As summer continues, school leaders are making their final preparations for the new school year in the fall. Summer is often the time where classrooms are scrubbed down, lockers are cleaned, and the hallways are stripped and waxed, but summer is also the time where leaders examine school efforts for the fall and map out their resources and supports for new and continuing initiatives. Hallinger and Heck (2010) suggests that along with strengthening leadership, school leaders must also improve the school's capacity for educational improvement in order to ensure that change interventions are successful.
To build this capacity for improvements, school leaders have to ensure that initiatives and interventions have adequate resources and training behind them. Cohen and Hill (2001) found that when training and resources are more targeted towards a particular initiative, the overall success of the initiative is more likely. The alignment of resources and training is a key component of Michigan State University's Fellowship of Instructional Leaders for school leadership teams. Within this program, one of the many capacity-building activities that Instructional Leadership Teams (ILT's) develop is the capacity to provide resources and training for initiatives and ensure that professional supports are aligned and associated with each of the school's improvement goals. To help facilitate the process of focusing supports, in conjunction with leadership of the school principal, ILT's complete an Action Plan which describes the challenges of implementation, those responsible for supporting the initiative, and the resources and training needed to successfully implement the initiative.
In addition to the Action Plan, ILT's are asked to map out a scope and sequence plan for how they will continue to develop and refine supports from the analysis of the data and planning from the spring to fall.
Providing professional supports requires more than creating documents and posters, supports must first be aligned and understood deeply for them to be effective. First, the alignment of the initiative aimed to promote improvement must be accurate and adequate. Spillane and Thompson (1997) are emphatic that superficial alignment of initiatives must be avoided in order to address the true demands of reforms. In an era/environment where vendors offer an overwhelming number of "boxed" programs, school leaders must be very critical of the components of new programs and initiatives, and examine the alignment between the needs of the reforms and the true substance of the proposed initiative or program. For example, Professor William Schmidt of Michigan State University has found many issues with math programs and subsequent textbooks and their alignment to the Common Core Curriculum Standards. According to Schmidt "In many cases these math texts are lucky to have 60% of their content aligned to the Common Core." Material alignment issues like that of math texts, places much of the responsibility on school leaders to ensure that they have a "true" picture of alignment and are able to develop strategies to ensure that alignment between initiatives and desired reforms are as close as they can be.
It is important to note that alignment is only half of the challenge of providing professional support. The other half is ensuring that training and professional development is timely and adequate to support the initiative or program. In a study of 100 teachers, Quick et al. (2009) found that there are five essential components to effective development and training:
- Provides time for collaboration within grade levels or across grade levels;
- Provides opportunities for modeling, practice, and feedback;
- Is based on the needs of teachers;
- Is provided in a safe, trusting environment; and
- Is connected to broader school goals and to other professional learning opportunities.
Within these five components is a thread of job-embedded practices that help promote the sustainability of initiatives. School leaders have to insure that not only do teachers have the opportunity to receive explicit professional development in using new tools and strategies, but they also have opportunities to collaborate with other teachers in order to synthesize this new knowledge into their own repertoire of skills and strategies. By allowing teachers to have time to develop practices that will allow them to regularly utilize strategies that support specific initiatives within their day-to-day workload, both the integrity and effectiveness of initiatives will improve.
School leaders can help ensure that these much needed teacher supports occur by creating an action plan and visually map out the resources, responsibilities, and professional supports. By following these processes school leaders can align and focus professional supports to ensure that teachers have the resources and supports they need to impact instruction.
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Cohen, D. K., & Hill, H. C. (2001). Learning policy: When state education reform works. Hillsborough NC: Yale University Press.
Hallinger, P., & Heck, R. (2010). Collaborative leadership effects on school improvement: Integrating unidirectional- and reciprocal effects models. The Elementary School Journal, 111(2).
Spillane, James P., & Thompson, Charles L. (1997). Reconstructing conceptions of local Capacity: The local education agency's capacity for ambitious instructional reform. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 19(2), 185-203.
Quick, H., Holtzman, D., & Chaney, K. (2009). Professional development and instructional practice: Conceptions and evidence of effectiveness. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 14(1), 45-71.