How does a district support principals in reaching their goals?
Everyone talks about the importance of principal goal setting and surely the federal, state, and district bureaucratic requirements are chock full of expectations that principals set goals for improvement. But, how does one ensure these goals are the right goals and that the district is set up to support the principal in reaching their goals?
The principal supervisor may help answer this question. Districts have been shifting the principal supervisor position from supervision and monitoring to a focus on developing principal capacity. A natural role for the principal supervisor to play is supporting the principal in identifying the right high-leverage goals and then successfully reaching those goals.
The next challenge is building the capacity of the principal supervisors to provide this support. To accomplish this, some districts are developing principal supervisor competencies. While this is an important step, there also needs to be an effort to align the goals of the principal supervisor with the goals of the principal as depicted in the following graphic.
Principal leadership development goals should be explicitly intended to impact student learning, with principal supervisor development goals directly aligned to supporting principal goal achievement. For example, let’s say a principal believes that building and empowering teacher teams is a critical action he/she needs to take in order to improve student learning and therefore sets a goal in this area. The principal supervisor needs to ask, “How can I more effectively support this principal in this area?” It may be that the principal supervisor selects an obviously aligned goal such as developing her own capacity as a team builder. Or, it may be that in order for the principal supervisor to be successful with this principal, she needs to expand her own coaching skills and learn how to ask the right coaching questions. Either way, the principal supervisor goal is aligned to the outcome of improved student learning.
Hillsborough County Public Schools has been a national leader in the work of developing school leader competencies for its aspiring and sitting principals. The district is continuing to be a national leader as one of the first districts in the country to have developed competencies for their principal supervisors (called Area Leadership Directors). These competencies define what effective Area Leadership Directors need to know and be able to do. Cross & Joftus has supported the district’s efforts to develop both the school leader and principal supervisor competencies and continues to support the district’s efforts to operationalize these new Area Leadership Director competencies.
This fall, the Area Leadership Directors will set competency-based goals aligned to the goals their principals have set. The expectation is that aligning the goals of the principal supervisor with those of the principals will result in a strong system of support for the principals in Hillsborough County and will ultimately result in improved learning for the students they serve. Because at the end of the day, the impact of the investment in principal supervisors will be judged by only one thing: Did the investment improve student learning?
(Photo of Hillsborough County Public Schools Area Leadership Director (ALD) Owen Young at July 2014 ALD Institute where participants developed their leadership skills to better support principals.)
We know that having access to a great teacher really matters for student achievement and in any school system, it is the principal who is best positioned to ensure that each and every student gets to have a great teacher every year. So when school systems are working to boost the capacity of their workforce, it’s no surprise that they quickly turn their attention to the leader at the helm of each school.
The work to understand what it takes to be an effective principal in any system is not being taken lightly. Across several states and districts, we’ve seen firsthand how important it is to understand what school leaders must be able to know and do from day one on the job.
A growing number of districts are jump-starting this work by identifying competencies needed for the principalship. Developing leader competencies can play a central role towards boosting principal quality. Competencies support effective principals by:
- Clarifying what is most essential for the principal to know and do well
- Laying the foundation for all recruitment, screening, selection, placement, development and support of principals
- Creating transparency among school leaders about both what is expected of them, and what skills aspiring leaders need to develop before pursuing a principalship
- Informing system-level decisions about how to align the right supports to enable principals to successfully lead their schools
Designing a competency framework can be tricky work, so here I offer some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
- Principals and those who supervise them must be closely engaged in defining their most critical and essential work
- Leaders who supervise principals must play a leading role in developing the competency framework
- Competency development requires multiple iterations, and a flexibility to continue to update the competencies
- Through application of the competencies to principal recruitment, screening, selection, evaluation and development, leaders will gain a working knowledge of the competencies leading to ongoing refinement
We have seen interesting practices in our work to support principal quality efforts. Madison Metropolitan School District engaged a Principal Advisory Group to develop AP competencies, using the newly developed principal competency framework as the foundation. Hillsborough County Public Schools identified how competencies develop at each point in the principal pipeline, from teacher leader, to aspiring AP, to sitting AP, to sitting principal. The district then aligned all preparation development to support the expected progression throughout the career pathway. Lastly, the Community Superintendents in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools personally screened each candidate through the first revised principal screening process, and then worked together to further refine the competency rubric and interviewing process based on what they learned when interviewing principal candidates.
For those interested in reading more about this topic, here are two good resources from the Wallace Foundation:
Last week I had breakfast with Ann Clark, Deputy Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and she shared an idea that profoundly resonated with me. Ann had recently read The One Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan, and she shared with me the book’s premise that if you can focus on your one most important thing, you will achieve extraordinary results.
