Evolving principal role requires new professional development

Leadership is second only to classroom instruction when it comes to influencing student learning
By: | Issue: June, 2015
May 18, 2015

Principals shifting their roles from building manager to instructional leader need more extensive PD to ensure top performance from teachers and students, according to a new policy brief from ASCD.

Race to the Top’s requirements linking teacher evaluations to student test scores is largely responsible for the change in the principal’s responsibilities, says Susan Race, a former principal who is senior director of Professional Learning and Institutes at ASCD.

“As observers and evaluators of teachers, principals need to be really skilled in their knowledge of the curriculum and whatever standards the state has adopted, as well as be an expert in observing, evaluating and coaching teacher performance,” Race says.

Leadership is second only to classroom instruction when it comes to influencing student learning, according to a 2010 University of Minnesota and University of Toronto study of 180 schools in nine states. “We have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership,” the researchers reported.

However, only 4 percent of federal dollars for improving educator performance is spent on principal development.

Shift from traditional PD

Traditionally, principal PD includes county or state leadership team meetings, working with a consultant, and attending workshops and conferences. To better coach today’s teachers, principals need more training in new standards and instructional practices, Race says.

For example, principals conducting classroom observations will need to evaluate whether teachers are balancing informational and literary texts across content areasÑan instructional practice required by new ELA standards. Principals also must assess whether students understand close reading, text-based conversations, and using evidence in written and oral arguments, Race says.

Race offers the following tips for superintendents to maximize principal PD:

Seek out collaborative professional learning communities and instructional coaching. PLCs are effective for principals and teachers because they are regular meetings that allow colleagues to share successes and challenges, help one another adopt new strategies, and collaborate to improve practice. PLCs are especially important for principals, who are typically physically isolated from their peers during the school day. They can also access PLCs online, without having to leave campus.
Leverage teacher leaders: Many principals get bogged down with student discipline, bus scheduling and other day-to-day managerial tasks. Assigning teacher leaders to take on management roles frees up principals’ time for PD and coaching teachers.
Involve principals in determining what PD will benefit them most given their personality and school needs.
Take a strengths-based approach to PD. Educators often focus on data that identifies “weaknesses” and “deficits” when developing improvement plans. But identifying a district’s strengths is also important. For example, superintendents should let principals who have created school cultures of achievement train their colleagues.

“We need thoughtful PD that provides principals with the ability to manage day-to-day operations like fire drills while also spending time in classrooms and learning more about what instructional strategies work,” Race says.