Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership


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The topic of effective K-12 leadership is of great importance as research continuously identifies the positive impact that effective school leaders can
have on student achievement. Presenting insights into research on effective school leaders, leadership development programs, and leadership evaluations
as well as an expert practitioner sharing experiences in the creation of a renowned district-based leadership development program, the Strategies for
Effective K-12 Leadership webinar shares research and best practice strategies to better understand the value of effective leaders, characteristics of effective leaders, and components of successful leadership development programs.

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Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership

  1. 1. Research Without Limits ™ District Administration Practice WEBINAR BRIEFING July 2013 Featuring Hanover Research partner Dr. Glenn Pethel of Gwinnett County Public Schools Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership ©2013 Hanover Research
  2. 2. OVERVIEW Research shows that leadership matters. And in difficult times, leadership matters even more. The topic of effective K-12 leadership is of great importance as research continuously identifies the positive impact that effective school leaders can have on student achievement. Presenting insights into research on effective school leaders, leadership development programs, and leadership evaluations as well as an expert practitioner sharing experiences in the creation of a renowned district-based leadership development program, the Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership webinar shares research and best practice strategies to better understand the value of effective leaders, characteristics of effective leaders, and components of successful leadership development programs. CONTENT & PRESENTERS In addition to research presented by Amy Moynihan of Hanover Research, this webinar featured research and best practices to implement a principal training program from a Hanover Research partner, Dr. Glenn Pethel of Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest school district in Georgia with more than 162,000 students. KEY FINDINGS This webinar explored K-12 leadership development through a selection of Hanover Research’s extensive research on this topic. To supplement this research, the expert scholar/practitioner perspective of one of Hanover Research’s partners provided the perspective from a K-12 administrator who has researched and implemented leadership development programs. Below we present several of the key findings of the webinar. Characteristics of Effective Principals and Superintendents The shift toward greater accountability among school leaders and the quest for delivery of quality education in an era of budget cuts and fiscal woes has garnered an interest in leadership among educators, administrators, and policymakers alike. Increased demands for more successful schools have placed growing attention on the role of school leaders in overseeing and sustaining effective programs within their schools. Educators feel more than ever that there is a real need for strong, effective principals who can lead their schools to excellence. 2For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 Webinar Briefing: Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership July 2013 PRESENTERS Amy Moynihan Content Manager Hanover Research Dr. Glenn Pethel Executive Director of Leadership Development for Gwinnett County Public Schools “Effective principals model and lead by example. When we talk about improving instruction, it is the principal who should be leading the professional learning community.” -Dr. Glenn Pethel
  3. 3. 3For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 As a result, the last decade has seen a marked increase in literature on principal effectiveness and its potential relationship to student achievement. According to a report by the Stanford Education Leadership Institute and the Wallace Foundation, research in this area has identified the importance of three aspects of the responsibilities of a school principal, which include: 1  Developing a true understanding of how best to support teachers  Managing the school curriculum in order to promote student learning  Helping schools transform into more effective organizations that better promote meaningful teaching and successful learning In the January 2012 report, the first in the Wallace Perspective series on school leadership and how it is best developed, the Wallace Foundation states that, ultimately, effective principals are adept at performing the following key functions:2  Shaping a vision of academic success for all students  Creating a climate hospitable to education  Cultivating leadership in others  Improving instruction  Managing people, data and processes to foster school improvement Dr. Pethel’s research demonstrates that leadership is key to student learning, citing research that states that “Leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school.”3 Further demonstrating the role that leadership plays in the school community, Dr. Pethel highlighted the finding that “It is the leader who both recruits and retains high quality staff. Indeed, the number one reason for teachers’ decisions about whether to stay in a school is the quality of administrative support – and it is the leader who must develop this organization.”4 When analyzing the skills associated with superintendents specifically, research has identified four key characteristics of effective superintendents. First, visionary leadership, defined as being able to both see the big picture and have the skills to plan for and implement changes, is a valuable trait for superintendents. Visionary leadership includes the ability to include the needs of stakeholders while planning for and implementing changes. Secondly, successful instructional leadership allows superintendents to display knowledge and understanding of current educational research, as well as a familiarity with the local educational context by clearly communicating teaching and learning goals, monitoring progress toward those goals, and 1. Davis, S., Darling-Hammond, L., LaPointe, M., and Meyerson, D. “School Leadership Study: Developing Successful Principals.” 2005. Stanford Educational Leadership Institute (SELI) and the Wallace Foundation. center/school-leadership/principal-training/Documents/Developing-Successful-Principals.pdf 2. The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning.” 2012. The Wallace Foundation. as-Leader-Guiding-Schools-to-Better-Teaching-and-Learning.pdf 3. Leithwood, K., Seashore Louis, K., Anderson, S. & Wahlstrom, K. “How Leadership Influences Student Learning.” 2004. Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. center/school-leadership/key-research/Pages/How-Leadership-Influences-Student-Learning.aspx 4. Darling- Hammond, L., LaPointe, M., Meyerson, D., Orr,. M. & Cohen, C. “Preparing School Leaders for a Changing World: Lessons from Exemplary Leadership Development Programs.” 2007. Stanford University, Stanford Educational Leadership Institute. Webinar Briefing: Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership July 2013
