Teaching Chat

Training Principals to Be Instructional Leaders

Stephen Fink and Ginger Shattuck discussed how principals can learn to team up with teachers in a collegial quest to build top-notch instructional skills.

March 19, 2008

Training Principals to Be Instructional Leaders

Chat sponsored by:

  • Stephen Fink, the executive director of the Center on Educational Leadership at the University of Washington, is a former assistant superintendent, principal, and special education teacher in Washington state.
  • Ginger Shattuck, the superintendent of the Norwalk-La Mirada school district, is a former elementary school teacher and principal, and director of elementary education in the district.

Catherine Gewertz (Moderator):

Hello. Welcome to our chat about how principals can learn to become instructional leaders. With us today is Ginger Shattuck, the superintendent of the Norwalk-La Mirada School District in suburban Los Angeles, which is training its principals in partnership with the University of Washington’s Center on Educational Leadership. Also with us today is Stephen Fink, the Center’s executive director. They’ll answer your questions about how principals move from being building managers to being sources of support and inspiration for good teaching. Let’s get the discussion started...

Question from Pat Buoncristiani retired school principal:

How can a principal lead in areas within which they are not, themselves, skilled? Do we not need to appoint principals who have that deep understanding of effective teaching and learning that comes best from first hand experience?

Stephen Fink:

This is exactly the point. We have a mantra here at CEL that you cannot lead what you don’t know. To the extent possible, it is important to appoint principals who know what good instruction looks like. Principals who understand good instruction are better able to orchestrate the professional learning of their staff necessary to improve teaching practice. And while it is best to have these skills at the outset, we know from experience that this expertise can be developed. I think the principals and district leaders in Norwalk-LaMirada are a testament to that.

Question from Rashid,Equity and Education Specialist,Mid-Atlantic Equity Center:

How can principals, these days, possibly be instructional leaders when school districts pull them out of their schools at least twice a week for emergency meetings, meaningless professional development, and unnecessary paperwork?

Ginger Shattuck:

The entire system must take ownership for their Principals becoming instructional leaders. The system in our district developed a “systems interdependence” model and we at the central office made commitments to the sites to not pull them out for meetings at “prime” instructional times of the day. We commit to look at the master calendar to help offset duplications of meetings and “schedule” paperwork to not hit all at the same time.

Question from Linda Barnett, Teacher, Anaheim Union H.S. D:

How can principals who have had very limited experience as a classroom teacher and in some cases no recent history, observe for a short period of time and know that what a classroom teacher is doing is ineffective?

Stephen Fink:

In short they cannot without developing their own expertise. My prior answer speaks to the importance of principals becoming lead learners. This requires them to have enough experience in order to feel comfortable in the classroom. And it’s not just to notice ineffectiveness. It’s really about understanding enough to be able to orhestrate the professional development in a personalized, differentiated manner just like we expect teachers to do for students.

Question from Joe Petrosino, EdD, Vo Tech:

Nothing is more important than the taeching and learning process...How can one build trust between the school leadership team and the teaching staff in an effort to avoid “them vs. us”?

Ginger Shattuck:

This must be carefully delineated as you begin this process. Principals and teachers sit down together and establish the “what” is coaching and the “what” is evaluation. The coaching will show growth of skills and that is an important issue. It is not used as an evaluative tool.

Question from Melanie Landrum, Senior Associate; America’s Choice, Inc.:

Why is this topic being treated like it is a new one? We have been saying this for at least twenty years. Memphis did this in the 90’s under N. Gerry House as superintendent with the Danforth Foundation.

Stephen Fink:

That is a great question for which I have no answer. We too have been saying and practicing this for a long time now. Perhaps it’s being treated as new since far too many school leaders across the country are not practicing this kind of instructional leadership.

Question from Kirsten Olson, educational consultant, Old Sow Consulting:

For a principal who has very little experience with instructional leadership (was not trained in this way, and was only briefly a classroom teacher, or was quite a traditional teacher) what do you think are the most critical FIRST STEPS in their own learning around instructional leadership?

Stephen Fink:

I liken this to anything else you would want to learn. For instance, if I want to learn how to play golf, I could watch a video or read a book, but ultimately I need to find someone who has expertise and who can show (coach)me how to properly swing a golf club. The same is true for learning how to lead instruction. Find a mentor who knows what good instruction looks like and who can point out to you what you are actually seeing in classrooms. The first step is to hone your instructional lens. I still try to spend time in classrooms with some of our CEL staff who have a much sharper instructional lens than I do. I learn so much everytime I am in a classroom with them.

Question from Katrina Fey, Supervisor NCLB/Federal Programs, Glades County School District, FL:

Do you forsee the program being expanded to other Districts across the Nation?

