When I applied for my first administrative position I found that many of the position descriptions contained the term “instructional leader”. My viewpoint at that time was that teachers are to instruct students while administrators are to lead teachers. Since then I have served as an assistant director of secondary education and an assistant principal of curriculum and instruction. I am currently a director of student learning. What we teach and how we teach are highly embedded in all three roles. In my administrator journey, I have discovered that being an instructional leader is not as simple and as straightforward as I had once believed. There were distinct moments that helped shift my thinking regarding instructional leadership and the critical need for inclusivity. 

Yes, and…

Between my time as a high school science teacher and an administrator, I spent several years at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago. I was surprised to find that MSI based their guest interactions on improv, specifically the “Yes, and…” phrase. No matter the guest’s answer to our question, our response would be “Yes, and…” We affirmed and added. If we were to cultivate the inventive genius in everyone, we needed to support their questions and answers about the natural world. This is how we keep curiosity alive. I used “Yes, and…” even when the questions and answers did not make sense to me. The key was that I tried to understand the guest, became their thought partner, and provide them more to think about!

A Framework for K-12 Science Education

Another moment that challenged my thinking regarding instructional leadership occurred when I led the science curriculum review cycle at a former district. To fully prepare for this undertaking, I read A Framework for K-12 Science Education, the foundation for the Next Generation Science Standards. I encountered a quote on page 12: “The committee’s vision takes into account two major goals for K-12 science education: (1) educating all students in science and engineering and (2) providing the foundational knowledge for those who will become the scientists, engineers, technologists, and technicians of the future.” Although I had a passion for science and have made a career from it, I quickly realized that not every student loved science the way I do. Some were even turned off by science. Reading this passage helped me realize that I was really only effectively teaching students who fell into the second part of that quote. I needed to change my approach to teach ALL students no matter their love for the subject.

Next Generation Science Standards

Diving into the Next Generation Science Standards also helped add to my understanding of what instructional leadership is. Instruction is for ALL students. In Appendix D, “All Standards, All Students”, I discovered that we need to make science and engineering accessible to all students. This is how we build a scientifically literate society. Additionally, we can provide the foundational knowledge to those who want to become future scientists and engineers. I recognized that I needed to be more inclusive in my teaching philosophy and professional practice and understand that not every student in our classrooms will love these subjects as much as we do. As leaders in and out of the classroom. We need to ensure all curriculum and instruction is provided to all.  “All Standards, All Students” includes everyone no matter their background and interests, and as an instructional leader that is the focus of my teaching philosophy and professional practice.

Julie Lam is the Director of Student Learning for Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois. She serves on the Advisory Council for Van Andel Institute for Education.