Professional Practices


March 2018    Volume III Issue III






Marcia Baldanza, the author of Professional Practices and a Just ASK Senior Consultant, lives in Arlington, Virginia. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.

Baldanza’s Model of 21st Century Instructional Leadership

For some time, I have been developing a workable model of instructional leadership – one that is grounded in research and theory yet practical and approachable. This issue focuses on my theory of action and the components of the model I call, Baldanza’s Model of 21st Century Instructional Leadership. This model considers the aspects of school leadership I have practiced and observed in my tenure as a school principal, district director, instructional superintendent, and university professor that move the needle on student achievement. I started with a broad-based theory of action around four big ideas: Strong Advocacy and Leadership, Adult Professional Culture, Continuous Improvement of Teaching Expertise, and Results-Oriented Teams. Next, I took a deep dive into each component to create four targeted theories of action. Finally, I put all of the thinking into a Venn Diagram as shown below. I’d love to hear what you think.

Email me at with feedback!



Broad Theory of Action

If schools and districts model, foster, and insist upon strong advocacy for each student and leadership is used as a catalyst for improved teaching and learning;

  • with an adult professional culture where everyone knows their purpose and goals, and treats others with respect due to full partners;
  • with continuous improvement of teaching expertise based on student academic, social, physical, and moral needs; and
  • with a deliberate focus on results and teamwork where collaborative problem solving is the established norm;

then schools and districts will be forward leaning, responsive, productive, purposeful places where learning flourishes in and for each student.



Baldanza’s Model of 21st Century Instructional Leadership

Baldanza Model of Instructional Leadership

Theory of Action #1: Strong Advocacy and Leadership
If we develop, advocate, and enact a shared school mission, vision, and core values focused on each student; and

  • we strive for equity and cultural responsiveness while managing resources toward goals and improved outcomes;
  • we lead a learning community with an understanding of change management; and
  • we foster productive and trusting relationships among and between stakeholders; and
  • we have our own personal learning network and mentor;

then our advocacy and leadership will be a strong catalyst for improved teaching and learning for all.

Theory of Action #2: Adult Professional Culture
If we act ethically and according to agreed-upon professional norms and insist that others do the same; and

  • we cultivate a caring and inclusive culture based on ethical practice keeping students front and center; and
  • we apply adult learning theory to develop capacity in others and support professional learning; and
  • we provide opportunities for collaboration and job-embedded learning; and
  • we coach and mentor others to support modeling, questioning, and observing practice;

then everyone knows their purpose, roles and responsibilities and is a full partner in the life of the school.

Theory of Action #3: Continuous Improvement of Teaching Expertise
If we develop and support rigorous curriculum, instruction, and assessment and accept no excuses for inaction and failure; and

  • we refocus teaching after assessing and redesign priorities around instructional needs; and
  • we embrace and incorporate digital tools to enhance collaboration and communication; and
  • we visit classrooms frequently and deliver meaningful feedback to students and teachers; and
  • we foster curricular coherence and innovation that links goals, learning tasks, and assessments around the mission, vision, and core values;

then we have established a forward-thinking culture focused on the current and future needs of each student.

Theory of Action #4: Results-Oriented Teams
If we engage a professional learning community, including varied stakeholders, in meaningful work; and

  • we monitor and support high quality, standards-aligned curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and
  • we design acceleration, not remediation, models of support for students and teachers; and
  • we collect and analyze performance data to make instructional and support decisions; and
  • we identify and develop teacher leaders including models for induction and mentoring;

then our teams can be high functioning problem solvers with accountability and authority to make shifts and decisions that support each student.


Let’s have some fun with this model to help understand its potential. I separated the verbs and the concepts from the theories of action. It makes an impressive list of attitudes, skills (verbs), and knowledge (concepts) the 21st century educational leader must have to analyze, enhance, and increase staff and student performance!

Verbs and Concepts

To demonstrate the overlap and connectivity of this model, take a verb from the first column and pair it with each concept from the concept section. Do that with the second verb, third verb, and so on. Every verb can be used with every concept and slightly shifts the meaning to become an equally important or more important idea. Examples are:

  • Model strong advocacy. Model leadership. Model being a catalyst. Model an adult professional culture. Model purpose. Model goals. Model partnerships. Model continuous improvement. Model teamwork….Model shared decisions.
  • Foster strong advocacy. Foster leadership. Foster being a catalyst. Foster an adult professional culture. Foster purpose. Foster goals. Foster partnerships. Foster continuous improvement. Foster teamwork….Foster shared decisions.
  • Embrace teamwork. Embrace equity. Embrace learning communities. Embrace digital tools. Embrace collaboration. Embrace strong advocacy. Embrace leadership. Embrace ethical practice. Embrace innovation…Embrace shared decisions.


Experts Who Have Influenced My Thinking and Actions

Theory of Action #1: Strong Advocacy and Leadership

Couros, George. The Innovator’s Mindset. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, 2015.

Kim, Anthony and Alexis Gonzales-Black. The New School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thinking and Responsive Schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press 2018.

Sanfelippo, Joe and Tony Sinanis. Hacking Leadership. Cleveland, OH: Times 10, 2016.

Sergiovanni, Thomas. Moral Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1992.

Singleton, Glenn and Curtis Linton. Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc., 2006.

Rollins, Suzy Pepper. Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put ALL Students on the Road to Academic Success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2014.

Murphy, Joseph. Professional Standards for Educational Leaders: The Empirical, Moral, and Experiential Foundations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2017.

National Policy Board for Educational Administration. Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, 2015.

Theory of Action #2: Adult Professional Culture

Crane, Thomas and Lerissa Nancy Patrick. The Heart of Coaching: Using Transformative Coaching to Create a High Performance Coaching Culture. San Diego, CA: FTA Press, 2005.

Deal, Terrence and Kent Peterson. Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Press, 2003.

DuFour, Richard, Robert Eaker, and Rebecca DuFour ed. On Common Ground: The Power of Professional Learning Communities. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, 2005.

Maxwell, John. Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2014.

Rutherford, Paula et al. Creating a Culture for Learning. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications, 2011.

Theory of Action #3: Continuous Improvement of Teaching Expertise

Davenport, Patricia. Are We There Yet? Continuing to Close the Achievement Gap. Houston, TX: APQC, 2006.

Dufour, Richard. Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, 2010.

Farina, Carmen and Laura Kotch. A School Leader’s Guide to Excellence. Portsmout. NH: Heinemann Press, 2008.

Reeves, Douglas. Where Great Teaching Begins. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2011.

Rutherford, Paula. Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications, 2010.

_____________. Instruction for All Students. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications, 2008.

Saphier, Jon, Mary Ann Haley-Speca, and Robert Gower. The Skillful Teacher: The Comprehensive Resource for Improving Teaching and Learning 7th Edition. Acton, MA: Research for Better Teaching, 2017.

Theory of Action #4: Results-Oriented Teams

Love, Nancy, Katherine Stiles, and Susan Mundry. The Data Coach’s Guide to Improving Learning for ALL Students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.

Sanborn, Mark. You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2006.

Schmoker, Mike. Results Now. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2006.

James-Ward, Cheryl, Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp. Using Data to Focus Instructional Improvement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2013.




Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only.

Please include the following citation on all copies:
Baldanza, Marcia. “Baldanza’s Model of 21st Century Instructional Leadership”  Professional Practices. March 2018. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. © 2018 All rights reserved.