School Leadership Institute at CSU to improve K-12 principal preparation

Principals doing a group exercise

Participants in the inaugural School Leadership Institute participate in a team-building exercise.

A group of Colorado State University faculty recently launched an institute to provide much-needed support to new K-12 principals and administrators.

The organizers of the School Leadership Institute say the intent is to provide resources for new principals once they begin putting their skills to practice in their first leadership position.

Principals in discussionThe partnership with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education kicked off Dec. 1-3 with a retreat at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park for some recent graduates of CSU’s School of Education who are in their first years as K-12 leaders.

Filling a gap

While the Colorado Department of Education requires new principals and administrators to undergo an induction program early in their career, the quality of mentorships can vary, according to Donna Cooner, an education professor in CSU’s Center for Educator Preparation.

“I see this as the cutting edge, shifting the focus from teacher preparation to principal preparation,” Cooner said.

“Principals have a big impact on teacher retention,” added Wendy Fothergill, an assistant professor in the school.

Cooner agreed.

Principals in discussion“School leaders strongly impact high-quality teaching and often determine whether teachers stay in the classroom,” she said. “High-quality leaders, therefore, are vital to the effectiveness of schools; yet university-based leadership preparation programs rarely receive feedback on the quality of that preparation once graduates leave.”

Targeted support

“By identifying key themes that contribute to low levels of retention and high levels of job dissatisfaction, we can adjust our principal preparation curriculum to better prepare students to enter into new school leadership positions and design targeted systems of support for practicing administrators,” Fothergill added.

Cooner and Fothergill are leading the effort with CSU education instructor Juliana Searle. They are connecting the study to The Wallace Foundation report “Improving University Principal Preparation Programs: Five Themes from the Field,” which highlights recent research about the importance of a strong partnership between universities and districts; district leaders’ views about the need to improve principal preparation programs in ways that reflect principals’ real jobs; and how some university policies and practices can hinder change.

Principals in discussion

‘Helped me re-center’

Eight K-12 principals/administrators participated in the inaugural institute in early December, with sessions facilitated by current and former principals in the Poudre School District. In reflecting on the institute, one participant commented, “This retreat helped me re-center, prioritize my goals, and reflect on my practice.”

Conner and Fothergill said they hope the institute grows and becomes a national model for principal preparation. The CSU team will present its findings at the AACTE’s annual meeting, March 1-3 in Baltimore.

“It’s time to look more deeply at principal preparation as part of the educator pipeline,” said Rodrick Lucero, AACTE vice president. “It’s an area that requires further exploration as we expand on what is needed in this critical role. We are pleased to work with Colorado State University as they take their principal preparation program to the next level.”

The School of Education is in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.