Stephen Fink:

We are actually working in five states at the moment including an ambitious leadership development program with a consortium of nine school districts in central Louisiana. We do expand our work on an annual basis but do so in a very controlled way. Since we provide what we call content focused leadership, it necessitates that we bring in the best subject matter content coaches along with the best leadership coaches to work hand in hand. We will not take on any additional work unless we are 100% confident we have the right people to support the school district’s needs. That said, we are building our capacity to expand our work over the next several years.

Question from Pam Delly, Principal, Urban Community School:

Certainly a district wide effort to assist principals in being better instructional leaders would be ideal. If, however, the district does not get involved in providing coaching and inservice how can an individual principal become involved in becoming a better instructional leader?

Ginger Shattuck:

It is more difficult for a Principal to be alone in this work. The Principal needs the support of a coach to help them see their work, support from the district to allow them time for this work. If the district is providing sound instructional training for teachers, the principal should work side by side, trying on the work with students, thereby gaining credibility with teachers.

Question from Judy Sinclair, Education Programs Consultant, California Department of Education:

From the article, under the sub-heading ‘Prime Time’ Ms. Williams stated that it was important that top district administrators consulted the teachers’ union from the start in implementing the leadership-training program. I agree, it is important to set up protocols prior to doing the walk throughs. Are there any examples/models/tools of these protocols available for principals to access?

Ginger Shattuck:

Yes, the University has some protocols and we have developed some of our own.

Question from Cheryl Brown, Director-Administrator Licensure Program, Willamette University:

What part will gathering data on observable behaviors (teacher or student) have in the professional development process. I’m referring to actual frequency and/or duration data, rather than checklists or records of observer judgements. We use the eCOVE Classroom Observation Software and it really adds objectivity to the discussion.

Stephen Fink:

Again, we may be a bit old-fashioned, but we teach our leaders how to script what is happening in classrooms. I suspect there may be tools that make this job more efficient, but our focus has been on the quality of observation and more important the quality of conversation that ensues after the classroom visit.

Question from JoAnn Brown, Program Manager for Rising Stars, Georgia’s Leadership Institute for Schoool Improvement:

Do principals share with teachers what they will be looking for when they come into classrooms? Oftentimes, I find that new leaders can describe the instructional strategies that are occuring, but are not able to give effective performance feedback to teachers to help them improve their instruction. How are these principals being trained to give effective performance feedback?

Ginger Shattuck:

Yes, there are many ways to address this. some teachers like to meet with Principals beforehand and ask them to look at something specific. Others have decided as a team what the Principal will be looking at. Principals are not looking “for” anything. This process is not evaluative. Principals are being trained through our partnership with the University of Washington. They have guest coaches from the university and monthly leadership workshops.

Question from Cathy St. Romain, Louisiana State Dept of Education:

I understand the the CEL has developed a rubric that measures principals’ mastery of 13 aspects of instructional leadership. Can you discuss that, and how do we get access to that information?

Stephen Fink:

Yes, CEL faculty and researchers have developed this tool which, heretofore, has been used to measure growth in two CEL partnership districts. I suggest going to our website www.k-12leadership.org and downloading Research Brief III to look at the initial findings. Since then the instrument has gone through more revision and will be piloted tested this spring and summer. At that point we will be ready to disseminate and provide this as a service to school districts more widely. You can also sign up for our e-newsletter to be kept apprised of the progress on this instrument.

Question from Eleanor Palma, Ph.D., Psychologist, Connetquot Central School District:

I have 20 years experience as a school psychologist with students ranging in age from preschool to high school; however, I have limited classroom teaching experience. As I seek a position as an Assistant Principal or a Principal, how can I best prepare for the role of instructional leader?

Stephen Fink:

I suggest spending as much time in classrooms with someone at your side who knows what good instruction looks like, who has a sharp eye, and who has enough content knowledge to help you understand what you are looking at. Hopefully this is an important piece of your principal training program.

Question from S. C. Worrell, Teacher, Prosper ISD, Texas:

How / what methods / procedures are currently utilized to evaluate classroom teachers? Are observations / evaluations scheduled or unannounced? Is the teacher always aware of if / when they are being evaluated? What feedback is given to the teachers? In what time frame is the feedback delivered?

Ginger Shattuck:

The evaluation procedure is part of our union contract and the instrument is based on teaching professional standards. Principals employ both announced and unannounced observations. Coaching is made specifically separate from formal evaluation observations. The teacher receives an observation form and meets with the Principal after evaluation observations. Feedback must be within 5 days in accordance with our contract.

Question from Kathe Simons, Sr. Research Associate, Hezel Associates:

How can principals balance their responsibilities as instructional coaches and teacher evaluators? How might these responsibilities conflict?

Ginger Shattuck:

There must be clear delineation from the beginning. also, as the elements of the coaching progress, specific portions are shared to be a part of the evaluation. There definitely can be conflicts if a clear process is not put in place.