That got me thinking, “what is my one thing?” In a moment of clarity the words came right into my mind: enabling effective leaders. I saw that theme emerge in every role I held, from my start in philanthropy at the Tiger Foundation supporting nonprofit leaders working to break the cycle of poverty; to my role as Executive Director of Management Leadership for Tomorrow where we mentored promising MBA candidates to become future leaders in the private and public sectors; to Chicago Public Schools where I worked in HR to cultivate talent throughout the district. Now, as a consultant, I am dedicated to helping districts create strategies to effectively empower and equip their own leaders.
Just in time to put my insight into action, I had the honor of facilitating a meeting with the 2012-14 cohort of The Broad Residency in Urban Education. Assigned to teams of eight, the Residents took on the roles of new district leadership teams charged with identifying two improvement strategies for their fictional districts. As the exercise progressed, the Residents struggled to narrow their strategies to focus on only two key areas, and then discussed what made these decisions difficult. They weighed how stakeholders would relate to their top priorities, debated whether more analysis was necessary before acting on certain issues, and considered the organizational obstacles in their ultimate proposals.
In just three hours, the Residents experienced the kinds of decisions urban district leaders face every day. For many districts the one goal is clear: prepare students for the college and career of their choice. But the reality is that district leadership teams face complicated constraints and competing priorities that compel them to focus on multiple, sometimes conflicting strategies at the same time. At Cross & Joftus, we find that district teams are best able to achieve results for students when they can map their one goal for students to just a few core strategies that the entire district understands and can rally around. One of our favorite examples is Omaha Public Schools, where every person we met clearly conveyed the district’s strategic focus on its Instructional Framework, and where school staff reported experiencing incredible support, professional development and collaboration as the district implemented the framework. We believe maintaining a laser focus on one non-negotiable goal and then aligning all district supports to that one goal will make a tremendous difference in Omaha.
So I leave you with a question, what is your one thing? And what is the one strategy you must get right this year to reach your goal?
What’s in a name? More than you might think. In one district, the individual responsible for supervising principals is an Executive Director, in another a Chief School Officer, in another a Learning Community Superintendent. Wrapped up in a multitude of titles are countless roles, responsibilities, and expectations for an individual who sits at the center of reform efforts in a school district. With limited time and resources, what should be the primary role of the principal supervisor?
In many districts, this role has historically been relied upon to manage school operations, handle school crises, resolve parent issues, and ensure schools are in compliance. In other words, success in this role is often viewed as ‘keeping the wheels on’ at the school level, keeping issues off the superintendent’s plate, and staying out of newspaper headlines.
A recent report released in October by The Wallace Foundation and the Council of Great City Schools, Rethinking Leadership: The Changing Role of Principal Supervisors, provides a detailed look at this role. The report found that many principal supervisors have extensive administrative oversight responsibilities with little room remaining for managing talent and developing the capacity of the principals they supervise.
Many districts have made significant investments in the principal pipeline, identifying and developing high-quality principal candidates who will ultimately transition into the school-leadership role. To maximize this investment, districts are now turning their attention to the systems of support and development for sitting principals. At the center of this effort is the principal supervisor.
Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) in Tampa, Florida is doing cutting-edge work in this area. After implementing a nationally recognized principal-pipeline system of identifying, recruiting, developing, and selecting school leaders, the district ramped up the support and development of its principal supervisors.
To set the stage for a change in this role and to emphasize the leadership development responsibility of the position, the district changed the name from Area Director to Area Leadership Director (ALD). ALDs then participated in a summer institute, facilitated by C&J, to begin framing and supporting the ALD role as talent developers, rather than administrative managers. The ALDs used the HCPS School Leader Standards and Competencies as a guide to discuss the developmental needs of their principals. They then made plans to provide differentiated support and coaching for each of the principals they supervised with the end goal of an effective principal in every school.
As the country begins to pay more attention to the principal supervisor and the critical role they play in ensuring schools are led by high-performing principals, eyes should turn to the lessons being generated in HCPS. We expect Hillsborough’s important work to enable the district to provide better support to principals across the district, while serving as a model for urban districts around the country to follow.
Districts around the country are hard at work to solve the talent dilemma: how can we attract, develop and strategically retain the best and brightest staff to help our students succeed? At the forefront of their work is the effort to ensure a successful teacher in every classroom and a visionary principal in every school. With teacher evaluation reforms well underway, many districts have articulated what they expect their educators to be able to know and do. Now they are faced with the critical task of aligning their talent management efforts with those expectations to enable the success of their workforce.
We have been honored to work with a number of district leadership teams approaching these challenges in innovative ways. We are struck by the common issues they face and impressed by the diverse approaches they use to address key obstacles.