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IES Grant

Title: School Leader Communication Model (SLCM)
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Dotger, Benjamin Awardee: Syracuse University
Program: Education Leadership      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $498,848
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A090421

Purpose: This project aims to adapt the Standardized Parent Conferencing Model, an existing professional development intervention to train teachers in the use of interpersonal communication skills, for use with school leaders. The resulting new intervention, called the School Leader Communication Model (SLCM), will train principals and assistant principals to better communicate with teachers, students, and parents. Effective communication enhances parental engagement, supports teacher instruction, and promotes student engagement—positive indicators of school climate that are associated with higher student achievement.

Project Activities: In years one and two, the SLCM will be developed in cooperation with SUNY Upstate Medical University (SUNY UMU). A stratified sample (by race, gender, and type of school) of area school leaders (n=50) will inform the initial development of SLCM cases and materials. A second stratified sample (n=12) of school leaders will initially pilot these materials at SUNY UMU. In the third year of this project, field-testing of the fully developed SLCM will occur in a school setting with a third sample of school leaders (n=6). Qualitative data analysis will determine the extent to which SLCM is feasible and operating as intended.

Products: The primary outcome is the creation of an operational and field-tested SLCM, with 12 fully developed, tested, and revised cases that are appropriate for helping school leaders analyze and develop their professional communications.

Setting: The study is set in five counties in greater central New York State.

Population: Fifty school leaders (principals and assistant principals) with at least 10 years of experience will be interviewed. Of these, 17 will represent rural areas, 17 urban, and 16 suburban. Twelve school leaders will participate in clinical testing and six in the field test.

Intervention: The SLCM is a professional development intervention that guides school leaders in developing their communication skills through a Simulated Individuals (SI) instructional method. In the SI method, actors are trained to portray standardized parents, teachers, and students in a series of interactions with trainees. Each trainee will participate in simulated interactions during at least eight skill development sessions and six practice sessions. They will watch and reflect on recordings of these sessions. The sessions will likely focus on access, instruction, discipline, and curriculum.

Research Design and Methods: SLCM development will be a three-tiered process. First, 50 school leaders will be interviewed about challenging interactions with parents, teachers, and students. This input will guide construction of the SLCM interaction protocols. Second, a clinical pilot with a stratified sample of 12 school leaders will lead to revisions to the SLCM intervention. Third, a field test in an authentic school district setting with a new cohort of six school leaders will provide initial measurements of communication skill transfer and feasibility of implementation.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Participants will complete a pre-/post-intervention school climate survey with specific questions about principal communication, as well as monthly surveys for 5 months following the intervention, based on the Perceptions of Success Inventory (PSI; Corbell, Reiman, and Nietfeld 2008). Simulations, pre-/post-simulation discussions, and written feedback will be coded.

Data Analytic Strategy: Discourse analysis of simulation recordings will be conducted through the Professional Interaction Analysis System (PIAS), adapted from the Flanders Interaction Analysis System (Flanders 1970). Perceptions of usability and feasibility will be analyzed qualitatively using perspective codes, process codes, subjects' ways of thinking codes, narrative codes, and strategy codes.

Project Website:



Dotger, B. (2014). Beyond Tears, Tirades, and Tantrums: Clinical Simulations for School Leader Development. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Dotger, B. (2014). Clinical Simulations for School Leader Development: A Companion Manual for School Leaders. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Dotger, B. (2012). The School Leader Communication Model: An Emerging Method for Bridging School Leader Preparation and Practice. Journal of School Leadership, 21(6): 871–892.

Dotger, B., and Alger, A. (2012). Challenging Parent, Challenged Curricula: Utilizing Simulated Interactions to Enhance School Leader Preparation. Planning and Changing, 43(3): 344–362.