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Linking Teacher and Principal Accountability to a District’s Staff Support System

A panel of school leaders shared their research and practical experiences with empowering schools to close achievement gaps at AASA’s National Conference on Education on Friday.

Addressing this topic during an hour-long session were Max Silverman, executive director of Center for Educational Leadership in Seattle, Wash., and Jack Smith, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville, Md.

“Improving practice in a culture of public scrutiny requires reciprocal accountability,” said Silverman.  “Coaching without accountability does not give you the return of the investment you need.”

He added, “If students are not learning they are not being afforded powerful learning opportunities. Instead, there is a problem with teaching present.”

To address this problem, Silverman suggested that schools should not put targets on teachers’ backs but focus on applying strategies to improve teaching. It’s ironic, he added, that while people hold teachers accountable for closing achievement gaps, they don’t hold doctors accountable for asthma gaps.

“Teaching is a highly complex and sophisticated endeavor, and exhausting teachers to do better is not going to work,” Silverman said. Individual performance incentives for teachers do not improve students’ learning, according to his center’s research.

Silverman said being an instructional leader requires four abilities:

  • Holding reciprocal accountability;
  • Building expertise through teaching and coaching;
  • Working from authentic problems of practice; and
  • Engaging in joint work.

Among the four abilities, Silverman stressed that working from authentic problems is the key to solve existing problems. This requires superintendents to communicate with principals about their real needs.

“The more you can talk to your principals about what keep them up at night and what skills they don’t have that’s impacting students’ learning, the more they will grow and learn,” Silverman said.

Smith’s experience leading a large county school district confirmed Silverman’s research. He said superintendents’ job is to turn unconsciously competent principals to consciously competent ones. Smith presented his schools district’s professional growth system.

He also stressed the importance of professional growth consultants, which include consulting principals and consulting teachers.  New teacher induction, he added, means mentoring new teachers and letting them know what the expectations are.

“Everything about classroom teaching applies to the principal’s job,” Smith said.

(Yingjie Wang is a graduate student in journalism at USC’s Annenberg School and an intern with AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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