Guiding Improvements in Principal Performance: ACSA and WestEd Have Developed a Community of Practice Aimed at Finding Ways to Improve Principal Guidance, Support and Evaluation

By Kearney, Karen | Leadership, September-October 2005 | Go to article overview

Guiding Improvements in Principal Performance: ACSA and WestEd Have Developed a Community of Practice Aimed at Finding Ways to Improve Principal Guidance, Support and Evaluation


Kearney, Karen, Leadership


It is without question that "Leadership Matters." Expectations in No Child Left Behind legislation not only require quality teachers, but also require quality principals. Districts and schools are being held accountable for adequate progress. State intervention teams check for quality leadership in the schools they review. At the same time, new options from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing offer multiple ways to secure an administrator license, ranging from long-term course work to a single-sitting examination.

The accountability for ensuring a quality principal in every school moves squarely to the district leaders who are responsible for selecting, supporting, monitoring and evaluating principal performance.

Even with this context in mind, the press and number of challenges faced by educators frequently pushes leadership development into the background. District leaders recognize that highly accomplished principals are key levers for district and school improvement and increased student achievement. Breaking research (Waters et al. 2003; Leithwood et al, 2004) and common sense gained from years of work on improving schools demonstrate the importance of high quality principals in reaching teaching and learning goals.

Yet, more often than not, retooling outdated administrator policies and practices falls far down the list of district priorities. Major questions are: How can we find the time to focus on high quality principal support and evaluation? Where do we start to improve our policies and practices?

Developing a community of practice

For years, experts have told us that the way to get things done is to schedule them on our calendars and to find a partner to join with us in the effort. Following this advice, the Association of California School Administrators joined the Leadership Initiative at WestEd in inviting superintendents and district teams to think through improving practices related to principal guidance, support and evaluation (EdCal, Dec. 20, 2004).

Motivated by interest in better understanding the California Professional Standards for Educational Leaders and the Descriptions of Practice, district teams talked through the standards and questioned how best to apply them in their real work.

They read pertinent research on the relationship between principal quality and student achievement, updated their knowledge about current national and state expectations and requirements for principals, and reviewed examples of principal assessment and evaluation systems being piloted or implemented in states such as Washington, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Delaware and Connecticut.

Administrators, in their district teams, discussed current practices related to principal support and evaluation and shared potential approaches for improvement with other district teams for feedback and critique.

This work has built an active Community of Practice around principal support and evaluation. It has served to jump-start district revisions of policies and practices by opening up problem-solving dialogues and exchanging practical solutions. While the effort is still young, initial results in the fist year-and-a-half have included districts reviewing outdated district policies, piloting the use of the CPSELs in their goal-setting and conferencing processes, using the Descriptions of Practice for self assessment and peer coaching, and adopting new board policies for principal evaluation.

A few districts are in the process of extending their thinking by adapting the CPSELs for use with all administrators and supervisors, both instructional and also non-instructional staff.

District leaders reported that participating in the Community of Practice enabled them to both set aside time to focus on leader development and also to work with their own district teams in order to update principal support and assessment activities that had not kept up with standards-based practice. …

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