Instructional Leadership as Defined by Virginia Elementary Title I Principals: a Delphi Study

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Virginia Tech


Policymakers have tried to link the principal to student outcomes, thus shifting the role of the principal from manager to instructional leader of the school. The significance of instructional leadership has increased especially since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act in January of 2002. However, a common definition of instructional leadership is difficult to locate in the literature.

In this three-round Delphi study, 24 Virginia Title I elementary school principals defined the concept of instructional leadership in terms of the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that practitioners believe school principals need to be an instructional leader in Virginia elementary schools. The research questions were:

  1. What do elementary principals perceive to be the specific knowledge necessary to be an instructional leader?
  2. What do elementary principals perceive to be the specific skills necessary to be an instructional leader?
  3. What do elementary principals perceive to be the specific behaviors necessary to be an instructional leader?

The use of Maykut and Morehouse's (1994) constant comparative method generated themes and categories from the sorted descriptors submitted by the Delphi participants. The Delphi themes generated were (a) principal instructional leadership awareness, (b) focus on teaching and learning, (c) engaging stakeholders, and (d) building for instructional capacity. The final themes and categories produced during the Delphi process were compared to Robinson, Lloyd, and Rowe's (2008) five leadership dimensions. Results from Delphi III complemented Robinson et al.'s (2008) five leadership dimensions with the exception of Dimension 4: "promoting and participating in teacher learning and development" (p. 635). While Delphi participants provided descriptors supporting professional development, they did not emphasize instructional leadership participation with teachers in professional development opportunities.

The final definition of instructional leadership which emerged in the study provided knowledge, skills, and behaviors that current and future practitioners may incorporate in their own leadership practices to influence student achievement. The instructional leadership definition may serve as a springboard to guide curriculum decisions in leadership preparation programs seeking to improve instructional leadership practices. The definition of instructional leadership may also be useful to policymakers seeking to implement legislation linking leadership to student achievement.



Leadership, Instructional Leadership, Academic achievement, Delphi method