  4. 4. 4For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 modeling data-driven practices by using student achievement data to identify gaps inform decisions. Thirdly, demonstrating the value of successful communication and collaboration, the impact a superintendent has on a school district, is the direct result of the nature and quality of the relationships he or she develops. Fostering a culture of respect, trust, and shared leadership by understanding the values and expectations of the community and connecting early on with key stakeholders are key components of successful communication and collaboration. Finally, the focus on leadership and management skills are essential to successful superintendents. While in recent years, superintendent hiring and evaluations have shifted to a focus on leadership rather than management, effective managerial skills are also a key component of successful leadership.5 Leadership Development Programs Principal preparation programs have received increased attention since the implementation of No Child Left Behind and the increased accountability it has placed on school administrators. Principal preparation programs vary in approach and structure, and may be offered by a state, district, or an outside organization such as a university or private educational company. The topics addressed in principal preparation programs also vary widely, ranging from emotional intelligence and team-building to classroom walkthroughs and effective data analysis. The question of what educational leadership programs are teaching has been addressed by researchers at Harvard University. Hess and Kelly, in What Gets Taught in Principal Preparation Programs, surveyed 56 principal preparation programs—including the programs training the most candidates across the country, the most prestigious programs, and the most representative programs—and found a surprising degree of similarity between the programs. The researchers focused on four main questions: whether principals were taught the fundamentals of management, whether principals were trained in instruction and pedagogy, whether there was evidence of ideological direction in instruction, and whether there was significant variation among the preparation offered across different types of institutions. According to Hess and Kelly, effective principal preparation programs should include instruction on accountability, managing with data, and utilizing research; hiring, recruiting, evaluating, and terminating personnel; overseeing an effective instructional program; and exposing candidates to diverse views regarding educational and organizational management. These areas, they contend, are those which have been identified by leading researchers in the field as vital to effective school leadership.6 Other key research on this topic includes a Stanford Educational Leadership Institute and Wallace Foundation study which finds that the content of both pre- and in-service principal development programs should be characterized by these main features: Research-based, coherent, pedagogically suitable, practical, contextualized, and career relevant.7 Additionally, literature on on-the-job learning supports by the NewSchools Venture Fund suggests three main methods of principal development which, when used together, are essential to principal development programs: Coaching/ mentoring, cohort experiences, and targeted training.8 5. “Effective Superintendents - ECRA Literature Review.” 2010. Educational Consultants and Research Associates. 6. Hess, F. & Kelly, A. “Learning to Lead? What Gets Taught in Principal Preparation Programs.” Harvard University. 7. Davis, S., Darling-Hammond, L., LaPointe, M., and Meyerson, D. Op. cit. 8. “Principal Development: Selection, Support & Evaluation.” 2008. NewSchools Venture Fund. Webinar Briefing: Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership July 2013
  5. 5. 5For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 According to a Wallace Foundation study of leadership training for superintendents, most programs tended to share several key components:9  Safe Space: Program facilitators create an environment in which all participants can be candid about the challenges they face, lessons they are learning, ongoing attempts to improve their practice, and the resulting successes or failures.  Critical Friendship: Participants build relationships of trust and respect, through which member(s) both learn from and share wisdom with one another.  Professional Learning Community: Participants engage in creative problem solving and knowledge sharing, which extend beyond individual relationships into a collaborative group.  Personal Reflection: The program helps participants explicitly or implicitly reflect on their own leadership approaches, strengths and weaknesses as leaders, and areas for growth.  Practical and Results-Oriented Programming: Participants gain practical knowledge, skills, and expertise that are directly applicable to their district, resulting in short-term and/or long-term improvement gains. Additionally, a scan of 55 leadership development programs commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation identified five types of potential outcomes:10  Individual Outcomes – Changes in knowledge, skills, attitudes and perceptions; behaviors; and/or values and beliefs  Organizational Outcomes – Changes to organizational functioning, program innovation or expansion, or enhanced organizational leadership capacity  Community Outcomes – Increased participation in leadership activities for individuals who are not members of the ‘leadership elite’ and bringing together organizations that do not ordinarily collaborate to address community problems  Field of Leadership Outcomes – Development of future leaders, replication of existing leadership development programs, promulgation of sustained relationships and social networks, and the fostering of policy knowledge  Systemic Outcomes – Changed public discourse on a topic, changes in public policies that impact children and families in public discourse, [and] institutional cultures and practices that focus on maximizing people’s assets and capacities In citing literature for further examination of the topics discussed in the webinar, Dr. Pethel identified research by The Wallace Foundation, The Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Broad Foundation. 