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Supporting School Principals: What do the experts say?

February 2021

Right now, many school principals are focused on a range of unforeseen tasks prompted by COVID-19. They’re coordinating remote learning programs, organizing access to their school sites to distribute supplies and resources, and reaching out to connect with their students and families in new ways. Although these are unprecedented times, principals’ importance remains unchanged—as site leaders, they’re responsible for supporting high-quality teaching and learning and empowering their students and staff.

The pandemic has presented additional stress on school systems. Principals are currently working at the “pinch point”—serving as the public faces of their schools during a period of shifting guidance and fluid staffing and budget realities. With the pressure and demands on principals at a high point, states and districts will likely need to strategize about ways to support their site leaders.

How can states and districts best support and develop their site leaders during these times?

Since 2017, our REL West Educator Effectiveness (EE) Alliance has convened state and district leaders from Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah to learn from experts about their latest research on evidence-based leadership supports. These states are in different phases of rolling out new statewide supports for site leaders.

At REL West’s regional events, state and district teams have worked closely with invited experts to shape and improve their support strategies and practices. These sessions have been captured in a series of short videos, which are available on the Educator Effectiveness Alliance webpage under “School Leadership Resources.” These REL West videos can be worthwhile to review and discuss as a leadership team. While the videos were all developed before the pandemic, many of the topics remain as timely as ever.

Explore this series of free videos that describe how states and districts can support and develop principals. In the videos, research experts explore and grapple with such key questions as:

How do principals influence student learning?

Elaine Allensworth describes her work with the Chicago Consortium on School Research investigating how strong principals improve student learning, including discussion of several case studies.

How can local principal supervisors (district leaders) best support principals?

Ellen Goldring describes lessons learned from the Wallace Foundation’s Principal Supervisor Initiative, which helped six urban school districts refine principal supervision to better support principals to improve instruction in schools.

What conditions need to be in place for principal supervisors to succeed?

Meredith Honig describes what effective principal supervision looks like and the conditions that need to be in place to support it.

What does it mean to have a strong pipeline of principals?

Susan Gates describes the findings from RAND’s Principal Pipeline Initiative study examining the impact and affordability of collaborative preparation, selective hiring and placement, and on-the-job support practices in six large urban school districts.

What evidence underlies different leadership development options?

Using the federal ESSA law's evidence tiers, Rebecca Herman describes the current evidence base underlying leadership development interventions and their components.

How can leaders know if their professional learning for principals is effective?

Susan Gates describes a logic model guide, developed with her colleagues at RAND, to present the theory behind leadership interventions and to help state and district leaders identify the key components of evidence-based programs to inform the design, adoption, or refinement of their initiatives.

REL West is excited to continue to help our partners in the field learn together and support school leaders in 2021.