Supporting Principals and Assistant Principals

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Supporting Principals and Assistant Principals

By Jackie O. Wilson, Ed.D, director, Delaware Academy for School Leadership, University of Delaware 

As an educator, professional developer and policy advocate for all matters related to education leadership, I am constantly surprised when state policy leaders, district decision-makers and local school boards do not understand the value of investing in principals and assistant principals. 

In 2004 Leithwood, Lewis, Anderson and Wahlstrom conducted a review of the research titled How leadership influences student learning.  The important finding in the report was that “school leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on learning.” This finding prompted some districts to rethink the role of principals and their role in recruiting, developing and retaining teachers. 

Districts began offering new opportunities for principals and assistant principals to participate in professional development. With Race to the Top additional funding was provided to some states to support coaching and mentoring programs and specialized training for turnaround principals. Although some states had success stories about their investment in school leadership, there are mixed reviews about the impact on student learning. 

In 2015 the Professional Standards for Educational Leadership were approved by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration. The revised standards were different from the ISLLC (2008) standards and signaled the change in what principals and assistant principals were being asked to do in schools. The standards were based on 600 empirical research studies and input from thousands of practitioners. The consensus of the planning committee was that the work of education leaders is more challenging than in 2008 and the standards should reflect the change in those responsibilities. 

For those of us who work in schools every day, this came as no surprise. Principals are spending more time on the social and emotional needs of their students and teaching staff while balancing the work they are doing to lead instruction, develop teachers, and engage communities.  

We know that schools need strong leadership. We know that teachers want to work for principals they trust and respect. Teachers leave if they are not supported, challenged, and respected. We also know that principals create the environment where teaching and learning can take place. If we know this—why do we fail to invest in school leadership? 

We need to create conditions where our school leaders can grow and develop. It is imperative that we invest in what matters most to our students—great teachers and principals. If we want to retain and grow teachers, then we must grow and retain effective principals. Here are some ways we can do that:

  • Provide principals with a coach during their first year as a school leader. In years two and three the coach transitions to a mentor—less intense but still supportive. 
  • Create a Professional Learning Network where principals can engage with other educators on topics of interest or need. These networks provide the leader with the opportunity to discuss a research article or book, to master an innovative digital tool, or share resources on an innovation they would like to pilot in their school. 
  • Develop a Professional Growth Plan for principals and assistant principals that is personalized to meet their personal career pathway goals. 
  • Finally, provide the school leader with district support such as a Principal Supervisor who is dedicated to providing on-going support, feedback, and professional learning opportunities.  

Isn’t it time that we provide principals and assistant principals with the support they need to provide academic success and well-being to all our students?