Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S12
EDUCATION WEEK n
January 21, 2015
Shaping Strong School Leaders > www.edweek.org/go/principals
KEY FOR PRINCIPALS
BY ARIANNA PROTHERO
The principal's job has been called both the
most important in a school building and the
loneliest, and the stress it places on individuals
is illustrated by its rapid turnover rates,
especially in high-poverty schools.
School leadership experts say that robust
and ongoing training can alleviate those issues
and help keep principals on the job, but
professional development for school leaders is
often bypassed for other pressing needs such as
teacher training. And the professional development
that many principals do get is of questionable
"Most [professional development] for principals
is not consistent with our best understanding
of how learning occurs," said Joseph F. Murphy,
the associate dean at the Peabody College
of Education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville,
Tenn. "But if you can get the content and
the structure and delivery right, it can be huge."
Beverly J. Hutton, a deputy executive director
of the National Association of Secondary School
Principals, sums it up this way: "I would say
that there is a shortage of good pd."
Research has consistently shown that after
teachers, principals have the most impact
on student achievement when it comes to inschool
factors. And though principals' effects on
student outcomes may be more indirect than
teachers', their load-bearing role as a school's
instructional leader and the individual most responsible
for fostering a positive climate is getting
more attention from researchers, district
leaders, and policymakers.
But even with a sharper focus on the needs of
the profession, half of new principals quit by the
end of their third year on the job, according to a
2014 report from the School Leaders Network.
The same report argues that administrators
put too much emphasis on recruiting and preparing
principals-and tend to neglect their
development once they are on the job, especially
past the first two years. The study also
cites a 2013 report from the National Center
for Education Statistics that shows that principals
who didn't get professional development
the previous year were 1.4 times more likely
to leave their school than leaders who did receive
That turnover in leadership has negative
ripple effects on schools, and that churn ultimately
means wasted money for districts.
Quantity and Quality
"Good PD should
and promote more
powerful culture and
climate in a school."
JOSEPH F. MURPHY
But the importance of principal professional
development is often trumped by other issues
or ignored altogether, say many in the field.
"If you go to a conference on education, of
the 100 sessions on professional development,
98 might be on teacher pd and maybe one will
be on principal pd," said Heather Anichini, the
president and ceo of the Chicago Public Education
Fund, which recently started a principal-training
program. "There's just not a lot of
attention on it."
That tendency to overlook school leaders'
needs also plays out in academia-where
there is relatively scant research on the
needs of principals and what is needed to
boost their retention-as well as in the federal
"There certainly hasn't been a lot of federal
dollars designated for principal professional
development," said Ms. Hutton of the nassp.
"The professional-development money that
comes into principals' budgets, they use it on
teachers because they know the teachers are
right there in front of students."
Of the $1 billion the federal government
sends to districts annually for training programs,
91 percent goes to teachers, leaving
9 percent for principals, according to that
same 2014 report from the School Leaders
The nassp and the National Association for
Elementary School Principals are working
to change those numbers. The organizations
are pushing for the federal government to set
aside some Title II funds from the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act that are aimed
at improving teacher and principal quality,
and allocate it specifically for principal development.
Congress tipped its hat to the need for
more funding for school leader training in the
spending measure it approved in December,
directing the U.S. Department of Education to
tell states to do just that.
And the Education Department under the
Obama administration has diverted from previous
administrations with some new grantsupported
'Not One-Off Experiences'
But even when programs for principal professional
development are better financed and
more accessible, the quality and relevance of
training remains a huge challenge.
Although the specific professional-development
needs vary from rookies to veterans,
the tenets of good career training remain
the same, according to leaders in the field. It
should be individualized and rooted in realworld,
or real-school, problems.
"Job-embedded," said Ms. Hutton. "Every
piece of research we include in our programs
has been translated into what does this look
like on your job."
Trainings should also be spread out over a
longer period of time-say a semester versus
a two-day workshop, according to Mr. Murphy.
"Great pd is not one-off experiences," he said.
"Good pd should promote higher-quality instruction
and promote more powerful culture
and climate in a school."
It should also promote distributive leadership-or
training teams of people in a school
to help handle leadership responsibilities to
better balance the load of demands. The perks
behind that way of operating are manifold, including
preparing staff members for handling
school business during the principal's absence
so he or she can take part in professional-development
opportunities, said Mr. Murphy and
Finally, access to peer networks or cohorts is
important, allowing principals at every level of
experience to have a chance to bounce ideas or
problems off colleagues, said Ms. Hutton. Such
networks, as well as more structured training
programs, can also help battle feelings of isolation-a
major reason principals leave their
jobs, according to the nassp.
First-year principals are especially in need
of guidance as they try to apply the theory
they've learned in certificate or university
Push for quality
programs to the realities of the job, leadership
"I think one of the big challenges first-year
principals have is setting their priorities and
managing their time," said Mark J. White, the
principal at Hintgen Elementary School in LaCrosse,
Wis., and the president of the National
Association of Elementary School Principals.
"There's all these things coming at you."
Mentorship programs, Mr. White said, are
one of the best ways to start new principals
out on the right foot. "Every school is unique,
so it's really helpful to have someone that can
help you apply what you've learned on the
job," he said.
The Minneapolis district has four mentorship
programs, including one in which recently retired
principals are paired with a newly hired
one. The mentors, who are paid, help their
charges with everything from budgeting to
communications, observing them at work and
Bernadeia H. Johnson, who recently announced
she will step down as superintendent
in Minneapolis at the end of this
month, remembers the mentor who helped
her navigate the cultural nuances of her
new city when she first arrived. His practical
advice to her was how to handle a popular
"He called me up and said, 'Before you make
this mistake, we don't call it Halloween. You
can have a fall festival, but don't have a Halloween
day,' " she said. "He called me up before
I got in trouble."
Minneapolis' mentoring programs also help
with recruitment. People want to come work
in districts where they will be supported, Ms.
Needs of Veterans
Mentoring programs can also benefit veteran
principals who serve as mentors by forcing
them to think about what works and what
doesn't, and ultimately, what makes them successful
in their position.
"That's a professional-development experience
for them to grow," said Elisa Calabrese,
the chief talent-development officer for the
Broward County district in Florida. "There's no
better way to learn about leadership than to
mentor someone in leadership."
Her district has been a finalist three times
for the Broad Prize-an annual award for
urban districts that demonstrate improvements
in closing achievement gaps-in part
because of its training for principals at all levels
of experience, according to Broad officials.
But as important as training is to new school
leaders, it shouldn't be squeezed into the first
"We really do need that ongoing professional
development all the way throughout our careers,"
said Mr. White.
Principals who have already proved themselves
as strong leaders are the focus of a new
program launched in the fall of 2014 by the
Chicago Public Education Fund, a philanthropic
venture fund, for a select number of the city's
principals. The fellowship program was developed
using feedback gathered through surveys
and interviews with the city's principal corps.
"They were being engaged as instructional
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S1
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S2
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S3
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S4
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S5
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S6
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S7
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S8
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S9
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S10
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S11
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S12
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S13
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S14
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S15
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Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S19
Education Week - January 21, 2015 - Special Report - S20