Academic journal article Rural Educator

The Lone Ranger in Rural Education: The Small Rural School Principal and Professional Development

Academic journal article Rural Educator

The Lone Ranger in Rural Education: The Small Rural School Principal and Professional Development

Article excerpt

It has been well established that the role of the principal is essential with student learning. Many studies have established that the quality of a principal and his or her impact on academic success of the school is powerful (Hallinger & Heck, 1996; Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004; Nettles & Herrington, 2007; Robinson, Lloyd, & Rowe, 2008; Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012). Robinson and his colleagues (2008) found that the more a school leader focuses on learning about teaching and student learning, the greater influence he or she had on student outcomes. Specifically, professional learning and development research have increased as evidenced by the numbers of articles dedicated to understanding how principals are receiving professional development (Parylo, 2012; Spanneut, Tobin, & Ayers, 2012). Driven by national leadership standards, the shift in the role of the principal as an instructional leader also has increased the need to continually develop professionally (Spanneut et al., 2012). Duncan (2013) also found that principals at all levels of experience have an increased need for professional development. The most recent pressing need on principals and their demands for personal professional development are improving their performance based on evaluation policy standards.

Theoretical Framework

The national focus on principal evaluation is currently increasing. As teacher evaluations have been adopted in all states, principal evaluation has also emerged as another method to meet current accountability pressures. However, research on principal evaluation is lacking (NAESP & NASSP, 2012) and those that do exist have called for improvement in principal evaluations because in the past these evaluations have not focused on current standards, or they have not been implemented systematically across a state system (Clifford & Ross, 2012). Studies have also found that attempts to evaluate principal effectiveness based on student performance or other management areas should not be used to make judgments as to principal quality (Fuller & Hollingworth, 2014; Goldring, Cravens, Murphy, Porter, Elliott, & Carson, 2009). With the dearth in literature on principal evaluation, some researchers (Davis, Kearney, Sanders, Thomas, & Leon, 2011) have raised the question as to whether there is an impact from evaluation systems on the hopeful improvement of school goals and student growth. There is some research suggesting changes in the way principals should be evaluated. Sun and Youngs (2009) found that principals would be more active in learner centered leadership practices when the evaluation included professional development. Sun and colleagues (2012) also found that district evaluations can promote greater instructional leadership.

In September 2011, the Utah State Board of Education adopted R277-531, which outlined the educator evaluation requirements for all school districts in Utah. Because of that policy, principals are evaluated by the Utah Educational Leadership Standards (UELS). These six standards are based on the national Interstate School Leader Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) six standards. Also from this policy, teachers are evaluated by the Utah Effective Teaching Standards (UETS), which are based on the 10 Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) standards. Principals in Utah (as in many states) are currently evaluating teachers using UETS and being evaluated by their supervisors using UELS. With any systemic change and added pressure of evaluation, principals need to learn what is required by the standards they apply in the evaluation of teachers, and they need to learn what is required by the standards in which they are being evaluated.

These evaluations are even more problematic with rural school principals. Often rural school principals lack any professional development in understanding how to evaluate teachers, which may lead them to evaluate teachers according to their own set of standards. …

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