Student Exhibitions as a Lever to Support School Change

Heather Lattimer provides insights for school leaders about improving school-wide changes around instruction and assessment. Dr. Lattimer offers examples from schools in the US and Kenya.

“I just don’t know how to get more buy-in,” a school principal who was trying to move her school to adopt a Deeper Learning approach told me recently. “I’ve taken teachers to conferences, had workshops here on campus, formed books clubs, and done demonstration lessons in classrooms myself, but most teachers seem to be only half-hearted in their efforts to use approaches that support Deeper Learning. They make an effort when they know that I’m going to visit but they revert right back to the traditional norm after I leave. I know that they want to be successful but they’ve been so ingrained with instructional practices geared toward standardized test preparation that it is very difficult to encourage a different approach, even if they know that it is what their kids need for long term success.”

Daraja Academy Nanyuki Kenya

This lament is all-too-common. Changing school culture around instructional practice and norms is challenging. This is especially true when the teaching and learning environment have been dominated by high-stakes tests that determine the futures of both our students and our educators. Whether we like it or not, the elements that are assessed are the elements that get prioritized. If national standardized end-of-year or end-of-school tests are the norm – particularly if the results of those tests are public, then the instruction will necessarily focus on preparing students for those tests.

If assessments are designed well and if they reflect the learning outcomes that we want for our students, then “teaching to the test” can be a real positive. The challenge is that most standardized tests are only able to assess a relatively narrow slice of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that our students need to be successful in the 21st century. Standardized tests can do a great job of assessing factual recall in particular subject areas but are not great instruments for assessing students’ abilities to grapple with real world challenges, synthesize information and ideas across disciplines, and present and defend their ideas to authentic audiences. To teach and assess students’ abilities to engage in this type of problem solving and critical thinking – skills which surveys of employers repeatedly indicate are critically important for career success – we must move beyond standardized tests and explore new ways to teach and demonstrate students’ learning.

Daraja Academy exhibition

One approach that has worked successfully to support school-wide changes in practice around instruction and assessment involves student exhibitions. Exhibitions make students’ learning visible by showcasing their work through public displays of student writing, projects, performances, presentations, or other artifacts. Unlike the typical awards or presentations that involve only the “best” students, exhibitions involve all students across a class, grade level, or throughout the school. They engage the larger community by inviting other students, parents, educators, and community stakeholders to come view the work and provide feedback. This public, transparent, and inclusive approach can help to strengthen student achievement, build a strong sense of school community and pride, and encourage equitable teaching practices and learning outcomes.

Meet Dr. Lattimer

Educate Girls Globally Recruiting Partners for Breakthrough   Empowerment of Girls in Government Schools

Guest bloggers A. Lawrence Chickering and Anjula Tyagi share the story of Educate Girls Globally (EGG) a non-profit that assists government ministries of education to reform schools by empowering girls to learn and to lead. 

From the beginning of our first operations in India nearly twenty years ago, we knew we were going for it all. ‘Going for it all’ meant two things. First, for scale, it Photo for blog Lawry & Anjulameant working in government schools, which most NGOs avoid. Second, to weaken the influence of traditional culture and help girls, it meant empowering communities (including girls) to advance beyond traditional, passive roles and to become active, entrepreneurial changemakers.  Our aim was to develop for ministries of education a model and ‘tool kit’ for reforming government schools.

We adopted our reform model from an NGO in the south Indian state of Karnataka, and we began operations in northern India, state of Uttarakhand, in 2002.

Across the world education reform generates opposition and conflict, paralyzing reform and producing no action. Our model was (is) very simple, working from the grass roots up and solving the political challenges, generating no opposition. Departments of Education accepted the program, which ‘mobilizes community support for schools’.

Governments loved the program from the beginning. Our purpose was to transfer the model to governments and other entitles that would help us scale, and we knew we would start on the path to full transfer when a government requested us to expand to all schools in a jurisdiction. That moment arrived recently when a district government in Uttarakhand (Udhamsinghnagar) requested us to expand from 50 secondary schools (25,000 kids, two-thirds girls) to all 1,116 schools in the district, serving about 330,000 children.

The government made clear its intention to expand the model throughout the state and to other states by providing for EGG training of government officials in other places. They and we wanted the agreement and project to be a model for all of India.  Our hope was that the federal Ministry of Education in New Delhi would endorse the model for every school in the country.

The challenge of culture and demand-side reform

Most education reform focuses on the supply side of schools—teacher training, curricula, infrastructure—and ignores the demand side, which is primarily about students’ motivation. Many parents believe that motivation is the most important factor in learning. They know that a motivated child will learn anywhere, while an unmotivated child will not learn anywhere.

Motivation is influenced by family and community support for education.Traditional societies in fact tend to demotivate everyone, but especially girls, whom tradition assigns to low-status, passive roles that limit individual aspiration, which is essential for learning. Thus, empowering people to advance beyond traditional to self-determined selves is a primal EGG objective.

We were determined from the beginning to show that traditional people, especially girls, are not ‘victims’ who need to be rescued from ‘oppressors’ (either powerful groups or culture) but can be empowered to play active roles in promoting change.

IMG_5762EGG addresses this issue head-on especially in relation to girls by empowering them to become leaders, learners, and role models. The program weakens the influence of traditional culture by empowering  traditional communities and girls to advance from passive, tradition-directed selves to active, self-directed selves.  People living by traditional roles are passive objects.  As objects, they can play no role in promoting change. When self-directed, they become active subjects and powerful changemakers. 

Although this truth is the key to development in all forms, most development ventures ignore it.  Understanding that development depends on the crucial resource of people as subjects—and seeing it operationally—is evident to anyone who sees EGG’s program first-hand.  

OWNERSHIP is a core concept that promotes empowerment and runs through all aspects of the program. The first community meeting addresses it with this initial question: Who owns the school? It is only when people understand that the school can never be any better than they themselves make it that they understand that they are the real owners, not the government.

The Girls’ Parliaments play a crucial role in girls’ empowerment, promoting them as leaders and role models in co-educational schools—separate from boys. They play an important role in empowering girls to advance from objects to subjects. Two empowerment moments are especially important:

Girls’ Parliament
  • When dropout girls stand in early public meetings and ask to return to school for ‘a chance in life’; and
  • When Girls Parliaments say they want to admit boys.  How many?  Their answer is 50-50—no advantage in numbers.  Even traditional girls become ready to go toe-to-toe with boys.  This is the moment when girls become genuinely equal to boys.

Neuroscience explains why the men respond empathically and embrace the girls. They move from indifference to educating girls one minute to active support for it the next minute.

Action Projects also reflect and stimulate empowerment. Led by the SchoolManagement Committees, communities establish priorities for improving schools—PLLA1332primarily building or repairing infrastructure (clean water, toilets, and maintenance). Ownership and self-governance mean the communities decide about what the schools most need, and they act on them. They do it without any subsidy from EGG. Empowering people to help themselves (deciding what they want to do and doing it) is very different from the common practice of experts telling people ‘what they need’.

The action projects recall a famous statement from T.E. Lawrence, writing in 1917 about the Arabs: ‘Do not try to do too much with your own hands,’ Lawrence wrote. ‘Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. . . [T]he work . . . may take them longer and it may not be as good as you think, but if it is theirs, it will be better.’

This insight first suggests the importance of ownership, which is reflected both from what people do and from deciding what to do. Focusing on ownership rather than the form of help (a well) focuses on the psychology of people helped rather than on theIMG_8278 substance of the help. The help (a well) is about the present; the psychology of the recipient is about the future. Empowerment through ownership is crucial for sustainability. Unfortunately, it often conflicts with a primal mantra of philanthropy, which is results. Despite nearly-universal agreement about ownership, people tend quickly to forget it when making and implementing plans, which are about tangible objectives and measurable results.

