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Reframing the Principal's Role

Last updated: 06-11-2019

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 Reframing the Principal's Role

Premium Member Book (May 2017)
Coach Approach to School Leadership
by Jessica Johnson, Shira Leibowitz and Kathy Perret
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Hero Maker: Reframing the Principal's Role
"You are heroes," a uniformed police officer told a group of teachers, who reacted with a spontaneous round of applause. He was leading a lockdown drill, helping teachers practice how to respond if there were an intruder in the school or its vicinity. The officer began his presentation not by telling teachers what to do or how brave they would need to be, but by paying tribute to the consistent, quiet courage teachers already show day in and day out. He acknowledged that although the prospect of keeping company with unsavory characters at 3:00 a.m. did not faze him, he would be terrified to spend his days in a room filled with children.
Teachers are heroes.
Principals, along with other school leaders, are hero makers.
Roland Barth, founder of the Principals' Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is quoted as having said, "The best principals are not heroes—they are hero-makers." For us, this humble eschewing of the title of hero in favor of a supporting role is the essence of principal-coaching. Our own journeys, along with those of many other school leaders, instructional coaches, and teachers with whom we have been privileged to learn, have convinced us that fostering a school culture of instructional coaching is a potent pathway to improving the quality of learning and community in our schools. That culture begins with the principal.
Although central to school improvement efforts, the role of principal-coach is infused with paradox. Typically, instructional coaches do not have supervisory responsibilities. They are committed to supporting teacher learning using a range of approaches, including planning one-on-one with teachers, modeling, observing, and offering targeted feedback or training to teachers in their classrooms. Because instructional coaches do not evaluate, they can encourage risk taking while ensuring safety. They can support teachers through challenging times with the promise of confidentiality. By contrast, principals, ultimately accountable for the quality of learning in their schools, must set high professional expectations, evaluate teacher effectiveness, make budgetary decisions, allocate resources, assign teachers to classes, and, at times, determine whether or not to rehire a teacher.
Principals and teachers alike may wonder, How can principals possibly coach when they must evaluate? How can teachers feel safe to experiment, take risks, and reveal vulnerabilities with a person who makes important decisions about their employment? To reconcile the apparently contradictory roles of supervisor and coach, leaders must
Reframe the role of the principal.
Nurture a schoolwide culture of coaching and professional collaboration.
Acknowledge the vulnerability inherent in professional learning.
Reframing the Role of the Principal
Let's consider a sports metaphor: if a school were a team, what would the principal be? Judge? Captain? Coach? Manager? Owner? Sportscaster? Physical therapist? Cheerleader? Groundskeeper? Promoter? Fan?
You could probably make an argument for any of these roles. The way we envision the varying roles of principals is as a continuum, with judge at one end and team captain at the other (see Figure 1.1). Toward the middle of the continuum stand principals who function primarily as coaches, supporting teachers' professional learning and navigating both the resulting vulnerability and the celebratory exploration integral to meaningful growth. The journey to becoming a principal-coach has the potential to transform learning for teachers in profound ways, resulting in immeasurable benefits for students. To understand the journey, it is important to consider the three main leadership approaches ranging along the continuum.
Figure 1.1. The Continuum of Principals' Roles
Judges
Principals who behave primarily as judges tend to take formal district teacher evaluation protocols seriously, striving to assess teacher effectiveness using a range of technical measurements. These principals focus on high expectations. Like the silent judges in boxing and gymnastics matches, holding up a score without explanation, principal judges rely on their evaluative tools.
This style of principal leadership is expected in many schools, but it comes with risks. Functioning primarily as judge and evaluator, even with kindness and respect, can result in a negative school culture and an unexpected decrease in school quality. Yet those who resist the role of formal evaluator run the risk of being perceived as neglecting district expectations—a potentially treacherous position for a leader.
So what is a well-intentioned, capable principal to do?
There are ways to move away from functioning primarily as a judge and toward making the evaluation process an opportunity for reflection and learning. Doing so will require leaders to find new ways to fulfill mandated procedures while either weaving them into a more reflective process or coordinating a parallel process of supportive feedback for growth. With the approval of district supervisors and leaders, the principal can accomplish such a shift, in the process delighting teachers and leading to transformative trust building and meaningful school improvement.
