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Mark White is the incoming President of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). He began his career as a principal 25 years ago, after serving as a classroom teacher for six years, and he is eminently qualified to share best practices and recommendations as a long-serving building leader. Mr. White has been the principal of Hintgen Elementary School in La Crosse, Wisconsin, since 1990. He has served as President of the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators and held a variety of positions with NAESP, including State Representative and Federal Relations Coordinator. He is in his third year on the NAESP Board of Directors, representing Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Principal White was kind enough to share key insights and advice on a diverse array of topics, including supporting new teachers, creating a safe school climate, the need for elementary principals to have background in early childhood development, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards. In his comments, he exemplifies a respect for teachers, appreciation for the critical role parental support plays in a child’s education, and the need to communicate with the local community. LFA is deeply appreciative for Principal White’s contribution to our interview series.

Public School Insights (PSI): You’ve been a principal for 25 years. How have principal needs changed in the past decade or so? And what advice would you give to newer principals who are starting out?

White: The role of the principal has shifted dramatically in the past decade.  The need for a refined set of leadership skills by principals has never been more important.  The expectations by the community, parents, and staff point directly to the principal’s office.  With those high expectations comes great responsibility and resulting possibility.  The education community has never been more open to innovation and creativity on the part of principals.  Along with the openness comes increased expectations and accountability ...

The Learning First Alliance (LFA) is leading a focused campaign advocating for time, support and resources for successful implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). It includes interviews with education leaders from across the country who are sharing how their states and communities are working to Get It Right, the title we’ve given our campaign. Several meetings I attended recently outlined strategies for “getting it right” that showcased research and practice in key areas necessary to “get it right”:  accountability measures, state education agencies’ capabilities and classroom teacher practice.

Last week, the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) hosted a daylong meeting on Rethinking Accountability: Putting Students and Learning First that looked at accountability from a variety of angles, including accountability for meaningful learning, professional capacity and resources. All three types of accountability point to the requirement for system change that’s built on an evidence-based design and factors in responsibility at a variety of levels – state, district, school, classroom and community. While success happens locally, that success and the responsibility for that success is dependent on adequate resources, a culture of support and a realization that professional capacity is built over time ...

By Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

Research supports the value of educator collaboration. A recent report from the Rennie Center confirms that when teachers collaborate, students benefit. Too often, however, professional learning within communities of peers is merely a label.

Professional learning communities (PLCs) are hijacked in multiple ways, usually under the pretense of facilitating or supporting the collaboration. Administrators who dictate the content of collaboration are some of the biggest offenders. Teachers who fail to engage responsibly as professionals with colleagues in collaboration are also offenders. When educators at any level arrive late, break commitments, seek to maintain the status quo, or remain within their comfort zone, they are subverting the core principles of professional learning communities.

Within authentic professional learning communities, members determine their content and process for their continuous improvement. While they may benefit from skillful facilitators who offer processes and protocols, the community commits to learning as a means to improve practice and results. A key distinction exists between a community of professionals who engage in learning for continuous improvement and a gathering of professionals who conduct routine work together ...

By Dr. Helen Janc Malone, Director of Institutional Advancement, Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL)

The Institute for Educational Leadership is a non-profit organization whose mission is to equip leaders to work together across boundaries to build effective systems that prepare children and youth for postsecondary education, careers, and citizenship. The work of IEL focuses on three pillars required for young people and their communities to succeed:

  1. Involving the broader community with public education to support the learning and development of young people.
  2. Building more effective pathways into the workforce for all young people and supporting the transition to adulthood.
  3. Preparing generations of leaders with the know-how to drive collaborative efforts at all levels.

The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Institute for Educational Leadership. Fifty years yields many lessons. IEL’s broad network of leaders—superintendents, principals, policy leaders, academics, public officials, private funders and community-based practitioners—shared what they have learned about effective leadership as a part of IEL’s 50th anniversary celebration. Ten powerful lessons emerged from our review of their advice. We are grateful for their contribution.

  1. Leaders are anchored in a commitment to equity and the pursuit of social justice. They mobilize partners and ...

By Jessica Medaille, Chief Membership Officer, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

There’s a lot of talk right now about leadership across many professions. As leaders in education, we have long recognized that to effect change, we must look to and listen to our colleagues as well as to voices from other professions and communities. That way we can hear points of view that may differ from ours, expand our thinking and view issues from a new angle.

As we approach the ISTE annual conference, we’re excited about the unique range of opportunities participants will have to hear about new strategies, build leadership skills and to learn what works. Stories of triumph and perseverance are what make the ISTE community, and our annual conference, a unique experience.

In reflecting on the leaders we’ve invited to speak at this year’s conference, I’m inspired by their collective work. Leaders like Ashley Judd, who during a recent TEDx talk carried a powerful message about empowerment, lending her voice to those whose voices are not heard and telling stories to inspire others in the hopes of changing policies. Or Dale Dougherty, founder of Make magazine, creator of Maker Fair and coiner of the phrase Web 2.0, who brings the do-it-yourselfer mindset to everyday technology, celebrating the right to tweak, hack and bend any technology to your own will ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

AASA supports charter schools when they are operated by the local school board and managed by the local superintendent. Under certain circumstances, a district-operated charter school could offer students the quality education they perhaps are not receiving under existing conditions.

