CURRICULUM OVERVIEW

A growing body of research underscores the critical role principals play in creating great schools and helping students succeed. Principals set the vision, guide instruction, build the budget, unite the team and lead the drive for results. Their jobs are an extraordinary mix of small details and big ideas, of crisis management and long range planning. “A large number of quantitative studies in North America…show that school leadership influences [student] performance more than any other variable except socio-economic background and the quality of teaching.1

Despite the critical and challenging role of the principalship, relatively few principals receive ongoing professional development that enhances their ability to lead schools to high performance. The University of Minnesota sees the ongoing professional development of school leaders as an essential driving force in efforts to improve student learning, close achievement gaps and increase postsecondary completion across the state.

Beginning in the fall of 2013, the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development is pleased to offer an expanded principal executive development program that explicitly connects theory to practice. The thirty-day program is grounded in the National Institute for School Leadership curriculum used in the Minnesota Principals Academy since 2006. The enhanced Principals Academy includes content created and led by University of Minnesota faculty in addition to facilitators who are principals, tailored to unique challenges and opportunities that are present in Minnesota.

1Barber, M., Whelan, F., & Clark, M. (2010). Capturing the leadership premium: How the world’s top school systems are building leadership capacity for the future. McKinsey & Company.

Curriculum Units

The Educational Challenge
The Principal as Stragetic Thinker
Elements of Standards-Based Instructional Systems
Foundations of Effective Learning
Leadership for Excellence in Literacy
Leadership for Excellence in Math
Leadership for Excellence in Science
Leading Instruction for Special Populations
Promoting Professional Learning
Leading through Teacher Evaluation
Coaching Institute
Principal as Instructional Leader and Team Builder
Community and Family Engagement
Principal as Ethical Leader
Principal as Driver of Change
Leading for Results(including Program Evaluation)
Culminating Simulation

The Educational Challenge
This unit explains why fundamental changes in the international economy have resulted in greatly raised educational requirements for all citizens in the advanced economies, and why social development and ethical behavior are no less important than high academic achievement. It helps the participant make a realistic assessment of the challenges that schools must meet if the new standards are to be achieved. A key challenge includes the corrosive effect of pervasive low expectations for many poor and minority students. And it is designed to help the participants accept and embrace the goal of getting every student ready for college without remediation by the time that student leaves high school. Includes a self-assessment of leadership.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • The principals will understand the individual principal’s role in meeting challenges in the new context of 21st century globalization.
  • Standards-based education requires and provides a powerful set of strategies.
  • All students can and must meet high standards.
  • Remember: Get commitment, share the leadership, keep building staff capacity, and never, never take your eyes off instruction and the data.
  • Keys to success are alignment/coherence of all elements of a standards-based system, strategic thinking about how all students can achieve high standards, and an unrelenting focus on results.

The Principal as Strategic Thinker
The purpose of this unit is to enable the participant to think strategically about the challenges he or she faces and to put together a clear and powerful strategy for addressing those challenges. Much of this unit draws on experience from business and the military, but the participant is also asked throughout to apply what is learned to the world of the school—for example, they examine their own school visions against criteria for effective visions. Participants are introduced to the distinctions among tactical, operational, and strategic thinking. They are also introduced to the elements of planning and decision making required both to construct a viable strategy and to execute it successfully.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • The principal must lead the effort and motivate a school team to create and commit to a vision of where the school wants to be over a period of years; develop a strategy to implement that vision; build action plans to execute the strategy; and apply a process for measuring accomplishments.
  • An effective conceptual framework for strategic thinking starts with an examination of the context and the vision, and includes consideration of assumptions, interests, objectives, capabilities, threats, and risks.
  • To evaluate a school vision, the principal should ask whether or not the vision is achievable and doable; is focused on results; leads to accountability; is measurable, simple and clear; is actionable; whether it lends itself to a strategy to accomplish the vision; leads to hard choices, and whether it is worth fighting for.
  • An understanding of decision making models—rational actor, organizational processes, bureaucratic politics, and dominant personality—helps the principal turn thought into priorities, effective action, and powerful practice.

Elements of Standards-Based Instructional Systems
The purpose of this unit is to help the participant develop a sophisticated understanding of the components of standards-based instructional systems and the ways those components can be combined to produce very powerful effects on student performance. They learn how to build curriculum frameworks designed to array topics in a logical way to enable students to reach standards over a period of years and how to analyze and select instructional materials that are aligned with the standards and the frameworks. Most important, they learn what the role of the principal is in assuring that his or her school has a fully-aligned instructional system that is focused on the standards and is internally coherent and consistent.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • A standards-based instructional system includes several critical elements: clear, high standards; fair assessments, curriculum framework, aligned instruction, safety nets.
  • Performance standards and assessments should drive teaching and learning in standards-based schools.
  • Principals must be able to distinguish between content standards and performance standards.
  • Assessments should be used to revise instructional strategies and align them to the standards and curriculum framework.
  • Every child not achieving high standards will need the support of a comprehensive safety net system—mostly before the bell.