Question from Julio T. Perez, Assistant Principal, Charles Young Junior High-Arlington, TX:

How can we reconcile what Instructional Leadership truly is when the cloud of standardized testing shadows what building principal can must do in response to directives from their Administration?

Ginger Shattuck:

This is a challenge that we all face. The Board and Administration must agree and be together in this journey to assist students in their learning through specific, informed feedback to teachers from a trained Principal.

Question from Nicholas Hobar, CLO, LearningFront:

In the 21st century, what technology tools do you consider essential to support a principal’s instructional leadership role? From a training perspective and from a day-to-day perspective for helping teachers to write differentiated lessons, construct formative assessments, teach effectively, and analyze and act on results to improve teaching and student achievement?

Stephen Fink:

That is an interesting question. Clearly it is becoming more important for all of us to be more familiar and facile with web based technologies. I know there are also a vareity of instructional templates, frameworks, etc., that some principals use on hand held devices. The question is how do any of these technology tools actually build one’s expertise. Our CEL faculty and researchers are developing a very sophisticated web based assessment that measures the principal’s (and other leaders) ability to anaylze the quality of instruction. It’s sort of a virtual classroom walkthrough. The instrument enters pilot testing this spring. Eventually we will be developing web based P.D. modules aligned with the categories and sub-dimensions of the assessment.

Comment from Yvonne Siu-Runyan, Professor Emerita, the University of Northern Colorado:

As a school administrator, have you ever asked teachers this important question, “What can I do to help you do you job better?” And if so, what was the response from the teacher(s). Four more important questions: “Have you ever talked with the students about their learning? Have you ever had the children show you samples of their work, and tell you what they learned?” What did you discover?” Also, have you ever asked the students how their classroom works?” The answers to these questions will tell you more than any high stakes standardized tests can provide. I did this when I mentored teachers and principals, and we all learned a lot, plus questions like ones above build community and empowers all involved - the students, the teachers, and the school administrators. I have developed a process for gathering important information about student learning, which goes beyond high stakes testing, is neither punitive nor uses fear to control. In fact, the process I developed adds value and promotes learning for both students and teachers alike. We really need to think “out of the box” instead of using assessment tools that instill fear and punishment, and labels, all not good for learning.

Question from Bill Harshbarger, consultant, Mattoon School District:

Would it not be better to have teachers work in collaboration, visiting each other’s classrooms, and having teachers talking about student work than spending money training principals to be instructional leaders?

Stephen Fink:

I don’t think this is an either or - it is a “both and.” Teachers do need to visit each other’s classrooms and talk about practice. But they need to do so in a way that actually models what good practice looks like. The principal plays a critical role in that process. I encourage you to take a look at our CEL Research Brief VI which illustrates how this process can work to improve teaching practice and what role teachers, the principal and the coach play in this process. You can go to www.k-12leadership.org and the research brief is currently posted on our home page.

Question from Diana Silberman, Professional Development Team, Broward Co. Public Schools, FL:

How can coaches and administrators measure progress without coming across as judgemental?

Thank you

Stephen Fink:

This is a great question since the prevailing default culture of schools places a premium on everyone being nice to each other versus promoting a culture of deep reflective inquiry into one’s practice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an either-or. Successful improvement is dependent on establishing trustful relationships. The question is how can we develop those relationships in the service of improving our practice. I can’t stress enough the importance of the leaders - principals and district leaders - putting themselves out there to make their own practice public and model that it is essential (and at the same time safe) to invite feedback about one’s practice. The Norwalk-LaMirada superintedent and area superintendents did just that at the start of their literacy initiative. They taught reading strategies and invited feedback from principals and teachers. Not to demonstrate exemplary practice but to model that it is o.k. to study in public one’s practice. In this way progress can be measured in a more rigorous culture of learning and inquiry.

Question from Gordon Hultberg, English teacher, Intermountain Christian School:

What is a tactful way for teachers in leadership positions to urge their principals to learn about and practice such a program?

Ginger Shattuck:

There is significant research that support teachers and their principals working together to improve instruction for students. The literacy instructional strategies are not a “program” but fine tuned thoughtful pedagogy that assists all students in becoming literate. Teachers who would like to see their Principals involved in this way could contact the University of Washinton for a conversation about teaching and learning and leadership in instruction on the part of both teacher and principal.

Question from Chance Heberling, AVID Coordinator, Palo Alto MIddle School:

If a Principal is to be the instructional leader of a building what would you say would be the minimum classroom experience they should have in your opinion,and why? Thank you>

Stephen Fink:

That is a difficult question since number of years is not the only influencer of expertise. I would say at the very least, principals should have taught enough years that they are willing and comfortable being the lead learner for their school. By that I mean teaching publicly in a variety of grades and a vareity of subjects - not to demonstrate exemplary practice, but to demonstrate the importance of making their practice public. To invite other teachers into a deep analysis of their teaching. To invite a coach to provide public feedback. All of this is designed to move teaching from a historical and inherently private practice to a public practice. The principal must be comfortble in his/her own skin as a teacher in order to model and (in so doing) create an environment where all teachers feel safe making their own practice more public.

