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Effective Instructional Leadership Strategies

Ensuring Balance in Your School
By Deron Marvin
Effective  Instructional Leadership Strategies

Three months ago I attended a conference where I listened attentively to one of the keynote speakers. He stated that, in order for our schools to catch up to the 21st century, “Teachers should not be shift workers where they check in and check out.” That statement embodies the prevailing contemporary thinking—that teachers should continuously be “on” the job; if they are not, then they are ineffective. Regardless of whether or not we accept the keynote’s statement, through both research and observation we have learned that an unremitting connection to work results in burnout and fatigue.
As educators, we know that feedback, instructional quality, and direct teacher instruction are the most influential factors for successful student outcomes (Hattie 2009). In that case, we should then agree that when teachers are revitalized, energized, and prepared to provide those three factors, the likelihood of producing successful student outcomes is at its highest. Business-style methods of working are seeping into our schools, thus eclipsing the probability for those successful outcomes. In the work world, accomplishment is often fixed to profits. Employees will work a tremendous number of hours to ensure the takings are plenteous. This “always on” capability is chiefly brought to us by our omnipresent technology and its efficiency of easy and speedy communication. Just like in other businesses, teachers too are staying connected, even after the workday ends. It is not abnormal for teachers to receive electronic messages from students, parents, and principals through the evening, and sometimes even late into the night. What we face in schools is a probable maelstrom of fatigue and ebbing interest in learning among our teachers and students. If we continue to (and allow others to) communicate with and plague our teachers and students beyond their limits, then we must be prepared for deleterious effects on student outcomes.
What is truly at stake is our once-sacrosanct division between home and our vocation. That separation is now under critical threat. Our family time and even our privacy are being usurped by this notion of staying connected to work (Steiner-Adair 2013). A typical evening for a teacher and student often consists of habitually checking email, interacting with a Learning Management System, chatting with friends from work and school, or simply put, re-tethering oneself to the workplace. The demands to stay linked weaken our inhibitory ability (Klingberg 2013).
Researchers at the University of California’s Annenberg Center for the Digital Future reported that this continuous connection to work is having negative effects on family life. The studies confirmed that the percentage of people who spend less time with their families has tripled from 2006 to 2011 (from 11 to 28 percent). And, in the same study, families were shown to spend less time with each other, diminishing from 26 hours a month to 17.9 hours a month (Cole, Suman, et al. 2011). Instructional leaders have an obligation to understand the evidence above and adjust their leadership style to protect teachers’ time for optimal teaching and learning in the classroom.
As an instructional leader, I am frequently monitoring how my teachers are balancing their lives and disconnecting from work. Without a doubt, I need each teacher to be ready for school every morning. You may find the following tips helpful in terms of setting the example of a balanced life and being an advocate for ensuring students have an engaged and “present” teacher.
1) Model a balanced life – Your team needs to see that you are balanced. If you work late into the night, your team may be thinking that they too should be working late. Take an interest in your team’s life that is beyond work by knowing something about each individual. Be sure to show your passion for your work, but distinguish the difference between passion and long work hours.
2) Clearly define your school’s purpose for homework – To protect your teachers and students from late nights of work and homework, determine if your homework policy has firm parameters and clear definitions. Homework is for:
a. further practice of what was already taught in the classroom;
b. preparing for an upcoming assessment; and/or
c. extending one’s learning.
Not only does the policy have to be sound, the leader must ensure adherence by each teacher.
3) Set boundaries – With teachers now feeling an inescapable involvement with their jobs, a leader has to propose boundaries. Consider restricting after-hours communication among teachers, students, and administrators. Barring emergencies (and I have never heard of a curricular emergency), communication should begin to cease around 5:30 p.m. on any given work night. Teachers should probably not communicate with students into the evening, even if the communication is “educational.”

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