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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response


April 2020


What research is available on the role of school leadership in providing meaningful and effective instructional feedback to teachers?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and policy overviews on the role of school leadership in providing meaningful and effective instructional feedback to teachers. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Alvoid, L., & Black, W. L., Jr. (2014). The changing role of the principal: How high-achieving districts are recalibrating school leadership. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The principal has historically been portrayed in television and film as decidedly unheroic. In the public mind, principals were often thought of as mere school-building managers, individuals who were more interested in wielding power and enforcing compliance than in the loftier concerns of teaching and learning. Today, however, those stale notions could not be further from the truth. The job of a modern-day principal has transformed into something that would be almost unrecognizable to the principals of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. This report examines the changing landscape of school leadership, most notably as a result of increased expectations around instructional improvement and teacher development. Also included are a series of case studies that shine a light on innovative ways in which districts are training and supporting school leaders so that they are able to meet the ever-increasing demands placed upon them, such as a strategic focus on coaching and instructional feedback, customized professional development, streamlining of the principal’s job duties, and partnerships with universities and nonprofits to train the next generation of principals.”

Bickman, L., Goldring, E., De Andrade, A. R., Breda, C., & Goff, P. (2012). Improving principal leadership through feedback and coaching. Evanston, IL: Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study is to evaluate the efficacy of a feedback and coaching intervention designed to improve the quality of principal leadership. Principals received feedback from teachers on their instructional leadership, and their teachers’ trust of them. Principals also provided self-ratings and they compared their teachers’ ratings to their own self-ratings. In the first part of the study they received feedback reports of these data. In the second part they worked with trained coaches on how to use and integrate that information into their educational practice. The authors predicted that this intervention would improve principals’ leadership, trust, and, ultimately, enhance student achievement. (Student achievement was not evaluated in this project). The first hypothesis about feedback was tested in a longitudinal randomized design and the second concerning the addition of coaching in a pre-post design where principals received feedback only in the first year and feedback and coaching in the second year. The results indicate that teachers’ perceptions of instructional leadership and trust of their principal can be enhanced when principals are provided with feedback alone. However, when coaching is added the effects are much more powerful and depend on the principal’s perception of the validity of the feedback and the number of coaching sessions attended. This study provides new experimental evidence of the efficacy of feedback and coaching as a program for leadership change and development aimed at improving instructional leadership and teacher-principal trust.”

Drago-Severson, E., & Blum-DeStefano, J. (2014). Tell me so I can hear: A development approach to feedback and collaboration. Journal of Staff Development, 35(6), 16–18, 20. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Feedback plays an important role in education. New teacher and principal evaluation systems, the Common Core State Standards, and Race to the Top initiatives, among others, underscore the critical importance of giving and receiving meaningful, actionable, and effective feedback to colleagues regardless of their roles in schools. A developmental approach to feedback can shed new light on the important work of educational leaders and feedback scholars across different disciplines and fields. A new approach to feedback, called feedback for growth, intentionally differentiates feedback so that adults, who make meaning in qualitatively different ways, can best hear it, learn from it, take it in, and improve their instructional and leadership practice.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Garet, M. S., Wayne, A. J., Brown, S., Rickles, J., Song, M., & Manzeske, D. (2017). The impact of providing performance feedback to teachers and principals (NCEE 2018-4001). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Educator performance evaluation systems are a potential tool for improving student achievement by increasing the effectiveness of the educator workforce. For example, recent research suggests that giving more frequent, specific feedback on classroom practice may lead to improvements in teacher performance and student achievement. This report is based on a study that the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences conducted on the implementation of teacher and principal performance measures that are highlighted by recent research, as well as the impact of providing feedback based on these measures. As part of the study, eight districts were provided resources and support to implement the following three performance measures in a selected sample of schools in 2012-13 and 2013-14: (1) Classroom practice measure; (2) Student growth measure; and (3) Principal leadership measure. Within each district, schools were randomly assigned to implement the performance measures (the treatment group) or not (the control group). No formal ‘stakes’ were attached to the measures—for example, they were not used by the study districts for staffing decisions such as tenure or continued employment. Instead, the measures were used to provide educators and their supervisors with information regarding performance. Such information might identify educators who need support and indicate areas for improvement, leading to improved classroom practice and leadership and boosting student achievement. This is the second of two reports on the study. The first focused on the first year of implementation, describing the characteristics of the educator performance measures and teachers’ and principals’ experiences with feedback. This report examines the impact of the two-year intervention, as well as implementation in both years. The main findings are: (1) The study’s measures were generally implemented as planned; (2) The study’s measures provided some information to identify educators who needed support, but provided limited information to indicate the areas of practice educators most needed to improve; (3) As intended, teachers and principals in treatment schools received more frequent feedback with ratings than teachers and principals in control schools; and (4) The intervention had some positive impacts on teachers’ classroom practice, principal leadership, and student achievement.”

