Chat Transcript: Leading for Learning—Instructional Leadership Today

A growing number of states and school districts are re-engineering principals’ jobs to emphasize their roles as instructional leaders, according to an Education Week special report. This chat explores the changing roles of school leaders.

Leading for Learning—Instructional Leadership Today

About the Guests:

  • Carole Kennedy is the principal in residence at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in Arlington, Va. She served 38 years as a teacher and principal in the public schools of Missouri and was the president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals from 1996-97.
  • Jeff Archer, an associate editor for Education Week, the primary author of the “Leading for Learning” report. He has covered school leadership for the past two years for the paper.

Ann Bradley (Moderator): Good afternoon and welcome to Education Week‘s live chat. With us today is Carole Kennedy, a principal-in-residence at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She is joined by Jeff Archer, an associate editor of the paper and the author of our recent special report, “Leading for Learning.” In the report, Jeff explored the tensions between the call for principals to serve as instructional leaders and the day-to-day management duties that can interfere with that role. As a “reality check,” for example, he profiles an Arizona principal who does cafeteria duty each day and whose teachers have only one day a year set aside for professional development. I am Ann Bradley, an assistant managing editor, and will serve as the moderator. Now, on to your questions!

Question from Matthew Martz, Principal on Leave, Skaith Elementary:
Ms. Kennedy, a few years back you wrote an article where you discussed have a dual principalship in each building. One principal to manage the day to day activities and one to lead instructionally. Have you modified your position on this issue or do you still find validity in the dual principalship

Carole Kennedy:
Hi, Matt, Although the dual principalship isn’t being widely implemented, it seems to be working where districts have chosen to try it. An example is the success Kelly Griffith is having in Easton, MD. As the demands on the principalship increase, as more principals retire or leave the profession, the need to give serious consideration to a dual principalship (or a principal and manager)will grow, I believe.

Question from Bill Harshbarger, Teacher, Mattoon High School:
Why would a principal leader be a better instructional leader than a 2-year rotating, full-time, teacher-mentor, whose focus is almost exclusively instruction?

Carole Kennedy:
A number of years ago Dr. Richard Andrew’s research showed that teachers who perceive their principal to be knowledgeable about instruction are more focused on teaching and learning. But, being an instructional leader (I prefer to use “leader for student learning”) doesn’t mean that the principal is the only person who can provide such leadership. Leader for student learning is the principal who sets the environment and expectations and creates the conditions for teachers and students to be successful. Having an outstanding teacher-mentor focused full-time on instruction and supported by the principal (there are numerous examples of National Board Certified Teachers filling this role) would be an example of instructional leadership.

Question from Steve Nettles, Director of Research, Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University:
What areas of research are most needed to guide the new focus on principals as true instructional leaders? What can the research community do to best support school, district, and state leadership in this effort?

Jeff Archer:
What I keep hearing from researchers who’ve thought about this is that more studies need to be done to show HOW leadership matters. The idea that school leaders affect student achievement appears to be well accepted by now, but what seems to lacking are descriptions--backed up by evidence--of how certain leadership practices can change what happens in the classroom so that student learning improves. Obviously, that sort of work would serve a very practical purpose for those in the trenches. It’s one thing to say that good principals, for example, create a climate of high expectations for teachers and students, but what would really help school leaders would be to paint a clear picture of how that happens.

The other thing I hear is that far less is understood about how district-level leaders--as opposed to school leaders--affect student performance.

A good document summarizing the current research base on leadership effectiveness in education has just been drafted by researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Minnesota. It’s called “How Leadership Influences Student Learning,” and is on the web site of the Wallace Foundation ( It was drafted as part of a major research project on educatinal leadership that just got underway, and which I wrote about in Education Week’s Sept. 8 issue.

Question from Joan Jaeckel, Director, CEED K-12, Studio City, CA:
Are there any legal barriers that keep states and school districts from letting go of the idea that power has to be concentrated at the top with them? School “leaders” who are told to do “what is asked of them” are not really “leaders”. If the states and school districts want to empower school leaders to lead, it is the school principals [together with the school teachers, students, parents, and relevant community volunteers ] who ought to work out a leadership and accountability plan for all aspects of their operation that is right for their individual school. ...

Jeff Archer:
Not sure if this addresses your question, but as an Education reporter I do sense a resurgence of interest in moving more decision-making down to the school level. As somone from California, you certainly know that Secretary of Education Richard Riordan has said that schools should get more control over their budgets and how they are organized. Likewise, I recall that Pennsylvania’s gov has proposed that high-performing schools be freed from certain state mandates. I also know that the new plan to open 100 small schools in Chicago is based largely on the idea that school leaders ought to be given more flexiblity in how they run their schools.

