October 1, 2020

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19 National Education Groups Send Joint Letter in Response to HEROES 2.0

Earlier today, 19 national education groups sent a joint letter to House and Senate leadership today, responding to the revised House HEROES Act, the latest proposal in response to the COVID pandemic. 

Groups signing the letter include: 

 

  • AASA, The School Superintendents Association
  • American Federation of School Administrators
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Association of Educational Service Agencies
  • Association of School Business Officials International
  • Council of Administrators of Special Education
  • Council of Chief State School Officers
  • Council of Great City Schools
  • International Society for Technology in Education
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National Association of School Psychologists
  • National Association of State Boards of Education
  • National Association of State Directors of Special Education
  • National Education Association
  • National PTA
  • National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium
  • National Rural Education Association
  • National School Boards Association

]

 

Principal Supervision In The Era Of COVID-19

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Principal Supervision In The Era Of COVID-19

By Dr. Gary Bloom

 

The importance of principal supervision has received a lot of attention over the past few years. Organizations such as the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Wallace Foundation have called for a coaching-based approach to principal supervision. In my work, I have advocated for the use of Blended Coaching, supported by Supervisorial Feedback and Direction, as a model for principal supervision. I have suggested that supervisors must be prepared to coach principals around their professional practices, and also around their emotional intelligences and dispositions. The current pandemic adds new challenges to principal supervision. Here are a few scenarios derived from the field that illustrate what principals and principal supervisors are up against.  If you supervised these principals, how would you both coach and evaluate them?

 

  • John has been viewed as a successful elementary principal. He is an extrovert who has excelled at building relationships with his students, staff and community. Student achievement at his school has been flat though, and this year was going to be the year that John directly challenged his veteran staff to work harder to meet the needs of the school’s small population of English Language Learners. John is depressed and dismayed, missing the daily reinforcement that comes with interacting face to face with a school community. He is taking a hands off-approach with his staff, not sure how he can support them beyond making technology available. On top of it all, he is very distracted, closed up in his house with two school age children and a wife who is also working from home. 
  • Maria, a middle school principal, is overwhelmed by the ways in which the pandemic has brought issues of social justice and equity into relief in our country and in her community. She is expecting her teachers to put in a full day of work every day, and does not trust all of them to do so. She is closely monitoring teachers’ “Google classrooms” and requiring teachers to attend thirty-minute video meetings every day at 1:00 PM. Some teachers are beginning to push back and have contacted the union, claiming that she is controlling and is asking too much of her staff.
  • Mark is the principal at a large comprehensive high school. He is a bit of an “old school” guy who in the past has focused much of his energy on sports and student activities. Now that sports and activities are mostly on hold, he is not quite sure what to do with his time. His assistant principals are charged with planning next year’s master schedule, but it is unclear how classes will be structured. Leading instruction has been left to department chairs, and the little bit of evidence that there is seems to indicate that some departments are doing much better at reaching out to students and delivering quality content than others.
  • David is a second year principal at a school with a needy community that is struggling in the current climate. His school has experienced high teacher turnover and has many teachers in their first and second years, and a number of vacancies. David is committed to being a strong instructional leader, but he is at a loss as how to best supervise and support his novice staff members. He is also struggling with the need to recruit and screen new teachers.
  • Marina’s on-line staff meetings are often disorganized and focused upon logistics rather than instruction. On-line grade level meetings are mostly spent venting about the difficulties of the current situation, punctuated by the sharing of lessons and web resources. Marina is aware that many of her teachers are feeling disillusioned and helpless, and is not sure what to do about it.
  • José has rallied his certificated and classified staff to meet the needs of his community, distributing food and work packets to students and their families on a daily basis. He has worked with his district to distribute computers to each student, and to make sure that students have broadband access. Teachers are working collaboratively to share resources and best practices. The school has a strong sense of community. Yet it is clear that special needs students are struggling and around 10% of students are not in regular contact with their teachers. With looming budget cuts and uncertainty about what is coming in 2020-21, José is doing his best to stay motivated.
  • Susan has learned that a group of her parents have held a zoom meeting to air grievances about her leadership of her charter elementary school. They are frustrated that their children are having a hard time working independently at home. They claim that teachers need to be more innovative and engaged. And some are demanding that the school reopen in the fall, while others are asking for a fully remote program.

