Supporting School Leaders to Meet the Needs of Staff and Students

October 5, 2022

Supporting School Leaders to Meet the Needs of Staff and Students

Five South Carolina districts serving over 40,000 students are partnering with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) to support school principals to improve teaching and advance equity for students. The South Carolina Principal Leadership Network (SCPLN) is a two-year cohort-based program developed with a federal Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant that includes high-quality virtual professional development, quarterly on-site coaching, and networking opportunities for principals. The partnership includes the University of South Carolina and the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity, and supports:

  • Orangeburg County School District
  • School District of Pickens County
  • Laurens County School District 55
  • Spartanburg County School District One
  • South Carolina Public Charter School District

The training provided to principals is rooted in evidence-based practices that accelerate student achievement growth and is tailored to the needs of the participating school leaders, teachers, and students. Now in its second year, SCPLN is leading to measurable increases in the skills and collaborative networks of principals across South Carolina. 

Making the Principalship a Less Isolated Role

School leaders have a lot of responsibilities on their plate. One of the goals of SCPLN is to create principal leadership networks that create time for principals to collaborate with peers and expand their networks. Over a two-year period, school leaders in SCPLN connect and collaborate through eight virtual meetings. These meetings provide structured opportunities for school leaders to share and reflect on experiences applying new knowledge and skills in their schools. 

School leaders report these meetings provide opportunities for much-needed collaboration, reflection, and learning, with 93% of cohort 1 members reporting that they learned new strategies that enriched their work. “I believe that change is constant, but growth is optional. SCPLN has shown me how to support my teachers and staff from within,” reflected Robert Hemby from Orangeburg County School District. “Being able to collaborate with other administrators from across the state has been beneficial as I continue to build my leadership skills and the instructional capacity of our teachers.”

Providing School Leaders with Targeted Support

To support school leaders’ professional learning needs and build their leadership capacity, NIET provides the Principal Leadership Series training—a multi-day virtual professional learning series based on the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders and aligned with South Carolina’s school leader evaluation. School leaders report satisfaction with the training and positive impacts on their leadership capacity.

To build on this learning, each SCPLN school leader receives a quarterly on-site school visit from a NIET leadership coach, who provides support in applying the evidence-based practices in daily work. School leaders report that the on-site coaching allows them to learn common language around leadership, practice learning walks, brainstorm ideas with a coach, and reflect on what’s happening at their school. 

Learning to Lead with Student Needs as a Focus

To strengthen instruction in their building, school leaders must critically reflect on whether their leadership practices support growth of all students. This process begins with school leaders reflecting on their school mission and vision and analyzing student data. Then, using the inquiry cycle, school leaders develop equity action plans to address achievement gaps and learning inequities in their schools. 

NIET leadership coaches support participants as they develop and implement the action plans during their first year in the program. Examples of participants’ equity plan goals include: 

  • Increase the percentage of all minority students qualifying for Honors classes.
  • Increase the number of male students successfully completing and passing the English I end-of-course exam.
  • Increase the number of students who identify as going directly into the workforce completing a Career and Technical Education program. 

School leaders report these opportunities empower them to build a school culture that prioritizes advancing instructional practices and improving outcomes for all students, which aligns to state, district, and school policy and priorities. 

Continuing to Strengthen South Carolina School Leaders 

As of September 2022, 171 school leaders from 78 schools in five districts have participated in SCPLN. Partner districts see value in supporting school leaders on-the-job, increasing demand for participation. As a result, the number of participants in each cohort has increased since the program started. This unique approach to supporting principals is working to advance school leaders' leadership capacity and improve educator retention, school culture, and student outcomes. To read more about SCPLN, visit here.

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