Question from Mrs. Nelson:

How can we get the word out that a principal’s main role is an educational leader when teachers and school boards see our responsibility as disciplinarian and supervisor/evaluator?

Ginger Shattuck:

That it the Superintendent’s role to ensure those conversations and that message is clear. Students success is the main focus and teachers need on-going support and feedback to improve practice. The Principal is the person there every day to provide that support. It takes time to prioritize. As students become more engaged and successful, discipline issues decrease significantly. A collaboratively developed school-wide discipline plan is also helpful. It is also a process of re-educating parents.

Question from James Michael Brodie - Education Daily:

What are your thoughts on restructuring principals’ other duties -- administrative, disciplinary, etc. -- to allow them more time to devote to instruction?

Ginger Shattuck:

Time is always an issue to be addressed. Key instructional times of the day are set aside deliberately by Principals to become involved in classrooms. Our Principals commit to being in a certain number of classrooms each day. The District supports them by not calling meetings in the morning hours. It is very difficult to move away from being primarily an “operational” leader to an “instructional” leader.

Question from Cheryl Holder, Educational Consultant:

Curriculum alignment is critical in today’s standards-based educational environments. How does the training that you do with instructional leadership related to curriculum alignment?

Ginger Shattuck:

Standards and assessment are aligned and the instructional strategies assist teachers in the pedagogy. Planning for instruction is a critical component of our work.

Question from KimOanh Nguyen-Lam, School Board Trustee, Garden Grove Unified, CA:

Given the fact that our student population is increasingly more culturally and linguistically diverse than our teaching and administrative work force, how important is it for principals to be able to communicate effectively and build partnership with parents and communities? Does your program address this? How?

Ginger Shattuck:

This is a critical component. Using the work we are doing with students as a vehicle for relationship building, we have a common denominator for work with parents...the success of their student. Many of these strategies can be taught to parents to reinforce learning at home. Workshops, videos and the Superintendent’s Forum are some of the ways we are beginning to connect this work with the community.

Question from Peter Levy:

I find that empowering teachers to leveredge their shared expertise to collaboratively create curriculum is a new and exciting model. Are you doing any online collaborative work with your teachers using sites like Curriki.org?

Ginger Shattuck:

Not at this time.

Question from R. Booker, Academic Coach:

How does one deal with resistance from educators?

Ginger Shattuck:

We have engaged our Union from the beginning. They are very supportive of the fact that Principals’ will be able to be more specific in their feedback to the teacher. There are resistors but they become less each year as they see the success of their peers and the collaborative support and risk-taking of their administrator. Principals are also at different levels of comfort and we have cadres of Principals that work together with a guest coach from the University to give them feedback as they visit classrooms.

Question from Ronnie, teacher, MPACT Academy, Paterson, NJ:

What are the best ways to get: 1) a lousy tenured teacher, and 2) a once good but now burnt-out, teacher, to improve?

Ginger Shattuck:

I truly believe no one wants to be a bad teacher but over time the system has allowed this to happen. High expectations, support, Principals risk taking in front of these people and seeing actual success in students they never felt possible does begin to make a difference but it’s a long road. There are many reasons why this happens to a teacher and not one solution will fit all.

Question from Phil Gore, Director of Leadership Development Services, WA State School Directors:

How could school boards help establish and sustain a culture to assist districts’ capacity with improving instructional leadership?

Ginger Shattuck:

School Boards must be very public and consistent in their message to all employees and to the community at large. They must establish an expectation and a follow-through with the allocstion of dollars and stay with “message discipline”. They must commit to their goal and say “no” to some ideas that would tske them away from this goal.

Question from Susan Westlund and Susie Olesen, Iowa Association of School Boards:

Do you encourage principals to teach lessons in classrooms as part of instructional leadership?

Stephen Fink:

Yes, absolutely. But it is very important to understand why they are teaching lessons. It is not to demonstrate exemplary practice (unless of course if the principal has that kind of expertise.) It’s much more about being what we call a “lead learner.” Through modeling his/her own teaching, and inviting teachers in to study that teaching together, and maybe even inviting an instructional coach in to give feedback, the principal can accomplish several critical things: 1) The deprivitization of classroom practice; 2) Creating a culture of reflective practice and inquiry; and 3) Creating a safe environment where teachers are willing to take risks in terms of seeking feedback about their own performance. In fact we also encourage district leaders to teach lessons which Ginger and her staff did at the outset of this initiative.

