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Principal Pipeline Webinar Highlights Importance of Strong Partnerships

While the impact of partnerships is not yet fully understood, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that school districts that partner with local principal training providers are more likely to leverage programmatic changes that result in principals who are better equipped to lead schools to improve student performance. — Cheryl King, Quality Measures: Partnership Effectiveness Continuum (2014)
Last month, I had the privilege of joining colleagues from around the country to present an AACTE webinar about building school-university partnerships to support stronger preparation of school leaders. A recording of the webinar is now available here.

Joining me October 15 for “Building the Partnerships: The Principal Pipeline” were William Bassell, principal of the Academy of American Studies in New York City; Donna Cooner, professor and director of the School of Teacher Education and Principal Preparation at Colorado State University; and Shannon Hagerman, director of teacher and principal preparation for the Denver Public Schools.

The webinar was the second in a series of four that AACTE is holding about the Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative. (Read about the first webinar, “Laying the Foundation,” here.) Launched in 2011, the initiative has supported six urban districts in their efforts to collaborate with preparation providers and align leader standards, preservice training, selective hiring and placement, and on-the-job evaluation and support. In this webinar, panelists shared their perspectives as stakeholders and discussed their processes and benefits in developing partnerships across institutional boundaries.

Cooner began by likening leadership preparation to teacher preparation with a discussion about the professional renewal that occurs when practicing teachers work with student teachers. The webinar proceeded to focus on four central issues regarding building these partnerships for leadership preparation: (a) relevance, (b) development and sustainability, (c) mentor quality, and (d) impact on leaders and school communities.

Bassell shared the power of connecting theory to practice with the alignment between his district’s leadership competencies and the learning experiences within programs. As another district representative, Hagerman echoed the importance of relevance, which in her case has been achieved through partnerships that have helped the district communicate its needs so programs are able to customize to its context.

My colleagues and I recognize that the development and sustainability of partnerships requires agreement about values and goals as well as strong systems of communication and data sharing. The Wallace Foundation has supported this work by helping districts create leader tracking systems and sponsoring the development of research-based resources such as Cheryl King’s Quality Measures tool to support the development and sustainability of partnerships referenced above.

One area of leadership preparation that we agree needs more development in many partnerships is mentor quality. As with teacher preparation, the quality of leadership learning experiences is deeply connected to quality mentorship. Matching leaders to mentors, identifying mentor competencies, and building supportive structures and training for mentors are key elements of partnership work.

The benefits of university-school district partnerships for leadership preparation are clear. Data from Denver show that teachers’ perceptions and principal retention have improved as schools have deepened their partnerships with providers of leadership preparation. The sustainability of this work requires institutions to listen to each other and create systemic patterns of review, data analysis, and action that cross institutional boundaries and reinforce common goals—because in the end, successful partnerships are ones that create the conditions for what John Goodlad (1994) dubbed “simultaneous renewal.”

Next week, a third webinar in the series will look at “Assessing and Enhancing Commitment” (Thursday, November 12), and the final webinar, “Expanding the Framework,” will be held January 13. For information about the webinars and to register, visit aacte.org/webinars.

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Susan Korach

Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Morgridge College of Education, University of Denver