Program’s goal is to impact student achievement in Cenla
Eight Central Louisiana public school principals on May 12 completed a three-year instructional leadership program that aims to improve classroom instruction and student achievement. Leading for Better Instruction is a training curriculum developed specifically for Central Louisiana by the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership. Taught by CEL staff, the program is funded by The Rapides Foundation and administered by The Orchard Foundation.
The program is based on the Center for Educational Leadership’s theory of action that states, “student learning will not improve until the quality of teaching improves, and the quality of teaching will not improve until leaders understand what constitutes high-quality instruction along with the role they play in improving teacher practice.”
The eight principals chosen for the 2017 class were selected by their superintendents. Their work culminated on May 12 with “Leadership Fellows” presentations before their peers and district supervisors. The eight principals, who represent five Central Louisiana parishes, are:
- Wendy Adams, Avoyelles Parish
- Stacy Felton, Grant Parish
- Peggy Kessler, Rapides Parish
- Jeffrey Odom, Catahoula Parish
- Rhonda Roberts, Vernon Parish
- Sharice Sullivan, Avoyelles Parish
- Paxton Teddlie, Grant Parish
- Karla Tumminello, Rapides Parish
The Rapides Foundation brought Leading for Better Instruction and its companion program, Aspiring Leaders, to Central Louisiana as part of its Education Initiative. The initiative seeks to increase the level of educational attainment and achievement as the primary path to improved economic, social and health status.
“One of the core strategies for our initiative has been to provide professional development and leadership opportunities for teachers and school leaders. Research tells us that strong school leadership and instructional strategies ultimately lead to improved student achievement,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation.
Previously, Aspiring Leaders was a separate three-year program that trained educators with aspirations of becoming administrators. Graduates typically applied for Leading for Better Instruction after being promoted to administrative positions. In 2017, the two programs merged to form the five-year Continuum of Learning for Leadership Development and moving forward the first two years will be focused on Aspiring Leaders and the last three years will be focused on Leading for Better Instruction. The continuum allows for entry based on participant skill and experience.
“Once they complete Leading for Better Instruction, principals are fully prepared for higher positions in Central Offices, or they may choose to remain in their schools as effective leaders. Either way, Central Louisiana students benefit by having high-quality instructional leaders in their districts,” said Marjorie Taylor, Executive Director of The Orchard Foundation.
The administrators began Leading for Better Instruction in the 2014-15 school year. In addition to opening and closing sessions, the group met five times during each school year. The principals’ study focused on developing a learning-focused culture; deepening their ability to observe and analyze instruction; using an inquiry model to analyze the needs of students, teachers and leadership; identifying an area for improvement; implementing an improvement plan and measuring its impact; and designing a system of professional development tailored to the specific needs of teachers. On the third and final year, the principals used what they learned to implement a school-wide improvement plan with the support of a CEL coach. Throughout the process, the group worked with their peers in addition to their coach.
“Being a principal is a lonely job, so that’s why we had them partner up as much as possible,” said Diane Smith, Project Director for the Center for Educational Leadership. “The goal is for them to have a partner that they can bounce ideas off of or call if they get stuck. The hope is that during the three years, that they have built those relationships and become a community of learners.”
Smith said the goal is to develop instructional leaders, not managers, to lead schools and districts.
Karla Tumminello: "I would recommend the program to other educators.
“Principals need to know how to lead for instruction and not just be a manager. When I went through my principal licensure program, most of the courses were focused on managerial issues and not on developing effective instruction. Now the expectation is principals need to be instructional leaders and their goal is to improve instruction to impact student achievement,” she said.
Participants said they appreciated the teacher observations, networking opportunities and personal guidance from CEL staff.
“The most beneficial information I gained from my participation is how to give quality feedback to my teachers to improve instruction,” said Buckeye Elementary School Principal Karla Tumminello, who has been an educator for 33 years. “It was also very beneficial visiting other schools and collaborating with other principals. I was able to observe different grade level teachers and come back and share some of the instructional practices I observed with my teachers. My participation has helped me give my teachers more meaningful feedback and narrow their area of improvement to make them better teachers.”
Tumminello said she believes Leading for Better Instruction helped her become a better instructional leader. “I have also been able to use ideas from other principals that have benefited my school, faculty and students. I would recommend the program to other educators because it has been a very positive experience for me, and new leaders need support from many different sources to become successful Instructional leaders.”
Jeffrey Odom: "I received great coaching from some very good people."
Jeffrey Odom, who just completed his sixth year as principal of Block High School, said, “On top of being able to network with other principals, I received great coaching from some very good people. Probably the most helpful thing I learned was how to teach backwards design to my teachers. Having a resource to ask questions and seek advice really set me up for success in my school. This three-year journey has helped Block High School in many ways and has left its mark on me as an administrator. I plan on using the things I have learned and am very thankful for this opportunity.”
While it was sometimes difficult for a school principal to take time off for training, Odom said CEL coaches “made sure that the work we did was not busy work. The things we did we could almost automatically apply to our school, and it helped.”
Odom said his yearlong project on backwards design and test analysis will ultimately help Block High. “I know that Rome was not built in a day, but because of the support and information I received from this program, Block High is moving in the right direction.”
Smith said she was proud of the group’s work. “I really enjoyed working with them. They have different leadership styles but they are all very capable principals. I think they all learned something this year.”
In addition to funding training from the Center for Educational Leadership, The Rapides Foundation also funds leadership training in Kagan’s Cooperative Learning Strategies and Kagan Structures. The Foundation also provides the nine Central Louisiana public school districts with grants they use for coaching and mentoring of their teachers, and leadership development for their administrators.