Schools are provided with principals with six-figure price tags on the basis of the logic that schools need instructional leaders in order to have a positive impact on student achievement. Indeed, virtually every discussion of the role of the principal in recent decades has centered around instructional leadership.
What’s surprising, though, is how frequently these discussions have failed to address practice, and to relate the day-to-day actions of school leaders – how they do their work, and what work they choose to do – to student achievement.
In this op-ed in a recent issue of Ed Week, former superintendent Joseph Wise points out that accountability should not just focus on the what, but the how, of teaching. I could write five or ten posts on Wise’s various points in the article, but here’s what I think is at the core of his argument: Teaching is a practice, so the improvement of teaching must focus on practice.
Historically, intense focus on the what of teaching has led us away from a healthy balance of all that drives true academic achievement. How we teach, how we challenge, how we redirect, and how we engage students is of no less importance than the what we profess to teach. Ironically, over the years, we actually have learned much and documented much about best practices in teaching. Substantial and expert research reveals that we already have explored and analyzed much about the how of teaching; we simply haven’t acknowledged its pivotal effect on academic achievement in the way we support and coach teachers.
Another great quote:
Accountability, at its essence, is not a goal; it is the acceptance of responsibility for all that we do in our classrooms, day in and day out. Accountability, when embraced for what it is, turns out to be not some sort of punitive “gotcha”; instead, it is what drives commitment to continuous examination, reflection, and improvement.
One set of findings is of particular relevance to principals. The study divided teachers into three groups – contented, disheartened, and idealists. While surveys of this type show only correlation (not causation), teacher responses about the support they get from principals are revealing:
In short, there is a strong relationship between job satisfaction (the category in which the teacher is placed, based on responses to other survey questions) and the leadership and support provided by the principal.