Comment from Ken Anderson, 2nd grade classroom, Spring Creek Elem:

It’s been my observation over the past fifteen years that building administrators increasingly have little or no classroom experience and are not qualified to make school-wide decisions on buying appropriate curriculum and limited abilities to conduct performance reviews. I don’t agree that there is a shift in the principal’s role. Conversely, building administrators are being hired for their MBA skills. With your topic in mind, I think the discussion should be framed, “Is it beneficial and reasonable for principals to take on instructional leadership goals?”

Question from Kelly Creque, Director Assessment, Trenton Public Schools:

What did it look like in the first year? Were all schools and all principals required to participate? Was it phased in? How were classrooms to be visited selected?

Ginger Shattuck:

The first year was introductory training for our Principals as well as the careful selection and training of District literacy coaches who supported the Principals as they began to try on the work at their schools. Principals tried on the strategies with students in their schools. They became “lead” learners, then encouraging classroom teachers to open their doors and allow the Principal and coach to try the strategies with their students. Teachers slowly began to try some of these strategies. Demonstration classrooms were identified where coaches and Principals could at first, practice thier skills and the demonstration teacher opened his/her room for other teachers to visit. Volunteers were taken first for demonstration classrooms but that did not always work as we moved further into the process. We then looked for specific types of classrooms and asked them to be demonstration classrooms.

Question from Dr. Jo Campbell:

How do you recommend recruiting, screening, interviewing and then hiring instructional leaders?

Ginger Shattuck:

This has been very interesting. We now feel we are “home growing” our future leaders. Our recruiting involves sharing at the recuitment fairs, our Board’s goal, paper screening has not changed specifically, we now have the candidates observe a lesson and provide feedback and are adding a simulation.

Question from Kelly Creque:

What did this effort look like in the first year? Were all pricnipals and all schools required to participate? Was it phased in?

Ginger Shattuck:

You can’t lead what you don’t know! Therefore, during the first year, all Principals and assistant principals participated. They learned along side of literacy coaches, carefully selected to support the literacy goal established by the Board of Education. It is unfair to ask Principals to “coach” and give support to their teachers if we have not given them the support they need for this critical task. Classroom teachers were added during the following years.

Question from James Taylor, Senior Researcher, American Institutes for Research:

Could you discuss what you recommend when the school principal simply does not have the teaching background or expertise in a subject, to effectively work with teachers on the specifics of their instruction? Do you recommend replacing the principal or perhaps teaming the principal with an experienced teacher leader who could provide instructional leadership while the principal ensures the smooth operation and management of the school?

Stephen Fink:

If you believe in a theory of action around adult learning – as we do – then I wouldn’t replace the principal. However district leaders need to build their principals content focused leadership capacity which means learning more about specific content and learning how to lead instructional improvement work. Our belief is that once leaders learn one content area more deeply and the leadership strategies and actions necessary to improve instructional practice in that content area, then they are more able to transfer that skill to other content areas. In fact Mary Kay Stein at the University of Pittsburgh has done some good research on this very topic. Finally, it’s very important for district leaders to hire principals who know good instruction in the first place so that the “on-the-job” part of the learning does not have to start at the ground level.

Question from Nicholas Kappelhof, Ed.M. Student, Teachers College Columbia University:

How should an aspiring school leader manage the balance between instructional leadership and organizational management? For someone who is learning to be a principal, which one is a higher developmental priority?

Stephen Fink:

Well clearly we know from experience that principals who are unsuccessful in their first few years are generally so due to serious management issues. That said, it is important to think of the organizational management of a school through the lens of the adult learning necessary to improve practice. And while this work is inherently about building positive and trusting relationships, the question is always to what end? The same is true of the organizational management necessary to develop essential systems, structures and processes – again, to what end and for what purpose? The answer to that question should always be (in my opinion) so that we can improve our individual and collective practice.

Question from Ann Duffy, Director of Policy Development Georgia’s Leadership Institute for School Improvement:

Are there any state policies that are barriers to implementing the instructional leadership training and practices you developed? Are there any state policies that do or could help?

Thanks for the great topic! --Ann Duffy

Stephen Fink:

I am not aware of specific state policies that either hinder or support this kind of work. That said, I can envision how state policies can hinder or support this work. In terms of hindering, policies (with funding attached) that are overly prescriptive in terms of the content and methodology of leadership development would be a barrier. Categorical dollars that limit local district leaders’ flexibility is also a problem. On the opposite end, policies that provide general direction, adequate funding and flexibility can be a big support for local district leaders.

Question from Mo Carrasco, Principal, Richard Montgomery High School, Maryland:

Have you given some thought to the idea of training principals on “efficiency systems” in order to clear their plate for instructional leadership? www.savetheprincipal.com offers a great program to “clear the plate.” I now have a “paperless office” and spend three days per week in the classroom.

