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How one district is helping principals recapture the focus on instructional consistency

By June 6, 2022March 15th, 2024No Comments

Part 2 of 2. Click here to read part 1.

Deer Valley kindergartners learning about presidents

Deer Valley kindergartners learning about presidents

Last week we described how the Deer Valley school district in Phoenix is aiming to reestablish instructional consistency after the Covid shutdowns with technology, but not just technology—with the training and policy tweaks needed to really make it work, too.

One Deer Valley principal, Nichole Basl of Legend Springs Elementary School, shared with us how the pandemic abruptly robbed her of the ability to manage instruction, and how she made intentional efforts during and post pandemic to make it a priority once again:

“There are two types of leadership, instructional and managerial, and with the pandemic, when everything became about rules and mitigation strategies, it was really easy (and essential) to slip into the tasker and managerial focus, losing the big picture of instruction. But that’s why we’re here. And that’s what our kids still needed from us.”

Because Nichole is also a Deer Valley parent, she got to experience first-hand how our insistence on recapturing control of instruction played out from two perspectives. “I was living the very thing my community was living,” she said.

Movie Night with Principal Basl

Movie Night with Principal Basl

“What I’m seeing now is that we have learners who are emotionally a year or more behind, but academically, if they were able to connect with us, they’re relatively on par or filling in the gaps quickly. I’m seeing some hesitancy around engaging in longer-term projects because students and teachers never know if they’re going to be sent home and quarantined, so we haven’t fully gotten back all the routines we need for social and emotional stability. This does show us that students and teachers alike are willing and able to focus on the most essential work, which is great news. Having expectations for academic excellence and emotional balance for our staff and students will be what helps us move forward in these next months and years.”

Here are some of the other steps the district is taking to support principals and teachers in achieving and maintaining instructional consistency:

  • Supporting professional learning communities, including an annual district-wide “PLC Summit,” so teachers can lead their own growth
  • Offering multiple forms of coaching to administrators and their school teams
  • Introducing the Teacher Clarity books, a framework to boost transparency and intentionality in the classroom
  • Differentiating between learning loss and loss of learning opportunity so that interventions can be customized to students who entered the Covid shutdowns at different levels of achievement and returned with different needs
  • Conducting campus walk-throughs with district and school leaders
  • Keeping up with leadership training, which we’ve been offering for 18 years, to help us get over the implementation hump on new initiatives and remind principals that even if their school has pockets of excellence, there are always more students to reach
  • Ensuring human resources is a genuine partner, with deep knowledge of how educators excel
  • And perhaps the biggest game-changer—winning school board approval for early release days, transforming the quantity and quality of our district-wide PD

While it’s true that great leadership often involves disruption and innovation, consistency clearly rules the day when it comes to instruction. Instructional consistency isn’t sameness; it’s dependability. Helping principals to become instructional leaders was never going to be easy, even under the most favorable conditions. As Nichole’s example shows, well prepared school leaders can indeed maintain instructional consistency during and after a disruption, even a significant one such as a pandemic.

Gayle GalliganKent DavisGayle Galligan is the deputy superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and assessment at the Deer Valley Unified School District in Phoenix, Arizona.

Kent Davis, consulting director of learning services at McREL International, is a former associate superintendent at Deer Valley.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.