Effective school leadership

Effective school leadership


Public school principals face complex responsibilities. They are expected to be building managers, human resource administrators, change agents, disciplinarians, cheerleaders, instructional leaders and in some cases surrogate parents (Blasé & Blasé, 2000; Elmore & Burney, 2000; Wanzare & Da Costa, 2001; Sindhvad, 2009). Therefore, school leadership is more than the simple application of management functions, many of which have to do with administration and the maintenance of the school (Bell, 1992). Moreover, research done in England by Hay Management Consultants (2000) compared 200 highly effective principals, with 200 senior executives in business and found that both groups were equally impressive but “the role of head teacher is stretching, by comparison, to business.”

Effective school leadership is therefore a balancing act of having to juggle between various roles in order to achieve good academic performance of the learners. This is important because good academic performance of a school does not just happen but is a result of good teaching and overall effective leadership (Fullan, 2002; Musungu & Nasongo, 2008). One major component of effective leadership is instructional leadership. This is because, effective and high-achieving schools depend on capable instructional leadership from school principals (Carter & Klotz, 1990 as cited in Wanzare & Da Costa, 2001).

In instructional leadership, the school principal’s core responsibility is to ensure quality teaching and learning in the classroom (Sindhvad, 2009; Musungu & Nasongo, 2008). However, most school principals in Sub-Saharan Africa often give more attention to administrative tasks and relegate instructional leadership tasks to the deputy principal and others in the school administrative hierarchy, yet for schools to make a difference to student achievement, the head teachers’ instructional leadership is crucial (Mulkeen et al, 2008; Togneri, 2003; Akpa, 1990).

Over the years, educational stakeholders in Kenya have expressed concern over student achievement levels in national examinations. These concerns are often laden with blame to the school principals largely because the education system in Kenya is examination oriented and therefore the quality of education tends to be evaluated in terms of the number of students passing national examinations (Eshiwani, 1993).

Wekesa (1993) posits that to improve students’ performance, school principals are required first to improve the management of the schools by setting a clear vision for the schools and communicating this vision to students, supporting its achievement by giving instructional leadership, provision of resources and being visible in every part of the institution. This is of the essence because there is evidence that school principals have abdicated their roles as instructional leaders and concentrated on their roles as administrators (TSC, 2010).

Many school principals are more concerned with development of physical infrastructure, maintenance of facilities, attending meetings outside the school plant and office work. Yet the best practice is that principals of good performing schools are actively engaged in the teaching-learning process and in co-curricula activities. Moreover, the job description of a school principal includes classroom teaching.

Inherent in the concept of an instructional leader is the notion that learning has top priority while everything else revolves around the enhancement of learning. Hence, to have credibility as an instructional leader, the principal should also be a practicing teacher. However, the actual time spent on practical teaching and instructional leadership tasks by school principals in Kenya has not have been quantified yet but there is emerging concern from education stakeholders on the need for change in the role of the school principal; from administrators to instructional leaders. Towards this end, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) issued a circular to all schools in May 2010 with instructions to all principals to take up a full load of teaching lessons. This was geared towards alleviating teacher shortage in schools and in facilitating effective execution of instructional leadership roles among school principals. There is also pressure from the government to compel school principals to sign performance contracts in order to make them accountable to student academic achievement.

Ultimately, school principals must seek the right balance in their roles as administrators and as instructional leaders. Interestingly, among the reasons cited as barriers to effective instructional leadership is the lack of in depth training for their role as instructional leaders (Mulkeen et al, 2008). Other barriers are lack of time to execute instructional activities, increased paper work, complexity and ambiguity in the principal’s roles, fragmentation of the principal’s time in performance of various roles, insufficient incentives, principal’s role diversity and principal’s personal characteristics (Wanzare & Da Costa, 2001). Lack of support from within and outside the school may also constrain the school principal’s engagement with instructional leadership roles. However, since effective instructional leadership improves academic performance (Nasongo, 2009, Achoka 2007; Wekesa, 1993; Mulkeen et al, 2008; Musungu & Nasongo, 2008) there is need to redefine the roles of a school principal with a view of encouraging instructional leadership of secondary schools in Kenya. This paper therefore, draws proposals of the roles of a school principal as an instructional leader from research work on the same done locally and from other countries, which fit the Kenyan education context.