9. Teitel, L. “Supporting School System Leaders: The State of Effective Training Programs for School Superintendents.” 2006. Harvard Graduate School of Education. The Wallace Foundation. policy-and-practice/Documents/Supporting-School-System-Leaders.pdf 10. “Thinking and Learning About Leader and Leadership Development… A Literature Review.” Institute for Educational Leadership. Webinar Briefing: Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership July 2013
  6. 6. 6For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 Leadership Preparation Programs at Gwinnett County Public Schools The Quality-Plus Leader Academy program at Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) is nationally known for its research-based design and implementation. Before describing the programs within the district, Dr. Pethel described the need for this program in his district. Specifically, he stated that there has been significant growth in the student population in recent decades, as the student population grew from 62,197 in the 1989-1990 school year to an estimated population of 168,000 students in the 2013-2014 school year. Using this information, the district projects that between the 2013-2014 and 2017-2018 school years, the district will need 53 additional principals and 133 assistant principals. These figures, presented for illustrative purposes, demonstrate that along with growth comes the need for strong candidates for leadership positions. Leaders at GCPS are expected to demonstrate seven key concepts: Customer Focus, Data-driven Decisions, Teamwork, Passion for Quality, Continuous Improvement, Education and Training for All, and Rewards and Recognition. In considering the creation of a leadership development program in a district, Dr. Pethel identified several key considerations. First, districts should consider if there is a need that is not being met through external leadership development programs in their region or state based on the quality or quantity of graduates produced through these programs. Second, districts should consider if an aspiring principal preparation program would align to the district’s priorities. As having the commitment of the highest levels of the organization is crucial to the success of leadership development programs, it is essential to identify how a leadership development program would align and be supported at the highest levels. A third factor is to ensure that the district has the human and financial resources to develop and run a leadership development program. Dr. Pethel identified solutions for districts that have a need and commitment to these programs, but do not have the resources to implement them. Suggestions include seeking external funding from philanthropic organizations or state agencies or to partner with other districts or nonprofits to develop a program. Describing the leadership development programs at GCPS, Dr. Pethel provided details on the Aspiring Principal Program and the Aspiring Leader Program which are components of the Quality-Plus Leader Academy. Initiated in 2007 to address the district’s need for succession management, the Aspiring Principal Program (APP) is designed for assistant principals aspiring to be principals. Key components of the program include 12 class sessions and a 90-day semester residency. Currently in its 7th cohort with 18 members, there are 152 graduates of the APP. Program graduates are currently principals at 94 GCPS schools, which is 71 percent of the district schools. Demonstrating the importance of evaluating programs, Dr. Pethel shared that the district has multiple evaluations of the APP program. These evaluations include five studies by the University of Georgia that reveal the effectiveness of the program and the perception of teachers of program graduates, assessments by the Broad Foundation that find that the APP is the most highly effective program among those funded by the Broad Foundation, and internal research that found high learning and preparedness ratings from program participants and graduates as well as positive correlations to student achievement (though these have not been consistently demonstrated with statistical significance). Demonstrating that developing leaders occurs at a variety of levels throughout the district, GCPS has also created a program for teachers aspiring to be assistant principals, the Aspiring Leader Program (ALP). Aligned with ISLLC Standards and Georgia Leader Performance Standards, 114 of the 167 graduates of the ALP program have been promoted to assistant principal or other district leader positions since the program’s creation in 2010. Webinar Briefing: Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership July 2013
  7. 7. 7For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 Evaluating Leaders The value of assessing principal performance is twofold. First, it offers districts an additional avenue by which to ensure school accountability and reinforce the importance of strong leadership. Second, assessing principal performance offers district administrators and principals themselves information which can be used to chart professional growth. Effective school leadership can have a direct impact on student achievement, so ensuring principals are operating effectively should be a priority. The Educational Leadership Policy Standards by the Council of Chief State School Officers provide a good starting point for the basis for a principal evaluation mechanism. These standards are widely recognized and contain six domains for principal professional practice:11  Setting a widely shared vision for learning  Developing a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth  Ensuring effective management of the organization, operation, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment  Collaborating with faculty and community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources  Acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner  Understanding, responding to, and influencing the