Investigating Effective Principal Practices
Phase One (2007-2010):
Starting in 2007, we developed a small team of researchers to investigate emerging excellence in the leadership practice of principals enrolled in the UIC EdD program. In close partnership with UIC’s cadre of leadership coaches, we documented a range of promising practices in granular detail, establishing an archive of tools and routines that other principals could access and adapt. Examples of practice documentation during this period include a detailed description of a school-wide data tracking system developed to deepen information about the academic and social-emotional development of all students in a high poverty elementary school. Another practice portrait focused on routines and protocols used to nurture teacher leadership in one of Chicago’s most innovative small high schools on the city’s West Side. Amid growing concern about Chicago’s high schools, we also launched a study to find out what UIC-trained high school principals were learning about “organizing for improvement.” We structured our inquiry around UIC’s “Ten Critical Factors for School Transformation,” the same framework that had emerged from our first case studies in 2003 to inform UIC’s program redesign. Interviews and on-site observations with a diverse set of 9 UIC-led Chicago high schools surfaced several strategies, tools and protocols in areas like teacher team-building, community engagement, and parent involvement, and laid the foundation for our next phase of inquiry.
Phase Two (2010-2016):
In the second phase we extended our work on high school transformation by incubating and documenting a network of UIC-led high schools committed to tightening the alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessment to accelerate student growth. The Curriculum Framework Project (CFP) began as a conversation among several UIC-trained principals and their UIC coaches around the question: “What do high school principals really need to know to support more powerful instruction across the many subject areas of a comprehensive high school?” Drawing upon the outstanding curricular practices of a team of teacher leaders from District 214 in Arlington Heights, Illinois, UIC recruited a network of UIC-led high schools in November 2009 to adapt these practices to the Chicago urban context. UIC researchers collaborated with EdD program colleagues to document the CFP professional learning process in granular detail. The resulting portrait of early CFP impacts on student learning outcomes was sufficient to convince the Chicago Public Schools to fund an expansion of participating schools in the second year. The CFP research coincided with the establishment of the CUEL as a new Center in the UIC College of Education. And key features of CFP’s curricular alignment process made a lasting mark on CPS leaders, several of whom went on to lead the Chicago Public Schools at the central office level.
Phase Three (2016-2019):
Starting in 2016 CUEL continued its investigations of leadership practice both by harvesting the leadership lessons of UIC’s program graduates and engaging other school leaders in and beyond Chicago to better understand their professional growth. In this work we increasingly collaborated with our colleagues in the UIC EdD program to identify research questions that address pressing issues facing the leadership field. A particular focus of inquiry involved understanding how principals and teacher leaders jointly distributed leadership for teacher team development and ambitious adult learning. This focus first emerged from a concern among our leadership coaches that their coaches were feeling under-prepared to organize teacher teams to meet the challenge of implementing the Common Core State Standards. So we set out to explore, “What is required for principals and teacher leaders to jointly learn to sustain cycles of inquiry that diagnose student learning issues and support the design of improved instructional interventions?” Starting with a sample of 12 UIC-trained principals nominated by coaches and otherwise evidencing strong school improvement trends, CUEL researchers interviewed these leaders along with members of their instructional leadership teams to better understand the interpersonal and design challenges entailed in developing their schools as learning organizations. A summary of what we learned about powerful teacher teaming processes may be accessed here.