Hear “instructional leadership,” and what comes readily to mind is the vital work of helping educators improve classroom teaching. It is a critical mission, to be sure, a key part of a principal’s job. But instructional leadership has at its foundation something broader—the capacity to build and keep great teaching teams in the first place, through selective hiring, careful nurturing, and strategic assignments and promotions.

The operative word here is “strategic.” Great staff development can’t reliably happen through lucky late-August hires, haphazard career paths, or adhering to flawed policies and procedures out of a sense of tradition or routine. (Even if budget problems, teacher shortages, and contract issues throw up considerable obstacles to change.)

Most important, given their varied and ever-expanding duties, not all principals can effectively manage their talent alone. They need the support of others in the school system. Fortunately, these school systems now have some powerful guidance to help school leaders become skilled talent managers—tools that can help them map out the who, what, when and where of the most critical decisions of the year.

Building a Talent Decision Map: How School Systems Can Promote Strategic Talent Management at Scale is a report and guide, produced by the nonprofit organization Educational Resource Strategies that spells out how leaders can organize data, provide support, and shape timelines to make smart staffing choices. It explains how leaders can better connect the roles of teachers, principals, and the central office; what questions they can ask to make better decisions; how they can organize a talent-management calendar; and how they can make the best use of data.

The accompanying toolkit, The Talent Decision Planner, is a user-friendly, customizable roadmap that groups talent decisions into six categories, with guiding questions based on research and feedback from leaders in the field: What decisions need to be made in what areas? Who makes them? By when? And what questions and data should guide decision-makers in the process? The planner also lays out a calendar, suggesting when each decision should be made.

With the tool, school leaders can add, delete, edit, reassign, or defer decisions or guiding questions to match their district’s context. They can create “decision guides” for teachers, principals and others, and they can prioritize the sorts of data their district has or needs to inform their guiding questions. The tool doesn’t keep or crunch data, but it can create a plan for teams to do so. And, with sample views, it shows them how data can be shared.

Exceptionally well-organized and clearly written, Building a Talent Decision Map and The Talent Decision Planner are based on ERS’ decade of experience working closely with school system leaders, as well as research and feedback from principals, district leaders, and human capital management organizations. Together, they are a welcome and valuable resource for schools and districts committed to building, developing, and retaining excellent instructional teams.