school improvement

District Support Is Key to Principal Success

The following post originally appeared on the Learning Policy Institute’s Learning in the Time of COVID-19 blog, a series that explores evidence-based and equity-focused strategies and investments to address the current crisis and build long-term systems capacity.

In September, Steven Elizondo, principal of Golden Hill K–8, a dual-language immersion school in San Diego, began the complicated task of planning for “phase one” of school reopening. Golden Hill, like all district schools, had started the school year online. But students who needed on-site support, including elementary students who were experiencing learning loss and special education students with high needs, would be back on campus in mid-October, while others would continue with distance learning. The logistics for starting in-person learning safely and getting the correct information to families and staff were daunting. But Principal Elizondo was not in it alone. Thanks to the district’s collaborative learning structure, he and his counterparts at other schools were able to tap the expertise and experience of a colleague who had developed protocols and processes for returning to school, as well as a communications strategy for families and staff. Using these models saved precious time and supported consistent practices across the district. (more…)

Maximizing Space and Talent in Your School

I think one of the best parts of being a principal is when a fleeting comment becomes an idea, an idea becomes a conversation, and that idea then becomes an integral part of your school’s DNA. These ideas and conversations might answer the question, “How do we make this better?” or, “What’s the next big thing?”For us, the next big thing involved taking advantage of our space through partnerships that expand learning opportunities for students in our school and others in the district. (more…)

Finding Unexpected Community Resources for Your Student Support Network

When a headline broke in USA Today several years back calling Farmington, NM, “the worst place to raise a child,” my school took it personally. Having raised two daughters in the town, my wife and I had often commented to each other what a great community it was, and the great quality schools were part of that discussion. But the article went solely off of data, and I’m sure the authors had never set foot in our town. (more…)

The Nonnegotiable Role of School Librarians

What principals know and think about school libraries we have learned largely from our own past experiences and school librarians. I have had the distinct honor and privilege to work with and learn from some amazing librarians over the course of my career. These innovative educators have shaped my belief in the indispensable value of robust school libraries. They also have transformed how I think about learning and how I make decisions as an instructional leader. (more…)

Three Principles for Improving Practice

My school, long rated as top-performing, was this year given a rating of “targeted” for underperformance among student subgroups—including African-American, free and reduced-price lunch, and special education students. Though this is understandably not an ideal rating, I look at it as a blessing in disguise. We now have a very clear mandate to look at the performance of these subgroups and make immediate improvements. To me, this gives us an opportunity that will ultimately benefit all students, depending on the measures we put in place and the kinds of practices we implement. As an instructional leader, I am reminded that this work starts with me. (more…)

Mission Accomplished: Using Systematic Thinking to Support a School’s Vision

Since 2013, I’ve served as the assistant principal at Milford Junior/Senior High School and have grown as an educational leader through graduate studies and countless professional development opportunities. Each time I think about school leadership, I find myself going back to the seven principles of outstanding leadership that Pat Williams, the senior vice president of the Orlando Magic, shared in his book, Leadership Excellence. Those principles are vision, communication, people skills, character, competence, boldness, and a servant’s heart. What strikes me is that the very first topic he addresses is “vision.” (more…)

Reclaiming the Narrative of Public Education

June is a time of year when educators naturally tend to reflect on their practice and plan for their future. As school leaders, we take a deep breath as we contemplate the successes and challenges of the previous year, and then we begin formulating goals and plans for next year’s work. I would like to challenge you to add one more layer to your reflection and planning: How did you tell the story of your school’s successes last year, and how can you play an active role in reclaiming the narrative around public education? (more…)

Student Voice: The Most Important School Leadership Tool

A powerful tool exists that principals can access as a knowledge stream to improve school culture: student voice. Students are our prime customers and having their input on the important decisions on academics and programming should be standard operating procedure for school leaders. How can school leaders gain this critical student perspective? (more…)

Reaching the Masses: Communicating With All Stakeholders

Why do you think companies like Apple and Nike have such a cult following? If you compare their products to their competitors, they are very similar—but these two companies are getting consumers to pay more for their product than their competitors are. Why? I believe the No. 1 reason is communication. These companies know how to communicate the “greatness” of their products. From iPhones to Air Jordans, we have been told we can “Think Different” and “Be like Mike” just by powering on their devices and lacing up their sneakers. In the world of education, we can learn a thing or two from these companies on how we communicate with our stakeholders. (more…)

What Principals Can Do to Ensure School Discipline Policies Promote Safe and Inclusive Learning Environments

Research shows that “principals are essential to improving student achievement and narrowing persistent achievement gaps between students in underserved communities and their economically advantaged peers.” In fact, one study asserts that “there are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader.” (more…)