It is often noted that high performing schools have high expectations of their students (Shannon & Bylsma, 2007). An interesting extension of this seems to be that high performing superintendents have high expectations not only for all the students in their district; they also have high expectations of every teacher and principal. They expect teachers to implement strong practices in the Instructional Core (Elmore, 2008), they provide opportunity to improve, and they correct them when necessary through the monitoring of teaching and learning. However, this invariably comes through an expectation of effective leadership from their principals. Adept superintendents expect their principals to be the instructional leader in each building who monitors and ensures high quality work from every staff member. Such effective leadership traits seem to be distilled down to two primary things.
First and foremost, impactful superintendents expect their principals to conduct meaningful classroom observations for the sake of ensuring high quality practices in the Instructional Core. It's considered a very high priority for principals to know how to structure their time in order to do meaningful classroom observations. However, observation alone is not enough. A principal's ability to understand and evaluate the impact the Instructional Core has on student learning data is held as equally important, because the data is seen as a tool that links back to decisions about what needs to be adjusted. Therefore, because effective building leadership is an expectation that high performing superintendents have, a natural question is: What happens when it isn't there? The types of superintendents who overcome the odds make it a priority to have the hard conversations necessary. This is in an attempt to fix the principal's leadership attributes and obtain the characteristics that they would like to see. However, when hard conversations don't get the desired results, they make no excuses and remove the leader.
Because of the fact that they want all students to succeed, results oriented superintendents place high expectations on their staff, especially building principals. These expectations center on the quality of the Instructional Core, and principals are expected to work with teachers to monitor and adjust as indicated by data. When principals do not live up to this, such leaders will try to first work with the principal in question, but, when push comes to shove, they are not afraid to cut their losses, move on, and change personnel in order to better serve students.
The following indicators in the WISE Tool (Idaho's online planning tool) would make for natural connections for superintendents who are considering making plans related to this topic.
|IA07||The district sets district, school, and student subgroup achievement targets.||CLICK HERE|
|IA09||The superintendent and other central office staff are accountable for school improvement and student learning outcomes.||CLICK HERE|
|IA12||The district intervenes early when a school is not making adequate progress.||CLICK HERE|
|IB09||The district ensures that an empowered change agent (typically the principal) is appointed to head each restructuring school.||CLICK HERE|
|IB10||In restructuring schools, the district ensures that the change agent (typically the principal) is skilled in motivating staff and the community, communicating clear expectations, and focusing on improved student learning.||CLICK HERE|
|IB12||The district is prepared for setbacks, resistance, and obstacles on the path to substantial improvement.||CLICK HERE|
|IC01||The school reports and documents its progress monthly to the superintendent, and the superintendent reports the school's progress to the school board.||CLICK HERE|
|IC02||The district designates a central office contact person for the school, and that person maintains close communication with the school and an interest in its progress.||CLICK HERE|
|IC03||District and school decision makers meet at least twice a month to discuss the school's progress.||CLICK HERE|
The resources below are provided for further exploration of this topic. They are among many tools and readings that Idaho School Superintendents have either used or cited in their work.
Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning (Schmoker, 2006)
In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey (2004) said, "If you put good people in bad systems, you get bad results." Mike Schmoker applies this to education and argues that if you put a good teacher up against a bad system, the system will win every time. For superintendents who are focused on results paired with high expectations of building leadership, this book will challenge conventional thinking and practice. It represents a call for leaders to rethink instructional leadership and raise expectations for how their systems operate.
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (Patterson, 2002)
Crucial Conversations is often cited by leaders as a powerful tool that helped them frame tough conversations that they have needed to have with others. In order to achieve higher results, change must happen. Change often comes with resistance that is either passive or active. If you struggle having the tough conversations, consider looking to this resource.
Annual Growth for All Students, Catch-Up Growth for Those Who are Behind (Fielding, Kerr, & Rosier, 2007)
Stemming from the results achieved in the Kennewick School District in Washington State, this book outlines how one district set a policy of "no excuses" and raised the bar of expectations for instructional leadership. Consider reading this book if you want to learn about a real life story of district wide improvement that balanced top-down goal setting with bottom-up planning.
Principals Academy of Leadership
The state sponsors a support program called the Principals Academy of Leadership (PALs). With a focus on instructional leadership, PALs targets the highly effective characteristics that superintendents are looking for in building leaders: effective observation of system-wide practices, data analysis, and decision-making that ties everything together. To learn more about PALs, visit our website at www.sde.idaho.gov/site/ssos/PALs.htm.