Instructional Leadership in Action

Purpose is the Foundation for Both Leadership and Instruction

by Stephen Fink on Aug 28, 2012

Stephen_FinkOne thing is true for successful school leaders and teachers: both are intentional and explicit about the purpose of their actions, be it a school improvement strategy or a classroom lesson.

In high performing school districts, purpose permeates the system. At every level there is a clear understanding about intended outcomes and viable strategies to achieve those outcomes – the end game being student achievement.

But all too often, in school after school, district after district, we see a plethora of initiatives and practices that lack a clear purpose and connection to improving the practice necessary to increase student learning.

At the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership (CEL), our faculty members have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours leading classroom walkthroughs where, far too frequently, we have seen students engaged in tasks or activities that are not linked to an explicit and appropriate grade-level standard.   

And more often than not, we have noted that students don’t know what success looks like. Students we have observed, when asked, have difficulty answering the question, “What would it look like if I learned this and how would I know … and how would the teacher know?”   

At CEL, we know that a clear and well-articulated purpose is the foundation for both leadership and instruction. The most effective teachers and leaders use purpose to connect their strategies and actions to their desired results. And when it comes to closing the long-standing academic achievement gaps, the research bears out that students’ understanding of lesson purpose can greatly accelerate their learning.

That is why helping teachers and leaders to develop a clear understanding of purpose is central to our work -- whether we’re helping district leaders and principals lead for high-quality instruction, or promoting teacher effectiveness, or helping central office leaders to develop structures and practices that support principals and teachers in delivering high-quality instruction.

Our fall 2012 newsletter is devoted to the topic of purpose. Our goal is to connect (or reconnect) you to the CEL tools, case studies and resources that are helping thousands of leaders and teachers to make their work and their teaching more relevant, more targeted and more effective.

In Addressing Common Core and Student Learning Begins With Purpose, our colleague Jennifer McDermott describes how her work around purpose helped social studies and science teachers put into practice literacy strategies that truly support every student.

In the webinar, Three Keys to Improving Purposeful Instruction, Jennifer and CEL Associate Director Max Silverman explore the importance of the relationship between standards and the learning target.

The case study, A Clear Focus: Leadership Lessons in Purposeful Instruction, describes how a push for purpose in the Anchorage School District is creating pathways to more equitable education, critical in an increasingly diverse urban district.

I encourage you to make use of CEL’s resources as you develop your own expertise around purpose. Should you need support developing your district or school’s instructional expertise around purpose, feel free to contact us.

Topics: School Leadership, Teaching Effectiveness

About the author: Stephen Fink

Dr. Stephen Fink is affiliate professor of educational leadership and policy studies in the University of Washington College of Education. He served as the founding executive director of the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership (CEL) from 2001 to 2018. Dr. Fink is co-author of Leading for Instructional Improvement: How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise.

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