Creating effective systems of principal support 

on Feb 29, 2024

Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), led by Dr. Adrienne Battle, is one of the nation’s largest school districts—serving more than 80,000 students across 158 schools. MNPS’s central office–called the Support Hub in recognition of the office’s role in supporting and empowering students, staff, and schools–serves as a crucial link to student success through their direct work with school leaders. MNPS central office leaders understand the crucial role school leaders play. The district’s Executive Director of Schools Playbook, which guides principal support, states, “How we agree to spend our time, coach our people, and organize our work has never been more paramount to the district’s success than it is now.”

Creating sustained leader practices that result in more equitable outcomes for students requires a commitment to professional learning, an understanding of the context in which the learning occurs, and ongoing support at the central office level. This year CEL is working with a division of the Support Hub, Schools of Innovation (SOI), to help support these types of practices.

The SOI team takes a systematic approach to working with both principals and assistant principals, starting with professional learning. Specifically, leaders are participating in CEL’s Instructional Leadership Academy. Through this onsite, multisession academy, leaders hone their observation skills, refine their feedback practice, and consider implications for teacher professional learning.

Oftentimes, professional learning for leaders can feel disjointed and overwhelming. Connecting professional learning to clearly articulated leadership practices such as those outlined in the MNPS executive and school leader playbooks, has eliminated the “whiplash” leaders may have experienced in the past. Dr. Cortney Crews, Coordinator of Instructional Support at MNPS, said, “Everybody’s talking about [instructional leadership practice] the same way… it’s very much helped us calibrate [so that] they can have conversations with each other.”

How leaders implement new skills and practices gained through professional learning and make sense of these within their school’s context is crucial. Dr. Crews explained the importance of balancing her instructional lens with the executive director’s keen understanding of the role and demands of principals and assistant principals. Her approach to support is centering instruction while asking, “How do I make it palpable for a principal who has 1,000 other things?”

At MNPS, Support Hub leaders provide ongoing coaching to school leaders that is aligned with the skills and concepts explored in the Instructional Leadership Academy such as gathering evidence of teaching and learning aligned to a specific focus area.

For example, when walking classrooms, Dr. Crews models how to collect good data and press on leader observations. She explained: “It’s really pushed principals to talk about what students are doing in classrooms rather than [just the] teacher practice… it has pushed them to be more specific about what it is they’re saying [about] what is happening in their classrooms, for kids, in reference to their vision.” Dr. Crews described how this specificity around the “current state” has led to more focused conversations about next steps for teacher learning.

As a result of these coordinated efforts, Dr. Crews notes that there are some bright spots of specific, sustained changes in teacher practice, leading to more authentic student engagement and improved quarterly benchmark performance. The recent Education Recovery Scorecard research, led by Harvard and Stanford universities, supports the gains MNPS is making.

When district leaders coordinate professional learning aligned with district-wide objectives as well as support and coach leaders in implementing the learning, school leader practices are transformed resulting in tangible change for students. Creating a coherent system of support to ensure school leaders continually develop knowledge, skills, and mindsets to ensure all students thrive is not easy, but the leaders of MNPS are working to do just that, one step at a time.

About the author

Lisa Rooney serves as a director for the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership. She leads and facilitates the development and integration of frameworks into CEL lines of service. She also leads services related to the 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning™, the 5D+™ Rubric for Instructional Growth and Teacher Evaluation, the 4 Dimensions of Instructional Leadership™, and the Measures of Instructional Leadership Expertise (MILE™). She has fifteen years of public school experience, as an elementary teacher, teacher leader, literacy coach, and administrator. In 2005, she was part of the founding team of Gabriella Charter School, an award-winning K-8 school, in Los Angeles. Lisa is passionate about working to end the achievement and opportunity gaps that exist in education.
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