Team Captains
Principals who behave primarily as team captains tend to take teachers' unions seriously and strive to be advocates for teachers. Like affable peer leaders of sports teams, functioning as first among equals, principal team captains typically rely on charisma and connection. They tend to be quite popular with teachers.
Yet the team captain style of leadership also comes with risks. Embracing a comfortable camaraderie can lead to complacency, potentially stifling innovation and leading to a culture of mediocrity in which students do not receive the quality learning experiences they deserve.
Again, what is a well-intentioned, capable principal to do?
There are ways to move away from functioning primarily as a genial team captain and toward nudging teachers to seek out the joy and discomfort inherent in meaningful growth. With careful pacing, explanation, encouragement, and reassurance, principals can help teachers engage in the sometimes disconcerting yet ultimately invigorating process of reflective, substantive professional learning.
Coaches
At the middle of the continuum are principals who behave primarily as coaches, carefully balancing high expectations with robust supports. Principal-coaches see their role as learning leaders, directing resources to those areas that are most likely to affect the quality of student learning. These leaders visit classrooms and offer nonjudgmental feedback to teachers, provide time and training for teachers to work collaboratively on enhancing student learning, and creatively allocate resources in order to provide teachers with high-quality instructional coaching. Without neglecting their evaluative role, they transform formal evaluation processes into opportunities for engaged professional reflection and learning. While holding high expectations, principal-coaches support teachers as professionals and care about them as individuals.
Although shifting to a principal-coaching model has a significant positive effect on teaching and learning, it does come with some risks. District leaders may remain committed to more formal evaluative procedures. Teachers who have received exemplary or even satisfactory evaluations from leaders using the principal-judge approach may resist increasing their effort in professional learning, as a serious coaching model demands. Alternatively, teachers who have worked with principal team captains may find new expectations, even offered with support, a harsh imposition. Regardless of the prior leadership model, at least some teachers who have not experienced coaching will likely express skepticism about its benefits. They may also worry that the principal is recommending coaching because of low satisfaction with their performance rather than offering it as a gift that all professionals deserve.
So yet again, what is a well-intentioned, capable principal to do?
Although there is no recipe for transforming one's leadership style, principals can begin to reframe their role through careful and ongoing collaboration with both supervisors and teachers and a commitment to learning a number of new coaching approaches. The results can be transformative, unleashing teachers' potential and inspiring a culture of joyous curiosity about what's possible for each teacher and student.
It's true that because of their evaluative role, principals can never fully embody the role of coach. Finding balance on the continuum between judge and team captain requires ongoing navigation and adjustment. Still, although the task is challenging, we believe that supporting teachers' professional growth is the most effective way to improve the quality of our schools.
Principals wear many "hats." Throughout this book, we refer deliberately to "the coach's hat" and "the evaluator's hat." Because we firmly believe that building on teachers' strengths and helping them gain skill in areas of weakness are among the most powerful roles of a principal, our coach's hat remains our default hat—the leadership stance we use most of the time with most of our teachers. In difficult cases when we are concerned with a teacher's performance, we explain that we are speaking as a supervisor, with our evaluator's hat on, and make our expectations clear. The time to switch hats isn't always immediately obvious; we may see ineffective teaching practices that we believe will improve but instead deteriorate. At whatever point we determine coaching is no longer enough and feel deeply concerned about a teacher's performance, we must be honest with the teacher. In addition to making expectations clear, it is our responsibility to put alternative supports in place to help the teacher meet expectations. If the teacher does not improve, we owe it to our students to decide whether he or she should be retained.
Still, we see no reason to let the small number of difficult situations affect our decision to function as coach for the majority of the time, focusing on supervision for professional growth rather than judgmental evaluation.
Nurturing a Schoolwide Culture of Coaching and Professional Collaboration
Among our favorite leadership quotes is the following, often attributed to John Quincy Adams: "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader." We might tweak this quote just a bit to read, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a teacher." Leading and teaching are not so different, after all.