Ownership is about sustainability and the future. The idea is that how something is done is more important than what is done—process over substance. This captures the essence of empowerment, which occurs when people do things for themselves—when they own what they do. This requires accepting an imperfect present for a powerfully sustaining future.

Our breakthrough moment   

We chose to work in government schools to reach the poorest kids and to achieve the scale and sustainability that only governments control. Our breakthrough moment IMG_1349occurred when a district in Uttarakhand (‘District One’) requested us to expand to all 1,116 schools in the district—primary, middle, and secondary. The government offered to share the cost.

Showing potential government demand for the model, the district next door (District Two), mostly Muslim and of a similar size, soon informed us that they wanted a similar agreement to expand to every school in that district as well. Without any effort to market the model to them, their interest was generated entirely word-of-mouth.

We believe our model will scale most quickly by recruiting partners who want to try it. We have thus made a decision to transfer the model to any potential partner (NGO or government) willing to implement it as we designed it. We will provide training, monitoring, and evaluation. Organizations interested in joining EGG’s network of partners are encouraged to write to us at, attention: Lawrence Chickering.

This project has the potential to change the face of India—and indeed of the developing world. We hope we will hear from you soon. You can read more about us on our website (

Meet the Authors

Strategic Directions for the Field of School Leadership – Lessons from the Ground

Guest bloggers Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen, co-founders of Global School Leaders, discuss four key issues about school leaders that we all need to consider as we look at the education leadership ecosystem.

Over the past couple of years, we have been developing school leadership programs across the Global South. Our work on this issue

Sameer Sampat

began in India, where we led the creation of the India School Leadership Institute, which is now running continuous professional development programs for around 400 school leaders every year. Today, our organization, Global School Leaders, is working in Malaysia and in the process of starting up programs in Indonesia and Kenya.

As we have explored the spaces of school leadership, we find that there are a number of issues to be addressed to create a vibrant ecosystem.

Azad Oommen

This blog offers suggestions for measures on the issue of school leadership that would help advance this key lever of education.


Create integrated approaches to school leadership – Too often, countries are looking at school leadership merely from the standpoint of training school leaders. Of course, training is critical because being a school leader is a vastly different job than being a teacher, and too many existing leaders have not been trained for their position. However, introducing training without simultaneously addressing selection and accountability is not sufficient for a comprehensive investment in school leadership.

We believe that in order to improve leadership, school systems must simultaneously develop capacity in three areas:

  1. Pipeline: Develop systems to attract, identify, and select leaders.
  2. Support: Support leaders through pre-service and continuous professional development programs.
  3. Accountability: Define the leader’s role and have a system of results-based recognition, accountability, and career progression. 
School Leadership Training

Implement standards for school leaders competencies – We find wide variances in education system structures and the autonomy given to school leaders across countries. These range from the control teachers have to deliver curriculum in the classroom to school leaders’ ability to influence change in their schools. However, school leaders often do not have a clear sense of their role in the process and the competencies they must demonstrate to deliver against these expectations.

Many countries have been through extensive processes to create national qualification frameworks for school leaders, such as the United States, the UK, South Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia (see Bruce Barnett’s blog April 11, 2018 Principal Preparation and Development: Highly Regulated or Loosely Structured?). We believe that these competency frameworks are the starting point for improving school leadership, because they give concrete expression to a system’s ideals of the role of a school leader. From these frameworks, we can design recruitment pipelines, training methodologies and accountability measures for school leaders. However, many countries do not have such standards and this causes training to be delivered without the school leaders understanding what is expected of them.

One idea we have is to build on the commonalities in existing country frameworks to create an agreed upon international basic standard for school leaders that can then be adapted by individual countries for their specific needs. For instance, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is currently working on ISO/PC 288, which will create standards for the field of educational organizations management systems.

Use technology effectively to address shortages of high quality trainers – A key challenge to implementing scalable training programs for school leaders is the limited availability of high quality trainers and the high cost of in-person trainings. Online programs hold the promise of overcoming these limitations and creating learning opportunities that can deliver self-paced, continuous professional development programs. While there has been a lot of focus on online learning for teachers, there are few programs designed for school leaders.

The Harvard Business School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education are piloting a school leadership course. In addition, the National Centre for School Leadership, an Indian government institution, is launching on online school leadership training program. There are also less-structured professional learning opportunities such as the Global Schools Forum’s webinar series that has highlighted examples of school leader training programs in Uganda, India and Kenya.

Online learning encompasses a wide range of courses – from video-taped lectures to presentations to more interactive methods. For the developing world, we believe that as data access becomes more prevalent, we need to create mobile-centric learning systems that addresses school leader competencies. Based on our experience training school leaders in India and Malaysia, we believe that what would work best are short video-based courses, coupled with online coaching and virtual peer networks to support learning.

Use of data to improve support for school leaders – One surprising factor for us as we look at school leaders across countries is how little information is easily accessible about them. We know very little about average tenure, career progression, and even basic demographics to ensure adequate representation of various groups in the leadership ranks in schools.

For instance, we know that in many countries, women form a large proportion of primary school teachers, but a much lower proportion become school leaders. There is very little research on the systemic impact of female school leaders on schools and learning, but if we draw on widely accepted views from other industries, diversity in leadership ranks should lead to better schools.

With little research about demographics and career management, it is very difficult to understand systemic interventions that could improve school leadership.

Despite these large opportunities still to be addressed in school leadership, we are encouraged by initiatives around the world. The World Bank’s World Development Report 2018 highlighted the need for increased investment in leadership and management within school systems. At the WISE conference in Qatar in 2017, the Qatar Foundation announced the launch of ALL-IN, a global school leadership development network.   All of these initiatives point toward a growing global interest in school leadership. We must capitalize on this momentum to drive toward ecosystem-wide initiatives on this issue so that we can avoid fragmented efforts and leverage the limited resources being allocated to this sector.

In sum, we must think about school leadership beyond just the necessary measures to ensure that school heads receive adequate preparation for their role. The conversation in the field needs to be comprehensive, and policy makers, academics and practitioners must find ways to collaborate and strengthen this critical lever of education systems around the world.

Meet Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen



An HIV-Free Generation in Africa: Can an Education-Reimagination Get Us There?

AidChild Leadership Institute (ALI) is an NGO based in Entebbe Uganda doing remarkable work throughout the country. Here the founder, Dr. Nathaniel Dunigan, shares his dream for an HIV-free generation.

On Friday evening, I was seated in an American friend’s large and tasteful home in Kampala, Uganda. Earlier in the day, I had traveled from my own home in Entebbe. She has lived here for 20 years, and I have been here for 18. Our reunions always begin with a discussion of traffic. Uganda’s enormous population boom and the emergence of a middle class mean that roadways are always very congested.

My friend has a personal driver for her daily commute of more than an hour—and that’s just traveling across town. “As you know, I spend a lot of time in traffic and observing,” she started. “So, get this: there’s a new guy who has emerged at one intersection, selling grated cabbage and carrots car-window to car-window—along with all the many other street vendors. He has a dish basin strapped at stomach level—hanging from his neck—and he grates the veggies into the basin. But what I can’t figure out,” she continued, “is why on earth anyone would want to buy that, and how does he give it to them? I never see any plastic bags or containers. It’s the strangest thing.”