It seems, however, that this trend comes and goes. Several years ago “site-based management” was all the rage, but I know of some districts that have pulled away from that--they gave principals some authority over budgets for a while, for instance, but have since taken that away. One thing I do hear from a lot of experts is that whenever you decentralize authority, you need to make sure school leaders are prepared to take on the responsibility--that they have the training they need to know what to do.

Question from Matthew M. Delaney, Ed.D., NBCT, Whitman-Hanson Regional School District:
The day-to-day life of a principal has certainly become more complex, not to mention intensive, over the past several years. A high percentage of qualified teachers do not stay in teaching. NCLB and state-mandated assessments have created much of that complex fabric in education and in turn drive too much of the teaching and learning in our schools. Unfortunately, too, many aspiring administrators do not have a broad range of experiences in education and enroll in leadership programs that teach formulaic solutions to generalized problems.

Do you believe that National Board Certification for principals can impact the change and accomplished practice in administrative leadership that it has achieved in the teaching field? How else may an administrator gain the broad catalogue of knowledge and skills necessary to direct successful programs in their districts, particularly at the secondary level where content-specific learning is often narrowly and vertically aligned? And finally, where to you see the future of educational leadership headed—in the short term; in the long term?

Carole Kennedy:
I believe that a national certification for principals based on high and rigorous standards could make a difference. National Board Certification for teachers has elevated the conversation about accomplished teaching, changed many college and university preparation programs as well as energized more than 32,000 teachers who certified. The National Policy Board for Educational Administration has a proposal for principal advanced certification, but at present it lacks a leader and funding.... The National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Middle School Association and the National Association of Secondary School Principals have instruments that assist principals in identifying areas of weakness and offer programs to build skills, ASCD, state leadership academies (some are better than others), the Institute for Educational Leadership’s e-Lead web site has programs listed, the National Institute for School Leadership and regional education labs are other places and there are more...The principalship short term will see principals retiring early or leaving the profession and increasing difficulty filling vacancies in high-needs schools. Long term,I want to believe that positive initiatives and attempts at change will take hold and we’ll see changes in role definition, recruitment, preparation, certification and professional development, that teacher leaders, including NBCTs such as yourself, will play a larger role in assisting principals in their role as leaders for student learning.

Question from Kathleen Pecora, Principal, Grass Lake High School:
As a principal in a small rural high school with no assistant, my days are filled with management details. Being an instructional leader is a goal, but one that I never get to! Any suggestions for those of us in small schools who wear many hats??

Carole Kennedy:
Rural teachers and principals are hard workers who often fill many roles. Get together with your staff and creatively work out ways that will give you time to be a leader for student learning. Often there are teachers who are willing to take on some leadership roles....and free you up to get in classrooms. Can assignments be juggled, schedules changed in any it possible some tasks could be done by a part-time employee possible? Have you looked at ways your secretary’s time might be used more efficiently? (He/she will love me for that suggestion!) For a week, record how you spend you time..then study it to see what could be eliminated, postponed, etc..It’s easy to give you suggestions, but harder to put them in practice, but don’t give up the goal...and, make this type of leadership a priority...(again, easier said than done, but it can be done.)

Question from Dr. Thomas Mawhinney, retired principal:
The Assistant Principalship should be a training ground for the Principalship, yet it usually entails safety and discipline. How do we change that position to one that is a training ground for instructional leaders rather than a haven for former coaches?

Carole Kennedy:
Dr. Mawhinney, you have hit on an important issue. The “expectation” for the position, in elementary and secondary, has become “disciplinarian’..and that’s all. If we believe that the principal should be the leader for student learning, then we have to provide training for assistant principals. District leadership has to support a change in the role and be willing to consider additional staff or assignment of existing staff to make this happen. Principals who believe they are training the “next generation” can, with careful planning and sharing of responsibilities, ensure time for assistant principals to be involved in curriculum and instruction. Perhaps we should start by changing the title to Assistant Leader for Student Learning! Fairfax County, VA, through its Wallace LEAD grant is providing instructional leadership for their principals, so it can be done.

Question from Laurel B. Tague, Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty, Genesee Community College:
From what different industry (e.g., Marketing; or, Research & Development) would you borrow “best practices” and quality management tips for re-engineering the principal’s role?