We believe that coaching and professional collaboration form the link that connects great leadership, great teaching, and great learning. Thus, an essential component of principal-coaching is creating a schoolwide culture of coaching and professional collaboration. This culture involves not merely action but also interaction, not merely learning but also relationship. It stretches far beyond any one person, including the principal. Depending on the school, the central participants may include superintendents and other district leaders, assistant principals, curriculum leaders, psychologists or guidance counselors, department chairs, and teacher leaders. Ultimately, in successful cultural transformations, a majority of teachers become actively involved in crafting professional learning experiences and take ownership of their own learning.
To nurture such a culture, principals can adjust budgets to add coaching positions, reframe existing job descriptions to include some coaching components, demonstrate their appreciation for coaching, respect the confidentiality of coaches and teachers, and make clear that coaching is not remedial but a significant means of activating professional learning. Putting together a team of coaches and educational leaders who use coaching techniques is a creative process, with multiple possibilities even in budget-strapped schools. Are there specialists such as librarians, educational technology coordinators, or special education teachers whose schedules could include time for coaching? Are there teachers with expertise in particular subjects who could teach a lighter load and devote some of their time to coaching? Could job descriptions for assistant principals, curriculum coordinators, department chairs, deans, or others be modified to include coaching? Are there ways to adopt formal coaching positions, either by adding the positions if the budget allows or by repurposing existing positions?
A culture of coaching demands partnership, and there are cases in which such partnership is particularly challenging. Many coaches have asked us whether such a culture can thrive without a principal's active support. Many principals have asked us how to overcome powerful resistance among important leaders, including but not limited to the superintendent and other district leaders, school board members, teacher leaders, and teachers' unions. In these situations, educators can proceed only with caution and careful planning. Some may make the choice not to try. Others will believe that they have sufficient resources and support yet will fail and end up retreating, choosing to leave the school, or being asked to leave. Still others will try and succeed.
We have known schools in which passionate, capable coaches or teacher leaders have implemented coaching with little more than the tacit approval of the principal. We have also known principals who have withstood powerful resistance with resilience and dignity, weathering uncomfortable, even painful turbulence and making admirable progress. True transformation takes time. Even in the best cases, it is not a linear process. It requires maturity and the readiness to face numerous obstacles, especially in cultures that have long been characterized by professional isolation.
Keeping in mind that every situation and every school is different, in the following section we share three vignettes illustrating some of the challenges that principals may encounter in their quest to lead with a coach's hat.
1. When the Principal Is Not Open to Coaching
A first-year assistant principal who was primarily responsible for discipline in his school was surprised by the steady stream of students sent to his office by a single second-year math teacher. Deciding to investigate, he visited her classroom and quickly saw that although she had strong content knowledge and a warm demeanor, she lacked basic classroom management skills. After spending long hours on preparation and investing herself fully in students' success, she became frustrated when students responded to her informality with playful, disruptive banter. She would then show her agitation and habitually send students to the assistant principal. Based on informal conversations with this teacher, the assistant principal was confident that she was beginning to understand that sending students to him was undermining students' respect for her, and he anticipated that she would welcome support.
The assistant principal shared his thinking with the principal, explaining that he thought he could help this teacher by working with her much as an instructional coach would. He also shared some of his ideas for increasing collaboration among teachers: assigning master teachers as mentors for novices, creating opportunities for peer coaching, and setting up professional learning communities in which teachers could review data on students' academic and behavioral progress and work together to support student learning and growth. Teachers in the school were working in isolation, with no one entering their classrooms other than the principal, who came in once a year for a formal evaluation. They did not benefit from the observations of a supportive educator who could flag "blind spots," as instructional coaching expert Stephen Barkley calls them. In fact, they did not have anybody offering feedback on their classroom practice or helping them to improve.
The assistant principal was dismayed by his principal's reaction. The principal assured him that she would personally visit the teacher's classroom to observe the incompetence, write an unsatisfactory evaluation, and give the teacher a nonrenewal notice. She said that although she had not seen anything of sufficient concern the previous year to terminate the contract, she was certain she would now recognize the teacher's ineptitude and include it in her write-up. She also told the assistant principal that she did not want to burden him with the responsibility of coaching teachers on top of his disciplinary duties. She assured him that she was confident that in a short time, he would be able to handle all disciplinary problems promptly, keeping the school running smoothly and the teachers satisfied.
