Instructional leadership: A meeting with three change agents

13 October 2020


Bhavna Sawnani
Bhavna Sawnani (on the left) and her colleague work as mentor teachers in Delhi, India.

Why is the role of instructional leader under-exploited at the middle-tier of education systems, despite its potential? Three instructional leaders shared their experiences and good practices in Wales, Rwanda and Delhi (India), for an online event organized as part of UNESCO’s World Teachers’ Day 2020 celebrations.

Instructional Leaders: At the crossroads between teachers and policy-makers

Their core mission is to support teachers in their teaching practices and professional development through informal feedback. Instructional leaders also bring the voice of school head teachers and teachers into the political decision-making process. Depending on the setting, these instructional leaders do not have the same name. In Delhi, they are given the title of "mentor", while Wales has opted for "associate" and Rwanda for “learning leader."

Situated at the middle-tier of education systems, these support roles are not new. "We have known for a long time that there is potential at this level, but it is not sufficiently tapped. It is somehow neglected in the work on educational quality," said Suzanne Grant Lewis, IIEP Director, during the webinar. What are the conditions for these leadership roles to become positive change agents? The experience of these three instructional leaders provides new evidence on instructional leadership at the middle-tier - and what it takes for change to happen.

Bhavna Sawnani, Delhi, India

In 2016, a teacher mentoring programme was launched in Delhi, as part of an education reform. Teacher Bhavna Sawnani responded to a call for applications to become a mentor teacher. Among the selection criteria defined during the recruitment phase, her creative, innovative and collaborative skills were assessed through a series of individual interviews, group discussions, and psychometric tests. She now works in five schools, as do the 200 other teacher mentors in Delhi. Her work consists of observing the lessons of her fellow teachers, giving them informal feedback and helping them to improve their classroom processes and pedagogical practice through training workshops. 

At the beginning, she admits that she had to deal with skeptical teachers. Today, she observes concrete changes in the classrooms. 

"By giving them positive feedback, bringing suggestions and encouraging them to share their ideas, teachers realize that mentor teachers are not a threat - but a support for them. (…) Collaboration really works. As teachers now collaborate, the children have started working in groups and have become more confident in sharing their ideas.” -Bhavna Sawnani


Deogratias Tuyisingize, Rwanda

Head teacher of the GS Nkanga public school with more than 4,300 students located in rural eastern Rwanda, Deogratias Tuyisingize is also one of the 50 national learning leaders appointed in his country since 2018. In Bugesera district, he supports 15 ‘school leaders’ selected at local level. After completing a continuing professional development course, he started coaching his fellow head teachers to develop their leadership for learning. He also supports teaching communities – at the school level – to improve learning outcomes in English and mathematics. 

"This platform has contributed to improve teachers’ knowledge and understanding of their own school opportunities (...) Today, I’m proud of being able to design strategic school improvements and to use data-driven tools focusing on improving learning outcomes.” - Deogratias Tuyisingize


Tegwen Ellis, Wales

After working as a teacher for 32 years – 20 of them as a head teacher – Tegwen Ellis is now Chief Executive of the National Academy for Educational Leadership in Wales. This independent organization was constituted in 2017 as part of a Welsh government plan to improve education standards. They aim to contribute to the development of professional capabilities of current leaders across the Welsh educational system and to develop a strategy for education leadership. To do so, she works with 30 "associates", selected and trained by the Academy. Their role is to support the teacher community, drive change, and evaluate the impact on practice. By giving teachers a voice, the associates also contribute to co-constructing educational policies. 

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were invited by the Welsh Government to produce guidelines for all schools across Wales, but also for parents and communities. Our associates informed us about what they needed and were anxious about. (...) Associates are the voice of the profession on behalf of the professionals. Influence on policy decisions comes from within the sector." -Tegwen Ellis