The next day, I shared the story with one of my Ugandan colleagues, and he said, “You’re kidding, right? I mean, you know what’s happening there, don’t you?”

“No, I really don’t,” I said.

“The man is selling graters, and he’s using the cabbage and carrots to demonstrate how they work,” he said.

I share this story in our context of global education leadership for the following reasons:

  • In our global society, no matter how seasoned or thoughtful we may be, outside our own culture, we will occasionally (perhaps frequently) miss the obvious. Our success as global education leaders will forever be linked to community and relationships—to partnerships that foster inclusion and voice from a variety of individuals who will see (and express) the obvious when we miss it. This is true not just in the context of Americans living in Uganda, but also for New Yorkers in L.A., Iranians in Tokyo, Canadians in Brazil, etc.
  • Africa is booming. Despite the fact that Uganda has more road fatalities than most any other nation in the world (URSSI 2018) as well as poverty and a host of public health challenges, the population continues to grow at a tremendous rate. While Uganda is relatively small in terms of geographic size (the 82nd largest in the world), the country currently ranks at number 32 in terms of population size, and is projected to be number 18 by 2050 (Worldmeters) (CIA) .
  • Technology—of every kind—is changing everything from cabbage and carrots to politics and education, bringing both progress and risk.

On Thursday, the day before my visit to my friend in Kampala, the local electric company came to install a pay-as-you-go meter on my kitchen wall. We are among the last in our neighborhood to get this. A printed monthly bill will no longer be delivered to our gate. Instead, we will purchase units of power in advance—using our cellphones. As my son purchased our first allotment, and then entered the code into the keypad on the wall—and as the house sprang to life and light—I said to him, “Never, ever, ever could I have imagined this 18 years ago. I couldn’t even fathom a life here that included consistent power back then, let alone the mobile and satellite technology that just made our transactions possible.”

It all seemed perfectly normal to my son.

Gone are the days of traveling to a phonebooth in town to (hopefully) make a successful call. Now, while only 22% of Uganda’s population have power as I do, more than 52% have a cellphone—and often more than one (mobile phone usage in Uganda: USAID and the Daily Monitor.

It’s time to re-fathom, to reimagine what is possible, what we need to be doing now in order for the next generation to see as “normal” what we see as “impossible.”

For me, that is the goal of an HIV-free generation. In late 2000, I founded AidChild, an NGO serving orphans living with AIDS. Access to life-saving medication was impossible at that time, meaning we were a hospice facility. In 2002, we became the first in Uganda (and among the first in the world) to offer free antiretroviral therapy to children (thanks to a partnership with the AIDS Healthcare foundation). We were quickly selected as a model of pediatric HIV-AIDS care for the continent—by USAID, the CDC, and the Uganda Ministry of Health.

In May of 2017, my colleagues and I knew that it was time to reimagine yet again. We opened a Leadership Institute in Entebbe where we are creating a new model of leadership development—with

this goal of an HIV-free generation. Members of the original cohort of drug recipients in 2002 are the institute’s inaugural interns. No longer “orphans and vulnerable children,” our interns are young professionals and changemakers in training, volunteering in the community, developing their own social capital, hosting public events, engaging with our 2,000 book-library, connecting to a global community, and creating a new human development center to serve the academic and wellness needs of the generation that follows them.

So, what ingredients are needed to achieve an HIV-free generation? The reality must come from our interns’ generation. For years, the global community has rightly focused on access to water, food, medication and education in the region. Now it’s time to reimagine what that “education” must look like as we focus on the root of this wondrous possibility, which—as with so many other things—is power. I offer that an education-reimagination—in addition to academic rigor—might be driven by the following convictions:

  • Young women and men must be afforded—and then be able to understand and embrace—personal power. Herein, we as people are able to make stronger choices about sexual behavior, family planning, partner choice, etc. This power is constructed (or deconstructed) through our personal milieus, including our senses of security and of being loved.
  • All stakeholders must be offered an understanding of the distinction between our higher and lower natures. This is only possible in a life that allows and offers cognitive space beyond survival alone. Wellness and wholeness are not even abstract constructs when one doesn’t know where their next meal will come from. The above discussions show how much progress we have had here—but more must be done.
  • Marginalized communities must be normalized. Frank and open conversations about stigmatized groups—as well as engagement with them—are what foster tolerance in a generation that follows one of intolerance.
  • The capacity and desire to think beyond the here-and-now must be nurtured. In my book “We Are Not Mahogany,” I explore the dangers of a full-focus on the moment—due to a misguided conviction that one just isn’t going to live very long.

It is important to add that excellent and accessible prenatal care must also be made available throughout the region. Without this and other medical interventions and offerings, this goal truly is impossible.

It must also be said that a blogpost cannot get anywhere close to a fair unpacking of the many components of this enormous goal, but as with all reimaginations, their lives are conceived by giving them voice.

And I welcome your voice as well. Please offer your pushback and feedback below.

Meet Dr. Dunigan

Contact Dr. Dunigan:



The Importance of Early Childhood Education in an Age of Global Disruption

Steve Jacobson writes about his work with colleagues in New Zealand as they study ECE and how school leaders can assist parents. ECE is the foundation for learning and it’s crucial that all school systems provide high quality, evidence-based programs. Paula

It has long been understood that a high quality Early CPicture1hildhood Education (ECE) has tremendous potential for enhancing a child’s future academic success, especially for youngsters from economically disadvantaged communities. This belief has been reconfirmed by findings from the Perry Preschool study in the US, which indicated that ‘quality’ ECE (not just any ECE) is a cost-efficient approach for improving the long-term school and career success of children, with societal returns of roughly $16 for every $1 spent (Schweinhart et al., 2005). In a recent study of three high quality ECE centers in New Zealand that serve diverse communities confronting various levels of economic disadvantage, my colleague Ross Notman of the University of Otago and I found another benefit, one that is harder to quantify, but one we feel is particularly relevant in this current period of global disruption and migration. Specifically, we found that while the ECE leaders in the centers we studied were most concerned with the social, emotional and intellectual development of the youngsters in their care, they were also very committed to improving the parenting skills of their youngsters’ parents. This was most notably the case for families fleeing political upheavals in parts of Europe and Southeast Asia and natural catastrophes in other parts of New Zealand, such as the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch. For many of these parents, especially those who were first time parents, these relocations had led to a separation from their extended families and traditional supports for childrearing from parents and other relatives that they would have otherwise anticipated had their lives not been disrupted. As a result of these events, they now had to bring in an income and parent, but without the familial support they would have had prior to the disruption.

A preschool in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo taken with permission in February 2018 by PAC

The global magnitude and impact of such disruptions cannot be overstated. For example, data from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees indicated that world-wide, immigration in 2013 reached 232 million, a figure larger than that of Brazil, the world’s fifth most populous nation. In other words, across the globe an increasing number of parents are having to go without the intergenerational wisdom and support of an extended family. Especially for the first-time parents in our study, we found that it was their child’s ECE leaders and teachers who were filling that gap by teaching them how to deal with challenging childhood behaviors such as anxiety, tantrums and/or physical aggression, many of which were exacerbated by the family’s relocation and dire economic circumstances.