Stephen Fink:

I think anything that can help principals become more efficient in their management duties would be helpful. It’s not something that we do since there are already good examples of that work as you point out.

Question from Ronald Walcott, Local District 6 Arts Community Adviser, Los Angeles Unified School District:

How will principals be trained in the arts so that they will be able to encourage their teachers to follow the arts standards in their lessons and projects?

Ginger Shattuck:

We are currently working with Principals to train them in the same format as we did with the literacy initiative. This will be on-going. We are using the Music Center as our advisors and source of trainers.

Question from Brenda Gustafson Director of Communications Heartland Area Education Agency Des Moines Iowa:

Currently, we are using eWalk to help our principals with their walk throughs. What other types of tools do you use for principals in their visits in the classrooms?

Stephen Fink:

We use a framework that is tied to a sophisticated instructional analysis assessment that is currently in the process of being put on-line. We train leaders to look at instruction through the following lenses: Purpose, Student Engagement, Curriculum and Pedagogy, Assessment of Student Learning, and Classroom Environment and Culture. Within these five areas there are 13 sub-dimensions. While the assessment is a web-based tool, the actual training of leaders relies on their learning how to script with completeness and accuracy what the teacher is doing and saying, what the students are doing and saying along with any significant teacher moves (or decisions.) We don’t use checklists and things like that since we think it’s important that principals learn how to gather evidence of teaching and learning. The idea is to teach leaders how to use a descriptive voice based on gathered evidence to inform their next leadership moves.

Question from Patricia Handly, Trainer, Principals Training Center for International School Leadership:

With all the different formats for “walk-throughs”, which one do you recommend to have the most direct impact on student learning?

Ginger Shattuck:

“walk throughs” must have a specific purpose for specific feedback in order to have an impact on student learning. Teachers and Principals must be able to have a conversation about what they saw and did to make “next steps” in instructional decisions. Data on student progress should definitely be a part of background knowledge before a “walk-through”.

Question from Fed up - Expereicnced professional teacher:

This sounds great, but if principals do this, then who manages the buildings? Let teachers be the teachers please! Coaches and principals make teachers feel like they are high school students. Train teachers at universities, and allow them to be professionals. Do doctors and lawyers need coaches to do their jobs. We seem to be creating positions so we can hire more consulting firms and administrators.

Stephen Fink:

Actually doctors and lawyers are coached all of the time. Surgeons learning new surgical techniques receive coaching. Lawyers most always seek feedback before filing important legal briefs. Even Tiger Woods has a personal coach. In our experience there is no better way to develop expertise than coaching with and by someone who has more expertise in the knowledge base and skill you are trying to develop.

Question from Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, National Staff Development Council:

Congratulations on prioritizing effective instructional leadership development for principals. What are CEL plans for building capacity and transferring responsibility necessary for institutionalizing these practices in the school system? How has Norwalk-La Mirada found resources to support this effort?

Stephen Fink:

That is a great question. We are acutely aware of and practice the concept of gradual release. For example, at the beginning of a partnership we provide almost an equal amount of subject matter content coaching and leadership coaching. After a few years of a partnership we expect the district leaders to be taking on more responsibility for the leadership so that resources can be focused more on the content coaching for teachers and school coaches. This has in fact been the case in Norwalk. More resources are now going into training teachers and coaches. That said, there is still some important leadership support that is provided, but with more precision around specific problems of instructional practice. In terms of resources, I believe Norwalk has been using targeted categorical dollars to fund this project.

Question from Michael Clark, Teacher, Ridgeview Elementary:

My district has been pushing the idea of principals and teachers-on-special-assignment (reading and math coaches) as “instructional leaders” for some time now. They bring home the latest claptrap from the snake oil circuit and expect everyone else to get excited. Why aren’t we looking to our best classroom teachers for instructional leadership instead of people who don’t teach? Doesn’t “do as I do” work better than “do as I say?”

Ginger Shattuck:

Our best teachers are demo models for all teachers. That is why we are asking our Principals to actually teach using some of these strategies so that they might have better skills to work together side-by-side with their teachers. They can’t leead what they don’t know.

Question from Dr. Patricia O’Bannon, Miami-Dade County Public Schools:

Our District has a new Palm Pilot tool. It has a checklist of everything we are looking for when we observe instruction based on grade level and subject matter being taught. After we collect observational data in the schools using the palm, we upload the collected information to a web site and then we can pull reports and find our instructional strenths and opportunities for improvement. From this data we make decisions on where we need to focus our Professional Development. Are any other districts using a similar process?

Stephen Fink:

I am aware of other districts using this kind of approach. As I said in my previous answer our approach is somewhat different in terms of teaching leaders how to script classroom instruction and then engage in an evidentiary based discussion about what is happening in that classroom. I get concerned about the palm pilot approach since it tends to become a checklist for leaders, but admittedly I don’t have much experience myself with the tool.

