Professional Development

Principals Need Training in Guiding Learning, Report Says

By Karla Scoon Reid — November 22, 2000 3 min read

Principals need training that focuses on instructional issues, rather than management, if they are to direct successful schools, a report to be released this week argues.

For More Information

From the National Staff Development Council, read “Learning To Lead, Leading to Learn: Improving School Quality Through Principal Professional Development” or order it for $10 from NSDC, PO Box 240, Oxford, OH 45056; (800) 727- 7288.

As the nation’s emphasis on setting high standards for students intensifies, it says, principals should not be overlooked.

But too often, the report from the National Staff Development Council says, their training has been the “neglected stepchild” of state and district professional-development programs.

The report, “Learning To Lead, Leading To Learn: Improving School Quality Through Principal Professional Development,” stresses the need for continual, hands-on training in the classroom for principals.

It calls for targeting a portion of federal Title I aid for the professional development of principals in schools serving the nation’s poorest students.

“The kind of staff development that we’re visualizing and advocating has principals learning together in their schools, serving as critical friends to one another,” said Dennis Sparks, the executive director of the council, a nonprofit membership organization based in Oxford, Ohio.

“Every leader is expected to be a learner and a developer with those with whom they work,” he said.

‘Stress the Link’

Noting that principals of high-poverty schools face additional challenges, the report recommends creating a special set-aside with existing federal money to train principals of the 17,000 Title I schools.

Dennis Sparks

The report suggests that $10,000 be used for professional development per Title I school annually, which adds up to $170 million, or about 2.1 percent of the federal program’s $8 billion budget.

In the past, the staff-development council has called for districts to allocate at least 10 percent of local money for professional development. But Mr. Sparks said most districts dedicate 1 percent or less of their budgets to staff training.

“I think it’s important to stress the link between principal learning and the quality of teaching, which in turn affects the quality of learning,” he said. “You don’t get good teaching in every classroom without skillful leadership.”

The report includes recommendations to encourage improved learning opportunities for principals from the federal level to local districts.

School districts could evaluate principals on whether they conduct high-quality classroom observations, Mr. Sparks said.

At the state level, evaluations of schools’ and districts’ performance could include a review of the professional development programs made available to principals.

For the colleges and universities that train principals, the report suggests that programs place a greater emphasis on real- life problem-solving, mentoring, and classroom observation.

In fact, Mr. Sparks said, the council’s recommendations for the preparation of principals are not unlike the kind of learning envisioned for students in school-to-work programs. That is, they combine both academic classwork and on-the-job experiences. The report goes so far as to suggest that principals should delegate some of their duties to lead teachers to free up time to spend in the classroom.

Richard A. Flanary, the senior administrator for leadership development and assessment for the National Association of Secondary School Principals in Reston, Va., agreed that would be a good idea.

Still, principals’ management duties—including finances, personnel, and student discipline—can’t be ignored under the current structure of their jobs, he said.

Mr. Flanary cautioned that until the responsibilities of the traditional principalship are retooled, principals will continue to be drawn into a heavily managerial role.

"[Principals] are really torn between the demands placed on them in running the school and the overarching need to be integrally involved in instruction,” he said.

Although most principals have been trained as managers, Mr. Flanary said he sees that practice changing as more private foundations, and even the federal government, tackle the question of how to develop school leaders.

“We shouldn’t throw our hands up and say this is an unsolvable problem,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 22, 2000 edition of Education Week as Principals Need Training in Guiding Learning, Report Says

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