Young children need exposure to lots and lots of books, something that is often a challenge in schools in marginalized communities. PAC




Our study revealed how important it was for these high-need ECE settings to become what Epstein (2011) has called a ‘family-like school’, in order to partially fill the familial gaps these parents were experiencing. The ECE leaders we studied worked hard to encourage their teachers to view parents as partners and provide them with helpful strategies and resources to support their children outside of school, which would go a long way to complement what faculty were doing in the center. Many of the parents we studied were confronting the types of socio-economic challenges common to high need communities, such as being a single parent household, having limited formal education, living below the poverty line, having unstable housing accommodations and limited time for their children. Moreover, having been displaced and cut off from their traditional familial support networks, the centers’ nurturing and engaging environments enabled them to begin to feel comfortable in entrusting their young ones to the center’s care and, more importantly, to begin modeling the parenting skills of the center’s skilled educational professionals. Parents told us how, once they began to develop some trust, they began to emulate at home what teachers and leaders had done in school as they dealt with the more challenging behaviors exhibited by their youngsters. Since many of these parents were not well-educated, nor familiar with the range of services available to them, they also very much appreciated the support they received from center leaders and teachers in identifying additional professional supports their children needed. This overlap between school and family deliberately developed by the center leaders helped these young, displaced parents build confidence in their own parenting abilities. As previously noted, we believe that these newly-learned parenting skills complement the faculty’s in-school efforts, and the impact these efforts have on after-school hour parenting may prove to be a key factor in a child’s future academic and career success.

More information about this study will be available later this year with the publications of: Jacobson, S. & Notman, R. (accepted 2018). Leadership in early childhood education (ECE): Implications for parental involvement from New Zealand. International Studies in Educational Administration, 46(1), and, Notman, R. & Jacobson, S. (accepted 2018). School leadership practices in early childhood education (ECE): Three case studies from New Zealand. In Leadership, Culture and School Success in High-Need Schools. E. Murakami, D. Gurr & R. Notman (Eds.) Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.


Meet Dr. Jacobson








Principal Preparation and Development: Highly Regulated or Loosely Structured?

Bruce Barnett provides a helpful typology for examining school leadership development around the world. Professor Barnett also highlights the trends of governments requiring qualifications for school leaders and the importance of offering professional learning opportunities. Paula


Over the past 20 years, I have had the good fortune to visit and work with educators outside the United States, particularly in Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. During my international travels, I have worked with numerous school leaders, teachers, and members of professional associations and university faculty to deliver a variety of programs focusing on mentoring and coaching, reflective practice, and team development.

One of my most personally and professionally rewarding international experiences was collaborating with Gary O’Mahony and Ian Miller of the Australian Principals Centre to develop and deliver the SAGEMentoring Programme. This two-day leadership development program was sponsored by the Victorian Department of Education and various Regional Education Offices throughout the state of Victoria. We also worked with principals in Lutheran Schools in Queensland and South Australia. During the operation of the program from 2000-2007, we trained over 1000 principals to become mentors for new principals in their school systems (Barnett, 2001; Barnett, O’Mahony, & Miller, 2002).

This experience in Australia, coupled with my time in other countries, exposed me to approaches to school leadership development occurring in a variety of cultural contexts. On one hand, I came to appreciate that offering quality professional development programs for school administrators is definitely becoming a much higher priority, and many educational systems are providing resources to allow practicing administrators to participate in these programs.

On the other hand, I also realized not nearly the same level of attention is devoted to formally preparing aspiring principals in other countries as in the USA. The predominant school leadership preparation model in the USA requires aspiring principals to complete advanced-level coursework often leading to a master’s degree, pass a state-administered test, participate in an induction program provided by their employing school district, and complete a specified number of hours of professional development in order to maintain their license or certificate. Outside the USA, mandatory certification systems operated for short time periods in England and Scotland in the past decade; recently, Malaysia (Jones et al, 2015) and Indonesia (Sumintono et al, 2015) have implemented mandatory certification requirements. Nevertheless, most nations have no formal pre-qualification training requirements for educators seeking to become principals or required professional development once they start serving in the role.

Therefore, my curiosity about the variability of preparing and developing principals around the world has led me to ponder several questions:

  1. What practices and policies focus on preparing and developing school principals?
  2. What trends are evolving in the preparation and development of school principals?

Practices and Policies

My review of school leadership preparation requirements suggests there is a continuum of systems addressing school leadership and development:

  • Tightly regulated systems. Principal candidates must complete formal requirements from an authorized provider (e.g., university, local education authority). In Singapore, for example, potential leaders are identified early in their career, engage in a variety of leadership tasks, and complete interviews and assessment center tasks before determining their eligibility to engage in the principal accreditation system (Gurr & Drysdale, 2017).
  • Moderately regulated systems. Preservice school leadership programs are available and sponsored by government agencies; however, they are not mandatory to be eligible for principalship positions (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, Sweden). Induction programs are offered for new principals, some of which are required (e.g., Austria, Czech Republic) (Moller & Schratz, 2008).
  • Loosely regulated systems. Preparation programs or experiences for aspiring school leaders are sparse or non-existent. Professional development is offered for practicing principals, although offerings are infrequent, require long distance travel, and participants costs are not covered (e.g., Africa, Asia, Mexico, Central and South America) (Lumby, Crow, & Pashiardis, 2008).

There also is great variability in how educational systems determine if principal candidates are prepared to take on the role. In their review of the processes used for identifying and assessing the readiness of aspiring principals for the principalship in Australia and 11 other countries, Gurr and Drysdale (2017) discovered several trends. First, although most systems require principals to come from the teaching ranks, some systems require candidates to possess demonstrated leadership experience, have served as senior teachers, and/or have completed a specified qualification process. Second, most principalship candidates self-select for the position; some systems encourage mentoring, nominations, or recommendations from superiors. Very few nations tightly regulate eligibility for potential principal candidates (e.g., Singapore), some countries require candidates to complete an approved certification program to be eligible for principal vacancies (USA, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Scotland beginning in 2019), while many others have few restrictions on who can apply for principalships. Finally, some systems, especially those that require certification, assess candidates’ qualifications based on pre-determined national or local professional standards, and more countries are establishing standards and competencies for principals (e.g., Hong Kong, Russia, New Zealand).

International Trends

Because of the important role principals play in improving the learning conditions for students (see Paula Cordeiro’s March 8, 2018 post, “Girls’ Education Goes Beyond Getting Girls into School” and Tony Townsend’s March 14, 2018 blog, “Leading Literacy Learning: Sharing Leadership at its Best” for good examples), more attention is being devoted to preparing and developing principals. Despite the fact that many countries have a loosely regulated system for identifying, preparing, and developing school leaders, there is growing evidence that these conditions are changing. For instance, Huber’s (2008) analysis of leadership development patterns in 15 countries across Europe, Asia, Australasia, and North America revealed that: (a) preparatory qualification programs are being offered more frequently, (b) more training programs are being developed to explore the challenges and realities of the principalship and its responsibilities, (c) leadership development is shifting from administrative and legal issues to communication, cooperation, leadership, change, and continuous improvement, and (d) workplace learning experiences are increasing (e.g., mentoring, internships), rather than relying only on course-based learning.

While these international trends are neither universal nor have been adopted in many nations, they do suggest an increasing realization of the need to provide professional support for educators who aspire to and become school principals.

Even tightly regulated systems, like in the USA, changes in the preparation and development of school leaders are occurring. For example, research has identified the important features of effective principal preparation (Davis & Darling-Hammond, 2012; Orr & Orphanos, 2011). However, many programs do not implement these features because of high costs and lack of resources, and most state policy makers have not created legislative policies supported by these research findings (Anderson & Reynolds, 2015).