Foundations of Effective Learning
The purpose of this unit is to provide the participant access to the best research the world has to offer on the issues that relate to standards-based education and the role of the principal in leading his or her school to high performance. The research is distilled into a series of principles related to teaching, learning and curriculum. The unit focuses on the particular role of the school leader in making sure that the way the school operates reflects each principle of learning, teaching, and curriculum.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • Recent research has shown that classroom effects on student learning are greater than school effects.
  • Principles are a shorthand summary of many complex ideas—the dangers are that principles can oversimplify and important details may be missed.
  • The principal needs to know what he/she would see and the impacts if the principles of learning, teaching, and curriculum were deeply operating in the school.
  • Improvement will occur if all classes/teachers operate at the level of the most effective ones in the school.
  • Principals will understand vast differences in the teaching, learning, and curriculum in a Japanese and an American classroom treating roughly the same math concept.

Leadership for Excellence in Literacy
This unit helps enable the participant to be an effective instructional leader in this crucial area. The aim is not to turn the principal into a literacy expert, but rather to enable the principal to recognize the key elements of best practice in the field of literacy and provide the principal with sound criteria for judging whether the school has an effective literacy program and some practice in using those criteria. Also included in this unit is instruction designed to enable the participant to recognize the key features of effective safety net programs in literacy.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • The principal must become steeped, as an instructional leader, in the essentials of teaching literacy, how to recognize best practices, and how to assess the quality of instruction by engaging in conversations with students and looking at their work.
  • Principals need to know and be able to apply at the appropriate level powerful instructional strategies for elementary, middle, and high schools in order to address the needs of struggling readers.
  • Research into effective class organization offers compelling evidence to support the adoption of within-class instructional groups and the establishment of classroom routines. Those routines allow teachers to work in a focused way with small groups of students with similar learning needs.
  • It is important for students to know what is expected of them. Standards, rubrics, and examples of student work help create a common understanding of what is good writing.

Leadership for Excellence in Math
The aim of this unit is not to make the principal a math expert, but rather to enable the principal to recognize the key elements of best instructional practices in the field of mathematics—from basic skills to problem solving to conceptual understanding. The principal must be comfortable and confident in judging whether the school has an effective mathematics program and be able to lead continuous improvements and safety net programs in mathematics.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • The principal needs to be able to articulate the characteristics of a good standards-based mathematics program and highly-effective math classroom teaching.
  • Instructional leaders develop strategies for improving math outcomes for all students.
  • Principals need to establish processes within the school to ensure and sustain improvement in the quality of math teaching and learning.
  • Students need to understand the concepts underlying math, as well as develop mathematical skills and problem-solving ability.

Leadership for Excellence in Science
This unit examines instructional best practices for improving science instruction, and the role of principal as an instructional leader of science in our schools. Participants complete a gap analysis designed to show the current state and the desired state of science education in their schools. The principal’s role is not to become an expert in science, but a leader who can identify characteristics of s a good science program and effective pedagogy, and set up processes for ongoing improvement.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • Scientific literacy is the cornerstone of creativity and innovation in STEM fields.
  • As an instructional leader, principals should identify potential reforms and best practice models to meet the needs of science education.
  • Effective science instruction includes developing conceptual understanding, evidence-based explanation, and engagement with phenomena.

Leading Instruction for Special Populations
This unit will focus on specific programmatic approaches relative to instruction for students in special education and English language learners. For example, how should a principal consider using co-teaching or an instructional improvement initiative building-wide around SIOP (Standard Instruction Observation Protocol), and content and language objectives to address the differentiated needs of special populations of students.

Promoting Professional Learning
This unit helps enable the participant to lead a school-wide effort to continuously develop the professional knowledge and skill of the faculty. This means establishing a culture in which every professional on the staff is expected to be learning all the time and in which professional development is seen by the whole faculty as the most important tool by which it acquires the skill and knowledge it needs. Participants learn how to promote organizational learning through analysis of successes and failures, through benchmarking best practices beyond the school.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • The principal must deeply understand the importance of creating a learning culture in schools directed at improving student learning outcomes
  • The principal needs to deepen and weave in the relationship between principles of adult learning and the characteristics of effective professional development.
  • Deep professional knowledge and the effective use of benchmarking and scientifically-based research should guide and enhance .professional learning in schools
  • The principal should understand how to align school needs to teacher development, creating a powerful professional development sequence and connecting directly to classroom practice.
  • Strategies the principal can use to create time for and promote professional learning among teachers include learning communities, lesson study, mentoring and coaching.

