Learning to Lead

April 11, 2017

“Natural” leaders do not spring fully formed into their roles. Even the most naturally gifted leaders must hone their skills and apply them effectively. Now the Baltimore City Public Schools are strengthening their leaders—school principals—by supporting their participation in the very enterprise they lead: learning.

As part of its work to increase school effectiveness and school leadership, the Baltimore Community Foundation is partnering with City Schools and education organizations to bolster school principals’ leadership abilities. Stronger leaders reinforce effective classroom teaching and, in turn, improve student achievement. 

To accomplish this, we are investing in five school leadership strategies:

  • Leadership pipeline development
  • Leadership professional development including coaching, mentoring and peer networking
  • Building a culture of appreciation for principals
  • Advocating for and influencing changes in policies and practices
  • Other supports, including contributions to the Principal Support Fund 

BCF funded BKL & Associates to help new and early career principals learn how to be successful within the City School system. We also funded MarylandCAN to launch a mentoring program pairing less experienced principals with transformational, top-performing principals. We also funded a Teach To Lead coaching program to develop principals’ core leadership competencies: self-awareness, cultural proficiency, strategic planning/execution, people leadership/management, and instructional leadership. We helped participants in the New Leaders program raise their proficiencies through teacher team coaching. We partnered with The Fund for Educational Excellence to seed the Principal Support Fund, which, among other goals, awards grants for professional development.

BCF’s work in school leadership directly supports the stated priorities of Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises, the CEO of City Schools, around developing new school leaders. “We need to increase opportunities for staff across the district to grow and lead in their positions,” she says.

In partnership with the Baltimore Education Research Consortium, we are creating metrics to measure the impact of this approach. We are determining a baseline and defining systems to analyze changes and trends over time. Developing a data-based framework has been challenging because some information is not yet available—but our research to date has confirmed the notion that supporting leaders can be a significant impetus for progress.

It comes as no surprise that principals thrive when they can choose and facilitate their own learning opportunities, especially those that enable them to connect with one another. Reflecting on their experiences and sharing them with peer professionals is of particular benefit. Their growth is rewarded when their successes are recognized and appreciated.

Miguel Cervantes Del Toro, principal of Callaway Elementary School, credits his participation in a leadership program with his growing confidence as an educator and administrator. “Through Teach To Lead,” he says, “I work with a coach who is an experienced educator and former principal. I’ve become more proactive and purposeful in the professional development that I provide to my teachers and with the instructional changes that I want to foster. I’ve seen a change in teacher practice and have seen students improve their academic proficiency, especially with gains in math and reading.

“My teachers know I have a coach,” he continues. “They know I am open to feedback, and our conversations are not punitive. They’re an effort to improve our practice so that we can put students on a college and career readiness track. At my school, we are creating a culture of learning."

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