In addition, an increasing number of principal preparation providers besides universities have surfaced, such as non-profit organizations, school districts, and charter schools (Tozer, Zavitkovsky, Whalen, & Martinez, 2015) as well as a host of on-line programs. This situation has created far more certified administrators than positions exist. Consider these statistics from two states:

  • In Illinois, there are just under 3000 practicing principals, slightly more than 400 new principals are hired each year, with over 44,000 certified candidates (Haller & Hunt, 2016)
  • In Texas, where over 8000 principals are employed, there are about 800 vacancies per year, and preparation programs produce over 2500 certified master’s degree candidates annually (Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 2018).

In order to regulate the number of university preparation programs and utilize state resources more efficiently, a number of states, including Ohio, North Carolina, and Illinois, required universities programs to reapply for program approval, resulting in a reduced number of approved providers.

What does the future hold for school leadership preparation and development? Clearly, there is growing interest by policymakers and professional associations around the world to raise the quality of principal preparation and development. Although pre-qualification requirements for the principalship may never reach the same level as for teacher certification, my sense is that there is growing momentum to ensure principal candidates are better prepared for the role and supported once they take on the job. I am heartened by the growing recognition that aspiring and practicing principals deserve the professional support, guidance, and resources needed to improve their capacity to influence school improvement and learning.

I welcome your comments and suggestions regarding how educational systems and providers around the world are addressing leadership preparation and development.

Meet Dr. Barnett

Anderson, E., & Reynolds, A. (2015). A policymaker’s guide: Research-based policy for principal preparation program approval and licensure. Charlottesville, VA: University Council for Educational Administration.
Barnett, B. (2001). Mentoring for practising and aspiring school leaders: The “SAGE” model. Australian Principals Centre Monograph, No. 4. Hawthorne, Victoria: APC.
Barnett, B., O’Mahony, G., & Miller, I. (2002). The promise of mentoring. Prime Focus, 29, 23-26.
Davis, S., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2012). Innovative principal preparation programs: What works and how we know. Planning and Changing, 43(1/2), 25-45.
Gurr, D., & Drysdale, L. (2017). Aspiring principals capstone assessment processes. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Graduate School of Education.
Haller, A., & Hunt, E. (2016). Statewide data on supply and demand of principals after policy changes to principal preparation in Illinois. Normal IL: Center for the Study of Education Policy, Illinois State University.
Huber, S. G. (2008). School development and school leader development: New learning opportunities for school leaders and their schools. In J. Lumby, G. Crow, & P. Pashiardis (Eds.), International handbook on the preparation and development of school leaders (pp. 163-175). New York: Routledge.

Jones, M., Adams, D., Joo, M. T. H., Muniandy, V., Perera, C. J., & Harris, A. (2015). Contemporary challenges and changes: Principals’ leadership practices in Malaysia. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 35(3), 353-365.

Lumby, J., Crow, G., & Pashiardis, P. (2008) (Eds.). International handbook on the preparation and development of school leaders. New York: Routledge.
Moller, J., & Schratz, M. (2008). Leadership development in Europe. In J. Lumby, G. Crow, & P. Pashiardis (Eds.), International handbook on the preparation and development of school leaders (pp. 341-366). New York: Routledge.
Orr, M. T., & Orphanos, S. (2011). Graduate level preparation influences the effectiveness of school leaders: A comparison of the outcomes of exemplary and conventional leadership preparation programs for principals. Educational Administration Quarterly, 47(1), 18-70.
Sumintono, B., Sheyoputri, E. Y. A., Jiang, N., Misbach, I. H., & Jumintono (2015). Becoming a principal in Indonesia: Possibility, pitfalls and potential, Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 35(3), 342-352.
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (2018). Retrieved from:
Tozer, S., Zavitkosky, P., Whalen, S., & Martinez, P. (2015). Change agency in our own backyards: Meeting the challenges of next-generation program in school leadership preparation. In M. Khalifa, N. W. Arnold, A. F. Osanloo, & C. M. Grant (Eds.), Handbook of urban educational leadership (pp. 480-495). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.



Brain Date* on Learning Transfer: The Missing Link to Learning

Guest post from Corinne Brion, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of San Diego. Corinne completed her doctoral research in West Africa and has spent this year assisting with trainings for school leaders in five sub-Saharan nations.

 IMG_4053Corinne Brion

  For the past five years, I’ve been fortunate to be part of a research and training team working with school leaders in Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs) in Francophone and Anglophone Africa. We have been tasked to help design contextually appropriate leadership materials, train local school leaders and train trainers (TOT) to ensure the sustainability of the model. Lastly, we have conducted research in Burkinabe and Ghanaian schools.

As you can imagine, I have many stories to tell and countless adventures  to share from various trips to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Rwanda and Ethiopia. For now, though, I would like to share what I’ve learned from these school leaders related to the concept of learning transfer. Here I present the main findings of a research study that took place in 2016 in Burkina Faso and Ghana. The study aimed at understanding what enhanced and hindered learning transfer among these school leaders  (Brion & Cordeiro 2017). Thirteen school leaders from six different schools were interviewed after they attended a three-day leadership training. For this project, I worked with 2 different educational systems and two different national languages.

First, let’s be clear on what learning transfer is. It is defined as the application of newly acquired knowledge to the workplace or home. And, why should we pay attention to learning transfer? First, we should be attuned to this because every year billions of dollars are spent on trainings, workshops or meetings and only 10% of the new knowledge gets transferred to the work place (Broad & Newstrom, 1997). In Africa alone, $921 million were spent on education between 2010-2012, and despite the monies invested, there is little evidence of improved student learning outcomes (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2015). This illustrates, in part, the lack of understanding and focus that governments, policy makers, educators, facilitators and trainers have placed on training and learning transfer (Awoniyi et al., 2002; Ford, 1994). Oftentimes programs are not adapted to the participants’ needs and do not take into account how adults best learn (Knowles, 1980; Mezirow, 2000).

A second reason we need to pay attention to learning transfer is because it is urgent that we build the capacity of school leaders in marginalized communities and sustain quality educational leadership in order to get a return on our investments in professional development.

From this study, I learned that there were several factors that supported the transfer of learning. In both countries, these factors included the location and logistics of the training, the facilitator’s content knowledge and disposition, the adequate content of the training and the active andragogy used. In Burkina Faso, the certificate of completion presented to all participants at the end of the training as well as the testimonials given by an alumnus seemed to have supported the transfer of learning as well. When given a certificate of completion and hearing testimonials, participants perceived that they were more competent, felt confident, and were motivated to transfer the new learning to their schools. But let me stop here and give you an opportunity to view the photos below, evidencing that learning transfer did occur post training.


I also found key challenges to learning transfer. The inhibitors in both countries were not only financial but also associated with (a) human behavior (referring to the difficulties in changing mind sets and habits and the fact that it is easier to paint a wall than changing a hiring process or diet), (b) competition (between schools and within the schools between younger and veteran leaders), (c) culture (the practice of juju, a witchcraft), and (d) logistics (leaders from one school in Ghana referred to the scheduling of the training as being an issue as the training took place while the school was still in session).

This study could have a significant impact on schools in marginalized communities since school leaders play a pivotal role in the overall success of the schools and student learning outcomes. The study is significant for any non-profit organization, government agency, or organization whose goal is to assist educational growth in developing countries. Applying learning transfer concepts and following up on them would not only ensure that training funds are well spent, but also contribute to reaching Goal Number 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals “Providing a Quality Education for All” by 2030.

So, next time you plan a training, workshop or even a meeting, take into account learning transfer! If you are sharing this mindset, let’s have a Brain Date!

