Feature Article on Network Monthly

October 2010 — Volume VII, Number 13

Feature of the Month

Instructional Leadership and Results-Based Supervision

By Lin Kuzmich 

Instructional leadership requires a positive partnership between the building administrator and each teacher. When that partnership focuses on results for students and goals for learners, the supervisory relationship is more productive, and students benefit. Instructional leaders who use only teacher actions or a walk-through approach based on “find what is wrong” do not typically improve student results. Instead, focus the conversation and resulting walk-throughs around current data and student accomplishments, student-centered strategies that the teacher is willing to share and try in their classroom, and well-organized lessons that clearly communicate the content to students in a rigorous and relevant manner. Finally, and most important, how are relationships moving the learning forward in each classroom? These four areas of focus for supervision and for effective instruction will help every administrator in partnership with teachers reach diverse learners successfully:

Personal Connections

Successful instruction and results require personal connections among staff. When education communities encourage reflection, trust, engagement, and the development of personal skills, they make the effective implementation of initiatives possible. For these kinds of relationships to develop, teachers must be given the time to form learning communities that allow them to coach and mentor each other. Teachers given the opportunity and encouraged to learn and form relationships in their professional lives can then take these same habits into the classroom and demonstrate the possibilities to their students. Connecting learning to a student’s abilities and goals without personal knowledge of the student is impossible. Knowing students and understanding them at more than just a superficial level builds the kind of relationship that makes learning possible. The conversation between the administrator and the teacher should celebrate contributions to peer-based communities and data that shows great student engagement with learning. Walk-throughs can look for clear evidence of engagement and relationships, and attendance at teacher learning communities should help identify the power of collegial sharing and expertise. After all, this is a job too hard to accomplish alone if we really want results for students.  

Aligned, Rigorous, and Relevant Curriculum and Assessments

The importance of aligning curriculum with student assessment hardly needs to be argued. Successful schools test what they teach and teach what they test. The key to success is rigorous and relevant learning that focuses on those standards that are most important for the future of our students, helps students conceive of and develop ideas, and asks the great, relevant critical questions that give students an opportunity to reflect on those things that truly matter. The conversation between the administrator and the teacher needs to revolve around successful demonstrations of the curriculum and ideas for resolving less successful strategies. Walk-throughs can pick up the use of student-centered objectives aligned to the curriculum and develop a clear understanding of the Rigor/Relevance Framework®.

Strategy Toolkit

Each educator needs a large enough instructional toolkit that contains learner-centered and engaging strategies. The contents of this toolkit require both specific and generalized skills: to match the level of the school with its content (elementary versus secondary), to address the learning styles of today’s students, to employ technology effectively, and to understand the newest brain research. Also vital to this toolkit are literacy strategies and critical thinking skills, along with learning strategies specific to content areas. With this set of knowledge, abilities, and strategies, teachers will have a 21st century toolkit, one that enables them to select the most engaging strategy that best matches the student’s current performance and the district curriculum. The conversation between the administrator and the teacher should encourage experimenting with strategies for diverse learners and sharing those successes with peers. Walk-throughs can help identify model classrooms for others to visit; develop an understanding of when, where, and why to use certain strategies; and look for evidence of engagement with an appropriate level of rigor and relevance.

Diagnostic Thinking

The fourth component necessary for instructional leadership and results is diagnostic thinking. When teachers can analyze current student data and converse knowledgeably with colleagues about successful strategies and student growth, they are then able to select the right teaching and learning tools, even for those students who are the hardest to serve. To do this, however, teachers need a deep understanding of the development and use of formative and summative assessments, the skill to use them, and the experience to determine which tools in their toolkit will be most effective under what circumstances. The conversation between the administrator and the teacher should be around the use of data to make great instructional decisions, not just around understanding the numbers. Walk-throughs can then focus on the effective implementation of data use in adjusting day-to-day learning strategies while still zeroing in on the aligned objectives


Ensuring that conversations and walk-throughs revolve around these four aspects of meeting diverse learner needs helps the partnership between the administrator and the teacher focus on results for students. The building administrator walks through classrooms looking for the gold, the great things happening for and with students. These nuggets of success need to be shared with the whole department, level, or school. Peers can be encouraged to visit each other’s classroom to find great examples of successful student engagement and learning that can be replicated in their own class. This type of positive approach to supervision is the foundation for successful instructional leadership that leads to effective teaching and helps schools achieve more rapid results for students.


Daggett, W. Achieving Academic Excellence through Rigor and Relevance. White paper, 2005 Retrieved:http://www.leadered.com/pdf/Academic_Excellence.pdf

International Center for Leadership in Education. Student Engagement — Teacher Handbook, Rexford, NY: 2009

International Center for Leadership in Education. Rigor and Relevance Handbook, 2nd ed., Rexford, NY: 2010

International Center for Leadership in Education. Using the Rigor/Relevance Framework for Planning and Instruction, Rexford, NY: 2007

Kuzmich, L. Data Driven Instruction. Multimedia Kit. Denver: Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado BOCES, 1998

Kuzmich, L. and Daggett, W. “A Sure Fire Approach to Effective Teaching: Ensuring Access through Differentiated Instruction.” Special EDge Newsletter 21.3 (Summer 2008), California Department of Education Special Education Division

Kuzmich, L. and Gregory, G. Data Driven Differentiation for the Standards-Based Classroom, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2005

Kuzmich, L., et al. Applied Differentiation: Making It Work. Multimedia Kit (Classroom, Elementary, and Secondary editions). Sandy, UT: School Improvement Network, 2006

Kuzmich, L., et al. Facilitating Teacher Evaluation in a Standards-Based Classroom, Denver: Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado BOCES, 1996

Lin Kuzmich is a Network coach and senior consultant for the International Center for Leadership in Education.