Goldring, E., Grissom, J., Neumerski, C. M., Blissett, R., Murphy, J., & Porter, A. (2019). Increasing principals’ time on instructional leadership: Exploring the SAM® process. Journal of Educational Administration, 58(1), 19–37. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Purpose: Despite increased focus on the importance of the time principals spend on instructional leadership, there is little research on practical ways to help principals manage their time to achieve this goal. The purpose of this paper is to examine the implementation of the school administration manager (SAM) process: a unique program designed to help principals orient their time toward instructional activities. Design/methodology/approach: This mixed-methods study combines data from multiple sources including—case studies of four districts that involved interviews with principals and program staff in 16 schools; interviews with network-level staff and administrators; a survey of 387 principals and 378 program staff; and time use data collected by shadowers as well as a time-tracking calendar system for 373 principals. Findings: Principals and their teams implemented the SAM process with relatively high fidelity. In addition, most participated in the program to increase time spent on instructional tasks. Indeed, principals’ time use shifted from managerial to instructional tasks as they implemented the program. However, there were important challenges related to the time and personnel resources required to implement the program as well as questions about the quality of the instructional leadership time spent. Originality/value: This study describes not only time allocation, but also a process through which principals intentionally sought to shift their time toward instructional leadership activities. The insights gained from the implementation and outcomes of this process provide concrete direction for policymakers, practitioners and researchers looking for ways to change the time principals spend on instructional leadership.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Goldring, E., Grissom, J. A., Rubin, M., Rogers, L. K., Neel, M., & Clark, M. A. (2018). A new role emerges for principal supervisors: Evidence from six districts in the Principal Supervisor Initiative. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In 2014, The Wallace Foundation launched the Principal Supervisor Initiative (PSI), a four-year, $24 million-dollar effort to redefine principal supervision in six urban school districts. The initiative sought to help districts transform a position traditionally focused on administration, operations, and compliance to one dedicated to developing and supporting principals to improve instruction in schools. The initiative was motivated by an effort to increase student learning and achievement by improving principal effectiveness. Research has shown that strong principals are integral to strong schools and to raising the quality of teaching. Numerous studies have pointed to the importance of effective leaders for teacher satisfaction, teacher retention, school climate, parent engagement, and student achievement. Principal supervisors are a potential point of leverage for supporting and developing principals, but relatively few districts have invested in such efforts. The motivating hypothesis of the PSI is that changing the role of principal supervisors from overseeing administration and operations to providing instructional leadership can drive improvement in principal effectiveness. The report presents analyses of data from semistructured interviews with central office personnel, principal supervisors, and principals, as well as data from surveys of supervisors and principals in each of the six PSI districts throughout the United States.”

Kraft, M. A., & Gilmour, A. (2016). Can principals promote teacher development as evaluators?. Evanston, IL: Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “District- and state-level efforts to remake teacher evaluation systems are among the most substantial and widely adopted reforms that U.S. public schools have experienced in decades. Research on these next generation of evaluation systems has focused overwhelmingly on policy goals, program designs, and performance measures. However, still very little is known about how these policies are interpreted and enacted by school leaders. In this study, the authors examine the perspectives and experiences of principals as evaluators in a large urban school district in the northeastern United States that recently implemented sweeping reforms to its teacher evaluation system. The study focuses on principals’ perspectives and experiences with classroom observation and feedback because this process is a primary mechanism through which evaluation is intended to promote teacher development. Principals’ abilities to rate teachers accurately, to facilitate teachers’ own self-reflection, to make specific actionable recommendations, and to communicate this feedback effectively are central to any evaluation process intended to improve instruction. The district studied is an urban district in the northeast that serves a racially and linguistically diverse student population. Interviews were conducted with principals lasting 45 to 60 minutes in July and August of 2013, the summer after the first year the new evaluation system was implemented district-wide. It was found that the quality of feedback teachers receive through the evaluation process depends critically on the time and training evaluators have to provide individualized and actionable feedback. Districts that task principals with primary responsibility for conducting observation and feedback cycles must attend to the many implementation challenges associated with this approach in order for next-generation evaluation systems to successfully promote teacher development.”

Liu, Y., Visone, J., Mongillo, M. B., & Lisi, P. (2019). What matters to teachers if evaluation is meant to help them improve?. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 61, 41–54. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “In 2013, school districts in Connecticut were requested to adopt or develop a system parallel to the System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) model, which highlighted both teacher evaluation and support for teachers’ continuous professional development. This study sought to investigate teachers’ experiences with, perceptions of, and attitudes toward SEED. The particular interest was teachers’ perception of professional feedback received for instructional improvement, with emphases on feedback format, content, features, evaluator capacity, and support. Survey data were analyzed using multiple approaches including descriptive analysis and ordered logistic regression. Results suggest a majority of teachers do not perceive feedback received as effective in helping improving instruction. In addition, teachers value feedback that is specific, frequent, evidence-based, and related to professional development opportunities. Likewise, for teachers to appreciate feedback fully, evaluators must have knowledge of content, instructional practices, and the evaluation system.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Myung, J., & Martinez, K. (2013). Strategies for enhancing the impact of post-observation feedback for teachers. Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Across the country, districts are committing to observing, assessing, and giving feedback to teachers multiple times a year. Currently, school systems are dedicating an enormous amount of effort to accumulating data on teachers, but the field still has a lot to learn about how best to use data to support the improvement of teaching. This brief, the result of a 90-day cycle, examines the features of post-teacher-observation feedback conversations between principals and teachers that orient teachers for receptivity and learning. The authors focused specifically on teachers’ conversations with their principals because many of the current teacher evaluation policy reforms place principals in the feedback-giving role, despite the limited guidance available on how this can be done well. The experience of receiving feedback from a supervisor is qualitatively different from receiving feedback from a peer, colleague, or other whose judgments are not as consequential. Feedback from supervisors certainly can produce more anxiety.”