*The term brain date is used as a way to foster conversations and reflections among like-minded educators and educational leaders.
Awoniyi, E. A., Griego, O. V., & Morgan, G. A. (2002). Person-environment fit and transfer of training. International Journal of Training and Development6(1), 25-35.
Broad, M. L., & Newstrom, J. W. (1992). Transfer of training: Action-packed strategies to ensure high payoff from training investments. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.
 Ford, J. K. (1994). Defining transfer of learning: The meaning is in the answers. Adult       Learning5(4), 22-30.
  Knowles, M. (1980). My farewell address . . . Andragogy no panacea, no ideology. Training and Development Journal34(8), 48-50.
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. Indianapolis, IN: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2015). Education for all 2000-2015: Achievements and challenges (EFA Global Monitoring Report). Paris, France: UNESCO.

Meet Dr. Brion

Papering Over the Cracks in the System

Trevor Male, Director of the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at University College London, critiques changes to the state funded school system in England.  He presents the background to the challenges school leaders face with regard to issues of social mobility. This discussion reminds me of Raj Chetty’s recent work at the Center for Equality of Opportunity at Stanford.  Paula


Can the changes to the structure of the state-funded school system in England enhance social mobility?

The headline from the most recent state of the nation report on social mobility in the United Kingdom, published at the end of last year, is that there is no overall national strategy to tackle the social, economic and geographical divide that the country faces. The report from the Social Mobility Commission (November 2017)[i] decried a ‘lamentable social mobility track record’ and demonstrated that individual chances for young people to achieve adult success were overly reliant on where they were born or lived. The government response has been to publish a plan for improving social mobility through education[ii]. I will argue in this blog that the ability to enact aspects of that reasonably well funded plan in England may be compromised, however, by changes to the structure of the state-funded school system and because of the motives for bidding for such funds.

Changes to the structure of the school system in England

England has its own school system, which differs in structure from the other three countries that together form the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Since 2010 there has been a determined attempt by central governments to shift the locus of power and control away from local democratic control in England, mainly through a process of academisation. For those readers not familiar with the notion of an ‘academy’ these are state maintained independent schools which formerly were run by elected local authorities. Following their introduction in 2002 as a designed intervention in parts of the country where schools exhibited chronic student underperformance, they grew steadily in number through the rest of the decade to a total of 207 academies by 2010. [If you want to find out more about the genesis and subsequent growth of academies I refer you to a background briefing paper I published in December, 2017 –].

In 2010, however, we saw a new coalition government formed which demonstrated a determination to turn as many schools as possible into academies under the guise of developing a school-led improvement system. By 2015, and following the election of a Conservative government, the move to academisation was deemed to be the major education policy, with all state-maintained schools expected to become academies by 2020. Whilst this requirement has subsequently been dropped due to there being a less stable Conservative government in power following the 2017 election (triggered by the vote for Brexit in 2016), nevertheless it remains the preferred government outcome for all state maintained schools to become academies. By the beginning of 2018 the number of academies open, or in the pipeline, were just over 8000 out of a total of some 21,000 schools in the country. The number of schools disguises the impact, however, with 65 per cent of secondary schools now being academies. There is a good chance, therefore, that approximately half of the school population is within academies. Whilst those numbers are not clear, what is apparent is that we have a dual system of state funded schools in England, comprising academies and maintained local authority schools.

A lamentable track record on social mobility

Meanwhile, the UK is a deeply divided nation in terms of class, income, gender and race, but the factor receiving greater focus through the work of the Social Mobility Commission is geographic in nature.   Through the application of an index which assesses the education, employability and housing prospects of people living in each of England’s 324 local authority areas it has shown that large parts of the country remain ‘cold spots’ in terms of social mobility, with no evidence of that having changed over previous decades. The most recent report shows five million workers – mainly women – in a low pay trap with only one in six of those workers having managed to find a permanent route out of low pay in the last ten years. At the other end of the labour market professional staff continue to be unrepresentative of the public they serve, with only 6 per cent of doctors, 12 per cent of chief executives and 12 per cent of journalists coming from working-class origins. The Social Mobility Index reveals a growing gulf between major cities (especially London) and towns and other areas that are being left behind economically and socially limited.

The initial government response has been the identification of Opportunity Areas, for which funded strategies have been established[iii]. The 12 areas identified so far are in a variety of settings – rural, historic market towns, post-industrial towns and coastal areas – but all feature a common theme: young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face far higher barriers to improved social mobility than those who grow up in cities and their surrounding area.   The areas most affected can be seen in the following figure:


More funds have now been found since the identification of opportunity areas, however, to expand the response through education. The range of central government grants now available totals c£800m which is being made available to parts of the school system over the next two the three years. Certain conditions are applied to each grant application which are designed to ensure funding is appropriately targeted, but in the main the response to continued disadvantage is to be through school-led improvement mechanisms rather than through the local authorities.

The challenges of addressing social mobility through education

Although there are obvious logistical issues associated with the management of multiple grants, the critical concern is the lack of strategic oversight of the state-funded school system that is a product of successive government policies since the introduction of the Education Reform Act of 1988. Following the second world war there was an intention to establish a social welfare state in the UK which provided health, education and social care to all its citizens. The 1944 Education Act was a part of that overarching policy and set up a national system of education that was to be delivered locally and, originally, through a system of local authorities who were elected democratically. The first break in that pattern of intermediate government was in 1988 when, as part of the legislation, schools in England were given direct control over their student related funding. This process was known as the Local Management of Schools (LMS), with some schools also being allowed to leave local authority control completely and become Grant Maintained Schools (GMS) and receive their school funds directly from central government. What has followed for the next 30 years has been an inexorable erosion of the control and contribution of the local authority to school improvement, coupled with a reduction in their capability to sustain their remaining schools effectively.

This is a significant factor as the 150 local authorities no longer have the capability to be strategic in relation to the support, advice and guidance they give to state-funded schools. The process of academisation has atomised the national system, meaning there is no longer much in the way of local delivery. Instead, a system of Regional School Commissioners (RSC) was established in 2014, with a national commissioner to oversee their work following two years later. There are eight RSCs whose principal job is to coordinate the academies within their region (and across the country), but as things stand until very recently they were the only government mechanism to have any overview of the coherence of the state-funded school system. Clearly the work of 150 local authorities could not be covered by the eight commissioners, so other mechanisms have been devised to provide the necessary strategic management of the school system. We now have 33 sub-regional improvement boards (comprised of RSC, local authorities, diocesan boards and teaching school alliances) which are expected to ensure consistency across their part of country, especially in terms of identifying where support is needed for schools which are not performing to expectations. There has also been the appointment of Regional Directors of Delivery (RDD) from the Department for Education and Coordinators for Opportunity Areas. What is notable is that none of these intermediate government structures have been elected, effectively stifling local democracy. The question that emerges, however, is whether such a system can have any effect on social mobility?

A school led response to social mobility

The direction of travel favoured by the Department for Education and its component parts, such as the RSCs, is to persuade schools to collaborate and federate through the supporting the development of multi-academy trusts (MATs) and teaching school alliances (TSAs). Normally a MAT will have a lead academy which will set up a trust by which all member schools will be governed. Currently these vary in size between a single academy (with permission to expand to become a MAT) to the largest which has 81 schools. The promotion, and to some the extent the management, of academies is a responsibility of the RSCs who are now seeking for MATs to have a local, rather than national, footprint[iv]. Teaching school alliances are normally led by a school deemed ‘outstanding’ which is a designated teaching school (i.e. it can run its own teacher training programmes which lead to recognised professional qualifications). Again, they vary in size, but are more of a soft federation than a formal structure, with each school retaining its own identity and governance structures.

