More opportunities for administrators to embrace instruction

Knowing how much is on administrators’ plates, we may wonder how important it is for these busy leaders to think deeply about instruction. Turns out, it could be a determining factor for student success.

The challenge


What we heard from teachers and administration at after implementing Tools at

More opportunities for administrators to embrace instruction


No items found.

The process

Committee search to choose the right curriculum

Selection of Tools of the Mind curriculum & professional development

Tools training and implementation for all relevant staff

Teaching and learning review and outcomes

Eyes on instruction

School administrators strive to keep learning top of mind while managing staff, operations, and budgets, ensuring school safety, communicating with families, and working to uphold state and district mandates. With all these balls in the air, many administrators lean on instructional coaches to support teachers’ practice and curriculum implementation. How do the instructional responsibilities of coaches and administrators overlap? Do administrators need a deep understanding of the theory and instructional practices guiding learning in their classrooms? As teachers are asked to make changes - for example, to align literacy instruction with the research-backed science of reading, how should we think about the instructional role that school leaders play in supporting teachers and children?

A linchpin of success

A recent EdWeek article about how principals can support teachers through instructional change notes that “principals are a linchpin to the success or failure of any school’s instructional reform.” But, according to Emily Freitag, CEO of Instructional Partners, “very rarely do we think through what principals need to know and do to make this change happen.”

The reality is that there are barriers to school administrators getting the professional development they need. Professional development opportunities can be costly and leaders often lack both the budget and time flexibility required to invest in their own learning. In addition, administrative roles, like those of teachers, can turn over quickly and when leaders leave, they take the knowledge they’ve gained with them. When considering these obstacles and others, immersing school leaders in instructional work might not seem worth it. In fact, the opposite is true. Research shows that principals have almost as much impact on children’s success in school as teachers. And a defining characteristic of effective principals is their ability to support teachers in delivering high-quality instruction.

Bringing administrators together to learn

This year, Tools invited school and district administrators to participate in a cross-district professional learning group to deepen knowledge and understanding of Tools theory and activities. Grounded in the Instructional Rounds model developed at Harvard Graduate School of Education, the group came together to observe teaching and learning in Tools classrooms. By developing a shared language and understanding of what to listen and look for, administrators, including those with limited experiences in early education, were able to “normalize the idea of what it takes to build a strong Tools program,” says Tools Senior Partnership Development Manager Jennifer Martin, who facilitated the group. “Administrators,” she notes, “are often asked to provide feedback and insight into practice. The stronger their understanding of the theory, the better chance their teachers are being set up for success in implementation."

During in-person sessions held throughout the year, administrators observed Tools in action in classrooms both within and outside of their own districts. Observations were centered around specific Tools concepts and activity blocks and participants broke into small groups to observe in classrooms before coming back together to discuss what they saw and heard.

“The co-observation model provides an opportunity for administrators to view the curriculum in action in varying classrooms and process these observations with colleagues, resulting in a deeper understanding of the curriculum components and essential elements of various activities [across] multiple classrooms.”
- Alison Zylinski, Director of Special Services, Bradley Beach Elementary School, Bradley Beach, New Jersey

Participating administrators appreciated the opportunity to network with others in similar roles as they observed Tools instruction in classrooms, describing the series as “extremely beneficial.” “It helped me strengthen my existing knowledge about best Tools of the Mind practices and provided me with valuable tools to better support my teaching staff,” says Maggie Lazur, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Matawan Aberdeen Regional School District in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Tools Takeaways

  • High-quality instructional support from school leaders has positive impacts for teachers and children
  • Time and resources are limited, but with intention and planning, we can better position administrators to support adult and student learning and development
  • Administrators appreciate opportunities to engage in powerful learning together!