From Frenzied to Focused

New Report Profiles How Innovative School Staffing Models Can Better Support Educators and Students

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With the rise of new academic standards, more rigorous educator evaluation and support systems, and a growing population of students who need additional supports, expectations for public school teachers are rising and, in turn, so are expectations for school leaders.

Principals are increasingly expected to focus on “instructional leadership” by engaging more deeply in areas related to curriculum and instruction, including evaluating and developing teacher practice. However, even if principals are comfortable with and capable of taking on these new responsibilities, many of the other roles principals have traditionally been responsible for have not yielded to make way for these new demands. Principals are still largely expected to directly manage the non-instructional aspects of their schools as well, including schedules, finances, facilities management, and student safety and discipline, all while maintaining a positive, engaging school culture and climate. Not surprisingly, a 2012 survey found that 75 percent of principals believed their role had become too complex.

How can school systems make principals’ roles more manageable while also ensuring that teachers are receiving the support they need to continue improving classroom instruction for their students? A new paper from New America’s PreK-12 Education Policy Program, From Frenzied to Focused: How School Staffing Models Can Support Principals as Instructional Leaders, explores approaches to solving this dilemma by examining three public school districts which employ promising, yet varied, “new school leadership” (NSL) models with a goal of bolstering principals’ ability to focus on instructional leadership, including supporting teachers’ classroom practice.

Using a combination of teacher and principal focus groups, district administrator interviews, and school visits, the paper profiles each of these districts’ NSL models, as it strives to answer the following questions:

  1. What roles and responsibilities do principals perceive as part of their job as instructional leaders?

  2. How does creating additional capacity on school management teams affect principal ability to focus on instructional leadership?

  3. Does adding a NSL impact schools, and particularly teacher practice, in other ways?

  4. What conditions and supports can bolster the impact of NSL models?

  5. What are potential challenges and pitfalls to designing and implementing impactful NSL models?


The paper finds that the new school leadership models in place in these districts have clear benefits. But, for a variety of reasons, they are generally not building sufficient staff capacity to address the myriad functions necessary to make schools successful, including helping principals focus on supporting teacher practice. For example, many principals and teachers voiced that some school needs still cannot be fully covered even with the addition of the NSL role, at least not without NSL burnout and attrition. Others discussed the presence or absence of supplementary district supports as influencing whether principals can focus more intently on instructional leadership.

From Frenzied to Focused further explores these and additional reasons for NSL models' level of success, and offers key considerations for states and districts interested in rethinking their school staffing models to better support the needs of staff and students. It also includes recommendations for how states and districts can fund and encourage impactful work in this area, including by rethinking the use of federal funding received through the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

Read the executive summary or the full report here: https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/policy-papers/frenzied-focused/

Author:

Melissa Tooley is the director of Educator Quality with New America's Education Policy program. She is a member of the PreK-12 team, where she provides research and analysis on PreK-12 policies and practices that impact teaching quality and school leadership.