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School principals share keys to success


Five strategies can help school principals boost teacher confidence and student performance.

What does it take to be an effective school leader, and how can school principals best support teaching and learning in their buildings? A new video series, built around the Wallace Foundation’s “The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning,” examines these questions and more, through the eyes of school principals around the country.

The Wallace Foundation Perspective focuses on five practices that, when “done really well,” make for effective school principals: shaping a vision of academic success for all students, creating a climate hospitable to education, cultivating leadership in others, improving instruction, and managing people, data, and processes to foster school improvement.

“After more than a decade of investment in school leadership, we can confirm the empirical link between school leadership and improved student achievement,” said Will Miller, president of the Wallace Foundation, when the report was released. “No longer seen as glorified managers of buildings and bus schedules, today’s principals must be their schools’ chief improvement officers, strengthening instruction, building a culture of high achievement, and marshaling the skills of other educators to boost student performance.”

(Next page: Watch the videos as school principals share their success stories)
Shaping a vision of academic success for all students

Kevin Tashlein, principal of Peachtree Ridge High School in Gwinnett County, Ga., said he and his staff members examined student subgroup and learning data as they began to increase excellence in their school. School administrators made sure to involve students along the way, and students in a marketing class created a campaign “in pursuit of the standard of excellence” that school leaders promoted.

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As school administrators and teachers tried to improve student achievement, Mikel Royal, principal at Samuels Elementary School in Denver, Colo., said that staff members became overwhelmed when she asked them to reflect on the reason why 50 percent of the school’s students were not meeting achievement goals. A week later, Royal re-framed the question, and asked teachers to focus on the strategies that helped 50 percent of the school’s students achieve. That change in perspective, Royal said, helped keep teachers positive and engaged as they approached a challenge.

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Creating a climate hospitable to education

Moving negative people out of a toxic school environment and focusing on small, but encouraging, steps to improve student life and achievement can go a long way in creating a positive school culture, said Michael Alcoff, a Network Leader who provides support to school principals in New York City schools. One school Alcoff observed increased its exam passing rate from 12 percent to 53 percent by making positive changes and using data.

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Cultivating leadership in others

“Sometimes teachers work better when they hear from other teachers,” said Marie Jackson, principal at Samuel Chase Elementary School in Prince George’s County, Md. If school principals can get teachers to act as facilitators and secure buy-in from their fellow teachers, everyone wins.

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Improving instruction

Professional learning communities (PLCs) can go a long way in improving instruction, said Baretta Wilson, principal at Stewart Middle Magnet School in Hillsborough County, Fla. Many teachers have solutions that work with different students, and when they work together, teachers benefit. Wilson gave up weekly faculty meetings so that teachers could instead meet with one another in their PLCs.

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Managing people, data, and processes to foster school improvement

Establishing a sense of urgency around a challenge, and letting teachers know that they are an important part of the solution, will help school administrators as they strive to achieve goals. Angie Wright, principal of Craig Elementary School in Gwinnett County, Ga., asked her staff to reflect on student data and identify strengths, weaknesses, and concerns. School administrators are purposeful in using professional development and in purchasing resources, and make sure that all actions support instruction in the building.

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Laura Ascione

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