It can’t be said enough, school principals seriously matter in any school improvement effort. They directly impact teacher engagement, school conditions, and family involvement, which are all big factors in increasing student performance. This is why the recent convening by the Department of Education’s School Leadership Program (SLP) is an important part in achieving our overall mission to promote student achievement for all of our nation’s students.
Bringing together 45 of its grant recipients for two days, the SLP program office provided an opportunity for districts, university programs, partner organizations, and federal policymakers to learn from each other and experts in the field about how to promote and improve excellent school leadership.
From my perspective, that of an experienced district and charter public school principal, and as part of the Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program (PAF), the convening provided a valuable learning experience by those in attendance. In particular, I was struck by a presentation from Matthew Clifford, principal researcher of education, at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) who spoke about the Ripple Effect of principal influence. Principals, according to Clifford, need to be evaluated on what they can control – teacher engagement, community context, and school conditions – all of which strongly impact student learning but in an indirect way.
This concept, along with a recent report by Jason Grissom, Susanna Loeb, and Ben Master should make us all think again about what effective school leadership looks like and how our accountability systems honors the work of principals and truly incentivizes the types of behaviors our schools need from their leaders. The principal didn’t become the “most complex and contradictory figure in the pantheon of educational leadership,” overnight, as described by Kate Rousmaniere, another presenter at the convening. It is going to take a great deal of attention and thought for states and districts to create the type of learning environments and support systems required to improve school leadership practices. Luckily, there is a group of practitioners engaged in this work, and it was impressive to have them all in one room together.
A great deal of thanks goes out to the SLP team, the PAFs, to all the presenters who shared their expertise, to the students who thoughtfully challenged the adults through performance and provocative questions, and to the grantees who came with open minds and incredible experiences. Let’s hope this is one of many more such gatherings, because there is still much work to do.
Joshua Klaris is a resident principal in the Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program at the U.S. Department of Education