School & District Management

Advice for Districts on ‘Recalibrating’ Principals’ Roles in Schools

By Denisa R. Superville — July 03, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


You’re not mistaken. There have been a lot of reports in the last few weeks focusing on principals and the tools, training, resources, and supports they need to successfully do their jobs.

That’s a good thing, since principals, as a group, have received significantly less attention than teachers even though they set the tone, climate, and culture in schools, and the quality of their leadership has been shown to impact student achievement.

Let’s start with one of the more recent reports, which was released this week by the Center for American Progress and conducted by researchers at Southern Methodist University. “The Changing Role of the Principal: How High-Achieving Districts Are Recalibrating School Leadership” provided a review of how the principalship has changed over the years (from building managers to aspirational leaders, coaches, evaluators, disciplinarians, public relations experts, talent managers, data managers, etc.), particularly since the introduction of complex teacher evaluation requirements that resulted from the federal Race to The Top grants and the waivers to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

How are the requirements for teacher evaluations affecting principals?

Here are some numbers put together by the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank:

  • 248: The number of hours the median principal in Michigan reported spending on activities related to teacher evaluations. Another way of putting it? The equivalent of 31 full working days.
  • 25: The number of teachers the average principal in Connecticut was responsible for evaluating in a given year, according to a principal survey.
  • 6: The number of hours Chicago principals reported that it took to complete one evaluation.

The report also came with prescriptions for reducing the burdens on principals and case studies of central offices that are already forging ahead with some of these strategies to empower principals as they deal with their new responsibilities.

Districts, they said, must prioritize professional development for principals. And principals must receive on-the-job training and support from their districts in order to be successful. (If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right: The George W. Bush Institute, the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership, and New Leaders published an entire report last month on what districts can do to create great principals.)

The full Center for American Progress report can be found here. Its recommendations call on educators and policymakers to:

  • Redesign school organizational charts and job descriptions;
  • Develop instructional leadership capacity around the principal position;
  • Focus principal training on coaching teachers;
  • Provide technological supports that allow principals to record and share information; and
  • Build the capacity of central office administrators to support principals.

As to the last, Denver, for example, hired a deputy instructional superintendent to help principals in a group of underperforming schools, providing those principals with greater access to their immediate supervisor.

For the last month or so, my colleague, Lesli Maxwell, and I have been writing about a slew of reports on principals, the stresses of the job, how to improve their effectiveness, their impact on students, and how to get the good ones to stay.

In case you missed those reports, here they are again:

From the Thomas B. Fordham Institute: Lacking Leaders: The Challenges of Principal Recruitment, Selection, and Placement.

From the Center on Reinventing Public Education at University of Washington: “Policy Barriers to School Improvement: What’s Real and What’s Imagined?

From the George W. Bush Institute, the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership, and New Leaders: “Great Principals at Scale: Creating District Conditions That Enable all Principals to be Effective.”

From the RAND Corporation: “Preparing Principals to Raise Student Achievement: Implementation and Effects of the New Leaders Program in Ten Districts.

[UPDATE (July 7): This post was revised to reflect the contributions of researchers at Southern Methodist University’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development.]

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.