2.0 Redefining the Roles of the Secondary School Principal in Kenya:

Change from Administrator to Instructional Leader

2.1 Defining the term School Principal

According to the TSC Policy on identification, selection, appointment, deployment and training of Heads of post primary institutions published in 2007, the term principal refers to Head of a Tertiary institution and Head teacher refers to Head of a secondary school. In practice however, the term school principal and head teacher are used interchangeably and refers to the person charged with the responsibility of administration of a public secondary school. Moreover, the TSC Graduate Scheme of Service of Teachers of 2002, refers to a teacher in Job group N and above as Principal. The entry grade for a graduate teacher is Job group K and the highest one can attain is Job group R. The TSC Graduate Scheme of Service of Teachers establishes eight (8) grades designated and graded as follows: Untrained Graduate Teacher (‘J’), Graduate Teacher II (‘K’), Graduate Teacher I (‘L’), Senior Graduate Teacher (‘M’), Principal Graduate Teacher II (‘N’), Principal Graduate Teacher I (‘P’), Senior Principal Graduate Teacher (‘Q’) and Chief Principal Graduate Teacher (‘R). However, according to the TSC policy document on identification, selection, appointment, deployment and training of Heads of post primary institutions (2007), a teacher must meet the following criteria to qualify for appointment to position of responsibility as a head of a post primary institution:- (a) Be a professionally qualified university Graduate Teacher. (b) Have a minimum of seven (7) years continuous post qualification experience, two of which must have been at the level of Deputy Head of institution or Head of Department. (c) Have portrayed competence and ability; as a teacher and as an administrator. (d) Be at job Group M. (e) Have attended at least two in-service courses in institutional management offered or recognized by KESI. (f) Have a clean personal record.

(g) Have shown or expressed interest in institution administration by applying for consideration to an advertised vacancy for headship. (h) Has possession of qualities of a head of institution.

From the foregoing, one can deduce that training in instructional leadership is not a clear-cut requirement in appointment of school principals in Kenya. Emphasis is placed on the seven-year teaching experience and the KESI courses in institutional management. There is therefore need to redefine the roles of a school principal in Kenya in order to reflect the importance of instructional leadership roles. This is because if schools are to improve academic performance then emphasis needs to shift to instructional leadership. However, since many school principals in Sub-Saharan Africa have not conceptualized Instructional leadership there is need to do so (Mulkeen et al, 2008). The following section attempts to put this in perspective.

2.2 Defining Instructional Leadership

A review of literature reveals diverse definitions of instructional leadership. According to Sindhvad, (2009) Instructional leadership refers to a series of behaviors designed to affect classroom instruction. Such behaviors include principals informing teachers about new educational strategies and tools for effective instruction and assisting teachers in analyzing these educational strategies to determine their applicability in the classroom (Whitaker, 1998).

Blase and Blase, (2000) expressed instructional leadership in specific behaviours such as making suggestions, giving feedback, modelling effective instruction, soliciting opinions, supporting collaboration, providing professional development opportunities, and giving praise for effective teaching. Instructional leaders also make adult learning a priority.

From the foregoing and according to Ginsberg (1988) as cited in Wanzare & Da Costa (2001), instructional leadership is a construct that is not concrete and easily observable but gets its meaning from factors that constitute it. According to Wanzare & Da Costa (2001), instructional leadership; is (a) directly related to the processes of instruction whereby teachers, learners, and the curriculum interact. (b) Includes those activities undertaken by the principal with the objective of developing a productive and satisfying working environment for teachers and desirable learning outcomes for students. (c) Consists of those actions that a principal takes, or delegates to others to promote growth in student learning. (d) Consist of the principal’s role in providing direction, resources, and support for the improvement of teaching and learning.

Instructional leadership therefore, differs from that of a school administrator in a number of ways. Principals who pride themselves as administrators are strictly concerned with administrative duties compared to principals who are instructional leaders. The latter role involves setting clear goals, allocating resources to instruction, managing the curriculum, monitoring lesson plans, and evaluating teachers. The instructional leader makes instructional quality the top priority of the school and attempts to bring that vision to realisation.

Lately, the definition of instructional leadership has been expanded to reflect on student-centred teaching philosophies. Some scholars have proposed the term “learning leader” over “instructional leader” (DuFour, 2002). Brewer (2001) suggests that the role of the instructional leader be expanded to incorporate a shift away from “management” (working in the system of administrative tasks) toward “leadership” (working on the system), that is, ‘instructional leadership’. Therefore, instructional leaders have to free themselves from bureaucratic tasks and focus their efforts towards improving teaching and learning. To achieve this quest, it requires a redefinition of the role of principals in Kenya, in order to move towards eliminating bureaucracy and reinventing relationships. The next section contextualises the instructional leadership roles of a school principal inherent in bureaucratic structures of education administration in Kenya.

