The problems of schooling are one framework, worldview (Kennedy, 1982; Vaughan, 1996; Weick, 1995), or philosophy for making sense out of how schools work and how they ought to be working. The terminology one adopts for “big picture” thinking is unimportant. But what is vital to Strong Instructional Leadership is the formulation of some framework, or a worldview, or a philosophy, or a big picture of how schools work politically, socially, economically, and intellectually—the reality of the schools they stand in. Within that framework should be a description of what schools ought to be doing politically, socially, economically, and intellectually and some method of inquiry to resolve the gap between is and ought of schooling.
Why should Strong Instructional Leaders preoccupy themselves with philosophies, frameworks, worldviews, or a big picture? First, when school administrators walk into a school they can be assured that staff and faculty are looking at them from someplace. That someplace is a system of theories, ideas, and practices gathered in their life and career which forms a worldview (a philosophy, a framework,) for making sense out of their personal and public lives. School administrators make a grave mistake assuming that instructional leadership is merely a matter of announcing an instructional initiative, providing the appropriate materials to teachers, and managing the logistics of a new program. This is the same mistake teachers make when they think that students learn by looking at subject matter content. Students, as well as teachers, will “in various ways…adapt, adopt, combine, or reject messages” (Coburn, 2001,) about curriculum and instruction depending on what philosophy, worldview, or framework they stand for.
Secondly, the normative theories, ideas, and practices, which shape a school culture, result from daily interactions between faculty members over problematic situations in their school. After a time, a dominant worldview will emerge around a problematic situation in a school and becomes the foundation for diagnosing what is causing an instructional problem and how the problem should be resolved — what researchers’ term “diagnostic framing” and “prognostic framing” (Benford & Snow, 1992). A faculty, could for example, frame the problem of low achievement in reading on lack of parent support and recommend an after-school program to teach parents how to support their child’s progress in reading. Another way of framing the problem of low reading achievement is looking inside the classroom at how teachers are teaching reading. Understanding the power of worldviews to frame instructional problems, Strong Instructional Leaders actively insert themselves in the center of an instructional problem so they can frame or reframe the problem in a way that conforms with a valued end of schooling or best practice in the field.
A frame in the sense I am using the term represents a piece in a large mosaic of theories, ideas, and practices which forms a worldview of how the world works, schools work, and how children learn. Strong Instructional Leaders shape the direction of faculty sense-making by providing the resources and logistics that grow a certain instructional initiative; by honoring certain theories, ideas, and practices over others; by selecting theories, ideas, and practices from a variety of disciplines that fit a particular instructional and organizational problem; and by constructing explanations for particular instructional or organizational problem which resonate with a school faculty (Coburn, 2001). Most importantly, Strong Instructional Leaders strategically select explanatory frameworks which challenge worldviews housed in their building.
The source for explanatory frameworks lies in a worldview or philosophy that a Strong Instructional Leader has personally developed over time. Her depth of knowledge of each component of the worldview permits her to use a wide variety of venues and issues to reframe other worldviews into a statement, a policy, a proposal, an action which is compatible with a personal worldview of how schools should work and how children learn. Faculty meetings are target rich environments for all sorts of worldviews about how schools should work and how children should learn. Typically, bits and pieces of worldviews appear near the end of a faculty meeting where certain teachers, the same ones at every meeting, take turns asking the principal questions which always seem to begin with the phrase, has anyone given thought to…. What follows this introductory phrase is not really a question, but a pronouncement of a policy, a procedure, a practice that the teacher feels the administration should implement. Strong Instructional Leaders recognize pronouncements as opportunities to reframe an oppositional worldview into an explanatory framework compatible with a valued end of schooling or best practice in the field.
Equally important to the message contained in an explanatory framework are the venues in which messages are delivered. Strong Instructional Leaders use every available opportunity—faculty memo, meeting agendas, board meetings, building meetings, brief encounters in hallways—to communicate and model an explanatory framework. It is in these different venues where an explanatory framework maybe renegotiated to fit a particular instructional situation. Strong Instructional Leaders embrace these opportunities to connect an explanatory framework with classroom practices. They understand that the process for reinterpreting an instructional worldview begins when the “calm on the ocean floor” has been disturbed. Throughout the process of presenting, negotiating, and implementing explanatory frameworks in schools the Strong Instructional Leader assumes many roles, but always remains true to the core message of the explanatory framework and guardian of a philosophy of education which continually gives birth to instructional practices aimed at resolving the problems of schooling.