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Principal Supervisors: Roles and Responsibilities

Improving school leadership ranks high on the list of priorities for school reform. School and district administrators as well as policymakers often rank principal leadership among the most pressing matters on a list of issues in public school education. Although, teacher quality stands above everything else, principal leadership comes next, ranking higher than dropout rates, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, student testing, and preparation for college and careers.

Education experts, have defined key aspects of leadership to guide state policy on everything from licensing to on-the-job training of principals. New tools are available or measuring principal performance in meaningful ways. And federal efforts such as Race to the Top are emphasizing the importance of effective principals in boosting teaching and learning. There is acknowledgement of the crucial role principals play in leading the nation’s 5,000 most troubled schools. The work of improving schools identified as focus, priority or turnaround will depend on the skills and abilities of thousands of current and future school leaders.

A noteworthy finding, reinforced in a major study by researchers at the universities

of Minnesota and Toronto, is the empirical link between school leadership and improved student achievement. Drawing on both detailed case studies and large-scale quantitative analysis, the research shows that most school variables, considered separately, have at most small effects on learning. The real payoff comes when individual variables combine to reach critical mass. Creating the conditions under which that can occur is the job of the principal. Indeed, leadership is second only to classroom instruction among school-related factors that affect student learning in school.

The Delaware Academy for School Leadership has worked in collaboration with the Wallace Foundation since 2001 to provide policies and practices that support the professional growth of school leaders in Delaware and other states with whom we partner. What we have learned by partnering with the Wallace Foundation, school districts, national partners, and researchers is that effective principals perform five key practices well:

  • Shaping a vision of academic success for all students.
  • Creating a climate hospitable to education.
  • Cultivating leadership in others
  • Improving instruction.
  • Managing people, data and processes to foster school improvement.

Each of these five tasks needs to interact with the other four for any part to succeed. It’s hard to carry out a vision of student success, for example, if the school climate is characterized by student disengagement, or teachers don’t know what instructional methods work best for their students, or test data are clumsily analyzed. When all five tasks are well carried out, however, leadership is at work.

As the role of the principal becomes increasingly more important to school improvement, questions surface regarding who is providing support, feedback and professional learning opportunities to the principal. Principal Supervisors need to have the experience, skills, and knowledge to identify training needs of principals and provide coaching on an individualized basis if necessary. Principal Supervisors should structure learning networks among all the principals they supervise to provide opportunities for principals to discuss problems of practice, share ideas, and provide resources to one another. A key role of the supervisor is to strengthen principals’ effectiveness through goal setting and evaluation. This should include opportunities to meet individually with the principal to analyze school data, identify leadership priorities, determine resource needs, and develop strategies for school improvement. The Principal Supervisor is responsible for developing a clear and shared vision, policies, and expectations that focus on instructional improvement. They also work with the community and serve as a buffer for principals.

The roles and responsibilities of principal supervisors must shift from overseeing compliance to shaping principals’ instructional leadership capabilities. The supervisors must receive the right training, support, and number of principals to supervise. The goal is for the Principal Supervisor to improve the effectiveness of the principalswith whom they work.Principal supervisors may be important to improve the performance of principals, yet the position definition varies from district to district and the hiring criteria can be vague. Often those in the positions have little experience or training for the job and the large number of principals they supervise prevents them from focusing on improving principal performance. (University of Washington: Central Office Transformation report (2010); University of Washington: Principal Supervisor Toolkit (2013); The Council of the Great City Schools: Rethinking Leadership: The Role of Principal Supervisors, October 2013; VAL-ED and the reports on which it is based; and Wallace’s Stories from the Field: Make Room for the Principal Supervisors (Denver Public Schools).

Training for Principal Supervisors

The Delaware Academy for School Leadership provides professional learning opportunities for Principal Supervisors in the following areas:

I.  High-quality consulting to district leaders on setting the right structures for principal supervisors

– Developing job descriptions:

  • Review current job descriptions
  • Engage stakeholders in focused conversations about roles and responsibilities about principal supervisors
  • Redesign job description based on research and feedback

– Freeing up the supervisor to devote more time to on-site work with each principal supervised:

  • Collect baseline data on use of time
  • Prioritize roles and responsibilities
  • Develop a work plan focused on principal support

– Succession planning for future principal supervisors:

  • Develop processes for identifying potential principal supervisors
  • Train and coach potential principal supervisors
  • Develop a Community of Practice of learning and support for principal supervisor pool

II. High-quality training for current and aspiring  principal supervisors

– Set performance goals:

  • Analyze district and school data to determine performance goals and targets
  • Monitor progress of goals
  • Collect evidence to support progress on goals

Evaluate the performance of principals and use those evaluations to improve their performance:

  • Analyze principal evaluations and develop trend data to identify priorities area of improvement
  • Provide guidance on goal setting and evidence collection using principal rubric
  • Provide experienced principal supervisors who provide coaching support
  • Conduct principal evaluations using an identified rubric and identify areas of improvement for individual or groups of principals

– Facilitate networks and learning communities among principals

  • Develop network structure and processes
  • Communicate purpose, goals, and deliverables
  • Conduct scheduled learning communities among principals and supervisors

– Design and conduct professional development for groups of principals

  • Analyze performance evaluation data from VAL-ED to determine trends and priorities
  • Review performance evaluation data with principal supervisors
  • Customize, design, and conduct professional learning for principals and supervisors

For more information about Principal Supervisors, contact PDCE/DASL Director, Dr. Jackie Wilson at 302-500-7030 or