New Videos Bring to Life the Five Key Practices of Exemplary Principals

A spotlight on 10 principals and their strategies to improve teaching and learning.

By Jessica Schwartz
September 2015, Volume 39, Issue 1

What do outstanding principals do and what does that look like in real life?

In Clayborn Knight, principal of Nesbit Elementary School in Tucker, Georgia, spends his day roaming from classroom to classroom to observe teachers, give them informal feedback and present model lessons.

In Brooklyn, Deirdre Keyes, principal of PS/IS 206, created a “go-to” list of teachers and their strengths so teachers share their expertise with each other.

Kimberly Washington, principal of Hyattsville Middle School in Maryland, instituted student uniforms, got extra help for misbehaving students, and celebrated students’ accomplishments at rallies.


These three school leaders are among the 10 principals featured in a new collection of short videos, called School Leadership in Action: Principal Profiles, which bring to life the five key practices of exemplary principals. With support from The Wallace Foundation, WNET, the PBS affiliate in New York, followed the principals through their work days to show how they use the five key practices to improve teaching and learning in their schools. The five key practices are backed by more than a decade of Wallace-commissioned research and were detailed in The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning. They are:

  1. Shaping a vision of academic success for all students;
  2. Creating a climate hospitable to education;
  3. Cultivating leadership in others;
  4. Improving instruction; and
  5. Managing people, data, and processes to foster school improvement.

The five WNET videos each spotlight two principals from four school districts—Hillsborough County, Florida, Gwinnett County, Georgia, Prince George’s County, Maryland, and New York City—interacting with students, teachers, and other administrators and using effective strategies to make their schools successful.

Whether you are hoping to become a principal, just started a principalship, or have been leading a school for years, the leaders profiled here reflect a wealth of experience, of learning, and of strategy for school improvement.The collection is intended for principals, aspiring principals, and those who train and support principals so that they will see the practices firsthand and be inspired by these outstanding principals. In addition, the videos are appropriate for both formal and information learning settings as well as for directed and self-directed learning.

WNET also has produced an accompanying discussion guide with questions that can be used to frame reflective conversations about leadership practices in university-based coursework, district-based training programs, coaching or supervisory conversations, or peer-run professional learning communities. For example, on engaging parents, the guide poses this question: Principal Tom DeGrazia notes the importance of parental involvement in creating a sound climate and culture for academic learning. How might giving parents a place and space to discuss parenting and issues of concern to their children contribute to the school’s culture and climate? On giving feedback, for instance, the guide asks: Assistant principals in both schools discuss the benefit of receiving feedback on their leadership skills from their principals. Describe a time that you received effective feedback from a supervisor toward your leadership development. What made the feedback effective?

These videos are part of PBS’s growing resource center for principals and those who support their professional growth and development. They complement the series of school leadership videos previously posted on PBS LearningMedia, Critical Conversations about School Leadership. Those videos include 55 short segments based on events in 2013 by top education leaders discussing what it takes to get exceptional principals in all schools.

Anchored in the five leadership practices identified in a decade of research supported by The Wallace Foundation, the five leadership practices identified in a decade of research supported by The Wallace Foundation the five leadership practices identified in a decade of research supported by The Wallace Foundation the five leadership practices identified in a decade of research supported by The Wallace FoundationWe hope these new videos inspire other principals to improve teaching and learning in their schools.

Jessica Schwartz is senior communications officer for the Wallace Foundation.

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