A DEEPER LOOK AT EXEMPLARY LEADERSHIP
As part of QEIA, districts are required to define criteria for and ensure that exemplary administrators are in place at QEIA schools and provide professional development for an administrator that is similar in quality and rigor to the Administrator Training Program (Assembly Bill 430). There are no specific hour requirements for the professional development that should be provided to administrators as part of QEIA. Moreover, the county monitoring process does not include the exemplary administrator component.
Across survey results, district interviews, and case studies, very few instances of QEIA-specific district-created criteria for exemplary administrators were found, which is unsurprising considering the absence of formalized requirements in the monitoring process.
In Year 3 district interviews, the majority of representatives indicated there were no specific criteria defined for exemplary administrators (49%) or the criteria defined were not necessarily new or specific to QEIA (38%). Only nine district representatives indicated there were specific criteria determined for exemplary administrators. The most commonly mentioned criteria included professional development/trainings (19%), years of experience (14%), as well as leadership (14%) and CA state standards (13%). Other criteria mentioned included being a good instructional leader (10%), evaluations (10%), and student test scores (10%).
Principal surveys in 2011 revealed that over half of principals (51%) did not know whether the district had identified any criteria for principals, as part of QEIA or otherwise. Principals who were aware of district criteria indicated that such criteria were based on superintendent opinions, county office guidance and professional development, student academic data, and rubric based on the California Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (CPSEL).
In case studies, principals typically reported being evaluated by superintendents with rubrics. Student achievement results were also highlighted with a few principals mentioning personal goal setting as part of the evaluation process. However, no criteria specific to QEIA were mentioned.
ADMINISTRATOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
TYPE OF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
In surveys of principals during 2011, nearly all respondents indicated they received some professional development during the year (90%); similarly, in interviews, all eighteen principals indicated participating in professional development.
Principals described participating in professional development that was largely district-driven, including regular principal meetings focused on district initiatives, best practices, and legal compliance issues. Some principals reported being able to self-select opportunities (e.g., conferences, seminars); a few districts offered new principals personal coaching and/or mentoring which was viewed as a highly effective strategy for sharing ideas, learning new things, and being exposed to other professional growth opportunities. One principal shared her experience with her coach during a site visit, and said:
She’s amazing. We hit it off from day one really well. And she’s just really good just being a sounding board but she’s done so much PD herself. So she’s just great. Like for instance, the whole data protocol thing, she’s a guru in that. She goes presenting all over the state in that. So she’s so good. I can just pick her brain on that. So she gives me books to read. She gives me articles, a whole binder full of stuff.
Several principals also commented on attending the same professional development as their staff, mostly related to core content (e.g., math, ELA, EL curriculums) and the use of data/data systems. Some districts provided administrator-specific modules of all the district-mandated professional development for teachers.
Principals particularly appreciated being able to participate in the same professional development as their staff, as it allowed them to be on the same page with their staff and help each other stay accountable: “I know what they’re talking about…I [am] right there with them, so I know exactly where they’re doing, and I can remind them to stay on track, and they can remind me to stay on track.”
Another principal felt that attending the same PD as staff was an opportunity to further learn about teacher needs/concerns and bring back salient issues to the school:
What I found out was when you’re there and you’re listening, you don’t have to participate as much but you’re listening to what they say. So much of what they say [in the professional development] is what we bring back and make decisions on. So it’s really much more valuable than I was giving it credit for.
QUALITY OF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Principals in Year 4 surveys and case study interviews were generally satisfied overall with the quality of their professional development. They indicated that they benefited most from professional development when the content was relevant, practical, and applicable to their school and students. Furthermore, principals valued interacting, collaborating and learning from their colleagues and peers, as well as staying abreast on educational issues and the latest trends in education.
According to principals, professional development could be improved by further tailoring it to meet the needs of the school, as “most are at a very introductory level,” “not site specific,” or “differentiated.” Principals also emphasized that professional development needed to be more rigorous and more focused on student achievement, with time provided to implement what was learned.
CHARACTERISTICS OF EXEMPLARY ADMINISTRATORS
While not much evidence was found in support of QEIA-specific criteria for exemplary administrators, survey and case study data revealed several qualities that teachers and parents identified as necessary for administrators to be exemplary. Table 5 illustrates the 20 most commonly noted characteristics identified by staff and parents across case study schools.
In school visits, higher performing schools tended to have principals in place who largely embodied the characteristics considered for being an exemplary administrator. In interviews, teachers, site council members, and parents glowed about their principals and conveyed unwavering support for their decisions, actions, and leadership.
For example, in one higher performing high school, a teacher highlighted the administration’s active listening skills and team-based approach: “I mean they’re listening to teachers on what’s happening in the classroom, listening to our needs, that they’re part of the team. They’re not just sitting up front and looking down at everyone.” In the same high school, another teacher shared the principal’s clear vision and collaborative style which had helped to cultivate staff buy-in at the school: “He has a vision, and he has an idea; but he’s good at talking with the masses and seeing what their concerns are about and then he meets with his Leadership Team, all of us, and we talk about the concerns and come up with ways to make the concerns better.”
In another example, a teacher in a particularly effective school emphasized the principal’s commitment and dedication to her school: “She’s always willing to listen, stay late, do whatever it takes for our students. Contact the parents, contact the community…She’s just willing to go above and beyond and always try her hardest to do whatever it is.” Moreover, because of the principal’s modeling and leading by example, staff were thus inspired to follow suit: “She does whatever it takes every day and I think that’s what leads our team to have everybody do whatever it takes.”
The same glowing comments were heard by stakeholders in a high-performing middle school that had improved substantially since QEIA. One teacher described her principal’s commitment to students, ability to cultivate a sense of togetherness, and high expectations: “She has the students’ best interests at all times…Definitely strict but fair, definitely bringing the staff together…Every year she challenges everybody. She lifts the bar…She pushes us, she believes in us.”
Teachers at other schools also remarked on the importance of having high expectations of staff and students to inspire success. One teacher at a high-performing high school explained: “He makes you want to achieve more. I mean he really does. He’s always pushing the envelope that we lead the schools as far as doing new things that help students achieve. And we’ve shown it to be successful.”
One parent interviewed in a higher performing middle school honed in on the administration’s high level of accessibility and visibility: “I know that if they’re accessible to us, they’re also accessible to the kids. And just being visible, seeing them in the morning out there in the crosswalk, seeing them on campus. They’re just not out somewhere in education land. They’re actually visible.” In addition to accessibility and visibility, the parent reiterated the significance of the principal’s dedication and commitment: “They care about our kids. They want our kids to succeed…I think they’re very genuine in how they feel about all the students here, and just working hard.”
By contrast, comments about principals by staff and parents in lower performing schools were lukewarm at best. Principals were described as “trying their best,” but teachers generally felt there was “room for improvement.” In one school, teachers felt the principal needed to improve his/her “people skills, be more willing to listen, and establish more open communication.” In yet another school, all teachers interviewed did not feel their administrator met their criteria for exemplary leaders, citing favoritism in some cases and the absence of structures and support for staff to make important decisions. Moreover, teachers in struggling schools often questioned the principal’s awareness of what was happening in the classroom as well as the extent to which the principal was open to change and new ideas