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The Principals Role as a Leader of Learning

Critical Element Paper #4 Presented to the Department of Educational Leadership and Postsecondary Education University of Northern Iowa

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Master of Arts in Education

by Amy L. Miehe Waterloo East High School January 25, 2013

Dr. Charles McNulty

The role of the principal has shifted from manager to instructional leader, or leader of learning, in recent decades. In the past, principals have engaged more in management functions. The principal ran the school like a business leaving little devotion to instructional leadership. Wilma Smith and Richard Andrews (2005) identify four dimensions, or roles, of an instructional leader: resource provider, instructional resource, communicator and visible presence (qtd. in Marzano 18). An instructional leader must make learning the top priority by developing and practicing skills appropriate to meet these roles. It is evident that today the role of a principal is a lot more demanding than it used to be. A principal today is under a lot of pressure, especially with budget cuts eliminating positions within buildings and movements such as No Child Left Behind that monitor adequate yearly progress. Domenech stated, With that focus of accountability directly on the principals, they have to step up and assume that (academic leadership) role (qtd. in Finkel 51). As future leaders of learning, we must stress being the instructional leader as well as the manager. I have experienced the demanding hours through my teaching, coaching and internship opportunities. In the first few years as a teacher, I often spent time after school each day developing or adjusting lesson plans or grading student work. As a coach, practices consumed a couple hours each night after work and many hours on the weekends for tournaments. My internship opportunity to shadow an elementary principal for a day gave me a sense of the many hours it will take as a future leader. As a future leader, it is evident the role will be challenging. The notion of learning must be given top priority as a leader of learning. It will be essential to put students first and help teachers in the school become more effective instructors by coaching, observations, professional development and providing feedback. Learning will be

best supported by the instructional leader being a resource provider. Teachers must be provided with adequate budget, materials and facilities to successfully perform their duties. Furthermore, acknowledging teacher performance is essential as well. According to Andrews (1989), professionals who express positive feelings about their working conditions also appear to be more productive workers. More recent school effectiveness research has used this finding to focus research efforts on teacher satisfaction with the workplace and student achievement (p. 10). As a future leader, maintaining a rapport with staff plays an important role to assure the focus of learning as a top priority. In my own experiences, a quick email, note in my mailbox or iObservation feedback from administration has provided encouragement in my work. As a future leader, it is important to provide support to staff members. An instructional leader must also be a clear communicator and set clear goals and work towards those goals by involving faculty and staff. ISSL Standard 1- Shared Vision, ties directly in with the principal developing and articulating a clear vision and developing goals and strategies to achieve it. According to Marzano, Waters and McNulty (2005), communication is one of the 21 Responsibilities of the School Leader and is defined as refers to the extent to which the school leader establishes strong lines of communication with and between the teachers and students (p.46). They go on to explain that communication is what holds all other responsibilities of leadership together. In my own internship experiences and teaching and coaching, I have seen this in action. A new principal took over at the beginning of the school year. As a member of the educational leadership team in the building, I have had the opportunity to observe many decisions and actions of the principal. One action that stood out right away was as a leadership team, viewing the School Improvement Plan (SIP) and discussing areas of a concern and modifying the plan. I had not previously seen this document as part of the