The assistant principal did not have the confidence to ask the principal all the questions he had: What purpose does it serve to evaluate teachers if you are not going to provide them with support? Why give up so quickly on a teacher with potential? What effect does accepting responsibility for discipline have on teachers as professionals? When you spend time on routine classroom discipline in one particular classroom, how much of that time would be better spent on other areas that could promote school improvement?
Several years passed, and the assistant principal grew increasingly frustrated. Eventually, he accepted a position at another school whose principal embraced his desire to incorporate coaching as a primary leadership approach. A few years later, he was hired to be a principal in another school. Among his first contributions was to create an instructional coaching program, hiring as his first instructional coaches some of the master teachers who had helped him during his first year as an administrator. Over the years, they created a powerful partnership and a culture of coaching that abounded with opportunities for active professional learning and collaboration among teachers.
2. When the Superintendent or School Board Is Not Open to Coaching
A principal who had worked as an instructional coach before being appointed to her current position reached out to a colleague in frustration. Committed to spending time in classrooms participating in learning and giving feedback to teachers, she had been instructed by her superintendent to focus on school management and formal evaluations. The superintendent made it clear that the principal's role was to keep the school safe and orderly and to ensure that teachers had the resources they needed and were held accountable for student learning, mostly as evidenced in test scores. He emphasized that the school board shared his perspective and that the principal's evaluation would be based on the quality of her skills as a manager and an evaluator.
Viewing herself primarily as an educator and a learning leader, the principal wondered whether she was in the right job. She considered resigning and seeking a position as an instructional coach or a teacher. In desperation, she shared her thoughts with a veteran principal colleague who encouraged her to stick it out at least for the year and see if she could find ways to infuse her current role with learning leadership. The colleague shared that she, too, was required to implement an evaluation system with two formal observations per year and substantial documentation, none of which she thought had any influence on teacher learning and effectiveness. She observed that feedback to teachers did not always need to be documented in the formal evaluation process. With the ongoing support of her colleague, the novice principal fulfilled the expectations of her superintendent and district while also offering teachers the opportunity for her to visit informally and meet to reflect on teaching and learning. A few teachers initially accepted her offer, and over time more and more teachers became interested. The principal tried unsuccessfully to secure funding to hire an instructional coach and to get permission to repurpose existing positions to offer some coaching to teachers. Nevertheless, she was able to meet district requirements for teacher evaluation while finding professional fulfillment through her support of teachers who appreciated the coaching she offered. She remained in her school for many years, gaining the respect of the teachers who worked closely with her.
3. When Teachers' Unions or Influential Teachers Are Not Open to Coaching
An experienced principal in her first year of a new position in a school with a strong teachers' union sought assistance from her own leadership coach. The district required one formal observation a year, and the union contract prohibited any informal observations beyond the one required for evaluation. "How can I nurture a culture of coaching," she asked her coach in exasperation, "when I am not even allowed to enter the classrooms?"
After some discussion with her coach, the principal met with the president of the teachers' union and said that she would like to invite a group of teachers to help plan job-embedded professional learning experiences. Recognizing that the meeting time for this professional development committee was beyond what was stipulated as required work in the teacher contract, the principal had already secured funding to pay teachers for their time. The union president consulted with the union board and, after some debate, they agreed that teachers could help the principal plan professional learning. Three teachers volunteered to participate in the planning process, but over the course of several months stopped attending meetings. They quietly let the principal know that they had been discouraged from participating by colleagues who felt that their participation made those who did not volunteer "look bad." The principal decided to build trust by entering classrooms, offering support, and showing appreciation. This worked out well: teachers expressed their gratitude for her support and recognition of the good work they were doing.
The following year, the principal continued her classroom observations, this time adding some questions for teacher reflection. She found that most teachers ignored her invitation to reflect, some politely thanked her, and one or two engaged in reflection, discussing ways to improve the quality of learning in their classrooms, brainstorming with the principal, and making changes to their practice based on their new insights. Later in the year, at a union meeting, several teachers complained that the informal observations violated the teacher contract and initiated a formal grievance. Although the district grievance committee determined that the principal's actions were contractually permitted, a number of teachers remained upset, and tension grew in the building.