 

I suspect that some of these scenarios will be familiar to readers. We are all facing new challenges in this environment, and we are all learning as we go along. If there were ever a time for supervisors to take a coaching stance, it is now. Because there are often not clear solutions to the challenges we face, principal supervisors need to work collaboratively with principals to find a way forward. They need to nurture professional learning communities among principals so that best practices can be shared and propagated. Principal supervisors need to be prepared to recognize and address the emotional issues, both personal and among site staff members, that principals are grappling with. This does not mean that we set aside accountability; expectations and standards for principal performance need to be explicit…. and they need to be revised to fit in the current context. Challenging times for all of us.

 

SEL Leadership in a Virtual World

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SEL Leadership in a Virtual World

The AASA Leadership Network invites you to share your ideas about how you and your district are addressing the needs of students, families, and staff during this challenging time in our country and our world. This is the first in a series of AASA BLOG entries from outstanding educational leaders engaged in implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) in their districts and schools to support their students, staff, and families during this period of national transition.

We are very pleased that this first entry is from Dr. Sheldon Berman, currently Superintendent of Andover Public Schools (Massachusetts) and a national leader in the field of social and emotional learning.

Section One: The SEL Challenges Confronting Educational Leaders Leading in a Virtual World

This is an unprecedented time in our history as a country and as a profession. Our response to the Covid-19 crisis powerfully reinforces the necessity of education to bring consistency and support to the lives of our students. As educational leaders, we must make certain that both our students and our staff members regain some semblance of normalcy in order to maintain engagement and connection—and to sustain meaningful education during this time of upheaval.

At the heart of social and emotional learning (SEL) is the goal of reinforcing positive relationships and connections among members of a learning community. These goals are especially important for helping learners to feel safe and engaged in this new virtual world.  As we search for ways to use distance learning as an educational delivery system, we must continue to acknowledge the importance of students’ relationships with their peers and their teachers. What is perhaps most important in leading virtual learning is the need to help our students and staff overcome isolation.

In spite of the distance we must maintain and the disruption to all our normal patterns of interaction, we still can sustain relationships with our students, bring smiles to their faces, and reinforce the connections that may seem broken in the face of isolation.  What makes this even more critical, is that in the midst of this national crisis, people around our students are getting ill and experiencing unprecedented economic and personal challenges. Connections with teachers and peers can be a welcome relief and healing force in students’ lives.

As educators, we can continue to provide support, stability, and normalcy to our students—in spite of working at home and disruptions from economic upheaval. We have to focus our leadership on our SEL work and let our children know that we miss them—and that we are there to support them. Before I give some practical suggestions about the importance of SEL in effective distance learning, I’d like to share a quote from Mother Theresa that seems particularly relevant now:“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together, we can do something wonderful…”

Section Two:  Promoting Connectivity and Engagement in a Virtual Learning Environment

So what can educational leaders do to promote connectivity and engagement during this time of isolation and transition? There are a number of strategies for reaching out to our students to make personal contact with students and staff on a consistent basis and ensure that distance learning is as engaging, interactive, and experiential as possible. Here are few of the strategies —and we invite you to share your own success stories with us about education in this new virtual world:

