Effective principals have a positive influence on student learning outcomes, as McREL’s analysis has previously found. In this new paper, we review these connections and describe updates to our Balanced Leadership for Student Learning™ professional learning program that help principals have even more impact on student success.
As a fitness enthusiast, I often make the distinction between having to work out and getting to work out. Seems like semantics, but it’s really about mindset. Do I work out because I feel I have to, or am I headed to the gym because I enjoy it and see it as part of how I maintain a healthy lifestyle—one that allows me to live my life to the fullest? I’ll be honest, there are mornings when I don’t leap quite so quickly out of bed to go work out. But I know that when I look at my fitness as an investment I’m making in my health and well-being, exercise becomes as integral to my life as eating or breathing, not just a nice-to-have, add-on activity.
As a veteran facilitator of professional learning (PL), I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at helping educators acquire the skills and insights needed to continuously push themselves toward ever greater excellence—to really embrace the workout. I’ve also, sadly, gotten pretty good at predicting when the work I do with a school or district might not have the hoped-for results: When leaders view PL as a sequence of motions to be completed and forgotten about, rather than as a lifestyle change.
Two years leading a school is not enough time for a principal to create meaningful, lasting effects for students and teachers. Yet 35% of principals serve even less than that, according to new research from the Learning Policy Institute and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. (I read about it at the Education Dive website.) On average, principals are staying at their schools for four years, before leaving for other schools, taking on different jobs within their districts, or simply exiting the profession altogether. This constant leadership turnover in a school is a tragic waste of human capital that has negative consequences for teaching and learning. As Learning Policy Institute chief Linda Darling-Hammond was quoted as saying, “you’ve got to reboot those schools” every time a new principal is hired.
Why do they leave? The study found that departing principals commonly cite reasons such as poor working conditions, lack of resources and support, inadequate professional development, low salaries, high-stakes accountability, lack of decision-making authority, and the overwhelming nature of the job.
Frequently after working with a school district, we hear teachers and leaders say that one of the most valuable things they learned from their time with McREL was “a common instructional language” to use with one another and with students. You might be wondering: What exactly does this mean? And why would educators ever have felt they were deficient in their professional vocabulary?
Principals are super humans, but they’re being asked to perform a superhuman range of responsibilities, and that’s not fair—not to them, not to teachers, and not to students. In the March edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine, McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin asks how school leadership got so overly complex and demanding. He believes the phenomenon dates to the 1970s when researchers first started describing principals as “instructional leaders”—a catchall phrase that had unintended consequences.
As the body of research around effective school leadership traits grew over the decades that followed, so did the understanding that specific leadership traits showed more promise than others in their effects on achievement. Further, the role of collaboration in shared leadership gained new importance and we began to seek “transformational” leaders who might usher in a new era of educational effectiveness.
Have you noticed the word “curiosity” appearing in the titles of more and more McREL publications, resources, and services? We have a good reason for that. We’ve been excited to share our Curiosity Works™ approach to school improvement and innovation with teachers and school leaders, many of whom are already familiar with our other bodies of research-based knowledge, such as Classroom Instruction That Works® and Balanced Leadership®. Some of these educators have asked if Curiosity Works supplants these resources. It doesn’t. To the contrary, Curiosity Works brings a new degree of focus, and perhaps some new vocabulary, to McREL’s existing resources that are still as relevant and effective as ever.
What makes you, or your students, curious about a particular topic?
And have you ever been curious about curiosity itself? What is it, exactly? What triggers it? How can we best use curiosity in teaching and learning? Can it be encouraged (or discouraged), harnessed, and strengthened (or weakened)?
These questions, and more, have captured our interest here at McREL, and have driven us to review research studies and academic publications, and talk with educators in the U.S., Australia, and elsewhere about the use of curiosity in instructional planning and delivery, and its effects on students and adult learners. We’ve been so intrigued by what we’ve learned that, in addition to incorporating our findings into our peer-to-peer coaching work with educators, we’ve written several books recently about the power of curiosity, including Curiosity Works, Unstuck, and, due out in September, Out of Curiosity: Restoring the Power of Hungry Minds for Better Schools, Workplaces, and Lives.
Curiosity Works™ is what McREL is calling our new approach to school improvement and innovation. It incorporates our existing What Matters Most® framework that for years has been helping educators worldwide to spend their time and effort most effectively, and it adds an exciting new focus: harnessing the power of curiosity to drive ever-greater performance from students, teachers, and school leaders.
No two schools are alike—heck, no two school days are alike. So, in keeping with McREL tradition, the aim of Curiosity Works is decidedly not to impose a rigid program that must be followed unimaginatively. Rather, it aims to inspire teachers and leaders within a school to grow the courage and capacity to make things better without waiting for orders from the outside.
Nevertheless, our decades of consulting and research work have shown that many school leadership teams (we call them research and innovation teams) undergo similar phases of development when they get serious about improvement and innovation