Carole Kennedy:
First of all, I would change the term to “promising practices” because what is best in one setting may not be best in another. While the military and corporations can give guidance on leadership development, I believe that re-engineering the role has to focus on instruction and increasing student learning. There are numerous groups, non-profits, associations and some university programs that are doing this work now. New Leaders for New Schools, a non-profit with rigorous programs in Chicago, Memphis, New York City, Oakland/San Francisco Bay area and Washington, DC, trains, coaches and supports candidates moving into the principalship in urban public school settings. The candidates train with nationally recognized experts and practitioners, serve a year-long residency and have three years of intensive one-on-one coaching from successful urban principals. Their goal is to significantly impact student achievement. Southern Regional Education Board has identified the characteristics of successful principals and is building programs around that. Programs such as these will make a difference in the expectations of the role.

Question from Michael Rulon, professional developement specialist, East Bay Educational Collaborative:
How can we get the point across to the adminstrative leaders of education that if they want real school reform, they must give teachers professional development that allows them to discuss and collaborate on a consistant basis?

Carole Kennedy:
Michael, you have hit upon a very important point. For too long we have depended upon one-shot, after school professional development that research and common sense tell us doesn’t get desired results. The National Staff Development Council has information and research on professional development that can be used to persuade...using examples of schools such as Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis can be useful as can Rick DuFours work in building professional learning communities...middle schools truly aligned(!) with the middle school philosophy give teachers opportunities for collaboration..and it makes a difference. Teachers can themselves make a strong case to their principals....where/how can you find the time, what kind of professional development would fit your needs (that based on identified needs of your students, school-based...), who will be responsible, etc. How will you show that professional development makes a difference in your students’ learning? Build a strong proposal then meet with the superintendent and/or principal. Show them how lesson study and study of student work can benefit teachers and students. I’m disappointed that with all we know about adult learning and the need for improving teaching that we would have to make the case for collaboration and on-going professional development.

Question from Patricia Viggiano.Assistant Principal Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School:
How do you see the increasingly demanding role of principal affecting a person’s choice to become an administrator?

Carole Kennedy:
There is no doubt that increasing demands will have an impact. There are more persons certified to be principals than there are openings now. Many don’t want the job. The role of the principal has changed especially with growing accountability for student achievement. Many principals were not trained for this new role so they will not seek the position; some who were, do not find the job appealing. The Wallace Foundation is doing some interesting work around the “conditions” of school leadership...looking at what impact district and state policies, hiring practices and incentives have on attracting principals and what changes can be made to make the job doable and rewarding. As attention is paid to this issue perhaps we’ll see positive changes.

Question from Cynthia Church, teacher, Marquardt Middle School:
I have recently obtained my administrative certification. The reason I want to become a principal is to provide instructional leadership. I feel I have been prepared to be a principal with a focus on leading organizational change. However, on the two interviews I have been on, the interviewing committee emphasized the managerial responsibilities rather than instructional/organizational leadership. How can the job change while the expectations are that the principal will be the manager rather than a leader?

Jeff Archer:
All I can think of when I read your question is the very insightful observation that my fellow-guest Carole Kennedy made when I interviewed her for Education Week’s new Leading for Learning report: “A lot of what a principal is, is what their school board wants them to be.” It summed up what many of the experts I spoke with said: that principals can’t change the way they do their jobs until those they work for change their expectations. Good luck.

Question from Barry Brahier, doctoral candidate, Univ. of MN:
Given the extraordinary work load and rapid-fire pace of principals’ professional lives, what do the guests think about out-sourcing teacher appraisal? Technologies like web-cams, hard disk video recorders, remote microphones, web-based portfolios, and web-based teacher appraisal software allow for panels of appraisers (for example, highly trained and experienced with the PRAXIS III) to examine evidence of many of the aspects of teaching performance and do this asynchronously. What could you see to be the advantages/disadvantages of this approach and what may be the barriers to implementing it?

Carole Kennedy:
As I principal I want to be busy with teacher supervision and appraisal..visiting classsrooms gives me information on students, teaching and teachers that I use to make decisions about curriculum, assessments, schedules, etc....during the process I build relationships with teachers and contribute to building their skills and knowledge as they contribute to mine..we can have rich conversations about teaching and learning....I cannot be a leader for student learning if I’m not in the classrooms......Video can play a role in improving teaching by giving teachers another tool for them to study their practice and reflect on the lessons they are teaching...Union contracts could be a barrer to this idea.