political, social, legal, and cultural context School boards employ a variety of evaluation methods and instruments to assess superintendent performance: questionnaires with rating systems, written commentary, facilitated discussions, self-assessment tools, and 360 degree assessments. Although such approaches are typically present in the traditional annual or semi-annual evaluation system, certain aspects are also found in continual evaluation systems, especially at the summative annual review of a superintendent’s progress reports. While some school boards have selected a single evaluation method, others use a combination of several approaches. Best practices dictate that school boards use multiple evaluation methods to gain a more complete picture of the superintendent’s performance. Succession Management As school districts increase in size and public expectations for accountability grow, the development and implementation of succession plans is a crucial component of human capital investment. According to the American Association of School Administrators, targeted leadership development initiatives will only become more important to the success of school systems as the nature of school districts evolves.12 11. “Education Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008 As Adopted by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration.” 2008. The Council of Chief State School Officers. 12. Wilson, J. “Administrator Succession Planning.” The School Administrator, 11:66, December 2009. Webinar Briefing: Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership July 2013
  8. 8. 8For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 POLLING RESULTS Several live polls during our webinar provided invaluable information on the understanding of and creation of leadership development programming within the districts of our webinar participants. Half of the participants reported that their district currently has a formalized leadership development program, while 36 percent reported that their district does not have a formalized program and 14 percent were not sure of the current status of a leadership development program in their district. When asked which leadership development tools were used in participants’ districts, the highest percentage of participants (58 percent) responded Coaching, followed by Targeted Training and Site Visits (50 percent), Cohorts (33 percent), and Case Studies (17 percent). Other answers included I’m not sure (17 percent), Others (8 percent), and My district doesn’t utilize any of these tools (8 percent). ADDITIONAL RESOURCES REFERENCED IN THE WEBINAR Organizations  Southern Regional Education Board  The Wallace Foundation Knowledge Center Books  Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan  The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations by John Kotter  Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald L. Heifetz and Marty Linsky  The Principal Challenge: Leading and Managing Schools in an Era of Accountability by Marc S. Tucker and Judy B. Codding  Qualities of Effective Principals by James H. Stronge, Holly B. Richard and Nancy Catano  School Leadership that Works: From Research to Results by Robert J. Marzano, Timothy Waters, and Brian A. McNulty Publications  “Beyond the Pipeline: Getting the Principals We Need Where They Are Needed Most.” 2003. The Wallace Foundation. research/Documents/Beyond-the-Pipeline-Getting-the-Principals-We-Need.pdf  Catano, N. & Stronge, J. “What Do We Expect of School Principals? Congruence Between Principal Evaluation and Performance Standards.” International Journal of Leadership in Education, 10(4), 2007, 379–399.  Louis, K., Leithwood, K., Wahlstrom, S., et al. “Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning.” 2010. Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement/University of Minnesota, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto. the-Links-to-Improved-Student-Learning.aspx  Orr, M., King, C. & LaPointe, M. “Districts Developing Leaders: Lessons on Consumer Actions and Program Approaches from Eight Urban Districts.” 2010. The Wallace Foundation. Developing-Leaders.pdf Webinar Briefing: Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership July 2013
  9. 9. 9For inquiries, e-mail or call 202.559.0050 BIOGRAPHIES Amy Moynihan (Moderator) Amy Moynihan is the Content Manager - Webinar Specialist at Hanover Research. Amy is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at The University of Virginia, Curry School of Education. She also holds a M.Ed. in Social Foundations from The University of Virginia, Curry School of Education and a B.A. from Columbia University. Dr. Glenn Pethel Glenn Pethel currently serves as the Executive Director of Leadership Development for Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest school district in Georgia with more than 162,000 students. He previously served as the Chief Human Resources Officer for Gwinnett and also served as the Executive Director of Human Resources for the St. Johns County School District, St. Augustine, Florida. He has worked as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. He has served as an adjunct professor for Emory University, the University of Georgia, and Georgia State University. His work in public education has focused on human resources and talent management, primarily through leadership in the recruitment, selection, and development of teachers and school-level leaders. Webinar Briefing: Strategies for Effective K-12 Leadership July 2013 “We know from Gallop organization research that the number one reason that teachers stay at a school and continue to be engaged at a school is the quality of the leader at the school… perhaps the greatest incentive and the greatest way to engage our teachers and to improve the quality of their teaching is through the effectiveness and the quality of the leader in that school.” -Dr. Glenn Pethel “The outcomes are depicted in the short-term and ultimately the long-term. In our case, you see the long-term outcome is that we want to have a statistically positive significant impact on student outcomes. This is why we are training our future leaders.” -Dr. Glenn Pethel discussing the Quality-Plus Leader Academy Logic Model
  10. 10. LEARN MORE For more information on Hanover Research’s K-12 education research, see our blog at To learn about how Hanover Research can help you develop an effective succession management program, check out our capabilities at District Administration Practice Research Without Limits ™ District Administration Practice ©2013 Hanover Research