2.3 The School Principal’s Instructional Leadership Roles in the Kenyan Context.

Although instructional leadership in Kenya lacks clarity, it is worth noting that KESI established by the government of Kenya in 1988, offers in-service training for Heads of Educational Institutions including school principals. The KESI mandate was to be diversified to include training of potential school leaders but for over two decades now, the institute rarely trains deputy principals and heads of departments (Kindiki, 2009).This is because of inadequate funding and lack of full time training facilities (GoK, 2005).

The pre-service training offered to education students in universities in Kenya is also insufficient in preparing potential school leaders. For this and other reasons many school principals in Kenya are untrained in instructional leadership. Moreover, the KESI curriculum does not focus on instructional leadership training. It is therefore imperative that the roles of school principal as instructional leader are defined in order to fill this gap.

Instructional leadership is not a common concept in Kenya but seems to be more prevalent in developed countries where it has widely been researched on. For example, in the United Kingdom, most principals spend an average of 20 percent of their time in a week on teaching (Weindling, 1990). Research evidence also shows that among the many tasks performed by principals; one-tenth of time is devoted to instructional leadership (Stronge, 1988).

In the Kenya education system, instructional leadership begins to emerge when graduate teachers in public secondary schools get promotion to become school principals by the TSC. The school principals are supposed to promote the teaching functions; which involve attitudinal, mental and physical development of the Kenyan youth. This entails imparting the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes for moulding behavior to standards acceptable in the society. The teaching function further involves classroom teaching; preparation and maintenance of lesson notes, schemes of work, pupil assessment reports, records of work; development and organization of teaching/learning materials; organization of curricula and co-curricula activities; guiding and counseling of pupils; maintenance of class and school discipline and general management of schools. For a school principal to effectively oversee the aforementioned teaching functions then he or she needs to understand his or her position as an instructional leader by carrying out particular tasks; some of which are suggested below.

2.4 Redefined Instructional Leadership Roles of a School Principal in Kenya

Review of literature shows that the roles of a school principal as an Instructional leader are diverse and contextual. For this reason, instructional leadership roles were isolated from literature sources, which in the thinking of the author are pertinent to the Kenyan School Principal. A case in point is Achoka (2007), who writes that; Emerging from the current expectations for the present School principals in Kenya, their roles are inclusive of the need to be:

Advisor to students, teachers and community e.g. against adverse cultural traits/practices that affect retention of students in school.

Counselor to not only the students but also to parents and teachers. This could assist all parties interested in the education life of the learner to appreciate the need for education.

Initiator to provide the best school climate to entice students to complete schooling e.g. make school free of violence, threats, intimidations, hatred, witch hunting e.t.c. and develop rich co-curriculum, remedial interventions (services) for slow learners to avoid repetition, frustration and dropout.

Developer: The secondary school principal should put more effort in developing academic and co-curriculum programmes that are attractive and competitive in order to fully occupy all students while at school.

Nasongo (2009) seems to agree with Achoka (2007) since her study on the Role of the Head teacher in Academic Achievement in Secondary Schools in Vihiga District, Kenya had the following conclusions:

a.) The head teachers’ organizational skills that influenced high academic achievement of students in secondary schools included skills in curriculum-based establishment, quality improvement measures and teamwork. The results of a school were determined by the application of these skills.

b.) The head teachers’ involvement in academic activities such as checking of teachers’ and students’ work, helping in eradicating cheating among students in examinations, internal classroom supervision and monitoring students’ discipline contribute towards the academic performance of a school.