The superintendent, who supported the principal's approach, transferred her to another school in the district whose faculty he believed would be open to exploring ways to improve their practice. The several teachers who had been working closely with the principal requested to be transferred with her, and the superintendent approved these requests. Together, along with some enthusiastic teachers in their new school, they made admirable progress engaging in peer coaching and professional learning communities to support student learning.
To replace the principal in the school she had left, the superintendent hired a kindhearted veteran principal who was reaching the end of his career and believed that the role of a school leader was to maintain order and keep teachers satisfied. The school staff members remained content with themselves and their practice and felt pleased to have a leader who kept them satisfied.
What all of these scenarios have in common is a lack of engagement and support from a key stakeholder. In each case, a talented educational leader faced a challenge, took it on with courage, and experienced the consequences: choosing to leave the school, being transferred to another school, or remaining and accepting the progress that was possible to achieve. Leading with a coach's hat is among the most powerful roles for a school leader, but it cannot be accomplished in cultures of isolation where principals and supervisors tend to their own responsibilities and teachers function with almost absolute autonomy, with limited opportunity for collaboration. Building a team within the building is essential for all leaders who want to foster the collaborative professional learning necessary to improve their schools' quality of learning and sense of community.
Acknowledging the Vulnerability Inherent in Professional Learning
Acknowledging the vulnerability inherent in professional learning—indeed, in all learning—as educators open themselves to what they do not yet know and to whom they have not yet become is a daring and sometimes painful task. We understand educators' reluctance to open themselves up and reflect on their practice with a coach. Yet we aim to show teachers the celebratory exploration that beckons them, demanding a deep dive into their beliefs, perspectives, talents, and interests as well as their fears, insecurities, weaknesses, and limitations. Teaching, as we noted at the beginning of this chapter, is an act of courage. Likewise, coaching teachers is an act of bravery, as teachers are paradoxically sometimes the most reticent learners. Most school leaders who have been involved in professional learning have seen teachers' crossed arms, rolling eyes, glances at the clock, and distracted peeks at smartphones, which almost humorously mirror the disengaged behaviors of the teachers' own students.
There are many reasons for this impolite behavior, and the explanation may vary according to your perspective: from a sympathetic viewpoint, you might see teachers as jaded victims of decisions made by policymakers and administrators who are disconnected from the needs of students. From a more disdainful viewpoint, you could view teachers as uninspired and caring more about their own comfort than about students' needs. Neither of these perspectives, however, takes into account the unfolding learning process that leads toward growth or stagnation depending on the actions and interactions of all involved. True learning—not merely the performance required for a grade or a professional evaluation—requires the learner's full investment. Principal-coaches often choose to begin engaging teachers who have owned their own learning journey with courage and seek opportunities to expand their understanding and skills as a professional. Principal-coaches also determine ways to assist those who have not yet chosen to embark on a journey of professional exploration and who have no desire for a coach.
Touching on far more than pedagogy, effective principal-coaching helps teachers discover within themselves the qualities from which their professional talent stems. The process requires striving and depth, as poetically articulated by Parker Palmer in his 1998 book The Courage to Teach: "Good teaching," Palmer asserts, "cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher" (p. 10). In his insightful reflection on what it means to coach and to be open to professional coaching, Palmer posits a series of questions that direct us toward a deeper understanding of the essence of teaching:
The question we most commonly ask is the "what" question—what subjects shall we teach?
When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the "how" question—what methods and techniques are required to teach well?
Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the "why" question—for what purpose and to what ends do we teach?
But seldom, if ever, do we ask the "who" question—who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form—or deform—the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which teaching comes? (p. 4)
Principal-coaching at its most powerful guides teachers to reflect on the "who" questions, opening them to their own vulnerability and potential in ways both poignant and frightening. It is this duality—inherent in great coaching and great teaching—that transforms teacher support and evaluation into a far more complex and meaningful endeavor than is typically understood.
