional leadership behaviors. This shared understanding of instructional leadership practice should be evidence-based and drive leaders' day-to-day work, hiring processes, evaluation, and professional development.

What's new in version 2.0?

We worked hard to address the suggestions and needs expressed by our partners. Chief among them was a call for more specificity and a better explanation of each dimension. Building on new research and drawing on lessons from our partnership work, our team of instructional leadership experts looked at this issue from every possible angle and re-evaluated every element of the framework.

The result, coming after several months of work, is a document with much more specific language describing each vision and more guiding questions to assess current practice. We also added new subdimensions to provide focus areas within the context of a larger dimension. Two of the four dimensions ("Vision, Mission and Learning-Focused Culture" and "Management of Systems and Processes") even received more precise names to better clarify instructional leadership practice.

These changes should help school leaders more accurately identify strengths in their current instructional leadership and pinpoint areas for improvement.

Based on the feedback from educators, we also made sure to offer more guidance on how and when to use data. All efforts to improve teaching and learning should be based in data. But school leaders often struggle with properly using this important resource. The updated 4D indicates when it is important to use data and what instructional leaders need to keep in mind.

There are two through lines we tried to make more evident throughout the document: the use of data and equity. Every aspect of the instructional leader's work must be driven by data, evidence and the use of inquiry. These require a close examination of one's practice and encourage self-reflection, a useful step to improvement. They also bring about more clarity on current practice as leaders seek to improve practice.

Finally, instructional leadership must be grounded in equity, the idea that all students deserve an outstanding learning experience and understanding that each student may need a different set of supports to achieve the high expectations established for all. Every dimension of instructional leadership work must be viewed through an equity lens to help ensure the academic success of all students.

Educators need to make sure that every student has the chance to succeed and this framework helps instructional leaders create an environment where this is possible. While present in the original version of the 4D, we put an even stronger emphasis on equity and cultural responsiveness in this second iteration.

How should I use the framework?

The best way to get started with the framework is to assess how the "ideal vision" of the 4D aligns with your current instructional leadership practice. To get a full picture of your school's or district's strengths and weaknesses, you might want to work through each dimension. If you have a more specific challenge, zooming in on the relevant dimension or subdimension can also make sense.

Improving teaching and learning doesn't happen in a vacuum, so including others involved in instructional leadership when working with the 4D should be a top priority. Not only will this offer a fuller, more honest picture of current instructional leadership practices, it also points everybody in the same direction.

To start the discovery process, our instructional leadership framework includes guiding questions that help teams to reflect on their current practice. Discussing these questions often reveals gaps in practice and highlights areas of strength - a good way to start pinpointing areas for improvement. Based on this foundation and backed up by relevant data, school leaders and their teams can start planning improvement initiatives. Using our inquiry cycle tool, leadership teams can then move these initiatives forward and create a culture of continuous improvement. You can learn more about our inquiry cycle in our upcoming webinar or read a recent blog post on the four steps that help principals improve instruction. 

We all know that school leadership is second only to teaching in its potential influence on student learning. Here at CEL, we believe that instructional leadership is the most important component of school leadership. We created the 4 Dimensions of Instructional Leadership to offer a set of best practices that could guide instructional improvement efforts. I invite you to take a look at our instructional leadership framework and join us in our mission to ensure that every day, in every classroom, every student has a powerful learning experience.


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Topics: School Leadership, Instructional Leadership

About the author: June Rimmer

Dr. June Rimmer develops and manages district partnerships committed to building leaders’ expertise in instructional leadership and to transforming central office. Prior to joining the CEL team, June served in numerous leadership roles in urban education settings most recently as chief academic officer in Seattle. In addition she was part of a research team examining powerful student learning experiences that lead to 21st century skills and competence as well the system-level change needed at both the district and state levels to support 21st century learning. June’s professional interests lie in the design of equity-based instructional systems and building expertise in educators’ practice to ensure that all students, particularly our most vulnerable children, exit our systems able to thrive in our dynamic, interconnected, global community.

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