Question from Doris L. McNeal, Principal, Brighton Elementary School---Portsmouth, VA:
What suggestions do you have for getting parents in an inner-city setting to leave the school in the mornings so that our instructional day can begin promptly without alienating them completely? We have tried getting them to volunteer, but they don’t. They talk loud, distract the teachers, and refuse to follow directions. They also anger quickly.

Carole Kennedy:
Doris, this question is an example of the kind of issue that can consume principals’ time yet go so unnoticed by experts in school reform! Here are some suggestions: Find a space just for the parents...a “Parent Room” complete with coffee pot and amenities...hold a meeting for parents in that room...ask them to help outfit it to meet their needs...offer to visit with them on a certain day/time each week and share what their children are learning. Identify, if possible, a leader from within the group who will help you explain your need for relative quiet in the school. Perhaps involve a community leader who could help find another spot for may be they want somewhere to visit and the school is handy...does a church or business have a space they could utilize? We want parents to feel comfortable in our schools and to be meaningful partners in the education of their I would first try for a spot in the building.

Question from Laurel B. Tague, Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty, Genesee Community College:
What can a principal do to engage parents in participating in and actively supporting their children’s education?

Jeff Archer:
I’ve been impressed with some of the parent engagement efforts I’ve seen lately. Your question brought to mind one that I learned about at a high school in Independence, Mo.

The school had failed to make Annual Yearly Progress under NCLB for almost all of its subgroups of students. In response, the school formed a new parent group that represented all the various family backgrounds at the school. Then in meetings, the school’s leaders explained to the group how the state’s student assessment system worked, and why it was so important for students to show up to school and to do their best. Their discussions weren’t all about the assessments, but I got the sense that before that few of the parents had any idea what the state expected of their children. Since then, the school has enlisted more parents to try to reach out to more families, to get across the importance of attendence and of graduating. What I think was most important about the effort is that the school didn’t wait to see which parents would show up; the school leaders actively sought out parents to participate who had never done so before.

Obviously, the district is doing many other things to raise student performance, especially around the alignment of instruction to state standards. But the school and district leadership felt it was critical that they also make a stronger connection with the parents of the students they teach.

If you’re interested, the article I wrote based on my visit to that school ran in the June 9, 2004 issue of Education Week. It’s headline is: “Postcard From Independence, Mo.” It covers a lot of things going on in the district, but does mention the parents group.

Question from Maureen Riordan, classroom teacher, Dracut Public Schools:
Do you feel that in this day and age it is realistic to expect that someone could be a “teaching principal” in an elementary school of over 100 students and do both jobs effectively leaving no child behind and fulfilling all the administrative obligations/demands?

Carole Kennedy:
Maureen, I grew up in a very small community so can appreciate your question. The best situation if it is possible would be a full-time principal. Teaching a class takes considerable time for preparation, presentation and follow-up. I don’t need to remind you of the demands of the principalship. Having a full-time leader for student learning as a principal should be a boost to teachers and students in your building.

Question from :
Principals are running multimillion dollar organizations today; yet the majority of their training was to develop them as “teachers”. They are without trained co-leaders such as CFOs, COOs and CIOs - they have Assistant Principals with similar ill-prepared training. LAUSD is an organization similar in size to Nike and Marriott - yet our Superintendent must depend on 100s of Principals with very little training in Finance, Operations, Data Management, HR etc. What are your thoughts on ABANDONING the current higher educational training for Leaders in schools and replacing with RIGOROUS TRAINING WITHIN some of the best BUSINESS SCHOOLS in the country? Wharton, Kellogg, Anderson, Marshall, etc. Also if you have time to comment on PLACING EXPERIENCED CEOs or VPs from corporate america into Principal Positions? thank you

Carole Kennedy:
I am not in favor of moving to business school training for principals...this would not fit the role I envision. Los Angeles district is huge and I appreciate your problem. Looking at a manager’s position within the building could be helpful (such as Easton, MD, mentioned in Jeff’s article). I believe that a successful principal should have teaching experience if he/she is going to fulfill the new expectation for the position.

Question from Bonita DeAmicis, Teacher, Highlands Elementary:
When some of these schools create instructional leaders by assigning management people to the other tasks, are the management people reporting to the instructional leaders or vice versa? I would think the chain of command is also key to the success of instructional leadership.

Carole Kennedy:
Bonita, I agree that chain of command is important. In the few districts I’m aware of using this arrangement, the manager does report to the principal but has decision making power in defined areas. However, that doesn’t mean other options aren’t possible. If a school has “co-principals” the job descriptions would have to be carefully constructed and well understood by everyone. There are examples where this has worked well.

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