Case Study: Instructional Leadership
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Case Study: Instructional Leadership

What is Instructional Leadership? — Cathryn Magno 1 October 2019

“One of the things that has come out of education field is this leadership theory called instructional leadership, which suggests that every decision a school leaders makes, he or she has to make it with the idea of how does it improve student learning? It places a constant focus on student learning. As a school leader, everything, no matter what you do, you are guided by this idea: how can I improve student learning? What that does is set up how teachers work with each other and how they work with students and how they work with a leadership team in a different way than was traditionally done.  Because what it forces teachers to do is help each other and learn from each other and not only focus on what students are learning and how they are learning and how much they are learning but also how what the students are not learning should inform their own instruction. Everything comes back to what am I doing that can be done better to improve student learning.

The leader’s responsibility in that environment is to create new architecture in the school that allows teachers to meet in groups at the grade level or in the subject area on a continual basis, built into the school week, built into the job, to give them time to discuss particular students’ work, to discuss how they are approaching different topics, to discuss how they are analyzing student learning and assessments that they give. This was something that was not done before. Teachers usually had their own classrooms, they closed the door, however they taught, they taught. However students came out, it was the students’ responsibility to perform or not. Instructional leadership completely changes that scenario, that orientation.

The orientation now is that everything we do is open, everything we do is transparent. Your colleagues know what you are teaching and how you are teaching it.  Professional learning communities need to be cultivated and they need to be organized well and there needs to be support and training for them. You can’t expect teachers to suddenly be put in groups, you can schedule that, but they might talk about coffee or what they did over the weekend. They won’t talk about the substance unless you prepare them for that. So the school leader is responsible for training teachers to be better at interacting with each other and assessing student learning and all of that. That’s what professional learning communities are, that’s what communities of practice are and that’s how they relate to and implement instructional leadership.”

How to learn from this case study?

Potential overall critical thinking questions:

  1. How would you describe your leadership approach to improving quality teaching and learning?
  2. How would you best describe the (Australian) education environment in accepting radical change?
  3. What evidence do you collect to make informed decisions on quality teaching and learning (e.g. training, content, assessment, delivery)?
  4. In your own words, how would you describe personalised learning and leading?
  5. How would you respond to the following statement: Education should not be about how much you learn but what you learn?
  6. Do you agree with the idea that educational leaders should focus more on teaching and learning than on other administrative duties?


Suggested class activities (pre-, during-, or post-class):

  1. The participants could reflect on what they think is important about different types of leadership, how they can differ from and complement each other. This could be a written or verbal exercise.
  2. The participants could form small groups, and each prepare a short presentation of a certain type of leadership. They discuss them in class and collect advantages and disadvantages of each type and discuss those in class.
  3. The participants could develop their own instructional leadership manual in light of their own experience(s).
  4. The participants could discuss similarities and differences of school leaders versus leaders of other institutions.
  5. The participants could analyze the commonalities and variances between Gonski’s and Shankshaft’s approaches.
  6. The participants could write or discuss responses to scholarly articles, policies, empirical evidence or other materials.

The Reality of Instructional Leadership in Australia

Introduction of Case Studies of Australian Leaders in Action

The purpose of the following interview data is to explore and illustrate examples of instructional leadership within the Australian context from bottom-up and top-down approaches. It allows for identification and analysis of elements of educational leadership in its broadest sense, presented through the eyes and words of two current Australian leaders. The case study provides practical examples of leadership in action, opening questions of purpose, approach and impact.

The information collected was framed within common perceptions of what constitutes instructional leadership in action, and conducted through face-to-face and telephone interviews in mid 2020.

Profile 1, bottom-up approach: Bernie Shankshaft
Profile 2, top-down approach: David Gonski

Related Video

John Hattie on instructional leadership

For more detailed information on school leadership in Australia see the following:


Australia: The principal as leader – a review of Australian principal research

Gurr, D. & Drysdale, L. (2016). Australia: The principal as leader – a review of Australian principal research, 2006-2013. In Ärlestig, H., Day, C., Johansson, O. (Eds.), A decade of research on school principals: Studies in educational leadership 21 (pp. 421-442). Cham: Springer International Publishing.


In this chapter, we review articles on Australian principal leadership published between 2006 and 2013 in the two major publication sources for this research, Leading and Managing and the Journal of Educational Administration, and in two other important Australian educational research journals, the Australian Journal of Education and Australian Educational Researcher. The review updates an earlier important review by Mulford (Overview of research on Australian Educational Leadership 2001–2005. Monograph no. 40. Australian Council for Educational Leaders, Melbourne, 2007). Thematic areas explored include principal development; school improvement; successful school leadership; leading Catholic schools; leading small, rural, and remote schools; focusing on teaching; strategic leadership; governance; and leadership behavior. The chapter concludes by noting that Australian research on educational leadership utilizes a wide range of research methods and is both extensive and worthwhile, but also somewhat idiosyncratic and individualistic. It is suggested that the research could engage more with matters of national importance and with researchers working more collaboratively across universities and research centers. While there are good connections with the international research community, there could be greater connection with international research agendas and greater promotion of the use of Australian research.

Building quality in teaching and teacher education

Bahr, Nan & Suzanne Mellor (2016). Building quality in teaching and teacher education.  The Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell.

+ Barcan, Alan (1965). A Short History of Education in New South Wales. Martindale Press, Sydney.

+ Connell, W. F. (1980). The Australian Council for Educational Research, 1930-80.

+ Dinham, Stephen (2013). Connecting clinical teaching practice with instructional leadership. Australian Journal of Education, 57(3), pp. 225-236.

Gonski, David (2018). Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools. Australian Government, Department of Education, Skills and Employment

Gonski, David (2018).  Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools.  Australian Government, Department of Education, Skills and Employment

Lock, Graeme & Geoff Lummis (2014). Complying with School Accountability Requirements and the Impact on School Leaders.

Lock, Graeme & Geoff Lummis (2014).  Complying with School Accountability Requirements and the Impact on School Leaders. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(2),

Response to the Gonski 2.0 (school reform) document

Response to the Gonski 2.0 (school reform) document

Policies regarding school leadership:

Right to Education

Right to Education.  Under the Australian benefit Entitlement Act, legal residency status entitles residents access to education

Australia’s Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA)
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL)
National Professional Standard for Principals
New South Wales Education Standards Authority