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A recent research report from the Wallace Foundation – How Principals Affect Students and Schools: A Systematic Synthesis of Two Decades of Research (February 2021) – provides clarity around the question of how much principals contribute to student achievement and other positive school outcomes. The report offers evidence that building-level administrator actions and behaviors play a significant role in student educational outcomes. These findings focus on four primary drivers of principal behaviors that contribute the most to impact:

  • Engaging in instructionally focused interactions with teachers
  • Building a productive school climate
  • Facilitating productive collaboration and professional learning communities
  • Managing personnel and resources strategically

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE), a growth evaluation model offered as an outreach service to school districts in three Midwest states, assists member school districts with supports to build effective principals within the context of these four identified drivers of principal effectiveness.

The foundation of the NEE model recognizes that continuous leadership training is critical for the components of the model to produce the intended outcome: growth in student achievement. Each year, principals who evaluate teachers through NEE receive training to accurately score classroom observations and offer effective feedback to support teachers’ professional growth. Since the NEE model launched in August of 2011, significant effort and resources have been used to develop, offer, and study the results of the principal training component of ALL principals in NEE member schools.

The four Wallace Foundation Report drivers of principal effectiveness are covered in multiple methods within NEE training and protocols. This blog explores how NEE reinforces the Wallace Report’s four desired principal behaviors through NEE’s protocols and training methods.

Engaging in instructionally focused interactions with teachers

Principal develops forms of engagement with teachers that center on instructional practice, such as teacher evaluation, instructional coaching, and the establishment of a data-driven, school-wide instructional program to facilitate such interactions.

The primary function of NEE is to provide a research-based evaluation process for properly measuring teacher performance using multiple measures. All principals are thoroughly trained and tested over multiple years to ensure they are competent and reliable in providing accurate observations and properly administering other evaluation instruments. Principals are also annually trained to properly coach teachers using methods that research has proven lead to constructive outcomes and avoid conflicts that hinder a positive school climate. Central to this coaching approach is providing timely, actionable feedback to teachers. NEE research findings along with research of others continue to show the quality and timing of principal feedback to teachers strongly correlates with student achievement. NEE continues to focus considerable effort on effective feedback in each year’s training session.

Building a productive school climate

Principal develops practices that encourage a school environment marked by trust, efficacy, teamwork, engagement with data, organizational learning, and continuous improvement.

NEE protocols are rich with methods that allow all principals to foster a positive school climate. These methods include:

  • NEE provides principals with strategies and tools to engage teachers in discussion and planning around how to improve the school environment, their own professional practices, and student learning outcomes. The NEE data-driven professional development planning process engages principals and teachers in the development of individualized educator learning paths that lead teachers to continuous improvement through input and feedback from routine classroom observation events spread across the school year.
  • The NEE Teacher Survey (a component of the NEE Principal Evaluation) has the capability to actively measure the principal’s impact factors related to school climate. This survey can be administered once (or more often, as needed) per school year to gather anonymous staff input on the principal’s effectiveness in creating and maintaining a positive school climate. The NEE Teacher Survey items provide enough detail for principal supervisors to use the survey reports to assist the principal with development activities to improve their effectiveness in this critical area.

Facilitating productive collaboration and professional learning communities

Principal develops strategies that promote teachers working together authentically with systems of support to improve their practice and enhance student learning.

Fully utilizing the NEE model will provide a wealth of real-time data for teacher groups to use in instruction-related collaboration activities. Specific and detailed NEE data reports are appropriate for use in PLC/Data Team work. The NEE Indicator Trend Report provides de-identified teacher effectiveness data presented for groups of teachers that can assist in planning common professional development by identifying areas of improvement among their team. Likewise, the NEE Student Survey Summary Report is another appropriate data resource that principals can share with teacher collaborative groups to inform their instructional improvement planning.

A newer set of NEE resources that principals can use to impact this area is the instructional coach evaluation tools and resources. Most larger schools now employ an individual to serve as an instructional coach to foster teacher collaboration and professional learning communities. The principal should use these NEE-developed instructional coach supervision tools to ensure the instructional coach is providing the highest quality of support to teacher teams across the school. A highly effective coach in unison with an effective principal in a building can literally make miracles happen. But it requires both individuals understanding their role in the process of turning an average school into a great school.

Managing personnel and resources strategically

Principal develops processes around strategic staffing and allocation of other resources.

NEE provides ongoing training each summer for every principal in the network along with a continuous stream of resources in the form of blogs, webinars, online training modules and courses during the school year aimed at helping principals more effectively and efficiently lead the staff in their building. The custom-built NEE Data Tool is a finely-tuned performance management platform specifically designed for the education environment. Beyond simply being an HR data warehouse, the Data Tool provides many time-saving shortcuts for principals to use in efficiently completing supervision tasks inside a secured digital environment.

The NEE Data Tool also includes an extensive educator training resource library with hundreds of online asynchronous resources available to all teachers, specialists, and principals to use at their leisure from any internet access point. The NEE Data Tool allows principals to be as deeply engaged as they desire in the professional learning process of every teacher in their building from their desktop or tablet. Another key aspect of NEE related to this area is in screening and hiring new teachers. The NEE Data Tool allows principals to scan performance data across a team of teachers (within a grade level or department) to determine what kind of individual candidate would best fit into that team to fill known gaps or weaknesses and create an overall stronger instructional team.

Beyond the Wallace Report narrative, it should be recognized that the NEE Principal Evaluation tools and processes provide a supervisor of principals the ability to assess the four critical principal effectiveness criteria. Every year, more and more principal supervisors in NEE districts turn to these resources to help them determine how they can develop more effective principals. Every year, more districts administer the NEE Teacher Survey as principal supervisors dip into the well of deep understanding that teachers hold of how their schools are being led.

In addition to the NEE Teacher Survey, principal supervisors gain valuable input from other NEE measures of principal effectiveness, which together create a plentiful supply of data and findings for the supervisor to use in forming a dynamic growth plan for the principal. This leader growth planning process has been missing too long in too many schools. All students deserve the best available teacher in their classroom, and these same students deserve the best leader in their school.

Dr. Marc Doss is co-founder and Expansion Director for the Network for Educator Effectiveness. He has 30 years of experience in the classroom and education administration at the building and district levels.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.