School cultures that are mature enough to embrace the process of empowering educators to stretch beyond their comfort zones will be the ones that ultimately model that same courageous process for students. Although we believe this transformation is possible for all schools, we also recognize that some schools can't overcome overwhelming challenges and obstacles, at least not yet. Journeys of professional learning and continuous school improvement are rarely, if ever, linear. Schools often encounter stalls, challenging turns, dead ends, or even complete stops. Some school cultures cling to the model of principal as evaluator and judge, whereas others cling to the model of principal as team captain. Still other schools view principals as managers, not particularly focused on teaching quality. As seen in the vignettes on pages 13–17, teachers and principals sometimes leave schools during the process, seeking cultures more receptive to their visions and ideals. Other times, teachers or principals are encouraged or even forced to leave as their efforts clash with their schools' culture and expectations. When transformational processes stall or fail even to begin, the result is typically a return to a comfortable status quo with which many educators, parents, and students are content. Yet when transformation does emerge, the results are inspirational. Students not only experience success but also embark on a process of lifelong self-discovery and self-expression, encouraged by the support and the example of their teachers.
Although we advise caution, stemming from our own implementation mistakes and failures as well as those of other talented educators with whom we have worked, we remain profoundly optimistic about the potential of principal-coaching to transform schools within a broader culture of coaching. Yes, schools will face challenges—poignantly human challenges. So many teachers have always functioned in isolation that it is downright unusual for teachers to work in the presence of colleagues or supervisors. Many schools do not embed regular time within the workday or even the work week for teachers to plan and reflect collaboratively. When other adults enter the classroom, teachers can feel misunderstood and threatened, and the visitors often feel like unwelcome intruders. One teacher we know told us that teachers in his school texted one another "POF" (principal on the floor) as a warning that the principal was conducting what they perceived as less-than-supportive classroom visits. Another of our trusted teacher colleagues shared that although she has an excellent working relationship with her principal, she still hates it when he conducts walkthroughs because she feels like she is onstage being observed and judged.
Just as teachers' vulnerability is too often ignored, so too is the vulnerability of principals. A MetLife survey of principals (Markow, Macia, & Lee, 2013) revealed that 75 percent of principals felt the job had become too complex; 69 percent said their job responsibilities were not very similar to what they had been five years previously; 48 percent felt great stress several days a week; and only 42 percent believed that they had a great deal of control over curriculum and instruction. The percentage of principals describing themselves as "very satisfied" with their jobs decreased nine points in five years, from 68 percent in 2008 to 59 percent in 2013.
Becoming open to vulnerability in the process of school improvement beckons principals to consider questions similar to those Parker Palmer posed about the essence of teaching:
Who is the self that supervises, evaluates, coaches, mentors, inspires, articulates aspirations, sets expectations, and crafts robust supports?
How does the quality of my selfhood form—or deform—the way I relate to my teachers, my aspirations for my school, my priorities, and my world?
How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which learning leadership comes?
In a coaching relationship, the principal and teacher explore, learn, and grow together, revealing themselves to each other in the service of students. Principal-coaches strive to build relationships in which both teacher and principal appreciate and draw on each other's strengths while openly acknowledging their limitations and figuring out ways to expand their insight, understanding, and ability. Becoming a principal-coach requires far more reflection and focus on who you are as a professional than on the particular techniques you use. More significant than your "to-do" list is what is at the top of your "to-be" list. Read books on instructional coaching, and you will see certain qualities and attributes emerge repeatedly: effective instructional coaches build strong relationships, are good listeners, believe in teachers' potential, and are flexible, trustworthy, respectful, humble, responsive, self-reflective, and knowledgeable about best teaching practices. These characteristics do not differ essentially from those that define effective principals.
When you grapple with questions of personhood, you enhance teachers' sense of well-being as professionals while substantially improving the quality of learning, community, and culture in your school.
The Benefits of Principal-Coaching
Coaching is nonnegotiable in the world of sports and increasingly commonplace in the world of business, yielding dramatic results: one Fortune 500 company assessed tangible and intangible benefits of leadership coaching for middle management and calculated a 529 percent return on investment (Anderson, 2001).
