Instructional leadership is generally defined as the management of curriculum and instruction by a school principal. This term appeared as a result of research associated with the effective school movement of the 1980s, which revealed that the key to running successful schools lies in the principals' role. However, the concept of instructional leadership is recently stretched out to include more distributed models which emphasise distributed and shared empowerment among school staff, for example distributed leadership, shared leadership, and transformational leadership.
The concept of instructional leadership emerged and developed in the United States within the effective school movement of the 1980s. The research resulting from this movement revealed that a principal is critical to success in children’s learning within poor urban elementary schools. This research revealed that the personality characteristics of the ideal principal are strong mindedness, directness, top-down management and charisma.
During the 1990s, a strong instructional leadership model was still at the centre of the educational leadership discussion, because of its effectiveness in the schools. However, since then this concept has been criticised for focusing too much on the individual principal’s heroic role. As a result, the scholars started to explore leadership models to supplement these critics and point out the distributed nature of instructional leadership, such as transformational leadership, teacher leadership, shared leadership, and distributed leadership, all of which understand educational leadership as broader perspectives practice that includes school communities. Moreover, the accountability movement of the 21st century sheds new light on instructional leadership, since this paradigm puts more emphasis on the learning outcomes for students.