Question from Seán Bracken, lecturer in development and intercultural education, Marino Institute, Dublin Ireland:

What strategies do the principals use to engage with students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds and to ensure that they are enabled to participate to the maximum extent in the learing process?

Ginger Shattuck:

This continues to be a work in progress with everyone. Partner talk and student discourse are critical to engaging all students. Allowing students to have discussions and helping teachers become facilitators of learning as well as learners themselves. We must help teachers to become critical listeners to their students during student talk aroudn the lesson to help them make their next instructional decision.

Question from Concerned Administrator:

Building on the question of principals being experts themselves on instruction, what about the seeming decline of talent in the teaching pool? Not too sound too cynical, but how does one affect change in such a scenario?

Stephen Fink:

Sure, if you read Tough Times, Tough Choices they too make a similar assertion among others. However the talent pool- whatever the quality - doesn’t negate the importance of building expertise at all levels of the organization. It the process of expertise building that deserves our focus and support regardless of the talent pool.

Question from Jan Beatty, Clinical Professor, Iowa State Univesity:

From the perspective of the university, what “essentials” need to be in place to begin a partnership focused on the fine points of instructional leadership? From the perspective of the school district?

Stephen Fink:

For us it is critical that the superintendent and executive leadership “get it” in terms of their role as instructional leaders. The success of this works relies on having their sponsorship and leadership. That means they need to be involved in every level of this training – they cannot just outsource instructional leadership to their principals. It is also important to help them think about any competing initiatives. Some school districts have so many initiatives going on, that it is impossible for them to create any systems coherence. One of the reasons this work has gained so much traction in Norwalk is that they are singularly focused on this without other competing initiatives.

Question from Michael Babb, Curriculum Director, Ventura County Office of Education (California):

What are some of the lessons you have learned about initiating this type of activity? What is done in advance with teachers so they understand the intent and design of visitations?

Ginger Shattuck:

It is deliberate, slow, needs to be well-communicated over and over. You will have resistors and that is ok. Staff meetings have what we call “roll-outs” to work with teachers about purpose and design of Principalsupport in the classroom. Our literacy coaches are a major resource to teachers as they “try-on” this work.

The greatest credibility we gained was in the fact that we trained our Principals first! risk taking starts at the top. Our district level people including the Superintendent tried on the work at the sites. Everyone must talk the same language.

Question from John Blakely, Former Teacher, NYCDOE:

With the high demand for principals in urban settings, many programs are training participants that only have a few years of teaching experience. Does this lack of classroom experience limit these candidates’ potential to succeed as instructional leaders?

Stephen Fink:

No I don’t think it limits their potential to succeed at all. It just begs the same question about how a district supports that principal’s learning in the ways that we have been discussing.

Question from Glenn Bunn, Social Studies Teacher, Dr. Freddie Thomas H.S., Rochester, New York:

Principals are learning to become instructional leaders. This transition will require them to become familiar with pedagogy in all the content areas. What strategies are in place to acquaint and familiarize them with instructional practices in all the content areas before they assume this role?

Stephen Fink:

Yes the idea of learning all content areas is quite problematic. Our belief is that once leaders learn one content area more deeply and the leadership strategies and actions necessary to improve instructional practice in that content area, then they are more able to transfer that skill to other content areas. In fact Mary Kay Stein at the University of Pittsburgh has done some good research on this very topic. Again the idea is not to be a content expert, but to be smart enough about instruction and leadership necessary to improve instructional practice at scale.

Question from J. Reid Schwebach, American Association for the Advancement of Science S&T Policy Fellow, Division of Research on Learning, National Science Foundation:

How is instructional leadership in science fostered?

Stephen Fink:

It is something we haven’t focused on at this point in time since we have been mainly focusing on reading, writing and math in terms of our content instruction. However the process I am talking about would work just as well with a science content focus, and I suspect we will be moving into that at some point in the future -- particularly now that some states are adding science to their state testing mandate and accountability process.

Question from Alan Zemser, Principal, Lincoln Elem. Sch. Schenectady NY:

Feedback to a teacher by a team of principal observers will first require universally accepted criteria of expectations and then a universally accepted set of evaluation criteia. Is it practical to assume that such universally accepted criteria can be determined? How has the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership achieved this? My guess is that if more than one principal observes a lesson, there will be more than one interpretation of its value.

Stephen Fink:

Yes, you are so right. There is way too much variability in teaching practice and principal observation. In fact Richard Elmore often talks about how education is a profession without a practice. We must establish more widely accepted standards of instructional practice and concomitant leadership practice. This is the work we are undertaking vis-à-vis our district partnership work. It’s slow and there are no short cuts. I can say both anecdotally and now empirically with several years of qualitative research under our belt, that it is possible to shrink this variability and help leaders establish common language through developing shared expertise.

