It’s nearing the end of the school year across America, which means thousands of principals are preparing school improvement plans for the 2013-14 school year. There are two common scenarios that take place, illustrated here by Principal A and Principal B:
Principal A sits down and, with little input or involvement from others, dutifully writes an ambitious school improvement plan for the next school year. The plan is submitted to the central office and receives a stamp of approval. At the beginning of the new school year, the plan is shared for the first time with the school staff. Momentum and focus are quickly lost, and the plan sits on a shelf, practically untouched, until the end of the school year.
Principal B, on the other hand, meets with the school leadership team to collect, organize, and analyze data to form several key problem statements. Next, the principal meets with school faculty members to present the data analysis and the key problem statements. Collectively, the faculty members review the data, identify root causes of the problem statements, develop goals, and create an action plan based on research-based practices. This all takes place before the summer break. At the beginning of the new school year, the plan is reviewed and staff members sign-up for subcommittees to lead implementation and actively monitor progress. Monthly progress reports and achievement data are reviewed by the school leadership team.
Which school is more likely to meet its goals? It’s easy to predict that Principal B’s school will have greater odds for success, yet we still see too many principals using Principal A’s approach. How do we help principals move from A to B? From our research and experience working with schools and districts, we know that principals and leadership teams must develop deep knowledge and skills in these five areas:
- Use data to guide school improvement and assess progress. Successful schools use data to develop their school improvement plans and regularly monitor their progress toward the goals, adjusting as needed.
- Use research-based practices to make improvements and increase student achievement. Schools that develop and implement action plans founded on research-based practices are more likely to meet their goals.
- Foster and engage in shared leadership for improvement. Principals who share leadership in the development, implementation, and monitoring of their school improvement plans have more school-wide staff commitment to the plans.
- Create and maintain a purposeful community. Schools that function as purposeful communities—with collective efficacy and the capability to produce outcomes that matter to all community members through agreed-upon processes—will be more likely to meet their school improvement plan goals.
- Apply a comprehensive and systematic continuous improvement process. An example of this process is our Success in Sight model: 1) Take stock; 2) Focus on the right solution; 3) Take collective action; 4) Monitor and adjust; and 5) Maintain momentum.
Dr. Kay L. Frunzi is a principal consultant at McREL, providing services, strategies, and materials to schools and districts across the country. Before joining McREL, she served as a school principal in four districts and taught graduate-level courses at various universities.