School Improvement in Maryland

Leading the Process: Principal's Role

“As principal, I played an important role in initiating, facilitating, and sustaining the process of shifting our collective focus from teaching to learning. To make collaborative teams the primary engine of our school improvement efforts, teachers needed time to collaborate. Teachers, accustomed to working in isolation, needed focus and parameters as they transitioned to working in teams. They needed a process to follow and guiding questions to pursue. They needed training, resources, and support to overcome difficulties they encountered while developing common outcomes, writing common assessments, and analyzing student achievement data.” —The Learning-Centered Principal, Rick DuFour

How should you reinforce expectations?

Use teacher observations to reinforce expectations


You demonstrate what you value by what you expect. A critical role that you play in the observation process is to monitor what you expect when you are conferring with teachers about their instruction. When you are discussing a teacher's observation, you will want to affirm through your questions that you have placed a high value on the staff use of data to inform instruction. For example, asking the following questions will help teachers understand better how you expect them to use data.

  • How do the students demonstrate for you they are proficient on the indicator/objective(s) I observed you teaching?
  • What percent of your students demonstrated proficiency?
  • What strategies did you (or will you) use to help students improve their performance?
  • When and how will you reassess their performance on the same indicator/objective?
  • What percent of your students improved on the re-assessment?
  • What are you planning to do for the students who are not improving?
  • What diagnostic data do you have to help you identify their area of difficulty?
  • What does an examination of their work tell you about what the students know and still need to learn?

Use strategies to promote the use of data to inform instruction


Use of data to inform instruction is the critical reason we collect the data. Collecting student performance data and not using it to inform instruction would be a waste of valuable teacher time and yet that is exactly what occurs in many schools. The usefulness of the classroom monitoring data is to help teachers understand where their students are in relationship to the content standard indicators staff are responsible for teaching so that they can make informed decisions about what you need to do next.

The following examples are some ways that principals, team leaders, and department chairs can promote the use of data to inform instruction.

  • Showcase teacher practices using data to inform instruction at staff or team meetings. Have a teachers explain what data they used and how they used it in 3-5 minutes. You could showcase one example each meeting.
  • Ask each department or team to come up with one example of how someone on their team (or their team as a whole) used data to inform instruction. Have them share the information at a staff meeting.
  • Provide professional development on this topic for all staff. It could be handled as its own topic or it could be integrated in other topics being explored.
  • Include this professional development training in one of the sessions you provide your new teachers.
  • In post observation conferences, always ask teachers how they used data to inform instruction in the lesson/unit you observed.
  • Include regular data dialogues in your school and focus attention on the "how are you going to use the data to change instruction" question.
  • Set an expectation that ongoing team examinations of student work will take place and will address the how they are using the examination data to inform instruction.
  • Ask teachers questions about student learning in their classrooms that require them to focus on how they use data to change instruction.
  • Model for staff how you use data to inform instructional program decisions.
  • Regularly ask these three questions:
    • Where are your students?
    • What evidence do you have?
    • What will you do next?
  • Use the "what will you do next?" question for a collaborative inquiry dialogue.

How do you support teachers in doing this work?


Rick DuFour identified a number of staff development needs for teachers to collect and discuss the data that would focus them on what students were learning. In his article, "The Learning-Centered Principal," he describes his role in the following way:

"As principal, I played an important role in initiating, facilitating, and sustaining the process of shifting our collective focus from teaching to learning. To make collaborative teams the primary engine of our school improvement efforts, teachers needed time to collaborate. Teachers, accustomed to working in isolation, needed focus and parameters as they transitioned to working in teams. They needed a process to follow and guiding questions to pursue. They needed training, resources, and support to overcome difficulties they encountered while developing common outcomes, writing common assessments, and analyzing student achievement data."