As indicated above, by December 2017 the government had issued a plan for improving social mobility though education with a report entitled ‘Unlocking talent: Fulfilling potential’. This was statement of policy based on the personal statement of Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, that “everyone deserves a fair shot in life and a chance to go as far as their hard work and talent can take them”. Whilst this is a laudable ambition it is undermined by two key factors: the (probable) inability of a school-led system to effect endemic improvement in student attainment and achievement and the longevity of government ministers. In fairness to Justine Greening it was not her fault that Theresa May, Prime Minister, decided to remove her from post as part of a government reshuffle triggered by Brexiteers, but it is an example of short-term political gain overcoming a desire for long-term substantive change. The consequence, however, is that the policy may not be championed by the new incumbent who is likely to have other priorities. That accident of political history aside, the fundamental question, remains as to whether the new dual system of state-maintained schools evident in England can deliver on this social mobility agenda.

Can a school-led improvement process lead to systemic change?

The early signs are not promising with evidence of multi-school organisations frequently seeking to address chronic situations by either changing the school population or reducing the intensity of public scrutiny. The most common approach to dealing with challenge in terms of student engagement is to remove them from mainstream schools, either through a process of exclusion or through restructuring of the school federation to relocate students to alternative provision. Exclusions, either permanent or resulting in home education, are rapidly increasing with one local authority (ironically in a ‘cold spot’) reporting a five-fold increase in the last year[v] from a typical figure of 80 to over 400 students.   Another, perhaps more subtle way of avoiding the challenge of overcoming sustained underperformance, and thereby lack of social mobility, is the reorganisation of the multi-school organisation to remove the outcome of some students from the public accountability gaze engendered by the focus on student attainment. In keeping with most countries, especially those seeking valediction of their school system through international league tables such as PISA, England is seemingly obsessed with equating ‘good’ schools with outcomes of student attainment as measured by standard tests. To sustain high proportions of success it is possible for multi-school organisations to remove the scores of lower performing students from their average scores through relocation to other types of provision. New types of schools, created by the Academies Act, 2011, is one such way of shifting the accountability focus.   The introduction of University Technical Colleges (UTCs), for example, could allow for a less scrupulous interpretation than intended by the legislation whereby troublesome teenagers are directed toward vocational education rather than traditional academic qualifications.

The final question that emerges, therefore, is why should any federation of schools wish to engage in improvement activities in the quest to enhance social mobility through education when recent history has shown individual schools and multi-school organisations demonstrating self-interest rather than holistic strategies for equality of opportunity? There is no doubt that the policy of enhancing social mobility through education is clearly an objective underwritten by high moral values, with which few members of the school workforce in England would disagree, but is it likely? It is still much too early to be anything other than cynical at this stage, but early indications from the round of bids that have been submitted for the various funding sources now available show two trends. The first is that the bids are led by the usual suspects, the perennial harvesters of additional funds, and the second is that favoured bids are those that focus on STEM subjects rather than more esoteric aspects of education of a young person that affects their motivation and attitude towards learning. Let us hope my cynicism is unfounded.

Meet Dr. Male




[iv] Some of the early academy chains were entrepreneurial in nature and exhibited a national footprint. These have been seen to be problematic in terms of cohesion and consistency, producing overly demanding managerial responsibilities. Some chains are resizing or regionalising to counter these issues.

[v] The name of the local authority remains anonymous in this paper, but follow-up questions are welcomed from readers.

What Teaching in Jordan Taught Me about Becoming a 21st Century Leader

Guest post from Kelly Lyman who is the Superintendent of Mansfield Public Schools in Connecticut. Through her work as an instructor in the University of Connecticut’s Administrator Preparation Program, Kelly has been supporting school leader development in Jordan.
We hear much today about the importance of preparing our students for a rapidly changing, global world. A world where many of them will be employed in jobs that are not yet invented. We know world conditions necessitate citizens whose skills in communication and critical and creative thinking are more important now than ever. As superintendent, I have been working with my staff to develop our vision of learning for our 21st century children. What I didn’t realize was that I too would be a student of those skills.  In addition to my work as a school leader, I serve as a professor of practice in the Educational Administration department at the University of Connecticut (UCONN). In 2013 UCONN began a partnership with the Jordanian Ministry of Education, the Queen Rania Teacher’s Academy (QRTA), and the University of Jordan to provide advanced training to Jordanian principals. As soon as I heard about the opportunity, I signed on to help develop the program and serve as an instructor to the Jordanians. The program’s foundation is the University of Connecticut’s Administrator Preparation Program, a two year, thirty credit, cohort graduate program for aspiring administrators. The core elements of this graduate program are presented in a four-module sequence to Jordanian public school principals. The course work addresses the Jordanian standards for school leaders and the expectations identified in Jordan’s Continuous Professional Development for Leaders Framework. Each module is taught in a single week with assignments and collaborative experiences as a follow-up. In addition, the program uses a gradual release trainer of trainer model to prepare QRTA staff who will continue the program on their own after year three.
There have been many challenges in this work and I have utilized every one of those 21st century skills that have become part of my district’s vision for learning.  My first challenge was not a surprising one; it was communication. Our UCONN course materials all had to be recreated. We had to meet the standards and expectations of the Jordanian Ministry, we had to design assessments that the University of Jordan would accept as they were providing a certificate to the participants upon completion, and we had to limit our print materials as every reading, every Powerpoint slide, and every handout had to be translated into Arabic.  I learned to be concise and to stay focused on learner outcomes.
But these communication challenges were nothing compared to what I experienced when I arrived in Jordan for the first instructional week. The first cohort of principals were hand selected and identified as some of the best public school principals in the capital area. It was hoped they could manage instruction in English with some support, however, within the first ten minutes it was clear that full translation would be needed. No professional translation services had been secured for this first week so I had to quickly adapt and learn to teach with a QRTA staff member providing side-by-side translation. I would speak a few sentences and then hold my thoughts while the QRTA staffer repeated my words in Arabic. Similarly, when the principals spoke, the QRTA staffer would stand next to me and whisper the words to me in English.   As the week went on, I found there were many phrases and concepts that did not translate well. This certainly caused me to carefully consider the message I wanted to send, to conserve my language, and to listen carefully. I experienced what it meant to communicate, not just across languages, but across cultures.
Kelly Lyman with Jordanian School Leaders
Using critical and creative thinking skills went without saying. Our first challenge was the redesign effort. Together, a group of four instructors, a director, and coach carefully articulated the outcomes we sought, considered the on-going support that could be provided to principals in Jordan, and created a program held together by a clearly articulated logic model, detailed learner outcomes, and practical performance assessments. We learned all we could about the Jordanian education system so that our work fit within their context.
What surprised me most was how this experience stretched my teaching skills. The language barrier meant I was at the mercy of the translators (professional live translation delivered via headsets was provided after that first week’s experience). Gone was the easy give and take of teacher-student interaction and circulating around the room to converse with students required that a translator follow me. I did not always know immediately what the participants were saying in response to my teaching making monitoring and adjusting a much slower process.
My students also wanted to be actively engaged, not just cognitively engaged but physically active. Sitting for more than 15 minutes was met with pleas for “more activities.” Each evening that first year I revamped my plans for the next day, carefully balancing providing foundational information with the request to be active. Strategies to do this came from my observation and analysis of effective instruction in my own schools. My repertoire of effective practices grew as I was determined to provide the Jordanian principals with learning experiences that they could take back to their own schools.
Collaboration was a necessity from the start. Those of us on the American side worked closely with each other as the modules were designed. We traveled with a coach who became our instructional partner.  The coaches, whose primary purpose was training the QRTA instructors, demonstrated the coaching process by coaching us after each day’s instruction. We debriefed after each week of instruction and engaged in a thorough revision after the first year. Collaboration with the Jordanians did not end after the instructional week either. In between we used video conferencing to stay connected, discuss revisions, and review student assignments.
Perhaps the greatest expansion of my own 21st century skills was learning what it means to be a citizen of the world. Jordan was a country I knew little about before this work. I came to understand the challenges this nation and region face in a new way.  The nomadic nature of its indigenous people, the strong identification with tribes that still exists, and the impact of living in a place where water, the most basic of the natural resources is in short supply all took on new meaning.   Jordan has no oil resources.  They are not a wealthy country but they are founded on the belief that people who come from different backgrounds can live together peacefully.  They recognize that with good education they can keep radicalism at bay.  So their public schools accept all students.  For one elementary principal I met that means 1000 students in the first shift and 700 Syrian refugee students in the second shift.  Classrooms of 40 students are the norm beginning in first grade.  English is taught beginning in kindergarten and they devote significant attention to building strong character.  They are facing enormous challenges but they are determined to build a better world for their children while promoting respect and acceptance. The children of Jordan are taught that they hold the future in their hands.
It is this last ideal, the belief that we must educate today’s children to be the stewards of the future, that has taken on new meaning for me. As school leaders in the United States we have an obligation, now more than ever, to instill in our young people an understanding of what it will take to live in harmony with others, with the environment, and with the politics at home and abroad today and tomorrow. I am grateful for the experience of this work and the opportunity to be both a student and a teacher in the 21st century.

