A year ago, top officials in the school leadership world were worried. It seemed to them that principals were being overlooked in national conversations about how to get educators ready for the Common Core State Standards.
But that is changing. The past six months have seen a surge of activity to acquaint principals with the new standards and teach them how to lead their staff members through the profound changes that are required to turn the new expectations into classroom instruction.
“There is much greater awareness now about what we need to do to educate principals about what they should be doing for the common core,” said JoAnn D. Bartoletti, the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
A year ago, as she took the helm of the NASSP, Ms. Bartoletti told Education Week that far too little was being done to prepare principals to lead common-standards implementation in their buildings. And while there is still much more work to be done to fully support principals in the common core, “I am more hopeful than I was last spring,” she said last week. “There is more going on now.”
Ryan Imbriale, the principal of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in Baltimore County, Md., said the past year has brought a spike in the amount of information being offered for principals on leading common-core implementation. Still, it can be tricky to figure out what’s high-quality guidance, he said.
“All of a sudden, a floodgate has opened, and there is a real focus on this,” Mr. Imbriale said. “Articles in journals, opportunities for seminars, summer trainings. I want to make sure I get the right information from the right people.”
Meeting a Need
The 30,000-member NASSP, based in Reston, Va., jumped into the void by partnering with the College Board to offer a series of six webinars that walked principals through some of the issues they will face as they work with their teachers to implement the new standards.
Mel Riddile, the NASSP’s associate director of high school services, wrote a series of columns on principals and the common core for the National High School Center, part of the American Institutes for Research, and sought to spread the message as well through an April webinar for the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based high school improvement group. The NASSP assembled the webinars and columns, along with articles from its blog and its monthly magazine, on a new common-core resources Web page.
The National Association of Elementary School Principals is also beginning to offer common-core information to its members, as it did in a May 3 webinar with the School Improvement Network. The Alexandria, Va.-based group hired a full-time staff member devoted to the standards, compiled a “checklist” aimed at helping principals take stock of what they must do to move ahead with the new standards, and set up a Web portal to house its new stock of common-core resources.
The two national principals’ groups have conducted recent joint trainings in Georgia and Michigan, supported by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the James B. Hunt Institute, a North Carolina nonprofit that supports the common standards. Lucille Davy, a former New Jersey commissioner of education who is now serving as a senior adviser to the Hunt Institute, said that the groups hope to offer more such trainings in states that want them.
Gail Connelly, the executive director of the NAESP, said she hopes those sessions can help fill what has until recently been a void.
“There is a tsunami that’s about to hit our schools, and I’m worried that our principals are not prepared,” she said.
Principals must understand many moving parts of school life to lead their staffs toward the common standards, the NASSP’s Mr. Riddile said. Not only must they grasp the content and pedagogical changes in the standards, but they also must recognize a host of other potentially necessary changes: grading practices, daily schedules, student grouping, monitoring, and implications for special education, English-language learners, Advanced Placement, technology, and counseling.
“If I were designing an implementation plan, the first thing I would want to do is get the school leader on board,” said Mr. Riddile, who led two Virginia high schools and was the 2006 national secondary school principal of the year. “They have to have the big picture of where this is going, how to work with the teachers.”
The ASCD has expanded its focus on principals, giving a common-core webinar earlier this month that walked participants through the standards’ key ideas and how they should look in the classroom. The Alexandria, Va.-based professional-development group will also run two-day institutes for principals in five cities scheduled for August.
New York state created a number of resources for school leaders, including a principal’s guide to overseeing the key instructional shifts in the standards, and posted them on its common-core website, engageny.org. It describes what is expected of students, teachers, and principals in each such shift.
The 405,000-student Chicago school district is reaching its principals through its regional superintendents. In four meetings this year, those 18 regional superintendents explored the common core, said Steve Gering, the district’s chief leadership-development officer. They then worked with the district’s 625 principals and their school leadership teams. The idea, Mr. Gering said, is to create a structure that not only builds capacity among principals, but also enables them to customize the work to their school sites and offers ongoing support as they put the work into practice.
“We have to empower the instructional-leadership team, led by the principal, to adapt the information around the common core to the needs of their school,” he said. “The principal is the one leading the adaptation and design of the common core to their school site and is the one ultimately responsible for implementing it.”
Mr. Imbriale, the Baltimore County principal, said he has gotten help both from his state and his district in wading into the common-core work. Last summer, every principal took a school team to a Maryland education department summer training academy, where they learned about the new standards and designed a school transition plan, he said. The team from Patapsco High—Mr. Imbriale and his core-subject department chairs—has been at the heart of the work ever since, he said.
They brainstorm with other department chairs in the district at monthly meetings, returning to share what they learned with their colleagues, he said. He, too, uses monthly principals’ meetings at the district level to build his knowledge and bring it back to his staff.
“An administrator that doesn’t get that kind of support from the central office can feel very isolated,” Mr. Imbriale said. Also crucial, he said, is building a good team with his department chairs, since he depends on them to be key conductors of the work throughout the building.
The biggest watchword in overseeing common-core implementation for Tracey Lamb is monitoring. As the principal of Fulton County High school in Hickman, Ky., she uses twice-monthly faculty meetings to hone teachers’ instructional focus and make sure they are gauging students’ progress regularly and adjusting instruction accordingly.
“It’s all about instruction and facilitating to make sure that what is supposed to be happening is happening,” said Ms. Lamb, Kentucky’s 2008 high school principal of the year. “Monitoring, monitoring, monitoring, and teaching, teaching, teaching.”
Principals must also be sure to carve time out of the schedule to let teachers work together on ways to teach the standards and analyze data from assessments of student work, Ms. Lamb said. Additionally, principals must take care to coordinate with feeder schools to align expectations, she said.
As principals begin exploring their role as common-core leaders, some caution them against seeing themselves as solo players.
Rob Weil, the director of field programs for the American Federation of Teachers, urges them to approach common-core leadership as a joint project with their teachers, working as a team to define and observe classroom practice.
“Leadership isn’t one person,” said Mr. Weil. “It’s most effective when everyone is playing a role, working together.”
If common-core implementation is to be sustained over time, it’s not only current principals who must be prepared, but aspiring principals as well. And those engaged in that work say far too little is happening.
Margaret Terry Orr oversees one of the leadership-training programs at the Bank Street College of Education in New York. She also chairs a regional association of such programs and serves on a state task force that’s examining principal evaluation. She reports that little attention is being given to ensuring that new principals are prepared to lead their staffs in teaching the common standards.
“Principal-preparation programs just haven’t been doing very much with this,” she said. “The dialogue is just beginning.”
New York state officials have begun working with the public university systems to think about how to incorporate common-core ideas into teacher preparation, Ms. Orr said, but are not yet doing likewise with programs that prepare principals. “We fear that attention to leadership preparation will not be well addressed,” she said.
Top education officials in New York recognize and place a high value on ensuring strong common-core leadership in school buildings, but because of limited capacity, haven’t yet been able to focus a lot of investment in aspiring principals, said Ken Slentz, the deputy commissioner for the office of P-12 education, which, with the state’s office of higher education, oversees professional development for teacher and principal evaluation.
The state is focusing first on training those who evaluate principals, on the theory that the process can strengthen in-service school leaders by designing targeted professional development based on multiple observations and surveys of parents, students, and teachers, he said.
The education department recognizes that it must turn its attention to principal preparation, he said, so that both preservice and in-service programs build the instructional leadership of principals.
Coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts learning is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org.
A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2012 edition of Education Week as Principal Prep for Common Core Gaining Traction