Leading through Teacher Evaluation
This unit will address the new teacher evaluation requirements in Minnesota, and prepare principals to conduct effective evaluations.

Coaching Institute
An instructional coaching model is introduced, and participants have an opportunity to analyze and plan for a coaching situation based on a video of a first year teacher. Our coaching unit is very interactive, allowing participants to engage in both individual and small group analysis using coaching scenarios and case study, as well as role-play in personal coaching situations that occur in their schools.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • A highly effective means of implementing instructional improvements is through coaching.
  • Coaching unlocks a person’s potential to maximize performance, and coaching is critical to implementing change systemically.
  • Instructional coaching is intentional and specific; it begins with a shared understanding of the school’s goals for improving student achievement.
  • The action plan should include specific steps to be followed, resources that will be provided, and follow-up measures.

Principal as Instructional Leader and Team Builder
This unit enables the participant to reflect on his or her role as an instructional leader and to learn how to play that role effectively, alone or in combination with other members of the leadership team. The participant is introduced to a variety of ways in which the role of instructional leaders can be allocated among the people who together assume the function of the ‘principalship,’ and considers how best to distribute leadership and allocate responsibility in the school for this function. Participants learn how to define the goals for teams, recruit and select their members, and motivate and coach them to success.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • Today, the role of the principal should again be that of “head teacher,” responsible for leading school improvement initiatives to implement sound instructional practices.
  • Principals must have an instructional vision and build an enthusiastic following for the vision; there must be a coherent overall strategy for improving instruction.
  • Principals must have a deep commitment to the idea that all students, with proper instruction, can meet internationally benchmarked standards, and it is the faculty’s responsibility to make this happen with the principal’s support.
  • Instructional leaders spend time in the classroom observing instructional practices and classroom dynamics, and they are able to evaluate instruction.

Community and Family Engagement
How principals can work effectively with parents, community leaders, health and legal entities, and non-profits to better meet the needs of their students. This unit is being created in partnership with the Center for Integrative Leadership, and will include joint sessions with leaders from other sectors.

Principal as Ethical Leader
This unit provides participants the opportunity to examine their roles as ethical leaders in their schools. Principals are not only responsible for their own ethical behavior but also must help create and nurture an ethical culture in each of their schools. The moral principles of a just, fair, and caring community are presented, and participants use these principles to guide their discussions and decisions about several case studies.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • Principals are responsible not just for their own ethical behavior but also must create and nurture an ethical school community, consistently placing the interests of students above the interests of adults.
  • Moral dilemmas present themselves when two or more ethical principles conflict with one another, and there is no easy answer on which way to go.
  • A just, fair, and caring school community does not just happen—the three qualities are always in tension and do not easily coexist.
  • Students have a keen sense of what is fair, and they learn best in a just and caring community.

Principal as Driver of Change
This unit enables the participant to design, lead, and drive a change process calculated to produce steady improvement in student achievement. The principal should also learn how to identify root problems and causes, gather intelligence, and formulate a plan on the basis of appropriate data, set performance targets, select strategies and develop sound implementation plans.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • The purpose of leadership is not to produce consistency and order; rather, it is to produce movement and create change.
  • Leadership focuses on strategies, creativity, and taking calculated risks, whereas management focuses on operational excellence and risk mitigation.
  • Change is difficult and involves eight steps according to Kotter.
  • When dealing with problems or issues that affect others, leaders need to consider the multiple perspectives and focus on the forest, not the trees (Bolman and Deal’s four lenses or frames)

Leading for Results (including Program Evaluation)
The participant focuses on the crucial role of data in the drive for results, including setting targets, and collecting, displaying and analyzing data on program implementation and student progress in relation to standards. The participant also learns how to use data in the process of setting goals, monitoring progress, allocating and reallocating resources and managing the school program.

Main Themes/Concepts:

  • An intelligent and comprehensive use of data is key to meeting the challenge of improving student learning.
  • Effective school leaders create a culture where educators are comfortable with and knowledgeable about data used to determine a school’s strengths and weaknesses
  • In addition, leaders need to understand evaluation and its purposes (program, decision, or participant oriented) and how to evaluate a strategy or initiative.

Culminating Simulation
The culminating simulation draws together all the major themes of NISL into a two-day experience for participants. The computer-assisted simulation starts with a case study on Greenwood Middle School, including about ten pages of student data that participants study in-depth before the exercise begins. The exercise itself requires the players to make choices in response to questions and issues that are related to the scenario and to prior decisions. The responses follow a cause-and-effect chain of logic down six levels of relationships—such that choices made later in the exercise are delimited by earlier decisions. There are five baskets of issues related to the analysis of data, strategic thinking, distributed leadership, literacy (a main focus in the scenario), and coherence/alignment of all the elements of a standards-based system. There are also expert commentaries on video that are used to advance the discussion of each basket of issues.