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Covering School Leadership: Three Stories to Steal

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In my prior post, we talked about “10 Questions to Ask” when writing about school leadership. This time I’m offering three stories to steal. For more on this issue, I recommend you check out “The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning,” a report which came out earlier this year from the Wallace Foundation. If you want to dig deeper into other aspects of school leadership and governance, we have an excellent backgrounder over at Story Starters, EWA’s online resource.

While researching ideas for the story list, I reached out to education reporters who write about school leadership regularly, including Lesli Maxwell of Education Week. I also spoke with experts in the field: Michael Foran of New Britain (Conn.) High School, and the MetLife 2011 Principal of the Year; The Wallace Foundation; and Michelle Young, professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and executive director of the University Council for Educational Administration. For more background, check out Spiro’s piece in the November issue of Kappan magazine: Effective Principals in Action.

Stories to Steal

1. The Common Core: Are Schools – and Their Leaders – Ready? How are school leaders adapting to the rollout of the Common Core State Standards? What is being done to support teachers and provide professional development? What support are principals receiving to help them lead their school communities through what could be a rocky transition? How confident are principals that the Common Core will improve outcomes for students? As the new standards take hold over the next few years, what do principals expect will change in their schools when it comes to student achievement? How are principals preparing parents for the changes in their children’s classes and homework? (You might want to look over an action brief from the National Association of Elementary School Principals on implementing the new standards.)

2. Time to Lead: Priorities and Pressures for the School Principal. The informal “walk-through” of schools by principals, a hallowed tradition of the job, might be doing some harm and little good when it comes to helping teachers teach and students achieve, according to a new study from researchers at Vanderbilt and Stanford universities. Try to find a principal willing to let you shadow her for a full week – or even two. How does she spend the bulk of her time? Does she hold meetings with parent groups or the central office’s facilities staff? How often is she meeting directly with teachers to discuss what’ happening in the classrooms? How much control and responsibility does the principal have over daily operations, from the budget to staffing? Principals are expected to be instructional leaders, campus managers, and even professional communicators, says Ed Week’s Maxwell. Which of those responsibilities are taking priority? How would the principal reallocate her time if she had the option?

3. The Leadership Ladder: How Fast a Climb? Rapid turnover in school leadership is commonplace, particularly in urban districts. At the same time, it’s not unusual for an educator to move from the classroom to a principalship within five years – a rate of advancement that used to be the exception. A 2012 study by the RAND Corporation found one out of every five new principals leaves within two years, and that turnover can have long-term effects on schools’ academic progress. How quickly are school leaders moving up the ranks in your district? How does that compare to regional and national averages? What professional development is offered to teachers who express an interest in leadership? Once they take their posts, are they provided with a mentor or coach, particularly in their first three years on the job? Are any of the new school leaders coming from alternative routes to licensure, such as Teach For America? How are their early educational experiences shaping their approach to leadership? Conversely, how many teachers in your district are earning leadership credentials (perhaps at the local school of education) and the accompanying salary bump, but are then opting to remain in the classroom? What’s keeping them from moving up?