Educational institutions need leaders that would confront the status quo and use their power to deal with power imbalances in schools and communities. An effective leader must be willing to use the authority of democracy if he is to achieve an institution improvement.
Leadership is a crucial element concerned with creating conditions in which institutional reforms can succeed including improving students’ learning and institution’s image. Effective leaders are found to exercise an indirect but powerful influence on the effectiveness of the institution and on the achievement of students.
Traditionally, a principal’s role performance involves focusing on institutional goals, the curriculum, instruction and creating a conducive institutional environment.
The principal focuses on enhancing teachers’ performance and on the behaviours of teachers so as to enable teachers to engage their students in learning activities which ultimately focus on helping students learn. Thus, principal’s leadership is thought to be instrumental in bringing about institutional effectiveness.
This traditional approach to leadership is known as instructional leadership. The term instructional leadership emerged from institutional effectiveness research in the 1980s.
Hallinger’s (2003) most frequently used conceptualization of instructional leadership proposes the following three dimensions:
(a) Defining the institution’s mission,
(b) Managing the instructional programme and
(c) Promoting a positive institutional learning climate.
However, instructional leadership suffers from some drawbacks. Dimmock (1995) asserts that instructional leadership is too prescriptive and relies on a top-down process of management. This type of structure supports the view that when principals accomplish vital tasks, teaching and learning improve.
He suggests that institutions are characterized by “loose coupling and autonomy” and a better strategy would be a bottom-up approach. The proposed “backward mapping” would begin with student-outcomes and then progress through the following: learning styles and processes, teaching strategies, institutional organization and structure, leadership, management, resources and culture/climate.
Dimmock further suggests that this framework and strategy would help institutions and communities address the challenge of providing leadership and management for quality teaching and learning. Essentially, the student is the centre of institutions, which are deeply concerned with quality of institution and principals and teachers must focus on improving student learning and performance.
Leadership within this paradigm is based primarily on a strong technical knowledge of pedagogy/andragogy and secondly, on curriculum design, development and evaluation. Dimmock states, “The traditional top down linear conceptions of leadership and management and their influence on teaching and learning have become inappropriate” (p. 295).
He also suggests that research findings indicate that only a minority of principals would find instructional leadership a reality. The problem with instructional leadership is that in many institutions the principal is not an educational expert.
Moreover, there are some principals who perceive their role to be administrative and, as such, they purposely distance themselves from the classroom environment. Hallinger (2003) suggests that in many instances principals have less expertise than the teachers they supervise.
This notion is further complicated by the fact that the principal’s authority is severely limited as he/she occupies a middle management position. In many institutional systems, the ultimate authority exists with the trusties or the management committee members.
The reality of current educational systems is that principals are held between the expectations of teachers, parents, the management committee members, the members of the larger society and the government.
A challenge for many principals is to work with the various educational stakeholders to maintain some sense of balance between the competing and often conflicting demands from various interest groups. Many principals are so engrossed in the managerial and administrative tasks of daily institutional life, that they rarely have time to lead others in the areas of teaching and learning.
Instructional leadership therefore is a necessary but not sufficient condition for bringing about institutional effectiveness and institutional improvement. It is essential for institutions to have transformational leadership.