  1. The Equity Priority: The first step towards equity in communication is providing, as best we can, the technology and connectivity to our students and families through distributions of Chromebooks and hotspots to those who need it with simple directions and access to technology workshops for students and parents. Once we achieve some level of equity, we can ensure that every student has a support network and personal contact with teachers—regardless of their access to technology. For example, we make weekly or more frequent contact with every learner via phone contacts, emails, letters, and either individual, small group or even whole-class video conferencing meetings. 
  1. Setting Reasonable Expectations: Given the disruption in students’ and staff members’ lives, the expectations for learning and connection have to be reasonable. We can’t expect teachers to replicate the classroom or expect students to complete all the work that would have been accomplished if they were in school. Remote teaching, particularly online learning, takes much more time for teachers to prepare for and facilitate than teaching in the regular classroom. It is vitally important that educators understand the limits of what students might be able to accomplish in a more limited amount of time and set reasonable learning targets to reduce student anxiety and apprehension. Giving students time and support in this new environment is essential for them to function in a meaningful and productive way so that they can be proud of what they are able to do.
  1. Reinforcing Connectivity and Support: It is essential that students experience a sense of routine aligned with their in-school experiences. Providing a schedule for when teachers will be available or when online learning will occur brings a sense of order to a student’s and their family’s day. For example, elementary teachers whose students have access to technology and connectivity can host daily virtual morning meetings for students. At the secondary level, teachers can use technology to host virtual advisories for middle and high school students either in small groups or in their regular advisory groups. Teachers can also be available online for office hours to provide parents and students an opportunity for individual support.
  1. Engagement and Interactivity as a Key Focus Area: We can ensure that students’ social interaction and emotional engagement are priorities during distance learning activities by enhancing remote learning activities that are project based or require students to work together remotely. Providing video lessons that students can access and assignments or work sheets isn’t sufficient. Lessons have to include discussion and sharing of ideas or experiences in order to personalize and engage student learning. Video conferencing 1-3 times a week can also be highly effective, moving from whole-group meetings to conferences involving smaller groups.
  1. Varied Pedagogy: The virtual world requires sensitivity to students’ varying attention spans and the inevitable distractions of their home environment. Teachers must strive to make distance learning as interactive as possible with less focus on didactic presentation and much more focus on discussion, feedback, coaching, and counseling, as needed.
  1. Encouraging Student-to-Student Interaction: Students’ relationships with peers are essential in a virtual world. We can strive to integrate a range of strategies to enhance this interaction, including a major focus on small group project-based learning. For example, a project team can interact (via collaborative research, discussion, presentation, etc.) using such platforms as Zoom and Google Classroom.
  1. Building a Sense of Community in Spite of the Distance: Key to successful SEL implementation is building a sense of community in the classroom and the school so that students know they are included, valued and known. Remote learning can still accomplish that. Teachers and administrators in a school can create individual and collective messages in which each teacher expresses caring and support for students and lets them know they are missed. The faculty can create fun videos such as a dance video with each teacher participating for a couple of seconds each to brighten students’ day. The school can also host virtual talent shows with submissions of videos from students edited together and shared online or via cable TV. All of these strategies help to sustain students’ sense of connection to the school community.
  1. Meaningful Progress Monitoring: We can allow for a great deal of flexibility in this area, but we need to ensure that students and parents are receiving ongoing feedback on learner progress. Our teachers must make certain that students are clear about learning targets for a lesson or unit. They must also provide regular individual feedback on student work to support learners in achieving identified lesson and unit outcomes.
  1. SEL Support Services and Programs: Our commitment to sustaining meaningful and productive relationships and connectivity extends to the work of counselors, psychologists, and social service workers. Each of them can reach out to students and families through phone, email and video conferencing. They can continue providing individual and small group therapy using teletherapy tools. And they can reach out to teachers so that students who are not participating are identified and contacted. In this way they can stay connected with students and their families, ensuring that they receive the services and resources they need.

I wish each of you the very best during this challenging and unprecedented time. We invite you to consider submitting your own reflections via this AASA Leadership Network SEL Blog platform. This is a wonderful place to share ideas that can enhance our efforts to promote health, safe, and engaging learning environments.

 

For more information about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative visit https://aasa.org/czi.aspx.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teacher and Principal Supervision in Spring of 2020

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Teacher and Principal Supervision in Spring of 2020

By Dr. Gary Bloom

 School closures and the difficult transition to remote schooling came at just the time when most educational leaders would normally have been busy completing formal teacher observations and summative evaluations of both teachers and administrators.  

It is a given that formative supervision and summative evaluation are essential to ongoing professional growth, and to ensuring that our work in schools meets professional standards. What has the interruption of these processes meant, and what should we be thinking about as we look to an increasingly uncertain Fall of 2020? 

