Lining It Up: Using Principal Areas of Influence to Improve Student Performance

Guest post by Kevin Grawer

A school leader must know the answer to the following question: “What do I as the principal actually have control over?” Throughout my time as principal, I have had complete or partial “authority” over the following:

  • Building-wide professional development
  • Teacher evaluations
  • Data analysis protocols
  • Building-level goals and emphases
  • Best practices in teaching for our students
  • Building walk-throughs
  • Post-evaluation protocols for teachers/administrators
  • Faculty and staff meetings
  • Administrator/counselor team meetings
  • Analyzing student sample work

These items are my “principal areas of influence” and I use them to my advantage for improving student performance. I believe that multiple exposures to the same expectations have great effects on student outcomes. With this idea in mind, I work to “line up” each building goal with my areas of influence, ensuring that all areas hold common threads aligned to our building needs. This is what I mean by “lining it up.”

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The best way to illustrate this concept is to share the approach that our school took to improve student reading. After reviewing our lower-than-expected 2010 ACT reading scores, our staff decided to make improving student reading a building goal.

Our emphasis on reading comprehension became clear to everyone because we embedded it in all the possible ways that principals guide their buildings. As principal, I had to “line it up,” knowing that students will get better at what we consistently emphasize.

Here is how we are lining up reading comprehension practices at our school.

Principal Area of Influence: We Line Up Reading Comprehension in Our Daily Rounds by:
Building-wide professional development Embarking on a yearlong study of the works of Cris Tovani for Lit Team and discussing how to mark text for improved reading comprehension
Teacher evaluations Embedding a special “implementation of reading strategies” section in each teacher evaluation
Data analysis protocols Analyzing quarterly SRI reading tests growth data at faculty meetings and discussing related practices
Building-level goals and emphases Making one of our three yearlong goals to “promote reading comprehension strategies in all content areas and measure progress with assessment growth measures”
Best practices in teaching for our students Using nine staff professional development days to embed current best practices, with our own staff modeling these practices
Building walk-throughs Creating a walk-through section regarding reading comprehension strategies and offering feedback on all observations in this arena
Post-evaluation protocols for teachers/administrator Having administrators ask a series of questions after each official post-observation meeting.

  • How have you implemented reading comprehension strategies we have studied this year?
  • What have you learned about teaching reading to high school students?
  • How will you adjust your practice because of this?
Faculty and staff meetings Analyzing best practices in the five-minute strategies our staff has used to improve reading comprehension
Administrator/counselor team meetings Incorporating articles, readings, student samples, and discussions of building-wide reading comprehension work into each team meeting
Analyzing student sample work Collecting three student samples from each teacher that represent marking text and reading comprehension assignments, then analyzing them with the Lit Team, which offers feedback on the student work

 

In 2010, our average ACT reading score was a 16.5. In 2015, that average jumped to a 22.2. Now, we know that many things are woven into the improvement of the scores. Our school and academic culture improved, we made some teaching and curriculum changes, and we adjusted our class minutes. Nevertheless, the one constant we had over that time was a consistent emphasis on reading comprehension skills that we all owned. Improvement does not happen by chance; we made a conscious choice to focus on this area after analyzing our data.

What we have discovered is that when we hone in on three goals or less, line up all of our processes around those goals, and provide multiple exposures to the same expectations for students and staff alike, then we can really move student learning and performance more so than we ever imagined. The end result is improved student performance, a stronger sense of purpose among staff, and a “scoreboard” (data) that shows what we are doing is working—which builds even more buy-in for future endeavors.

How can you “line up” your building goal(s) to improve student performance? What’s holding you back from doing so?

Kevin Grawer is principal of Maplewood Richmond Heights High School outside of St. Louis, MO. His school was named a 2014 NASSP National Breakthrough High School and the NCUST National Urban School of Excellence.

3 Comments

  • Michael Thomas says:

    Good advice and approach, Kevin. I agree that honing in on three goals and “lining up” all of your areas of influence helps to build cohesive plan. How do you communicate all of these goals to the faculty? Do you share your entire “line it up” plan with faculty or does it serve to guide only your own leadership?

    • Kevin Grawer says:

      Mr. Thomas,
      I originally did not share the bigger picture with staff and I think that was a mistake. I would recommend sharing the whole picture as it really helps to develop a deeper understanding by all stakeholders and it answers the “why” part as well (so important.) As per communicating the goals, it’s not done all at once and not done in one year. We started with PD, walk-thru’s, post eval meeting continuity to get things going and added the other parts soon after.

  • Mark Anderson says:

    Dr. Grawer, you are truly a great leader. What a great example of how the sharper the focus the deeper the tool cuts. You truly are using your influence as a champion of public education. Thank you for sharing your story. We are always learning from you.

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