Transforming principal supervision

The Principal Supervisor Initiative (PSI) was launched by the Wallace Foundation in 2014 to redefine what principal leadership looks like in six urban school districts (Broward County, Fla.; Baltimore City, Md.; Cleveland, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Long Beach, Calif.; Minneapolis, Minn.). A new report from Mathematica Policy Research and Vanderbilt University examines how well the project met its objectives across its five core components:

  • Revising the principal supervisor’s job description to focus on instructional leadership.
  • Reducing the number of principals supervisors oversee and changing how they are assigned.
  • Training supervisors and developing their capacity to support principals.
  • Developing succession planning systems to identify and train new supervisors.
  • Strengthening central office structures to support and sustain changes in the supervisor’s role.

In 2017, participating supervisors spent almost half of their time visiting schools. Although this was only a small increase over the time they spent in 2015, participants noted that they were doing more targeted walk-throughs and coaching than in the past. Principals reported that they met with their supervisors at school an average of four times in three months and that they spent more time on instructional issues than on operational ones.

Overall, researchers found that it is possible to change the principal supervisor role, but that districts will need to focus on better defining instructional leadership, balancing the time spent in the central office and in schools, and developing greater capacity to train current and potential supervisors.

Source: Goldring, E.B., Grissom, J.A., Rubin, M., Rogers, L.K., Neel, M., & Clark, M.A. (2018). A new role emerges for principal supervisors: Evidence from six districts in the Principal Supervisor Initiative. New York: Wallace Foundation.

 

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Response Best and worst education journalism of the month: January 2018



Q: I’m an elementary school teacher, and I welcome parent involvement. We have a large immigrant population in my school. Without fail, the parents who come on field trips, volunteer to read the students stories, or act as room parents are the U.S.-born parents. I think there are several issues at play. In some cases, there are language barriers. In others, I think they don’t feel comfortable reaching out. I also think there’s some insecurity that they’ll do it “wrong” or that they won’t understand expectations. And I suspect that work schedules often are an issue, too. Of course, I’m projecting. I’d like to figure it out, though, and do a better job involving all my students’ parents, regardless of their backgrounds. The kids are very aware of whose parents are in the classroom, and that can be hard when it’s the same ones over and over again. 

A: I agree that this is both difficult and important, and you have to be strategic and sensitive. I’d start with logistics. What languages do your students’ parents speak? Once you establish that, I’d send home a letter that’s translated into every language used in their homes. In that note, I’d start to build a relationship. I’d include the following points: “I value who you are and appreciate your sharing your children with us. I want to build community, and I welcome your involvement in the classroom and the school as a whole. Here are several activities that you might like to participate in this year, but I’d love to hear about any additional ways you’d like to get involved. Please share any information you’d like about your interests or passions.”  

Keep language barriers in mind at all times, whether you’re calling a parent or sending a permission slip home. Your school system may give you access to language lines or other in-school resources. I’d also be careful not to make any assumptions. Someone who seems distant and uninterested might be happy to help, but was raised in a country where that’s atypical. In some cultures, schools take care of education and parents don’t volunteer in the classroom.  

Once you’ve addressed the language issue, I’d factor in parents’ varied work demands and be as flexible as possible on timing. Instead of inviting parents for a middle-of-the-day read-aloud, for example, you could widen the window of opportunity. For some families, it might be easiest to come right at drop-off. Others might prefer the end of the day. Work with parents and ask for feedback on availability. You also can offer activities they can do at home, whether it’s cutting out shapes or stuffing letters. Offer a range of tasks people can do regardless of their literacy skills or physical availability. One teacher told me about a parent who doesn’t have the time to go into the classroom, but who sews pillows for all the kindergartners to use during rest time. 

I’d also flip the model. Instead of stating what you need, ask parents what they’d like to do. Think more broadly than “one and done.” Real inclusion means doing more than a token culture lunch. Let’s say you know you’ll be focusing for the next three months on reading about different cultures. Share your book list and invite parents to come in to read a book that celebrates their heritage, or to talk about a family tradition. Instead of designating one day as International Night, strive to infuse the curriculum with lessons about the value of cultural diversity. Regularly ask for input from your families. 

Use the current room parents to help your cause. Ask them to reach out to individual parents. Often, people unthinkingly rely on the same crop of volunteers. Familiarity breeds comfort, but it also breeds exclusion. Share your concerns with the parents assuming leadership roles, and engage them in brainstorming solutions. There may even be parents in your class who speak multiple languages and can help bridge the divide. There also may be older siblings who can help transmit your message. Be careful not to put any one person in the position of speaking for their entire culture. 

You also can help foster a welcoming environment by building parents’ comfort with the school. Invite them to events where nothing is expected of them but their presence. Ask them questions about their lives and follow up later. You might be able to say, “I remember you said you love to paint. Would you like to help with the scenery for the spring play?” Once you’ve removed as many logistical barriers as possible, I’d spend the bulk of your time on strengthening relationships. 

Have a question that you’d like Career Confidential to answer? Email to careerconfidential@pdkintl.org. All names and schools will remain confidential. No identifying information will be included in the published questions and answers. 


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TERESA PRESTON (tpreston@pdkintl.org) is managing editor, content, of Phi Delta Kappan.

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RAFAEL HELLER (rheller@pdkintl.org) is Editor-in-Chief of Kappan magazine.

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