Here are a few things I have learned about the current state of affairs as I have spoken with people in a number of school districts: 

  • Standard practices and protocols  have been interrupted and a great deal of flexibility is being implemented moving forward.
  • School leaders are largely  being empathetic and pragmatic as they work with staff to meet student needs.
  • There is less of an emphasis  upon teacher and principal accountability, and more of a focus of accomplishing what is possible as a team.    

Among the many repercussions related to supervision that I am hearing from the field, are the following:  

  • Most teachers and administrators  are feeling a high level of support and are communicating more than ever with supervisors and colleagues, though some others are feeling isolated, a bit helpless and left to their own devices (no pun intended).
  • Some teachers and administrators who would otherwise have been released or reassigned are being held in place because supervision processes were not completed or because of feared difficulties in hiring replacements.
  • Some districts are fearing that some teachers and administrators may choose to retire and/or not to return to work, creating unanticipated vacancies in a period in which hiring may be particularly difficult.
  • Labor/management relations have built upon and amplified relations that existed before COVID-19. Where there was a focus upon collaboration, communication, and student needs, trust and commitment seem to be ascendant. Where tension and resistance already existed, a commitment to best meeting student needs in the current circumstances may be harder to establish and maintain.

As we wrap up this school year and look towards 2020-21, a few recommendations come to mind in relation to teacher and principal supervision:  

  • Prepare to invest in coaching-based support. We are in a new world, where nobody has the  answers. Teachers and principals will look to their supervisors for guidance, and to their colleagues as best practices evolve. Communication and collaboration have never been more essential.
  • Develop clear and realistic expectations around job performance. What can we expect of any teacher or principal in the course of any one day if they are working remotely?
  • Give real attention to the goal setting components of your evaluation systems. Set goals that are meaningful and achievable. 
  • Data driven improvement processes and accountability are still relevant. How are we going to measure our success on a daily, monthly, and annual basis? 
  • Maintain and solidify commitments to equity, given our knowledge that the current crisis amplifies advantages and disadvantages.
  • Develop and practice protocols for observing and evaluating distance learning, remote staff meetings, professional development activities and the like. Effective coaching, effective formative and summative evaluation depend upon observational input.
  • Lighten up, show compassion and flexibility as we work through this crisis, while at the same time remembering that our actions have significant and lasting impacts upon our students.

 

 

Busting the Coaching v. Supervision Myth

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Busting the Coaching v. Supervision Myth

By Dr. Gary Bloom

Bloom I wish I had a nickel for every time I have bumped up against the notion that a supervisor can’t serve as a coach. Thinking has shifted around this topic over the past few years, but the idea that a supervisor cannot both supervise and coach is still out there in the K-12 universe.

How did this myth come to be? I believe that it has its origins in Garmston and Costa’s early dissemination of Cognitive Coaching, the model that first popularized coaching as a professional development strategy in K-12. Don’t get me wrong, their work was a great contribution to our profession.  But Garmston and Costa initially took a hard line, suggesting that an effective coach could not serve simultaneously as a supervisor and evaluator. They later modified this position, but the taboo stuck.

Garmston and Costa are not the only thought leaders who have advocated for a wall between coaching and supervision. Jim Popham argues in Evaluating America’s Teachers: Mission Possible (2013) “a teacher evaluator cannot simultaneously be a summative and formative evaluator.  That’s because a teacher who needs to improve must honestly identify those personal deficit areas that need improvement.  Weaknesses can’t be remedies until they’ve been identified, and who knows better what teachers’ shortcomings are than those teachers themselves?”  This statement is oozing with mythology. The myths: 1. The notion that somehow by reflecting upon personal practice alone one can arrive at professional growth.  It ignores the fact that there is a body of professional knowledge that should shape our teaching practice and that can be learned from others . 2. The fallacy of a judgement/coaching dichotomy.  “Individuals who truly believe that a combined formative and summative teacher evaluation effort can succeed are most likely to have recently arrived from outer space.” Come on, Jim. Really?

