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Visiting Classrooms: A Design Study to Support Principals' Instructional Leadership


Principals are expected to be instructional leaders. Research on instructional leadership indicates that when principals visit classrooms they can positively impact student achievement, teacher practice, and teacher attitudes. The literature also indicates that principals spend little time on this instructional leadership activity. To address this issue, the superintendent of Skyline Unified School District (SUSD) mandated that all principals spend at least five hours a week visiting classrooms. This design study is an attempt to provide SUSD principals guidance in productively meeting the five-hour visit requirement. I developed a design to help principals lead classroom visits that support teacher development and indirectly contribute to a school wide learning community. The design emphasizes classroom visits to support teacher learning because there is extensive evidence that enhancing instructional quality is essential to improving student learning.

For this study, I developed a theory of action to guide the design. Drawing from the literature, I identified three key design elements of classroom visits with a learning orientation: reducing defensiveness, taking a developmental approach, and providing meaningful feedback. I incorporated these elements into a classroom visit process that two SUSD principals engaged in at their schools. The principals also acted as co-developers of the design. During the course of this study I investigated the impact of the design on the principals' practice as well as the design process itself. Overall, the design contributed to the principals improving in leading classroom visits focused on teacher learning. Based on the findings, I argue that the design's theory of action is basically sound, although principal learning needs to be enhanced. There were also limitations to the impact of the design and to the principals' acting as co-developers. These findings inform potential design modifications to the classroom visit process as well as implications this study has for instructional leadership.

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