Park, S., Takahashi, S., & White, T. (2014). Learning Teaching (LT) program: Developing an effective teacher feedback system. 90-day cycle report. Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Early career teachers make up an increasingly large proportion of the public school teaching force. Often less effective and facing greater challenges than their more experienced counterparts, new teachers tend to leave the profession at high rates and, given that the modal length of teaching experience has now dropped to one year, finding ways to support the growth and development of new teachers has become of paramount importance. One critical way to provide this support is through effective feedback that improves instruction. In this 90-Day Cycle, the authors investigate the factors and processes that contribute to an effective feedback system, paying particular attention to how the system affects early career teachers and how such systems can coexist with extant and emerging teacher evaluation systems. Identified are a set of interconnected drivers at the district, school, and individual levels, that unpack the feedback process into a set of sub-processes that are shaped by individuals, systems, and the larger context in which those systems operate.”

Roussin, J. L., & Zimmerman, D. P. (2014). Inspire learning, not dread: Create a feedback culture that leads to improved practice. Journal of Staff Development, 35(6), 36–39. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Policymakers have turned to teacher evaluation as one way to ensure accountability for school reform. In most evaluation systems, the emphasis focuses on the external: test scores, observations of classroom practices, rubric based assessments, student feedback, evaluation, and student work. While these activities have a place in professional development, they distract from the most important variable of all: the teacher’s mindset about continued growth and learning. How professionals receive and apply feedback is the cornerstone in any system for improving teacher performance. Feedback is most often given during teacher evaluations, after classroom observations, after walk-throughs, during peer reviews, and sometimes within the context of coaching. However, this leaves out the teacher’s cognitive capital. Cognitive capital defines the inner resources of a teacher, which frames thought and shapes reflection before, during, and after practice—key measures of quality instruction (Costa, Garmston, & Zimmerman, 2014). When leaders foster a school culture that supports emotional resourcefulness and transparency, cognitive capital increases and individuals are more able to receive, interpret, and apply feedback to improve professional practice. This idea of incremental improvement through feedback—one teacher at a time, one classroom at a time—needs rethinking. Instead, reform efforts might be better served by promoting a culture that has learned how to receive and apply feedback in order to build collective wisdom.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Sartain, L., Stoelinga, S. R., & Brown, E. R. (2011). Rethinking teacher evaluation in Chicago: Lessons learned from classroom observations, principal-teacher conferences, and district implementation (Research Report). Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report summarizes findings from a two-year study of Chicago’s Excellence in Teaching Pilot, which was designed to drive instructional improvement by providing teachers with evidence-based feedback on their strengths and weaknesses. The pilot consisted of training and support for principals and teachers, principal observations of teaching practice conducted twice a year using the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching, and conferences between the principal and the teacher to discuss evaluation results and teaching practice. Although the findings from this report focus on a specific pilot in a specific city, they have broad implications for districts and states nationwide that are working to design and develop evaluation systems that rely on classroom observations to differentiate among teachers and drive instructional improvement. Overall, the authors found that the Excellence in Teaching Pilot was an improvement on the old evaluation system and worked as it was designed and intended, introducing an evidence-based observation approach to evaluating teachers and creating a shared definition of effective teaching. At the same time, the new system faced a number of challenges, including weak instructional coaching skills and lack of buy-in among some principals. Specific findings include: (1) The classroom observation ratings were valid measures of teaching practice; (2) The classroom observation ratings were reliable measures of teaching practice; (3) Principals and teachers said that conferences were more reflective and objective than in the past and were focused on instructional practice and improvement; and (4) Over half of principals were highly engaged in the new evaluation system.”

Wieczorek, D., Clark, B., & Theoharis, G. (2019). Principals’ instructional feedback practices during Race to the Top. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 18(3), 357–381. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “We investigated how 12 K-12 public school principals in a Northeastern U.S. state perceived their role to provide teachers with instructional feedback during Race to the Top (RTTT). Guided by the use of evidence gathered from standardized teaching-practice rubrics, principals reported they provided more honest and frank instructional feedback to teachers regarding their performance. The principals described how the standardized indicators honed their focus on students’ levels of engagement during classroom observations. This study demonstrates how standardized teaching-practice protocols can assist principals’ instructional supervision and evaluation practices, but may not support principals’ or teachers’ pedagogical content-area needs.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Principals

  • Principals “instructional feedback”

  • Principals “teacher evaluation” feedback

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.