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March 2010
This Month: Effective School Leadership

"The people, led by wise leadership, will come to the realization, 'We did it ourselves.'” Lao-Tsu

Springtime in public education is the time for evaluation and reflection by wise school leaders. It is standardized testing time, which sometimes leads to difficult conversations with students and staff about progress. It is the time for leaders to reflect on successes and challenges and to begin planning for the new school year. It is time for leaders to take some time to renew for the work ahead.  It is also time for Houston A+ Challenge to select the next cohort of future transformational instructional leaders for the Regional Principal Leadership Academy – educators with the potential to lead in difficult times.

This month, we focus on effective school leadership through the work of an education leader who has accepted the challenge to grow and serve.  We also consider a study that supports the leadership work we are engaged in at Houston A+ Challenge.

From The Office: Dr. John Saphier and Dr. Pedro Noguera

An Evening With Dr. John Saphier
The next event in our national visiting faculty series is a March 25 visit from Dr. John Saphier, Founder and President of Research for Better Teaching, Inc.  The event, titled "Teaching and Learning with Skillful Leadership," will bring Houston A+ friends and colleagues together to explore what we know, and need to know, about teaching expertise.  The event will be held on Thursday, March 25, 2010, from 5 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.  For further information or to register, click here.

An Evening With Dr. Pedro Noguera
Also coming soon at Houston A+ Challenge is an evening with renowned urban sociologist Dr. Pedro Noguera. This engaging event - which will take place on April 1 from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. - will focus on instructional leadership. Participants will explore the characteristics of effective teachers and how to cultivate good teaching, onsite professional development focused on student work, and what we can learn from high performing schools. For further information or to register, click here.

From the Field: Christopher Wood, Principal Intern Lee High School

In June 2009, Christopher Wood entered the Houston A+ Regional Principal Leadership Academy (RPLA) motivated to develop the prerequisite skills necessary to effectively lead an urban secondary school. His background was extremely impressive. Chris had served with distinction in a variety of leadership and instructional roles, including East Region Reading Trainer, and Assistant Principal at Edison Middle and Chavez High Schools. He began the 2009-10 school year as the Principal Intern at Westside High School in Houston ISD, under the tutelage of his mentor principal, Paul Castro.

During his first semester at Westside, Chris became immersed in the culture and structures of this large, comprehensive, high-performing secondary school that had achieved a TEA Recognized Rating.  He distinguished himself as a dynamic and talented education leader.  His reflective leadership style has supported his quest to develop the intellectual capital and expertise to help transform schools. Chris is an outstanding member of Cohort II who constantly engages his peers with probing conversations around transformational instructional leadership and academic excellence.

In late January 2010, Westside Principal Paul Castro assumed the principalship of Lee High School, also in Houston ISD.  Lee, a complex and challenging school community, has failed to meet state and national academic performance standards for the last three years. Chris chose to transition to Lee with his mentor principal because he  views the challenges at Lee as opportunities to further hone his leadership skills to support Mr. Castro in implementing transformational change and revitalization. Chris is enthusiastic about his new assignment, and on a recent visit to Lee, he was observed reviewing data, collaborating with learning community deans, preparing for assessment, and aligning roles and responsibilities. The RPLA program is vested in the development of leaders who have the courage and passion to demand excellence for all children. Christopher Wood is clearly on the right path in that journey.

From the Headlines: Leadership For All

At ASCD's 2010 Annual Conference, education reform expert Michael Fullan gave a rousing presentation entitled "Leadership for All" in which shared his views on the characteristics of effective leadership during change.  The nine "best practices" offered by Fullan are:

  • Relationships first
  • Honor the implementation dip
  • Beware of fat plans
  • Behaviors before beliefs
  • Communication during implementation is paramount
  • Learn about implementation during implementation
  • Excitement prior to implementation is fragile
  • Take risks and learn
  • It's okay to be assertive

To learn more about the presentation, visit the Ecology of Education blog at http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=1805.

On the Bookshelf: Preparing Principals for a Changing World

Research has demonstrated that principals play a vital role in creating successful schools, but what is the best way to prepare and develop highly qualified candidates?  What are the essential elements of good leadership? How are successful leadership development programs designed?  What program structures provide the best learning environments? What governing and financial policies are needed to sustain good programming?

These questions and others are answered in Preparing Principals for a Changing World, a new book by Linda Darling-Hammond (and others).  The book reports on a study that examined eight exemplary principal development programs, as well as state policies and principals’ experiences across the country.  Using the data from the study, the authors reveal how successful programs are structured, the skills and knowledge that participants gain, and what they are able to do in practice as school leaders as a result of their participation in the programs.

The research reveals that the exemplary programs share similar characteristics, such as aggressive recruitment, close ties with schools in the community, on-the-ground training under the wing of expert principals, and a strong emphasis on the cutting-edge theories of instructional and transformational leadership.

The authors analyze program outcomes for principals and their schools, including illustrative case studies and educators' voices on the influence of programs' strategies for recruitment, internships, mentoring, and coursework.  Although the Houston A+ Challenge Regional Principal Leadership Academy is not one of the programs in the study, the RPLA meets all of the criteria for the exemplary programs outlined in the book.  It is rewarding to know that we are on the cutting edge of increasing the number of highly qualified, thoughtful, and innovative instructional leaders who will change the future landscape of education.

Leadership Resources

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Houston A+ Challenge

2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B
Houston, TX 77098-4607


Contact Bonnie Roberts,
Leadership Coach

Houston A+ Challenge's support for school leaders is made possible through
grants from:

Houston Endowment

The Brown Foundation

JPMorgan Chase

and other supporters