Texas A&M Study Identifies Impact Of School Principal Training Program

A Texas A&M University study focused on developing the leadership skills of principals has identified positive changes in principal behaviors that research links to student achievement.

Conventional wisdom is that an effective school leader sets the tone for high academic expectations, works with teachers to make changes that impact classroom instruction and still finds time to put the ‘pal’ in principal, interacting with students, teachers and community members to develop positive relationships.

Roger Goddard, principal investigator and director of the Education Leadership Research Center at Texas A&M, and a team of researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Michigan are working to assess the efficacy of the Balanced Leadership Program. This professional development program, created by Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL), provides principals with intensive guidance that addresses three key challenges of school leadership: improving school culture and climate, managing change, and focusing efforts on improving student learning.

Participants in the study include 78 elementary school principals from northern Michigan broken into two groups. Half the schools in the study participated in the two-year Balanced Leadership Program, which consists of 10, two-day professional development sessions. The other half are part of the control group and only use current professional development practices already in place in the schools.

"The Balanced Leadership Program is designed to teach these principals about the research and prepare them to use it to make changes that improve learning in their schools," Goddard says. "The program provides them with the tools for change but lets them decide how to actually use these tools in their own schools.”

After receiving just 50 percent of the training, principals in the treatment group were reporting positive effects. Of note, principals receiving the training reported higher levels of knowledge and involvement in their school’s curriculum, instruction and assessment programs, higher levels of efficacy and a greater likelihood to create a positive school climate. Furthermore, turnover rates in control schools were five times higher than in the group experiencing the program (10 principal departures vs. two).

Although preliminary, researchers concluded the Balanced Leadership Program has the potential to create long-term changes in principals’ job performance, school climate, teacher practice and student learning.

“Changes in educator behavior are often hard to produce,” Goddard says. “Many recent scientific studies have found limited or no effects on student achievement, largely because educator practices have remained unchanged. Not surprisingly, experts have questioned the value of leadership development programs. These findings are striking because they suggest important leadership behaviors linked to higher levels of student achievement can be improved through targeted leadership development.”

As the study continues, researchers will examine the link between the program and teacher reports of principal leadership, school climate and student achievement.

Goddard would eventually like to take the study to a national trial, with schools in the study being more representative of the U.S.

“Our evaluation shows the Balanced Leadership Program positively impacts principals’ learning of leadership practices that are linked to student achievement,” says Goddard. "We know that as lifelong learners, these principals can benefit from further development, and in the end, we all want to help schools and the students they serve.”

Goddard and his team, which includes Texas A&M researchers Yvonne Goddard, co-principal investigator and assistant professor of special education; Jean Madsen, professor of K-12 administration; and Robert Miller, associate director of the Education Research Center, are funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant.

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