In their book (Supervision that Improves Teaching and Learning (2005) Sullivan and Glanz argue that “bureaucratic inspectional supervision should have no place in schools in the 21st century” .. that we should move to a “democratic” model recognizing that “teaching is complex and not easily defined or understood”. Apparently teaching is a mystical undefinable practice that cannot be improved through the outside perspective that might be provided by a supervisor.

In her book Talk About Teaching (2016) Charolette Danielson suggests that there are three distinct categories of professional conversations; formal reflective conversations following formal observations conducted for the purpose of teacher evaluation, coaching conversations, by invitation of the teacher to the administrator, and informal professional conversations that follow a principal’s unannounced observations. This conceptual framework reinforces the false barriers between formal and informal supervision and the practice of coaching-based supervision.   

I can’t find a whit of research that supports these notions. It is all opinion that flies in the face of practical experience.

The presence of the supervision/coaching dichotomy K-12 is particularly ironic. Every teacher is both a supervisor and a coach of his/her pupils. Every teacher has the responsibility of both nurturing and supporting the growth of his/her students, and of evaluating their progress. In secondary settings, teachers make judgements, assign grades and write recommendation letters that directly shape their charges’ futures. Every good athletic coach both provides feedback and direction to their team members, and decides who is going to make the team, and who is going to play.

I have interviewed senior leaders in medicine, law and the military and in these professional domains it is understood that supervisors’ first responsibility is to support the growth of their subordinates from a coaching stance. Effective supervisors grow and support their people through coaching relationships, at the same time that they ensure that their charges meet standards by providing supervisorial direction and feedback and ensure accountability through summative evaluation. In classrooms and in healthy organizations it happens every day. 

 

Enthusiastic About Principal Pipelines

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Enthusiastic About Principal Pipelines

by Jacquelyn O. Wilson, Ed.D.

Executive Director, National Policy Board for Educational Administration
Director, Delaware Academy for School Leadership, University of Delaware

 wilsonI love principals. Yes, I said it. I was an assistant principal and principal for 12 years and for the past 15 years I have engaged in state and district policy and practice work to improve principal pipelines. I say this proudly and with no excuses. I think principals are the catalyst for change in schools and they are instrumental in building capacity and talent to do the work necessary to support student learning and well-being in schools. Because of this, I have become an enthusiastic principal pipeline fanatic. I am passionate about the development and support of principals because I know that a strong preparation program followed by a well-designed support system in a school district can make the difference in a principal’s success. I know this because I was a principal and I work with hundreds of principals in my role as the Director of the Delaware Academy for School Leadership at the University of Delaware and at the National Policy Board for Educational Administration. So why is this work so important to me and what does an enthusiastic principal pipeline fanatic actually do?

It is important to begin by defining what I mean when I talk about a principal pipeline. I do not want to assume that everyone has the same definition as me. I have had the opportunity to facilitate district teams engaged in principal pipeline work for the Wallace Foundation for over a decade. I have also supported pipeline work in states where I provide technical assistance and professional development on behalf of my academy. For me, the principal pipeline begins with teacher leadership. We need to remember that in most states principals are required to have been teachers first. That is why it is so important that teachers be provided opportunities by their principal to engage in leadership activities while remaining in the classroom. Effective principals distribute instructional leadership to teacher leaders by having them lead professional development, take on responsibilities for data inquiry analysis during PLC time, or participate on the principal’s leadership team where decisions about schedules, budgets and supervisory responsibilities takes place. This is the first phase of a principal pipeline. This is where instructional leadership emerges and where teachers learn how to lead others from their classroom. My enthusiasm grows as I observe teachers learn how to lead their peers in a professional learning community or when sitting on a school committee where they are expected to use their voice on behalf of students. As an enthusiastic pipeline fanatic I advocate for opportunities for teacher leaders. This is the starting point for principal pipeline work.

