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Creating the Conditions for School Success

"Education research shows that most school variables, considered separately, have at most small effects on learning. The real payoff comes when individual variables combine to reach critical mass. Creating the conditions under which that can occur is the job of the principal."

This statement serves as a powerful opening to the recently updated and expanded Wallace Foundation Perspective, The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning. The field has come to depend on Wallace for sharing its learning as it continues a decade-long focus on leadership, and this most recent report doesn't disappoint.

First, the perspective reminds us what Wallace has identified as the five key practices of effective principals:

  • Shaping a vision of academic success for all students
  • Creating a climate hospitable to education
  • Cultivating leadership in others
  • Improving instruction
  • Managing people, data, and processes to foster school improvement.
The Perspective also answers a question rarely addressed in the literature: Why should teachers care about leadership? Linda Darling-Hammond addresses this principal-teacher connection in an interview with Wallace Director of Communications Lucas Held. Her response to the question of how principals and teachers work together to create a collaborative focus on learning is in complete alignment with Learning Forward's Learning Communities Standard. "The principal functions as a principal teacher who is really focusing on instruction along with [and] by the side of teachers - not top down mandates and edicts," she says. "When principals are trying to help create such a culture, [they] begin to open the doors and say, 'Let's talk about our practice. Let's show our student work. Let's go look at each other's classrooms and see what we're doing.'" In essence, what she is describing is a leader exhibiting the five key practices.

There are some excellent videos on the Learning Forward website that provide a visual for these principal-led learning teams. While all of these videos show various "learning teams" committing to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment, the videos from Stults Road Elementary in particular show the principal actively engaged as both leader and learner. Like the vast library of Wallace Foundation knowledge products, these Learning Forward videos are free to download and use.

The Wallace Foundation keeps the field focused on those who create the conditions to support effective teaching and learning at scale: the school principal. For more information about Wallace knowledge products and resources, visit the foundation's Knowledge Center.

Frederick Brown
Director of Strategy and Development, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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