Earlier, Whitaker (1997) had identified four skills essential for instructional leadership. First, they need to be a resource provider. This is provision of relevant and sufficient teaching and learning resources such as books. Secondly, they need to be an instructional resource. Teachers count on their principals as resources of information on current trends and effective instructional practices. Instructional leaders are tuned-in to issues relating to curriculum, effective pedagogical strategies and assessment. Thirdly, they need to be good communicators. Effective instructional leaders need to communicate essential beliefs regarding learning. Finally, they need to create a visible presence. Leading the instructional programme of a school means a commitment to living and breathing a vision of success in teaching and learning. Wanzare & Da Costa (2001) isolated 38 major roles of the school principal as an instructional leader. In this paper, 10 major instructional roles of a school principal were identified as a basis of reflecting on school principalship in Kenya. This is because for one to make proposals on the instructional leadership roles, then internal and external school environmental factors need to be considered. Therefore, considering the broader Kenyan education context, key roles of a school principal as an instructional leader are defined as follows;

Active engagement in teaching. Instructional leaders need to know what is going on in the classroom; an opportunity ‘to walk the factory floor’. Many a time, principals are not in touch with what is going on at the classroom level and are unable to appreciate some of the problems teachers and students encounter. The tendency is to address instructional issues from the perspective when they were teachers. Principals need to work closely with students, developing teaching techniques and methods as a means for understanding teacher perspectives and for establishing a base on which to make curricular decisions.

Create a visible presence in the school. In many good performing schools in Kenya this is manifested as Management by Walking Around. Moreover, a visible presence may be created by the principal if he or she participates in teaching-learning activities.

Supervise and evaluate instructional activities of teachers through observation of classroom teaching and conferment with teachers about their teaching. This is by monitoring and encouraging peer observation, ensuring that better schemes of work and lesson plans are made, demonstrating effective teaching techniques, supporting and encouraging teachers throughout curriculum implementation, and promoting discussions of instructional issues.

Making teaching possible by stimulating desirable changes in the professional behavior of teachers through provision of in-service training enabling teachers to develop the necessary skills to become effective teachers. This can be enhanced by facilitating teachers’ participation in seminars, workshops, and INSETS such as the ongoing Strengthening of Mathematics and Science Education (SMASE) training.

Develop, improve, monitor, and select the types, amounts and uses of instructional materials and ensuring that these materials are adequate and readily available to teachers. This is crucial because the common practice in many schools in Kenya is that the subject teachers do not participate in the actual sourcing of instructional materials. This leaves many teachers dissatisfied with the materials supplied which affects their teaching.

Plan, co-ordinate, implement, evaluate and reexamine the school’s instructional program to identify “invisible” problems thereby achieving school goals, and improving teaching and learning. Achievement of this is by holding regular staff meetings so that teachers may discuss issues affecting their teaching with a view of brainstorming on the way forward and with students at class level in order to identify and resolve issues unique to each class.

Maximize and protect academic learning time by enforcing school policies that minimize interruptions of scheduled classes. This can be enhanced if the school principal leads by example in observing time at all times. For example, ensuring that lessons begin as planned everyday, opening and closing the school as scheduled and encouraging punctuality of teachers and students. Moreover, activities that do not promote the core functions of the school should be scheduled outside the teaching and learning timetable.

Define and communicate the school goals, vision, mission, objectives, and standards of the school to teachers, students, and to parents. This may be achieved by jointly formulating, implementing and evaluating the school’s strategic plan. Regular consultations and involvement of students may greatly assist realization of this role. Moreover, lack of vision in management of schools often leads to imbalance in allocation and use of resources.

Timetable classes and other activities to ensure a sense of order in the school and classrooms. Although in many schools the task of timetabling is delegated to the deputy principal, there is need for the school principal to take leadership and be involved in the timetabling process so as to incorporate his or her views on curriculum implementation. Moreover, for school principals to lead the instructional program then they need to be involved in formulating it.

Evaluate and monitor student progress by overseeing their work and test scores, and also communicate regularly with parents, students, and the community to receive input into student performance, to seek and to share expectations, and to celebrate students’ successes.

Underlying the foregoing roles is the more important need to understand human learning. There is importance in school principals understanding various theories of human learning so that they may effectively promote evidence based instruction methodologies, policies and programs that enhance performance of teachers and students. It is therefore imperative that School principals in secondary schools in Kenya embrace the concept of instructional leadership alongside administration, for the benefit of self, teachers and learners in Kenya.


The task of being an instructional leader is both complex and multidimensional, largely because school principals do not see themselves as instructional leaders and many are of the belief that anything that has to do with classroom work is assigned to teachers. In some cases, principals feel inadequate to initiate and develop instructional programmes given the assortment of subject areas taught with each having its own pedagogical uniqueness. Moreover, many school principals are ignorant of the effect of effective instructional leadership on academic achievement of learners. There is therefore need for case studies on the role of secondary school principals on academic achievement of the learners in purposively selected schools in Kenya. This is because the head teacher’s key role is to promote academic performance (Musungu & Nasongo, 2008).