Priming Principal Pipelines: Leadership Training Options for District Administrators

By Schachter, Ron | District Administration, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Priming Principal Pipelines: Leadership Training Options for District Administrators


Schachter, Ron, District Administration


Most principals today are hard pressed to find time for the multitasking they are expected to do, from overseeing the daily operation of their schools and interacting with parents to evaluating teachers and providing them with professional development to do their jobs at a high level.

What these principals have frequently been lacking, say experts in the field, is sufficient professional development for themselves. In fact, a 2008 survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) found that its members allocated just 2 percent of their school time, on average, to their own continuing education as school leaders.

That statistic has collided with recent demands by Race to the Top funding requirements, and the majority of state legislatures, that principals and assistant principals conduct more extensive, frequent, and rigorous teacher evaluations--all of which have given principals an even higher profile.

As a result, superintendents are faced with developing principals who are well-qualified for these new responsibilities, and more.

"There is an enormous level of accountability," observes NAESP Executive Director Gall Connolly. "There's a heightened emphasis on the principal being effective in instructional leadership."

As a result, Connolly adds, she has seen a new emphasis on training principals. "Their professional development has progressed from a one-day 'drive-by' session to a team-oriented, site-based program that takes place over a period of time and allows principals to apply what they've learned and to grow with it."

Educational organizations such as NAESP, ASCD, the international education association, and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) are promoting more intensive leadership training.

The New York-based Wallace Foundation, meanwhile, is funding comprehensive principal development programs in districts around the country over a five-year period. Now in its second year, the $75 million Wallace program is aimed at establishing strong principal pipelines in six large urban school districts, including Prince George's County (Md.) Public Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenberg (N.C.) Schools, Denver (Colo.) Public Schools, Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Schools, Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Schools, and the New York City Department of Education.

Instructional Leadership Comes to the Fore

All of these groups agree that the most critical role principals can play is that of instructional leader. For starters, they say principals need to devote a larger portion of the school day to supervising curriculum, visiting classes, and providing effective professional development for teachers--from having them view videos of successful peers to having more experienced faculty mentor them.

A decade ago, with that priority in mind, the Wallace Foundation launched its School Administrative Managers (SAM) Project, which strictly monitors how participating principals invest their time. Noting that school leaders spend up to 75 percent of their day on non-instructional management responsibilities, SAM equips them with TimeTrack, a software calendar program, in which they log the time spent on various activities--with an eye toward increasing time for instructional leadership activities such as classroom observations and following up with options to improve the practices of the teachers who are under observation.

The program, which began in the Louisville (Ky.) Public Schools, has since expanded to nine districts nationwide. It mandates a monthly meeting with a Time Change Coach, usually a retired school administrator, who helps with the transition. And there's mounting evidence, the Wallace Foundation reports, that this approach makes a difference on principal behavior.

A 2011 study of the SAM districts revealed that after two years, principals spent an average of almost five hours more per week on instructional matters than they did before entering the program. …

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