Meet Superintendent Lyman

Leading Literacy Learning: Sharing Leadership at its Best

Tony Townsend,  Professor of Educational Leadership, Griffith Institute for Educational Research, Brisbane Australia, writes about an Australian initiative that supports school leaders in playing a key role in improving children’s reading literacy.

Meet Dr. Townsend

We all know that learning to read well is the key to the development of many other skills later on, but how many know that the role that school leaders take in this enterprise can have a massive impact on moving young people from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”?

All of the improvement literature suggests that when it comes to factors involved in improving student learning in schools, what the teacher does in the classroom and the influence of the home environment have the greatest effect sizes of all. A much lesser emphasis is placed on the impact that school leaders can have on achievement. In fact, it has been documented that the direct effects that school leaders have on student achievement is limited to somewhere between 5 and 15%. So, whenever a focus is put on improving student learning in a specific curriculum area, most of the emphasis is placed on changing what teachers do in classrooms by improving teaching practices, assessment practices, improving student-teacher relationships, and so on.

However, the indirect impact that principals, and other school leaders, can have on student learning in these curriculum areas is an important, although an often-neglected factor. School leaders are a key to many things, to school culture, to where resources are directed, to communicating and involving the community outside the school, and to monitoring teaching practices. So, when we see that the two main factors in improving student learning and the classroom and the home, the principal is the major link between the two.

The Australian government recognised the importance of this link when it decided to fund a pilot study called Principals as Literacy Leaders (PALL) in 2009. The research had suggested that, although overall Australia had performed quite well on international comparative studies such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, there was quite a gap between those doing well and those doing not so well, sometimes up to three or four years in the same classroom. Through its “Closing the Gap” initiative, the government funded 43 different projects designed to improve the performance of students in literacy and numeracy. Forty-two of those projects were aimed at classrooms and teachers specifically and only one, PALL, looked at the broader canvas of the school and its community.

The PALL program is a two-year development program for school leaders designed to provide principals (in particular) and also other literacy leaders in the school with knowledge and skill development related to taking a leading role in improving children’s reading ability. It argues that the responsibility for leading learning must be taken by the principal and can’t be passed off to someone else. What school leaders do is critical to improving reading learning for students and the school principal is the key leader of the initiative. The purpose of the first year of the program is to develop an intervention plan that considers a particular aspect of reading improvement for a particular group or groups of students (for instance, improving oral language for junior school students). The intervention plan will then be implemented in the subsequent year. The program has five modules, two in term one (on two consecutive days) and one in each of the other three school terms. After each of the module sessions school leaders are expected to take what was learned back to their school, work with staff and the school community and then bring what they have learned from this process back to the following module.

Module 1 focuses on what constitutes effective leadership in a world where change is a constant and introduces participants to what is called the Leadership for Learning Blueprint. Module 2 recognises the argument that school leaders must have content knowledge about the discipline they are leading and outlines evidence-based research about the effective teaching and learning of reading and they are introduced to the BIG 6 of reading; early oral language experiences, phonological awareness, letter-sound knowledge, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. Module 3 examines the different forms of data necessary for leaders to understand the factors in schools which are influential in supporting literacy learning and exposes principals to data analysis and use in establishing priorities for reading interventions with their teachers, which is then picked up in Module 4 which examines the actions school leaders need to take to plan and implement effective literacy interventions, particularly those in reading. Module 5 then prepares school leaders to examine changes in literacy teaching and learning and to develop their capability to lead the evaluation of literacy interventions in their schools.

Modules 1 and 2 are conducted on two consecutive days in term 1, and Modules 3-5 are conducted in terms 2, 3 and 4. In between each of the modules, a series of tasks is undertaken back at the school, based on what was learned in each of the modules and leading towards a fully developed intervention plan to be implemented in the subsequent year.

Since 2010 more than 2000 school leaders from across Australia have participated in the Principals as Literacy Leaders (PALL) program and there have now been seven research studies related to the implementation of the PALL program to identify its efficacy and to look at its effect on leader and teacher behaviours as they relate to the teaching of reading. Four of these studies were quantitative in nature, one from the original pilot project, others from cohorts supported by the South Australian and Tasmanian Departments of Education and a fourth that focused particularly on leadership of reading within Indigenous communities. Three other studies were qualitative and collected data, initially in 2014 through case study research of five Tasmanian and four Victorian schools where the leader had completed PALL in the previous year, together with a subsequent study in 2016 of five Victorian schools, three of which had previously been involved in the earlier case studies. The results of the first six of these studies were compiled into the Springer published book Leadership and Literacy: Principals, Partnerships and Pathways to Improvement (Dempster, et al., 2017). Some key outcomes from PALL have been:

  • The PALL project has assisted school leaders by developing and honing their skills to more effectively support and guide teachers in regard to orchestrating curriculum development and monitoring learning and teaching practice.
  • The BIG 6 is seen, by both school leaders and teachers, as being a powerful organizing framework for teaching and learning in reading.
  • The overall organization of reading activity, including data analysis, changed teaching practices, focused curriculum and assessment activity, higher levels of engagement and students being more articulate in talking about how they learn, is starting to pay off. Schools are now able to document improvements in children’s achievement in both school-based and standardised assessments.
  • Similar to previous research, parent and community support was the area in which principals reported they most struggled.

PALL continues to support school leaders to improve reading in their schools. In 2018, nearly 300 participants, in 3 cohorts from Tasmania and 2 cohorts from South Australia, will complete the PALL program. Since principals and other school leaders are the key to connections between what happens in classrooms and families all around the world, a program like PALL is worth considering in countries where trying to improve literacy skills is a priority. The program is inexpensive to run and focuses on the context of each school by supporting schools to use their data, their resources and the power of shared leadership as a strategy for improving the life opportunities for their students.

More information on the PALL program can be obtained from Tony at


Dempster, N., Townsend, T., Johnson, G., Bayetto, A., Lovett, S. & Stevens, E. (2017) Leadership and Literacy: Principals, Partnerships and Pathways to Improvement. Springer, Cham, Switzerland, 209pp.