Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trends That Principals Should Anticipate

I'm frequently asked about trends that schools need to plan for and be ready to address. When recently asked by a Chicago area Board of Education member, I identified these five:
  • Increased demands at the state and national level for greater accountability for improved student learning mean that educators will be pressed to be more successful with all students.
  • Greater access to information about how students learn and research-based strategies for improving student learning will add additional expectations about meeting the individual needs of every students including those with the greatest needs and those most talented.
  • There will be continued change in the demographics of students in public schools. Schools will be expected to provide a high quality educational program for groups that have often been underserved.
  • Stable or declining ressources will characterize the educational environment. Schools will be expected to be more efficient as well as more effective.
  • An ever-accelerating pace of change in knowledge, research about teaching and learning, and technology will change the way schools are organized and the way teaching and learning occurs. Traditional schools may become obsolete and new learning structures will emerge. Learning will be more integrated rather than separated by content, and multi-age learning environments will become the norm.
You can learn more about dealing with these and other trends in The Principalship from A to Z (From Eye on Education). I'd enjoy hearing from you about what you think about these trends and what others you anticipate.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ten Skills for Successful School Leaders

NASSP recently released an important new book, 10 Skills for Successful School Leaders. It combines the knowledge from NASSP's principal assessment centers with the school improvement framework developed in their Breaking Ranks series. The book describes each skill and provides a set of behavioral indicators. Perhaps most helpful, the book suggests activities that principals can sue to reflect on their own skill and build capacity in each area.

The ten skills are organized into four themes---educational leadership, resolving complex problems, communication and developing self and others. The complete list includes the following:

Educational Leadership
• setting instructional direction;
• teamwork;
• sensitivity;
Resolving Complex Problems
• judgement;
• results orientation;
• organizational ability;
• oral communication;
• written communication;
Developing Self and Others
• developing others;
• understanding your own strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, the book provides a protocol for developing your own personal learning plan. It supports your continued professional growth in a user friendly, non-threatening format. I think you will enjoy 10 Skills for Successful School Leaders.

Friday, March 19, 2010

New Report on Middle Grades Programs

This week a new report was issued on middle grades reforms. Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better, from the EdSource research lab found that middle grades schools that outperformed their peers had an unrelenting focus on preparing students for the future. The staff adopted a "whatever it takes" stance on student learning. The study did not find a connection between grade configuration or organizational structure and student learning.

Some strategies the report identified include:
• an intense focus on student outcomes;
• shifting the school culture to a focus on preparing students for the future;
• adults are held accountable and take responsibility for student outcomes
• early identification and intervention to keep students on track;
• setting measurable goals for improvement;
• regular and effective communication with students and their families;

The report offers helpful guidance about how principals and other school leaders can work to improve their school. You might want to use it as the focus of faculty study groups or as part of a book study. The entire report is available at the link earlier in this blog.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Valuing the Student Voice

When I was a principal I was always interested in how students perceived my school and its program. Too often we rely solely on test scores and other quantitative data to assess our success. There are two strategies that value the student voice and allow principals and teachers to gather insights from students.

First, is a Student Shadow Study. Originally developed by NASSP a shadow study charts the experience of students throughout a school day. Observers follow randomly selected students and record the ebb and flow of activities every five-to-seven minutes. Of course, students quickly figure out that something is going on. I suggest talking with the student you shadow before you begin and explain that you are not evaluating them or their work. It's also a good idea to talk with the student at the end of the day to gain additional insights into their experience.

Shadow studies work best when several observers collect data by shadowing students. The December 2009 issue of Principal Leadership provides more detail about this approach.

The second technique is to conduct a series of focus group meetings with students. A focus group is a set of people brought together to participate in a guided discussion about an issue---your school. While not a formal focus group, a principal I met in North Carolina invited groups of students to meet with her during lunch. She asked students to tell her about their school and their classes. She listened and looked for patterns among the students' responses.

Students are incredibly insightful and are able to provide useful information that can be used along with other data to improve schools. I recommend both strategies to you.