leadership team. Another is requiring all teachers to complete an individual career plan by a specific date on their own. In the past, the entire school developed the plan together, not allowing teachers to set individual goals to work towards. I plan to make communication a priority as a future leader. Finkel (2005) discusses the role of a principal to guide teachers to a more collaborative and open to instructional strategies, he claimed principals need to guide teachers away from thinking of themselves as masters of their classroom and toward a more collaborative style to work together on the common goal (p.54). The role of an instructional leader must be that of an instructional resource. In my own experiences as a teacher and coach I have seen this firsthand. As a department chair, PLC (Professional Learning Community) time has provided teachers the opportunity to share lessons and strategies to optimize student learning. In my own classroom, peer collaboration has allowed students to strengthen leadership abilities while improving student learning. As I coach, I have matched up older and experienced athletes with new or lower level abilities and the impact is tremendous. Professional development has provided teachers with an understanding of the role of a collaborator in the classroom and has allowed teachers to enhance their role to impact student learning. ISSL Standard 2Culture of Learning, directly ties into this as the goal is to create a culture that values enhanced performance. An effective instructional leader must be visible. Whitaker (2008) describes how a principal may be pulled in several directions throughout the day and that, Being out and about takes planning and purpose. If you dont make it happen, it wont happen (p. 111). I have experienced this at my own school with the addition of a new principal. As students arrive in the morning the principal is at the door greeting them with a smile. During my internship hours, I observed this as I shadowed an elementary principal for a day. Students were thrilled to see her

as they arrived and it set a positive tone for the day. It is also important that an instructional leader interacts with teachers and students in their classrooms, outside the office. This has been evident in my building as the principal is frequently in classrooms and the hallway throughout the school day. As my principal observes classrooms, she often gets involved in the activity which makes a positive impact on students and teachers. As a future leader, I have seen the positive impact of visibility and plan to use the ideas in schools I will be leading. Whitaker (2003) suggests the primary role of principals is to teach the teachers, he states the best way to provide an exceptional learning environment for students is to give them outstanding teachers (p.35). The two most important principals he recommends as vital to teaching the teachers are modeling effective interaction and allowing teachers into each others classrooms. He explains that providing students with the opportunity to observe adults working together successfully can impact students tremendously, especially those who never see it. My experience as a teacher and coach has allowed me to model appropriate behavior and interactions. In my classroom, students are responsible for their actions with a portion of their grade made up of employability skills. Each week students evaluate themselves on a set of specific skills and suggest the grade they should earn. Students were taught appropriate behaviors at the start of the school year and therefore aim to model them. Teachers observing and learning from each other is a very effective tool. Whitaker (2003) says a more diplomaticand more effectiveapproach is to frame the observations as a two-way street, an interaction between peers (p.40). I have seen this in my internship hours, as well as my experiences as a teacher and coach. I observed one of the most effective teachers in my school building using the walk-through evaluation and was able to see the benefits of having teachers observe each other. In my classroom and on the softball field, students and athletes are more

responsive to having peers teach them a new concept. As a future leader, I plan to focus on teachers to provide the best learning opportunity for students. Another important role as a future leader of learning is to be actively being involved in the learning process. I have experienced this through my past principal when he implemented a grading pilot and was involved in the process as it evolved. The teachers involved in the grading pilot met frequently to discuss the pros and cons and based on discussion, adjustments were made to enhance student learning. The discussions allowed for all teachers involved to contribute to decisions made and voice their opinions. The current principal in my building has also been actively involved in the learning process by attending professional development. She is learning right alongside staff members which show her dedication to improving student learning. In conclusion, the shift of the role as principal from manager to instructional leader, or leader of learning, has increased the demand of a principal. It is vital as a future leader to make learning a top priority by developing and practicing skills that properly meet those roles. I will remember the importance of being visible, a resource provider, an instructional resource, a communicator as a future leader. My experiences have helped me gain a stronger understanding of what is necessary to be an effective leader of learning in the future.

References Andrews, Richard L., Smith, Wilma F. (1989). Instructional Leadership: How Principals Make a Difference. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Finkel, E. (2012). Principals as Instructional Leaders. District Administration, 48(6), p.50-52 Marzano, R., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. (2005). School Leadership that Works: From Research to Results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. McEwan, E. K. (1998). Seven steps to effective instructional leadership. Thousand Oaks,

CA: Corwin Press.

Whitaker, Todd. (2008). In Motivating and Inspiring Teachers: The Educational Leaders Guide for Building Staff Morale. (ch. 9). Retrieved from Whitaker, Todd. (2003). What Great Principals Do Differently. Larchmont, N.Y.: Eye on Education.