This article first appeared on REL West’s Institute of Education Sciences blog and is shared here with permission. 

Principals matter. They set the tone for the school. Effective leaders empower and retain their teachers and facilitate their growth, yielding engaging learning climates and higher student achievement[1]. Given principals’ influence — and with many states struggling with teacher shortages that might be helped by improved working conditions,  effective school leadership is a growing priority nationwide.

In 2016 non-regulatory guidance, leaders in the U.S. Department of Education stated that they “strongly encourage each SEA [state education agency] to devote a significant portion of its State activities funds to improving school leadership,” referencing strategies such as reformed principal preparation, professional development, and supervision.

States are moving on this front. Since 2017, the REL West Educator Effectiveness (EE) Alliance has partnered with the West Comprehensive Center (CC) to help SEA leaders from Arizona, Nevada, and Utah strengthen their statewide supports for school leaders. Organizers have adopted a multifaceted approach that includes knowledge building and peer-to-peer support.

Every six months, SEA teams from the three states meet together in person to learn from the authors of new research on evidence-based leadership supports, including preeminent experts such as Dr. Rebecca Herman from the RAND Corporation, Dr. Ellen Goldring from Vanderbilt University, and Dr. Elaine Allensworth from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.

At these events, the researchers work closely with state teams to not only share their research findings — for example, on how principals influence student achievement, what evidence underlies different support strategies, and how to maximize the impact of principals’ supervisors — but also to conduct workshops on how this research can shape and improve SEA strategies and practices. (These sessions are filmed and produced into 30-minute videos, available on the EE Alliance webpage under “School Leadership Resources”.)

The SEA teams also work together at these events, using dedicated internal team time to develop or refine their leadership initiatives (including ideas for piloting), and offering one another input and feedback via partnered SEA consultancy sessions.

Work continues between these events. REL West and the West Comprehensive Center engage monthly with each state team, checking in on progress, and offering advice and technical support to ensure states’ plans maintain forward momentum and remain evidence-based. And new work is underway. All three states are currently in different phases of piloting district networks to reexamine the role of principal supervisors.

In addition, Utah is initiating regional networks for principals, centered on peer consultancies around problems of practice, while Nevada is also developing workshops to help principals use teacher effectiveness data to make strategic decisions related to professional development and teacher leadership.

Learn more about ensuring teachers and leaders get the support they need to grow in the profession and meet challenging goals for students.

[1] Levin, S., & Bradley, K. (2019) Understanding and Addressing Principal Turnover: A Review of the Research. National Association of Secondary School Principals & Learning Policy Institute.