School leaders matter a lot—research tells us that they are a key lever in improving education. Leadership comes in second only to teaching as an influence on student success. And teachers’ own impacts can be helped or hindered by conditions principals establish in schools. The REL Mid-Atlantic alliance on training and supporting excellent educators partners with states and districts in our region to bring evidence to the changing landscape of school leadership.
Research has identified three key challenges that current and prospective principals face:
- Increased job complexity. Principals’ roles encompass an array of administrative and instructional demands. They are expected not only to run their buildings but also to serve as experts who observe, coach, and develop staff to become better teachers.
- Sufficient supply of candidates. Districts—especially higher-need ones—have difficulties attracting and retaining enough highly qualified leaders.
- Adequate preparation. Research supported by the Wallace Foundation found that principals are dissatisfied with the quality of their preparation. Many preparation programs, according to a report from RAND, fail to provide opportunities to gain leadership experience and ready principals for the realities of their jobs.
Our alliance developed activities that support districts in the mid-Atlantic region in addressing these and other challenges principals face every day. REL Mid-Atlantic is supporting principals by helping them create academically enriching environments for students of all ethnicities, races, beliefs, and creeds. An upcoming workshop series on culturally responsive pedagogy will cover four key areas: (1) understanding educational equity and culturally responsive pedagogy as part of a broader systemic change effort, (2) using research on culturally responsive pedagogy, (3) implementing culturally responsive pedagogy in pre-service training programs for teachers and administrators, and (4) instilling culturally responsive pedagogy in schools.
We’ve also helped district leaders and principals improve their principal evaluation systems and think about instructional leadership in new ways. On May 13, we will host a webinar called “Using Teacher Feedback in School Leader Evaluations.” Presenters will expand local and state leaders’ knowledge of teacher survey instruments that they can use to evaluate and provide formative feedback to school leaders. In addition, our latest infographic explores how teachers’ input can add value to principal evaluations, and a fact sheet summarizes characteristics of effective school leaders and how states and districts can develop such leaders.
Many districts assess principals based in part on the achievement growth of a school’s students. We are working with the District of Columbia Public Schools to examine its formula for incorporating student growth into principal evaluations, with the aim of assessing whether changes in the formula might improve the fairness of the rating.
Our school support and improvement alliance also helps support instructional leadership. The team developed a survey for the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to seek feedback on the state’s leadership development supports for principals. We also created an infographic to support MSDE’s efforts to provide research-based information for leaders in newly identified turnaround schools.
These are only a few of the ways REL Mid-Atlantic reinforces the shifting emphasis from administrative to instructional leadership. We believe this shift can help principals zero in on their schools’ ultimate aims: improving students’ academic trajectories. If you’re looking for more research on supporting instructional leadership, submit an inquiry through our Ask A REL service or search through our archived Ask A REL responses.
"The Changing Role of School Principals: Moving Beyond Keeping the Lights On" (Part 2 of 2)
Cross-posted from the REL Mid-Atlantic website.