Last week New Leaders (an organization Bellwether works with) released a new report looking at what great principals do. I asked Jean Desravines, the CEO of New Leaders, to pen a guest post about the report, his take is below:
By Jean Desravines
The first term of the Obama Administration heralded a new direction for education policy with a focus on two key areas to drive change in our nation’s schools: teacher effectiveness and new common core standards. In order to fully realize the transformational impact and effective implementation of these reforms, New Leaders believes it will be essential for the Obama administration to put school leadership front and center in its second term.
After more than a decade recruiting, selecting, developing and supporting more than 900 school leaders in urban communities across the United States, New Leaders knows the impact an exceptional school leader can have on dramatically increasing student achievement. Even 900 strong, we know that our New Leaders are only a sampling of the national impact that principals are making on students’ lives. Research confirms that principals account for up to 25 percent of a school’s impact on student achievement and that the difference between an average principal and an above-average principal can impact student achievement by as much as 20 percentage points (see, for instance, Marzano, Waters & McNulty, 2005).
We also know the impact a strong principal has on attracting, retaining and developing our best teachers who are leading excellent instruction in classrooms every day. Given that 97 percent of teachers recently surveyed by Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation say that they would continue teaching if they had a strong principal, it is clear the importance leadership plays in keeping our most effective educators.
Last week we released, Playmakers: How Great Principals Build and Lead Great Teams of Teachers, examining the day-to-day actions that the most successful school leaders take to ensure great teaching and improve outcomes for kids.
At its core, Playmakers found that great principals amplified great teaching by working in and seamlessly integrating three essential areas: developing teachers; managing talent; and creating a great place to work. Though the sequence of actions varied from school to school given the particular needs of the community, our research found clear evidence of overlap in actions taken by principals whose schools saw dramatic gains in student achievement as compared to principals who saw incremental gains.
I’ve had the privilege of witnessing this dramatic effect first hand. When I visit New Leader Claudia Aguirre in her Manhattan middle school, I see a leader who is not only passionate about her students, but about her teachers and staff as well. Dual Language Middle School, MS247 has a diverse student body – more than 90 percent of students live in poverty, more than 30 percent of students are English language learners and more than 25 percent are designated “special education.” This year, Claudia Aguirre and MS247 received an “A” in every category of their 2011-2012 Progress Report, the only school in her local district to do so.
It took unwavering belief and hard work for Claudia to make MS247 a great place to learn. When she became the principal, it had been known as a “dumping ground” for low-performing students, with many who arrived not fluent in English or Spanish. Claudia knew she had limited time to prepare her students for the rigors of high school and quickly identified increasing teacher effectiveness as one of her primary goals. Attracting and retaining great teachers has been her greatest challenge – she continues to hire six to eight new teachers to her staff every year. Despite this, Claudia builds a high-performing team of educators year after year by focusing on the three areas identified as essential in Playmakers: developing teachers, managing talent and creating a great place to work. She has a clear, concrete professional development plan and goal for the whole school and each teacher. She is relentless about hiring and retaining teachers who deeply believe that success is possible for every student at Dual Language Middle School, MS247 – and who make it their mission to help their kids realize their potential. And, she has built a positive, professional culture focused on continuous improvement, creating a workplace that encourages and empowers teachers to push and learn from one another.
As a result of Claudia’s focus, you can walk through the halls of Dual Language Middle School, MS247 and feel the energy, excitement and dedication of the students and teachers.
I want every school to have a principal as talented and effective as Claudia. That’s why in Playmakers, we make a number of recommendations, which speak to the very specific actions policymakers can take at the federal, state, and local levels to enable and encourage principals to amplify great teaching, and in turn, drive even stronger student achievement outcomes for our nation’s public school children.
Jean Desravines is CEO of New Leaders for New Schools.