PD Anywhere Professional Development Blog

Yes, Educational Leaders Really Can Improve Student Learning

April 3, 2018

Can superintendents and principals really improve student achievement? While this question may prompt lots of discussion, it actually has an unequivocal answer: “Yes!” Even though educational leaders are not in the classroom teaching, they have a big impact on the achievement of students in their districts and schools.

What the Research Says

According to the landmark research commissioned by the Wallace Foundation and conducted by the University of Minnesota and the University of Toronto, “It turns out that leadership not only matters: it is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning…” (The Wallace Foundation, 2004, p.3) The research review cited, How Leadership Influences Student Learning, not only supports the role of educational leaders in impacting student learning, it provides some insights into the specific actions of successful educational leaders that make a difference:

  1. Setting directions (a clear course, high expectations, and data to track progress)
  2. Developing people (providing support and training necessary for success)
  3. Making the organization work (establishing conditions and incentives that support teaching and learning).

At PD Anywhere, we are committed to supporting teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators. There are several practices mentioned in the Wallace Foundation report that relate to both personnel development and organizational re-design that can be considered part of the professional development/professional learning process. While there is no magic formula for professional personnel development, there are some effective actions that all educational leaders can take (Wallace Foundation, 2004):

  • Provide appropriate models of best practice and beliefs fundamental to the organization.
  • Offer intellectual stimulation.
  • Provide individualized support.
  • Strengthen district and school cultures.
  • Build collaborative processes and, if necessary, modify organizational structures.

What the Practical Applications Are

A recent article from The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (2018) also cited the Wallace Foundation report and included some practical applications of these leadership actions. Their suggestions are realistic, sensible implementation strategies. Some of the ideas that educational leaders should consider when working to increase achievement for all students include:

Encourage educators to learn new skills.

Intellectual stimulation is good for teachers, coaches, and administrators. Whether it is getting new certifications to serve specific populations of students or reading books or articles that advance good practice, encouraging continuing learning can have positive effects on adults and, by extension of their work, students.

At PD Anywhere, we offer micro-credentials on specific topics directly related to improving teaching and learning and supported by hard research. Professional development can be provided through book studies, presentations, and small group study groups, but we also believe that many districts have not yet maximized the potential of online learning and micro-credentials. As professionals, educators should be trusted to pursue self-paced learning and expected to demonstrate the skills they have mastered.

Support individual educators.

Establish systems and processes for observation, lesson modeling, and feedback. Allow time for coaching and de-briefing, especially for less experienced teachers who we know benefit from mentors and coaches.

PD Anywhere strongly supports the processes of observation, coaching, and feedback. We also support options for providing these actions online as well as in person. Not all coaching can or should be online, but sometimes the format allows for flexibility and also avoids conflicts that can arise when coaches are also expected to be evaluators.

Articulate high expectations for all students, including subgroups.

Often, sub-populations are targeted as schools fail to make progress. Educators should have high expectations for everyone—all the time. This requires doing whatever it takes to prevent failure.

PD Anywhere offers micro-credentials related to high quality Tier 1 instruction designed to prevent failure as well as more specialized micro-credentials related to differentiation and positive behavior interventions. We can also create specialized micro-credentials to meet specific content needs of districts and campuses.

Consider changes to the system that facilitate growth.

There are some organizational changes that can have a big impact and schedules are one of them. For example, when educational leaders change schedules to allow time for more frequent collaboration and professional learning, they are making a commitment to professional growth.

One of the learning strands from PD Anywhere focuses specifically on professional learning teams—-establishing them, keeping them productive, and helping them solve problems. We believe that collaborative professional learning teams offer great promise for planning, data review, and intervention design. These are essentials activities for all educators.

The support that educational leaders give teachers and instructional coaches doesn’t just make a difference to those adults, it impacts the students whose lives they touch. Great leaders support great instruction and great instruction leads to successful students!

If you are a superintendent or principal looking for effective ways to support your staff, contact PD Anywhere for more information or to schedule a demo.

Sources of Information for This Post:

University of Minnesota Center for Applied research and Educational Improvement, University of Toronto Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Commissioned by The Wallace Foundation. Review of Research: How Leadership Influences Student Learning. (2004) Retrieved from the Internet on April 2, 2018 http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/pages/how-leadership-influences-student-learning.aspx

The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. (September 2005). The Role of Principal Leadership in Improving Student Achievement. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from the Internet on April 2, 2018. http://www.readingrockets.org/article/role-principal-leadership-improving-student-achievement