Critical inquiry, instructional leadership and closing the achievement gap: principal learning in a university-school district professional development program
A study of school leadership in urban school districts touches central issues of educational transformation and elimination of the "achievement gap". This qualitative capstone study focused on eight K-12 Seattle School District principals completing a year-long School Leadership Program (SLP) course provided by the Center for Educational Leadership (CEL), associated with the University of Washington College of Education's Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (EdLPS) department. Study questions addressed principals' sensemaking of instructional leadership learning, the critical inquiry process and principal professional development.Findings revealed the strong desire for SLP-type professional development---job-embedded, instructionally focused, and centered on school problems. Participants in the course also found opportunities for collegiality among leaders who seek equity and excellence.SLP activities facilitated sensemaking of instructional leadership. A coached learning walk was significant in learning about powerful instruction. As well, creating a social context for learning, making content obviously relevant to practice and focusing on a few connected ideas around a single content area were important in ensuring principals' needs were met. Critical inquiry projects impacted sensemaking of instructional leadership by facilitating comprehension of a complex set of variables and aligning an intentional leadership response. But the findings showed that critical inquiry is highly demanding for the beginning user. Given the complexity of the process, it is not surprising that the first efforts of participants were incomplete. The limitations of participants' development of critical inquiry underscore the need for continued engagement.Modest gains were made in instructional leadership learning. But taking into account the complexity of the task, as well as the relatively short length of the course, this was an important beginning. Recommendations for district leaders included continuing and strengthening the SLP-district partnership, pursuing a "critical mass" strategy to increase participation; encouraging greater involvement in an in-district SLP; and relieving principals of site-management responsibilities to allow more time for instructional leadership development. Recommendations for CEL in developing future School Leadership Programs included increasing coached walkthroughs; focusing on a single subject area to facilitate sensemaking of content knowledge; supporting all aspects of instructional leadership work; and deepening engagement in critical inquiry.
- Education - Seattle