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Principals, What Would You Do With More Time in a Day?

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In many districts, the principal wears more hats than the Queen of England, from administrator to teacher coach to disciplinarian. A new study suggests principals who learn time scheduling and management delegation can gain the equivalent of an extra day each week for instructional leadership.

The Washington-based Policy Studies Associates, Inc. tracked 181 schools nationwide who are participating in the National School Administration Manager Innovation Project, which teaches principals time-management skills and partners them with a school administration manager who helps coordinate schedules and take on day-to-day tasks that don't relate to instruction. (As a side note, the study was supported by the Wallace Foundation, which also provides Education Week with a grant for coverage of leadership, extended and expanded learning time and arts learning.)

The researchers found that principals did increase the amount of time they spent observing classes, coaching teachers, and coordinating curriculum, data analysis and instructional planning as they began to plan their schedules in advance and delegate noninstructional tasks. While at the start of the program, the principals spent on average 32 percent of their weekly time (the equivalent of just over 13.5 hours each week) on instructional leadership, a year into the program they spent 46 percent, or 8.5 more hours on leading instruction. After two years, the 93 principals with data spent 52 percent of their time, or nearly 26 additional hours each week on instructional leadership than they had before the program. Gains were greater for elementary school leaders than those of middle and high schools, with the former focusing nearly nine hours more on instruction, compared to just over seven hours more a week in secondary grades, after two years in the program than they had at the start.

The time gains were the same regardless of whether the school administration manager, or SAM, was a new staff member or an existing person helping out. One principal noted that the program had helped the school secretary learn to make more judgment calls:

"[The secretary] is not as quick to send a phone call or a complaint my way. She asks a lot more questions of people, anyone. She's sort of like the gatekeeper there. Anyone who wants time on my calendar, anyone who calls and has an issue or a concern. In the past she might say, 'There's a parent complaining,' and then it [would come] to my office."

This was an implementation study, so it's not clear yet whether this program will actually translate into improved teaching practices and eventually higher student achievement. As a pretty deadline-driven person myself, I know how easy it is to get trapped in day-to-day emergencies, and I think it will be interesting to see whether better time-management and delegation can help principals improve their schools. Some states already seem interested in this approach. For example, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is urging that state's legislature to create funding to train a school administration manager for every school in the state, beginning in 2012. There are already 43 teams of principals and managers in schools statewide.

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