The next phase of the principal pipeline occurs when a teacher leader is either “tapped” by someone to consider an administrative position or decides on their own to participate in a pre-service preparation program. Many districts design and facilitate their own programs by identifying talented teacher leaders and providing them opportunities for professional development and mentoring. Some teachers try these programs out first before deciding if they want to enroll in a principal preparation program. Others earn their certification first and then apply for district aspiring leadership programs. The order does not matter, it is the decision a teacher makes to step into the arena and explore what it would be like to take on the responsibilities of leadership that are necessary as an assistant principal. This requires courage and decision-making about a career pathway that may be outside of the classroom. It requires careful consideration of the impact on family and a commitment of time and effort.  This is a turning point for teachers who take this step and why selecting a high-quality principal preparation program that is aligned to national standards (PSEL/NELP) is so important. It is helpful when the district has partnered with an effective preparation program that they endorse. As an enthusiastic pipeline advocate I encourage state departments of education and universities to align their preparation programs to national standards and to collaborate with school districts as they redesign program curriculum and internship experiences.    

As aspiring leaders complete their certification programs they often begin looking for positions as an assistant principal or principal. Districts with strong principal pipeline programs have established clear expectations and procedures for selecting candidates to apply for principal and assistant principal positions. Districts have invested in advanced data tracking systems that make it possible to identify candidates by specific criteria and experiences. They often have a pool of candidates who have participated in district programs. These districts have also created policies and procedures for candidate recruitment and induction such as rewriting job descriptions based on district priorities and the strategic plan. Districts create opportunities for the school community to provide input on candidate selection, the use of interview protocols with scoring rubrics and performance tasks are regular parts of the hiring process. The district has an established induction program that includes support for new candidates such as mentoring. Selecting the best possible candidate and matching that individual to a school is very important for the school community. I get very excited when I see districts who make selection of new principal or assistant principal a priority. Selection and placement are instrumental to success and retention.

But the best principal pipeline programs do not stop with selection and placement. Districts have recognized that support and professional growth of principals is key to retention. Identifying individuals to serve in the role of principal supervisor is becoming increasingly more important. Experienced principals who have demonstrated effective leadership in a variety of school settings are often tapped to move into the position of principal supervisor. In these positions they serve as a supervisor responsible for such things as professional development, allocation of district resources, performance evaluation and coaching. Principal supervisors meet regularly with the principals they have been assigned to discuss such things as student achievement data and instructional practices and feedback to teachers. Their role is critically important if principals are to grow professionally. The supervisor often recommends professional development for the principals based on an identified need. The supervisor also uses coaching as a strategy to help the principal improve his/her instructional leadership.  

One of the important roles of the Principal Supervisor is balancing supervision and support with the responsibility to evaluate performance. Principal Supervisors have been trained to use the district or state approved performance evaluation system to provide on-going formative feedback to the principals they supervise. The performance evaluation systems provide opportunities for goal setting, mid-year conferences, evidence collection and a summative rating at the end of the annual cycle. Districts are finding the value of using an evaluation system aligned to the same standards used for preparation, hiring and induction so that principals understand the expectations and criteria for effective leadership in the district.

Foundational to the various components of a model principal pipeline is the alignment of the system to a set of professional standards. States are adopting or adapting the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) as the foundation of their work. The standards communicate expectations to practitioners, supporting institutions, professional associations, policy makers and the public about the work, qualities and values of effective educational leaders. The standards are organized around the domains, qualities, and values of leadership work that research and practice indicate contribute to students’ academic success and well-being.

Because I love principals, I encouraged states and districts I work with to develop and articulate a vision for principal pipeline leadership. If we are serious about school improvement, then we need to get serious about designing systems for principal pipelines that include: standards; high quality preparation programs; selective hiring; on the job evaluation and support; principal supervisors; and data tracking systems. I think we all know that if we want a great school where teachers can thrive and develop their expertise as teachers of content and caring, we must send them our very best principals. We also know that if we want schools where children are safe, cared for, and challenged academically we need to send them well-prepared principals. I want all of use to become enthusiastic about principal pipelines. Enthusiasm drives change and commitment. Aligning principal pipelines programs to the Professional Standards for Educational Leadership, creating developmental programs in school districts for aspiring school leaders, and selecting and placing candidates using data tracking system in schools where they best serve students are important first steps. Adding the support system with principal supervisors is important to the growth of principals as instructional leaders. The use of a standards-aligned performance evaluation process that includes coaching and professional development are essential steps to creating high quality principal pipeline systems that are sustainable.  I will continue to enthusiastically advocate for districts to invest in principal pipelines because every teacher and every student deserves an effective principal.

