Effective Instructional Time Use for School Leaders: Longitudinal Evidence from Observations of Principals

Issue/Topic: Leadership--Principal/School Leadership
Author(s): Grissom, Jason; Loeb, Susanna; Master, Ben
Publication: Educational Researcher
Published On: 2013

Scholars have long argued that principals should be instructional leaders, but few studies have empirically linked specific instructional leadership behaviors to school performance. This study examines the associations between leadership behaviors and student achievement gains using a unique data source: in-person, full-day observations of approximately 100 urban principals collected over three school years.

To study observational and administrative data to test whether different investments in specific instructional leadership activities predict student achievement gains in schools and to illuminate the connections between instructional leadership behaviors and school performance.


While overall time on instruction is not associated with student achievement gains or school improvement, both classroom walkthroughs and time coaching teachers are. Surprisingly, time on classroom walkthroughs is negatively associated with these school outcomes.
  • Time spent directly coaching teachers is positively associated with achievement gains and school improvement, especially in math.

  • Informal classroom observations or “walkthroughs” are negatively associated with achievement gains and school improvement, at least in high schools. However, different use of walkthroughs seems to be associated with different results. In schools where walkthroughs are not viewed as professional development, walkthroughs are particularly negative; while in schools where they are viewed as professional development, coaching is particularly positive.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
  • Walkthroughs are a substantial part (almost half) of all the time principals spend on instruction. Schools may be better served if principals spend more time using the information for school improvement than collecting it. Additional research into how effective principals conduct walkthroughs, target them to different kinds of teachers, and integrate them into an overall school improvement program would be useful in furthering understanding of this tool in the instructional leadership toolkit.

  • The study's results are exploratory and do not directly assess the effects of principal’s instructional leadership activities. Given the limitations, the authors interpret their results not as isolating causal effects but as providing justification for further analysis that focuses on how principals use their time within these instructional areas and connects time use—in context—to instructional and achievement outcomes.

Research Design:
Quantitative descriptive analysis

School administrators in a stratified random sample of approximately 125 schools in Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Year data is from:
2008, 2011, 2012


Data Collection and Analysis:
Over three different school years, trained observers went into a stratified random sample of approximately 125 schools in Miami-Dade County Public Schools to shadow school administrators over full school days and record detailed information about principal time allocation. The detailed observational data was paired with rich administrative data provided by the district and with survey data collected from the principals.


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