Yet school and district administrators as well as teachers are often skeptical of the benefits of coaching. Rick DuFour and Mike Mattos (2013) quote a study stating that three of four teachers report that their evaluation process has virtually no effect on their classroom practice. That is a chilling statistic. Principals spend a tremendous amount of time on evaluation, and that effort ought to have some influence on teacher effectiveness and student learning.
Within mandated evaluation processes, principals have room to include the opportunity for teacher reflection. DuFour and Mattos offer several options. One is to focus on team goals emphasizing student learning, thereby promoting the collaboration needed for individual teacher as well as school improvement. Another option is for the principal to use observations as opportunities to provide feedback to teachers on specific strategies that teachers have identified as goals for themselves—for example, checking for student understanding. Finally, DuFour and Mattos call on leaders to reframe their question from How can I do a better job of monitoring teaching? to How can we collectively do a better job of monitoring student learning?
The reframing of this question reflects a paradigm shift. Rather than hold dogmatic perspectives about how teaching should look, principal-coaching asks coaches and teachers to support students in whatever ways are needed to achieve their learning goals. In this position, educators strive to retain a curious and open stance toward the multiple pathways students may take to reach mastery.
John Hattie (2009) offers insights into how principals can most effectively bolster student learning in his investigation of more than 800 meta-analyses relating to student achievement, which represents the largest collection of evidence-based research into what actually works in schools. Citing a meta-analysis conducted by Robinson, Lloyd, and Rowe (2008) of 22 studies that include 2,833 principals, Hattie defines three distinct types of school leadership: transformational leadership, instructional leadership, and learning leadership:
Transformational leadership, according to Hattie, is "inspiring teachers to new levels of energy and commitment towards a common mission, which develops the school's capacity to work together to overcome challenges and reach ambitious goals, and then to ensure that teachers have time to conduct their teaching" (p. 154). To us, this sounds great: inspiration, new levels of energy and commitment, a common mission, collaboration to reach ambitious goals, and respect for teaching time. Yet Hattie reports that the effect size of transformational leadership on student achievement is a mere 0.11, less than the effect size that would be expected with no intervention at all (0.40).
Instructional leadership, according to Hattie, occurs among school leaders who "attend to the quality and impact of all in the school on student learning, ensure that disruption to learning is minimized, have high expectations of teachers for their students, visit classrooms, and are concerned with interpreting evidence about the quality and nature of learning in the school" (p. 154). To us, this also sounds quite good: a focus on student learning, high expectations, presence in classrooms, and attention to evidence about the quality of learning. Yet Hattie found that the effect size of instructional leadership was 0.42, barely above the 0.4 mark one could expect without any intervention.
Learning leadership, according to Hattie, is leadership that emphasizes student and adult learning and occurs when leaders promote and participate in teacher learning by providing coaching over an extended period, forming data teams, focusing on how students learn subject-matter content, and enabling teachers to work collaboratively to plan and monitor lessons based on evidence about how students learn. In contrast with the minimal influence of transformational and instructional leadership, Hattie found the effect size of learning leadership to be an impressive 0.84, placing it as one of the most significant positive influences on student learning (see Figure 1.2).
Figure 1.2. Effects of Different Types of School Leadership on Student Achievement
Based on data from Hattie (2012).
The findings that support learning leadership's effectiveness in schools mirror the classroom findings. At the 2012 International Society for Technology in Education conference, educational researcher Michael Fullan, citing Hattie, relayed that facilitative teaching methods such as problem-based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction have only a 0.17 effect size on student learning—less than anticipated with no intervention at all. In contrast, activating learning by offering feedback, accessing thinking, supporting students in setting and reaching challenging goals, and monitoring learning has a 0.84 effect size on student learning—one of the most effective interventions Hattie found.
Going beyond the well-worn educational goal of moving from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side," Hattie compels leaders to view themselves as activators rather than mere facilitators of learning. We have come to call this expanded role a "coach to approach." Unlike facilitating learning, activating learning requires the teacher or coach to support deliberate change and growth and to demonstrate the effect of learning experiences on student and teacher outcomes.
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