Until recently, principals have been largely overlooked with most education policy attention focused on improving teacher quality. Principals play a central role in supporting teaching quality and are strongly linked to student achievement. In elementary schools, principals must be able to foster a school culture that values early education, to understand what high-quality teaching looks like in the early grades, and to provide useful feedback and support to early grade teachers and increasingly pre-K teachers as more elementary schools offer pre-K for three-and four-year-olds.
Our Early & Elementary Education Policy team was interested in learning about how elementary school principals think about pre-K and the early grades of elementary school. We had questions such as: Do principals think about staffing those grades differently than they do upper elementary grades? Do they differentiate the kind of feedback they give pre-K or kindergarten teachers? Do principals recognize good instruction in the early grades? Do they understand how young children learn best and do they encourage teachers to use appropriate instructional strategies?
To help us answer these types of questions, we asked the New York-based FDR Group to conduct five focus groups with elementary school principals in San Francisco, New York City, Minneapolis, Austin, and Orlando. (You can read the FDR Group's report here.)Two of the focus groups also included directors of early childhood programs in order to dig into the relationships between elementary schools and non-public school pre-K programs.
Today, we are releasing a series of six briefs titled, Principal's Corner: Perspectives on Teaching and Learning in PreK-3rd Grade, that explore the findings of our focus groups. Our big take away is principals recognize that pre-K and the early grades are important, but feel they lack what they need to promote high-quality teaching during these years. As one Orlando principal explains, “since I taught fifth grade for so many years I don’t feel as comfortable giving advice to the kindergarten teachers the way I might with a new fifth grade teacher.” Multiple principals in our groups echoed this sentiment.
Here’s a quick description of what each brief covers:
- Why Elementary School Principals Matter, the introductory brief in the series, establishes the importance of principals as early education leaders.
- A False Dichotomy: Elementary Principals on Academics and Play focuses on principals’ understanding of developmentally appropriate practice in the early grades.
- Tradeoffs: Elementary Principals on Hiring and Staffing in the Early Grades examines how principals approach the staffing of PreK-3rd grade teachers.
- Connecting Pre-K and the Early Grades: Principals on Transitions highlights the role principals can play in bridging pre-K and the early grades of elementary school.
- Leading for the Early Years: Principals’ Reflections on the Need for Better Preparation examines the lack of principal preparation in early education.
- States should incorporate early childhood education into principal preparation.
- States and school districts should provide ongoing professional learning opportunities related to early education.
- States and school districts should invest in opportunities to bring elementary school principals and center directors together.
- States should take advantage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to support this work.