5 Ways to Spearhead School Improvement

AP leadership can advance communication, equity, and data use

Assistant principals may take leadership on a wide range of cutting-edge initiatives to improve their schools. Here are just a handful of the types of projects you can pursue to foster a positive school culture, wiser use of technology and data, and more inclusive environments.

1. Leverage data to drive instruction and improvement. Best practices begin with empowering your teams to divide and conquer the voluminous amounts of data that need to be analyzed, examining the data yourself first and thinking about the kinds of conversations you want teachers to have, and developing a step-by-step data analysis protocol. Collaborate with teachers to set goals—in part to overcome any faculty fears about how data will be used. Communicate goals and results to parents and teachers, and celebrate your successes.

2. Practice inclusion—and be passionate about it. Inclusion extends not only to students of color, the LGBTQ+ population, and other diverse groups, but also to students with disabilities and others participating in special education. The latter group needs direct, explicit, continuously clarified instruction, as well as focused assessments and monitoring of progress based on thoughtful strategic planning. If you spearhead a special ed initiative, remember that its long-range success will require embedded systems that can “survive” staff turnover and other shifts in instructional direction.

3. Ensure positive interactions with families. Listen to families’ concerns during parent conferences and other scheduled events while encouraging teachers to take a proactive stance on behavioral and academic issues. But remember that in the age of social media—when confrontations can become public without warning—it is important to continuously reach out and build trust so that if you need to have a difficult conversation, it won’t be the first or only time you connect. Don’t limit your outreach to negative news, though; reach out with encouraging reports to help parents see that you genuinely care about helping their child.

4. Use equitable practices when addressing disciplinary issues. This can include working with teachers on restorative practices with an eye toward uncovering implicit biases; understanding the findings on why children behave the way they do in certain situations and at certain ages; and practicing “humanness” that considers children’s basic needs such as hunger, thirst, exhaustion, or fear and gives them a safe space to reflect and calm down. Discipline’s end goal should be to change behavior and build relationships—not to punish.

5. Support teachers as they integrate new technology. Begin by using the technology yourself and creating risk-free environments for faculty to experiment when piloting new software or other technologies. Communicate that you don’t expect teachers to become experts overnight, and that you realize that their approach to a technology will change as they learn. And as with any other school initiative, provide continuous opportunities for professional development so that faculty members can pick up the practical concepts that will ensure technology integration goes smoothly and results in the maximum benefit to the school and its students.

Ed Finkel is a full-time freelance writer who covers K–12 education and other topics.

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