program with their colleagues. A second major layer
of large-group support was a weekly communication to principals that provided the nuts and bolts
of such topics as using manipulatives and adjusting
the pace of instruction to follow the curriculum
map. The weekly message also included a “thought
for the week,” a brief story or metaphor that promoted reflection on relevant mathematical teaching
and student learning.
The district also provided small-group support
through cluster visits, which took no longer than
one hour and consisted of a group of principals
observing best practice in a selected classroom.
Each group of principals identified an area within
the instructional model that could deepen their
learning. For example, a cluster of elementary
school principals might choose to visit classrooms
that demonstrated either mini-lessons, conferencing, or investigations during a math workshop.
Principals followed a protocol for the observation
and debriefing, focusing on their own learning
rather than on teacher performance.
Third, one-on-one coaching visits occurred
regularly for principals. The frequency of the visits
depended on the principal’s level of competency.
Topics ranged from guidance on staff supervision
to implementation issues surrounding the school’s
Sometimes compliance claims the spotlight because
leaders rush to implement a new program without
first learning about it. Whenever the district adopts
a new program, schools will vary in their need for
that program and their readiness to implement it.
It’s important to encourage school leaders to be
continuous learners and conscious, informed consumers of any initiative—especially those that are
mandated from the outside.
For example, suppose the district has asked
The Support Principals Need
all schools to implement a schoolwide discipline
program, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions
and Supports (PBIS). Some schools might jump
right into implementing this program without
digging deeper into the causes of student behavior,
thus promoting a checklist mentality about the new
discipline initiative. In contrast, principals who keep
learning will focus less on checking off the steps in
the process and more on understanding the pro-
gram’s aim of moving discipline from punishment to
an opportunity to learn. In the data consult process,
a district leader and principal can work together to
identify the discipline problems of the principal’s
school, which might lead to a discussion of the
purposes of implementing PBIS in that school. This
helps the principal understand the nature of the
work, rather than just how to comply with the PBIS
initiative (Fullan & Quinn, 2015).
Those who work in schools know that we need to
make student learning the centerpiece of our education table, but compliance mandates and initiatives often threaten to become the focal point
instead. Central office leaders need to help principals implement new initiatives without making
compliance the centerpiece. They can provide this
help by smoothing the implementation process and
providing a range of supports to help school principals approach compliance in a deliberate,
thoughtful, well-informed way. When that happens,
everyone is more likely to reap the benefits of the
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Fullan, M., & Kirtman, L. (2016). Key competencies for
whole-system change. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Fullan, M., & Quinn, J. (2015). Coherence: The right
drivers in action for schools, districts, and systems.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Goodwin, B. (2011). Simply better: Doing what matters
most to change the odds for student success. Alexandria,
VA: ASCD/Aurora, CO: McREL.
Mausbach, A. T., & Morrison, K. (2016). School leadership through the seasons: A guide to staying focused and
getting results all year. New York: Routledge.
Robinson, V. M. J. (2011). Student-centered leadership. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Ann Mausbach is an assistant professor at Creighton
University in Omaha, Nebraska. Follow her on Twitter.
Kim Morrison is principal of Council Bluffs Community
School District in Council Bluffs, Iowa. They are the
authors of School Leadership Through the Seasons: A
Guide to Staying Focused and Getting Results All Year