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Music to My Ears - Principals as Instructional Leaders

By David B. Cohen — July 17, 2009 2 min read

Today’s luncheon panel at the NBPTS Conference included two principals from schools in or near our host city, Atlanta. Both gentlemen, Shannon Flounnory and Darian Jones, lead schools that have made broad use of Take One! - an introductory version of National Board Certification - as a professional growth and school improvement strategy. They were able to cite multiple measures of the impressive results for students that followed from having their teachers engage in a genuine learning community, doing work based on National Board Standards.

Here are some of the notes and quotes I took from their talk, in which they both described how they have implemented effective principal leadership techniques that improve teaching and learning, building the capacity of their staffs.

Shannon Flounnory decided that if all staff members at Stonewall Tell Elementary School were going to do Take One!, then he would do so as well. We’re talking not only about a principal simply doing some teaching, but submitting his teaching to rigorous evaluation, acting as a model for his staff. He rearranged the school schedule to optimize teachers’ ability to work and learn together. Staff meetings have been replaced with learning time dedicated to analysis and reflection; the dissemination of information that often occurs at staff meetings has been relegated to email distribution. In those study sessions, when teachers review data and find kids are struggling, Flounnory states that it is the responsibility of the whole school to address those needs.

Darian Jones went through some similar steps at Carver Health Sciences and Research High School (known as The Lab), and added that he sees part of his role as being a “filter” for teachers. He helped his staff work on Take One by “shielding” them from the district-based version of professional development. You could even say he shielded teachers from himself - in a good way: “I needed to get out of the way and let the people who knew what they were doing go ahead and do it.” Jones promotes teacher learning as he probably would facilitate student learning: he observed that too often in education, we differentiate for students, but not for teachers.

Principals have a difficult job, with demands and responsibilities coming from many directions. Flounnory and Jones sound like two principals who have managed to focus effectively on the role of being instructional leaders. Here’s hoping that their practices, which seem rather exceptional today, will gradually become more common.

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