A principal smiling in the library
For Administrators

Instructional Inquiry for School Leaders

By The Room 241 Team November 21, 2018

The University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership (CEL) developed an instructional leadership inquiry cycle tool that helps principal supervisors and principals collaboratively engage in a continuous process of instructional improvement and analysis. The inquiry tool directly correlates to CEL’s 5D instructional framework and rubric, making the process of instructional development easy and cohesive.

Instructional leadership in action

Instructional leadership involves setting clear goals, managing curriculum, monitoring lesson plans, allocating resources, and evaluating teachers regularly to promote student learning and growth. Quality of instruction is the top priority for the instructional principal. Instructional leadership is committed to the core business of teaching, learning, and knowledge. Staff members should meet on a regular basis to discuss how to do their jobs better and ultimately help students learn more effectively.

Principals can act as transformational leaders: captains who trust their crew to help design and carry out improvements. They create a culture of continuous progress, ever aiming to create the best learning environment for students. “A shift in mindset empowers leaders to create change, not respond to change,” writes Eric Sheninger, author of Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today and senior fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE).

Leaders can start to pioneer change and improvement by reflecting upon and identifying their current practices and then considering how to challenge them to make room for new ideas and methods. “Transformational leaders consistently make observations, listen intently, leverage a growth mindset and, most importantly, take action to improve the organization,” says Sheninger. The 5D inquiry cycle tool provides an easy-to-use framework for collaboratively elevating teacher practice and student performance.

The 5D Framework

The 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning” instructional framework includes five components. According to CEL, “each dimension is derived from an extensive study of research on what constitutes quality instruction and is foundational to what expert observers pay attention to in classrooms.” The first five dimensions of the “5D+ Rubric for Instructional Growth and Teacher Evaluation” align exactly to the “5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning,” creating a cohesive framework for observing, improving, and assessing teacher practice and student learning. The five dimensions of CEL’s 5D instructional framework are:

  1. Purpose
  2. Student Engagement
  3. Curriculum & Pedagogy
  4. Assessment of Student Learning
  5. Classroom Environment & Culture
  6. Professional Collaboration & Communication

The 5D inquiry cycle tool

The inquiry tool helps principals and teachers work together to surface an instructional focus, set goals, determine instructional practices, and analyze student outcomes. The inquiry process has four steps.

1. Analyze evidence

In this stage, a teacher engages in self-assessment to determine an area of focus for their classroom practice. The teacher can begin this step by reviewing student work, assessments, and feedback from students. It’s also important to consider students’ strengths and challenges.

Next, teachers should review the school, district, or state’s learning goals for students and consider how these align with the students’ learning challenges. CEL recommends that teachers assess their instructional practice using “The 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning” instructional framework and the “5D+ Rubric for Instructional Growth and Teacher Evaluation,” and taking time to cite evidence from day-to-day classroom practice to support assessments for each rubric indicator. Finally, using the rubric, teachers should consider their own strengths and areas for growth.

2. Determine a focus

In this second stage, teachers and principals work together to analyze the evidence examined in step one to ultimately choose an area of focus for the forthcoming inquiry cycle. Within this area of focus, teachers and principals should set instructional goals and determine the evidence needed to measure the goal’s progress and success.

3. Implement and support

Once goals are established, the teacher and principal work together to implement the work and “engage in study and learning around an area of focus.” This stage includes things like feedback cycles, collaboration time, professional development, common planning time, and classroom teaching time.

4. Analyze the impact

After the determined work time, it’s time to analyze the results. The 5D inquiry tool asks, “Based on your inquiry, what did you learn about your practice as it impacts student learning?” At this stage, a teacher and principal work together to study student data and the impacts of the chosen line of inquiry, going back to the 5D+ Rubric. Based on the results, the team should decide whether to continue the same line of inquiry or develop a new strategy or area of study.

Questions based on challenges or goals

Throughout the Instructional Leadership Inquiry Cycle’s four phases, both school leaders and teachers are asked to develop research questions based on student challenges, school or district goals, and the teacher’s classroom goals. This can often be a sticking point in the process, as leaders and classroom teachers may struggle to express their goals.

The New York State Education Department shares the following questions in their Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework:

  • How do you help students look back on their learning and refine their learning process?
  • How do you help students solidify their understanding and practice new skills?
  • How do you develop a classroom culture that promotes serious learning and sophisticated forms of thinking?
  • How do students demonstrate their learning and what kinds of evidence do you collect to assess their progress?
  • How do you help students look back on their learning and refine their learning process?

Other questions to consider:

  • What are the strengths and challenges of student learning?
  • What are the related instructional strengths and challenges of the teaching practice?
  • What type of evidence will be collected to determine the principal’s area of focus?
  • What is the principal area of focus for this cycle of inquiry?

Through a focused, collaborative effort, instructional improvement can be seen if school leaders can utilize the aforementioned instructional leadership inquiry resources and work together to analyze, plan, implement, assess, and refine as needed.

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