Question from Cathy Austin Kansas:

If you were to start over - say you were a new superintendent- how would you organize the steps to making sure your principals were instructional leaders- what would they read? what staff development would be required, etc..

Ginger Shattuck:

I would make certain that the Board of Education set the priorities and specific goal to increase their students’ achievement. I would include principals in conversations about “best practices” and would make certain they could view these in action. I would not ask Principals to do anything they did not have support and training. I would also make certain that the ‘system” took items off their plate that interferred with their instructional leadership. This all would depend on what the Board wanted to see happen with their students and the role they wanted Principals to play. There are a variety of materials to be read but they need to be in a discussion setting.

Question from Jill S. Levy, President, American Federation of School Administrators:

What changes do we need in the requirements for certification as school administrators and should the hiring process include in-basket situations and a taped demonstration of pre and post teacher observation?

Ginger Shattuck:

The hiring process should absolutely include an observation and then conference. We actually are looking at going beyond the video process and taking them to an actual site for an observation and conference.

A site administrator must be able to analyze data, teach a lesson, observe a lesson and give feedback to the teacher.

Question from Sharilyn Fletcher (student) Argosy University Nashville Campus:

This is an administrative initiative that will certainly contribute to positive leadership in schools.However, My concern is for principals who are not adept at 21st Century instructional practices but are excellent school managers. Will this lead to departmentalizing the role of school administrators?

Stephen Fink:

I suppose this could result in that. I know large schools - generally but not always high schools – have sometimes hired building and/or finance managers to allow the principal to focus more attention on instructional improvement. That is not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. We need to be mindful of the wide – often competing – range of duties that fall on the plates of our school principals. Smart district leaders have figured out ways to mitigate this to some extent but make no mistake, the principalship is still a huge leadership undertaking not for those who lack stamina.

Question from Gregg Sinner, School Redesign Specialist, Ed Alliance @ Brown University:

How do you create conditions for principals to get honest instructional leadership feedback from the teachers they supervise?

Ginger Shattuck:

It takes time and a climate of trust. It only takes one misstep for that trust to crumble. It is an on-going process. When the Principal becomes a learner with his/her teachers, it makes all the difference in the world.

Question from Susan Garton, Associate Professor, University of Alaska Anchorage:

What recommendations would you offer to principal training programs in universities across the nation as the programs undergo revision and renewal?

Stephen Fink:

I think it is critical to build in a clinical experience to develop and allow candidates to practice the kinds of skills I’ve been talking about. Most principals training programs assume the candidates already have that skill. They then focus on things like finance, law, change, courage, equity, etc. The most important piece of training should be on classroom practice if that is what we want to improve upon

Question from Katrina Fey, Supervisor NCLB/Federal Programs, Glades County School District:

You have stated that the enire administration, including central office needs to buy in and be participatory in this process. To that end, would it not be advisable that central office administrators are in training themsleves so as to provide better service to their staff?

Stephen Fink:

Yes, and in fact that is true in Norwalk. At their monthly training sessions all of the central office staff participate along with the principals and superintendent. And no one is running out answering cell phones all day - imagine that!

Question from Dan Tighe, Superintendent, Caseville Public School:

Where do the efforts of the principals’ professional organizations fit with what you are doing to develop instructional leaders?

Stephen Fink:

I think professional organizations can play an important role. We are having discussions with our own Washington State organiation and hope to support their efforts in whatever way we can.

Question from Donna Silva-Burnett, Principal,Conerly Road Elementary:

In the school district that you implemented this intructional leadership program, how did the teachers union agree to support this initiative?

Ginger Shattuck:

They were involved from the beginning. We all made agreements and we meet regularly to clear up any issues that might unexpectedly arise. In this our 4th year, we have very little negative issues going to the union. We are in this together. Principals are key to this environment at the site.

Question from Lora Rossomando, President of Stamford, CT Education Association:

Doesn’t an instructional leader need to develop trust as part of the equation to be effective . If so, how can an administrator be the trusted support and simultaneously be the formal evaluator? Doesn’t the teacher need to feel safe in the abiltiy to voice thier own concerns about their weaknesses without it becoming part of an evaluation? How do you seperate the two?

Stephen Fink:

Yes, absolutely. And while it may be counter-intuitive that the formal evaluator can play both roles, we have seen it being done. That said, there are important district level and school level practices that must be in place to create this trusting environment. And that is also why we advocate that the instructional coaches remain as active teachers’ association members, and play no role in evaluation. This keeps in place a necessary demarcation in my opinion.

Catherine Gewertz (Moderator):

Thanks, everyone, for participating in such a lively chat about principals becoming instructional leaders. A transcript of this chat will be posted on our website later today. If you would like to contact the Center for Educational Leadership with other questions, you can reach them through their website, www.k-12leadership.org.

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