Creating the Conditions for School Success

Guest post by Frederick Brown:

“Education research shows that most school variables, considered separately, have at most small effects on learning. The real payoff comes when individual variables combine to reach critical mass. Creating the conditions under which that can occur is the job of the principal.”

This statement serves as a powerful opening to the recently updated and expanded Wallace Foundation Perspective, The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning. The field has come to depend on Wallace for sharing its learning as it continues a decade-long focus on leadership, and this most recent report doesn’t disappoint.

First, the perspective reminds us what Wallace has identified as the five key practices of effective principals:

•    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.

The perspective also answers a question rarely addressed in the literature: Why should teachers care about leadership? Linda Darling-Hammond addresses this principal-teacher connection in an interview with Wallace Director of Communications Lucas Held. Her response to the question of how principals and teachers work together to create a collaborative focus on learning is in complete alignment with Learning Forward’s Learning Communities Standard. “The principal functions as a principal teacher who is really focusing on instruction along with [and] by the side of teachers – not top down mandates and edicts,” she says. “When principals are trying to help create such a culture, [they] begin to open the doors and say, ‘Let’s talk about our practice. Let’s show our student work. Let’s go look at each other’s classrooms and see what we’re doing.'” In essence, what she is describing is a leader exhibiting the five key practices (Wallace 5).

During my NASSP session, participants will be delving into the Wallace 5 using a set of tools being developed by Learning Forward that are aligned to The Principal Story film documentary. Video segments from the film will be integrated into these online modules, and all of these free materials will be available for use by principals and those who support their development.

There are also some excellent videos on the Learning Forward website that provide a visual for these principal-led learning teams. While all of these videos show various “learning teams” committing to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment, the videos from Stults Road Elementary in particular show the principal actively engaged as both leader and learner. Like the vast library of Wallace Foundation knowledge products, these Learning Forward videos are free to download and use.

I look forward to joining many of you in Learning Forward’s hometown for the Ignite ’14 conference! Safe travels!

Frederick Brown is director of strategy and development at Learning Forward. Frederick will be presenting The Principal Story on Saturday, February 8 at Ignite ’14. For more information and to register, visit

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