Effective school leaders don’t just raise students’ test scores—they instill a culture of learning in their schools that includes the adults who work there and members of the surrounding community.
That is the picture of the K-8 principalship painted this week by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, which released two new publications designed to help its members grapple with the demands of their jobs.
The first, Vision 2021: Transformation in Leading, Learning, and Community, offers a future look at schools and educational trends. The title year refers to the date that will mark the organization’s 100th birthday.
The second publication, Leading Learning Communities: Standards for What Principals Should Know and be Able to Do, updates a set of standards for elementary principals released in 2001. Both were unveiled at the NAESP’s annual convention April 4-8 in Nashville, Tenn.
The books are intended to place principals squarely in the forefront of defining school performance and excellence, said Gail Connelly, the executive director of the NAESP. Too often, she said, principals are forced to react to outside pressures.
High-stakes testing, for example, has prompted a shift away from goals that elementary principals deem important, she said. One part of a successful school of the future, the organization believes, involves a shift from high-stakes testing to high-quality learning.
Principals “don’t often have the opportunity to think about the future and their role in that future,” Ms. Connelly said, but they are steeped in the best ways of educating children.
Vision 2021 was the culmination of 18 months of intense self-reflection, said Mary Kay Sommers, the president of the NAESP and the principal of the 476-student Shepardson Elementary School in Fort Collins, Colo. Part of that work was done with the help of the Institute for Alternative Futures, an Alexandria, Va., organization that works with groups to create forecasts, goals, and strategies.
School leaders of the future, the publication says, will be expected to be data managers, champions of professional development, experts in “whole child” learning, and skilled at community engagement.
Role of Technology
The forecast also includes a tight connection between technology and education. The principals’ organization predicts that increases in scientific knowledge about child brain development will mean that teachers can use new technologies to reach specific groups of students.
Effective leaders of learning communities:
• Lead schools in a way that places student and adult learning at the center.
• Set high expectations for the academic, social, emotional, and physical development of all students.
• Demand content and instruction that ensure student achievement of agreed-on standards.
• Foster a culture of continuous learning for adults tied to student learning and other school goals.
• Manage data and knowledge to inform decisions and measure progress of student, adult, and school performance.
• Actively engage the community to establish shared responsibility for student performance and development.
SOURCE: National Association of Elementary School Principals
Technology will also help teachers receive continuous feedback on students’ performance. Students could then be evaluated on individual measures. “Electronic safety networks” would allow parents as well as principals to observe classrooms by remote viewer.
In those schools of the future, principals will shift away from a managerial role, Ms. Sommers said. “They’ll need to know, how do you drill down on data? How do you work together as a team?”
School leaders also might find themselves talking about how to support families and reach out into communities for help. Such a focus is “child-based,” Ms. Sommers said.
“This is a snapshot of the next step, and the beginning of what the future is,” she added. “We are the ones who are going to be able to help set that vision.”
Leading Learning Communities fits under the umbrella created by Vision 2021, Ms. Connelly said. While the first publication describes a possible future, Leading Learning Communities outlines what principals need to know and be able to do to get there.
“Overall, principals must be the lead learners in their schools,” it says, “continuously reading, forecasting predictable scenarios, and analyzing data to assess gaps and possibilities for improvement.”
The Learning Communities volume focuses on what Ms. Connelly describes as the “interpersonal aspect” of a principal’s job, arguing that changing demographics and the emergence of a global society demand “cultural competence” of principals.
The publication includes vignettes from principals who talk about their professional practice.
The 700-student Odyssey Elementary School in Everett, Wash., where 250 students are learning English, is given as an example of using parent leaders to reach out to those who do not speak English as their first language. The parent leaders, who speak Spanish, Russian, and Ukrainian, host informational meetings for their communities, which has increased the comfort parents feel with the school, said the principal, Cheryl Boze.
At the 800-student Blythewood Middle School in Blythewood, S.C., Principal Nancy Gregory set up a shared technology space used by a social studies and language arts teacher. Students can do classwork there and submit completed assignments to a “data drop box.” The technology has allowed teachers to better engage the students, Ms. Gregory said.
Neither publication is intended to make principals feel as if they need to add another set of tasks to an already overloaded plate, Ms. Sommers noted. Instead, she hopes they allow principals to refocus the work they already do, so that it is most effective for improving student learning.
A version of this article appeared in the April 09, 2008 edition of Education Week as Principals’ Group Updates Standards for Leadership