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ED’s Perspective - Principals Help Teachers Soar

October 2012, Volume 36, Issue 2

By Gail Connelly, NAESP Executive Director

Over the years, I have had the privilege of meeting and working alongside many principals, and it’s always fascinating to hear about their journeys to the principalship. As part of our National Principals Month celebration, NAESP asked principals from across the country to share why they are proud to be principals. Many of the entries highlighted principals’ commitment to making a real difference for all children and having a positive impact on their entire school community. In story after story, principals described their desire to foster excellence in not just their students, but also in their teachers and staff members.

One principal, for instance, wrote about how much he enjoys helping his teachers “spread their wings and soar.” Jon Millerhagen, this year’s National Distinguished Principal from Minnesota, said, “You get the opportunity to interact intellectually and professionally with top-notch people that really care about children and understand what it takes to help them learn. It’s very energizing.”

Carrying out this mission to strengthen teachers is one way principals can make their schools flourish. Focusing on student success means focusing on excellent teaching. But implementing deep staff development is arguably one of a principal’s most challenging tasks, requiring that principals stretch themselves to listen, plan, explore, and strategize. It starts before school even opens, when principals articulate a vision for the year and long-term goals; it gets reinforced through the professional development opportunities principals provide and support, and it weaves into principals’ classroom observations and their feedback to teachers. Even veteran principals may find themselves struggling with how to provide the best professional development for their staffs with limited resources and time.

That message rang true at a recent briefing resulting from the principal shadowing program , which was organized by NAESP and NASSP. Officials from the U.S. Department of Education spent a day shadowing the work of thirty principals, and afterwards, the principals had an opportunity to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. When asked what one thing the department could do to support schools, one principal emphasized the burden of high-stakes testing; others called for renewed emphasis on early childhood education and bolstering literacy efforts. But over and over, principals asked for support for their teachers, through training on topics like data use or Common Core implementation, or resources to help facilitate professional development that allows teachers to engage with and learn from one another. Duncan responded favorably, emphasizing the need for more robust professional development for principals as well as teachers. Ideally, this first-of-its-kind shadowing program will lead to education policy that responds to the professional development needs of all educators. In order to lead ambitious change efforts in schools, principals must have the resources necessary to provide top-notch professional development for themselves and their teachers.

Great staff developers, according to research, establish long-term learning goals, draft designs for professional development that are matched to outcomes and staff needs, provide resources for learning, and monitor progress and impact. To help principals accomplish these easier-said-than-done tasks, NAESP is devoting an entire issue of Principal magazine to teacher and staff development. Look for it this January.

Further, NAESP has long been committed to reinforcing principals as learners, positioning them as role models for their staffs. In fact, our Rethinking Principal Evaluation report released last month cited professional growth as an area of responsibility for principal evaluations. To aid principals in that goal, NAESP’s research and development arm, the Center for Educational Improvement, highlights innovations and the latest research to assist school leaders as they work to improve schools. Additionally, NAESP’s ongoing free webinars offer exciting learning opportunities every month.

Ultimately, discussions about teacher quality and professional development must recognize the role of principals as strategists, thought leaders, and role models for growth. In today’s talks about measuring educators’ performance, we can’t ignore the importance of school leaders as they work diligently to help teachers sharpen their skills, deepen their knowledge, and reach more students. Building the capacity of teachers to enable each child to reach his or her highest potential is not only integral to a principal’s job description—it is, perhaps, the most compelling reason for becoming a principal in the first place.

Gail Connelly is Executive Director of NAESP.


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