   

Is the Principal's Job Doable?

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Is the Principal's Job Doable?

By Frederick Brown, deputy executive director, Learning Forward

Someone asked that question a few years ago during a meeting of The Wallace Foundation Principal Pipeline Initiative (PPI) professional learning community in New York. I felt it was an incredibly appropriate question considering the many demands being placed on today’s school leaders.  To provide a bit of context, let me remind you that the principal pipeline initiative involves helping six large urban districts create a large corps of “instructional leaders” – principals whose main task is to improve teaching and learning. The districts include Hillsborough County, FL, New York City, Gwinnett County (GA), Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Prince George’s County (MD), and Denver.

This particular question about the viability of the principalship was directed to a panel that included the superintendents of these six districts. Keep in mind that these districts survived a vetting process by Wallace before receiving their funding. As a result, they are among the top districts in the country when it comes to focusing their attention and resources on the principalship. Several of the superintendents were quick to acknowledge their beliefs that the job of school principal is incredibly demanding and perhaps not for everyone. However, each superintendent who answered highlighted that principals absolutely need the appropriate supports in order to do their jobs effectively, but they all felt the job is definitely doable.

I will come back to that word “supports” in just a bit, but first I want to take a moment to contrast that moment in New York with another moment when that same question was posed during a State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness (SCEE) meeting several years ago in Baltimore. At this particular meeting were principals from across the country, and they were the ones to respond to the question about how “doable” their jobs are. Their answers were both passionate and poignant. Although no principal said it wasn’t possible to do their jobs, many of them described a set of circumstances that left the audience wondering how long they would be able to sustain their pace. They described being required to complete formal evaluations of dozens of teachers each year. They emphasized their districts’ responses to their state student assessments and their roles in supporting the testing processes. They described work weeks that typically lasted 80+ hours and weekends that were all but nonexistent. It was a sobering moment and left many people in the audience wondering if we are simply asking our principals to do too much.

As I reflect on both the SCEE meeting and the superintendents’ panel, I’m drawn back to that word “supports.” What is it that districts (and perhaps provinces and states) can do to help support our school leaders? Built into Wallace’s Principal Pipeline Initiative itself are the foundation’s beliefs about some of those supports including:

  • Very clear leadership standards in place that outline what leaders are expected to know and be able to do
  • Strong leadership preparation that ensures leaders can move into a principal position with the skills needed to do the job
  • An induction process that provides job-embedded learning experiences during the first few years on the job
  • Ongoing mentoring and support to help principals navigate the ever changing educational landscape

The six PPI districts had to prove these supports were either partially or completely in place before they were awarded the grant. After hearing from some of the overwhelmed principals from the SCEE meeting and other districts I’ve visited, my guess is their districts may have lacked some of those basic supports. So what other supports do principals need? Here are a few I would offer:

  • As part of their training, induction, and ongoing professional learning, I would argue that principals need help understanding how to more effectively distribute leadership, particularly the management aspects of their work. Gone are the days of the superhero principals trying to manage all aspects of the work.
  • Building leaders need central offices and regional service centers that are viewed by principals not as “mandate generators” but as “centers of support” and “providers of resources.”
  • Principals need opportunities to network with their colleagues in learning communities where they can take ownership of their own learning and focus their efforts on solving “problems of practice” that will help move their collective work forward.
  • It’s imperative that principals receive support to help them strengthen their effectiveness of leaders of adult learning. In order for principals to become “multipliers of effective teaching” as Paul Manna outlined in his 2015 report, they must understand the basic tenets of professional learning as outlined in the Standards for Professional Learning (2011).

Is the principals’ job doable? In many places, unfortunately, I would say the answer might be NO. However, we know what it takes to change that reality, and it’s my hope that those principals who find themselves in “undoable” positions will find a way to advocate for a new reality.