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Where is the instructional leader? : how the district office creates the ties that keep principals connected to the classroom


To prepare all students--regardless of their abilities, language, and economic or cultural differences--to learn the skills needed for success in a global economy, teachers need training and support to teach in ways that respond to children's differences and to the changes in our world. The instructional leadership skills of the site principal make a difference in how effectively teachers meet these challenges. The role of the district office in preparing principals to become instructional leaders is relatively unmined in the literature. This study portrays the perspective of leaders at school sites and central offices in three small K-6 school districts in California. Data sources include interviews of principals and district office leaders, documents, observations from districts with commonalities in size and geographic area, and differences in student demographics and profiles of district leadership stability. Through the lens of sociocultural learning theory, this study explored how the district office experiences change as a result of principals' focus on instructional leadership. All three study districts show evidence of the development of community of practice and implementation of recommendations from district reform literature. Conditions that support or constrain individual and collective learning appear to reflect the historical and cultural context of the district. The study results demonstrate ways that district office leaders build principals' instructional leadership capacity by creating important ties that keep the principal connected to the classroom. District leaders establish structures so that principals learn with teachers and with other school and district leaders. The goal of this learning is for principals to know the curriculum and what good teaching looks like. District leaders create teams of principals and teacher-leaders who provide professional development that reflects the teachers' understanding of classroom realities and the principals' conceptualization of school, district, state, and national goals. The district office creates ties between principals and other leaders so they learn from each other and reduce the isolation of the job. District leaders can keep the organization focused on teaching and learning by reducing distractions and continuously building a team that shifts the culture as a result of individual and collective learning

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