I’ve been reflecting quite a bit lately on what it takes to have a successful school. A successful school is when the students in the building are successful at learning. In order for students to be successful, all of the following ingredients must be present.
Campus leadership must be strong. The principal must be able to function as an Instructional Leader. He/she doesn’t need to be an expert in every content area, but they must know what good instruction looks like. When they look at data, they must be able to identify the areas of weakness and create a plan to improve student achievement. When they visit classrooms, they must be able to determine whether students are learning. When they are walking around the building, they must be able to feel the pulse of the building to know if the culture is strong and conducive to learning.
The curriculum must align with state standards and include a high level of rigor. The curriculum must have a strong scope and sequence that makes sense. Depending on the district and the strength of the campus, district curriculum must extend from the scope and sequence to weekly and daily instruction. If it is a district/campus in need of improvement, the district curriculum department cannot assume that the campus level staff knows how to break the scope and sequence down to weekly and daily lessons. District C & I should provide the support until you have taught them to write sound lesson plans.
Teachers must be taught how to deliver effective instruction. First and foremost, teachers must know the content themselves. Secondly, teachers must know how to deliver the content in a simplified, yet rigorous and engaging manner.
How do you ensure you have each of these ingredients on your campus?
Professional development is part of any career field. Learning never stops. In education, the field where learning is paramount, professional development happens, but is it effective? In order for professional development to be effective, the following must be present.
Research-Based Best Practice Strategies
This is a no-brainer. In order to teach someone, you must have information to share. The key to this point is to make sure you’re not just making something up. Make sure the information you are sharing is research-based and is considered a “best practice” in the field. Participants are in your session to learn. Make sure what you give them is valid, reliable, and proven.
During the PD session, make time to help participants apply the information to what they do. Help facilitate their learning in how they will take the information and apply it to their work lives. Give lots of examples of how the information is pertinent to their job performance.
Include activities throughout the session that requires the participants to leave with an action plan. When participants leave your PD, they should have everything in place to quickly implement the new information into their work lives. For instance, if you are training on classroom management, provide activities where teachers put together a class management plan. That way, when they return to their classrooms, they won’t have to take the time to figure out how to take your information and put together a plan… they walk away with a plan and all they will need to do is implement the plan.
Professional development should happen on your campus often. It should be well-planned and easy to implement.
Being a principal is not about a title. Being a principal is not about a pay increase. Being a principal is not about being in charge. Being a principal is about Instructional Leadership. The one key to principalship that separates the good from the great or the good from the bad is the role of Instructional Leadership. As a principal, you must know your role. Great principals know how to do the following:
Great principals know how to read data and make instructional decisions that meet the needs of students. Great principals know how to use the data to devise a roadmap for where the school is going and how he/she will get the school there.
Do you know how to read your state accountability report?
Can you identify the areas where students are struggling the most?
Can you identify the areas where students are excelling?
Can you look at formative data (throughout the year) and determine whether your students are reaching important milestones along the way?
Great principals know good instruction. Great principals know best practices for classroom management, the policies and procedures that set the teacher up for success. Great principals know to look for student engagement in classroom instruction in order to determine if the classroom instruction is effective.
Do you know what to look for while you’re in classrooms?
Do you know how to identify specific areas in which teachers may need extra support?
Do you know how to identify whether classroom instruction is effective or not while observing the classroom?
Instructional leadership is vitally important to the success of your students on campus. If you are in the principal chair and aren’t strong in instruction, get help. Attend all of the training you can find. Commit your time, energy, and effort on becoming a student of instruction. If you are not a principal yet, but aspire to be, learn as much instruction as you possibly can before you enter the position.
How do you strengthen your instructional leadership skills?
Paula Patterson is a former principal who shares practical points on the principalship.