In 1995, I was the district superintendent for the Western Suffolk Supervisory district on Long Island, NY, a role quite different from that of the local superintendent. The district superintendent reports directly to the state commissioner of education and, in essence, is the commissioner’s regional representative. When the district superintendent for the adjoining Nassau County retired, I was asked by then-New York State Commissioner Thomas Sobol to assume the role of acting district superintendent for Nassau County as well. It was while serving in that capacity that the commissioner directed me to inspect the Roosevelt Union Free School District. ...

By Dr. C.J. Huff, Superintendent, Joplin (MO) Schools, and NSPRA Vice President at Large – Superintendents of Schools

Each day professional educators across our country walk into our schools with the noble purpose to educate and grow our next generation of leaders, employees, neighbors, and families. And with each passing day our noble purpose – the reason we do what we do – becomes muddled as we find ourselves fighting perceptions that don't really reflect reality. But as a school board member reminded me once, perception is reality. So the question that must be answered is, “How do we change perception?”

What’s Working...What’s Not?

As you read this article, from coast to coast, school districts will be pushing the send button on thousands of press releases. Spelling bee champions will be recognized, teachers of the year announced, scores from last night’s ballgame celebrated, a big decision by a school board shared, the kindergarten penny drive that raised funds to help the local humane society – the list goes on. We will permeate cyberspace with the good news of our schools. We will tweet, post, click send, like, repost, resend again with the hope that someone... anyone... will pick up on a story and that it will go viral in a good way. And we wait. Then wait some more. We tell great stories, but few are there to listen ...

By Gail Connelly, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)

“The Buck Stops Here,” an expression popularized by President Harry S. Truman, has often been applied to school leadership. It denotes the end of the line, the last decision, the final responsibility. For principals, who assume the dual roles of school manager and instructional leader, the responsibilities of school leadership never end; the “bucks” just keep coming.

With upwards of 40 different daily tasks to accomplish, today’s principals must be multifaceted, possessing a range of skills and competencies more complex than ever before.

When it comes to the factors that they directly influence, such as student safety, financial management, teacher working conditions, and high-quality instruction, for example, principals must rely on their “managerial” capabilities. This role also involves brokering various stakeholder interests and contending with unfunded state mandates, among other escalating education issues.

In this era of high-stakes accountability, the pressure has never been greater for principals to excel also as instructional leaders. Research shows the link between school leadership and student achievement continues to be underestimated, despite ...

By Robin Sheffield, National Board Certified Teacher with 20 years experience in education, including service on the Board of Directors for the Toledo Federation of Teachers

One of the many hats I wear as a Peer Literacy Coach is to provide Professional Development to my building and to other building staff within the district.  With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), my department has added several Professional Development (PD) offerings to reflect the major shifts of the CCSS.  One of the major shifts is the focus on informational text: building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts. In response to this shift, we now have a four-hour (delivered in two parts) PD, which helps teachers understand the reasons why expository text is difficult for students to comprehend.  Additionally, teachers are taught how to select strategies that will support student understanding of the different structures of expository text.

Last month I was asked to provide this four-hour module to a neighboring building with a K-8 staff. Part I of the PD focuses on why expository text is so difficult for students to understand.  When teachers are asked this question, the most common response is that the text(s) contain unfamiliar, difficult vocabulary for students.  While this is true, there are other factors that come into play.  In addition to unfamiliar vocabulary, the content itself may contain unfamiliar concepts which present problems for comprehension. In addition, different content areas have specialized and/or technical words.  There are also varied text structures, most of ...

We know that effective communication is critical in public education, both for building support for public schools and for ensuring the successful implementation of education initiatives, such as the Common Core State Standards. But what does a good K-12 communication strategy look like?

Missouri’s Nixa Public Schools, a suburban K-12 system serving 6,000 students in 11 schools, provides one example. Communication has been a key aspect of the district’s strategic plan for well over a decade, and Nixa has developed a transparent, high-functioning communications program that is two-way in design. For this work, the district was named the 2014 recipient of the Leadership Through Communication Award, with Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith and Director of Communication Zac Rantz recognized for their exemplary leadership in the field. The district was commended for building a culture where there is a common language between internal and external stakeholders; creating an environment in which information can be shared in a variety of ways; providing the community the opportunity to offer input which is listened to and acted upon; and more.

In a recent e-mail interview, Rantz took the time to discuss the district’s program and give advice to those looking to strengthen their communications strategy.  

Public School Insights (PSI): What is the district’s general philosophy on communication?

Rantz: Inform early. Inform often. Inform through multiple channels.

PSI: What are the key components of your communication program?

Rantz: We structure our communication channels into two main sections: internal and external ...

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