Professional Development for Principals

Professional Growth



When you talk about employee evaluations in K-12, the first thing most people think is “teachers.” That’s true at Franklin Public Schools in Wisconsin, too. But as they work to build the capacity of teachers in the district, they also place a strong emphasis on developing principals — especially on equipping them to be strong instructional leaders.

This spring, we spoke with Christopher Reuter, Director of Teaching & Learning, and Erin King, principal at Forest Park Middle School, to find out what that looks like.

Here’s what Chris said about the role of the principal:

“I think the principalship, at least in the state of Wisconsin right now, is the hardest job in public education. You’re pulled in every direction. You open up any newspaper, go to any website or social media, and you see the many things that happen daily in our schools. It’s the principal who has to carry that load, as well as connect the ever-moving parts together to make sure that everyone’s moving forward.”

Erin has put a lot of work and thought into the kinds of feedback she provides her teachers. For starters, she said it needs to be provided soon after the observation:

“I had a big ‘aha’ moment during my own observation cycle that I wasn’t providing [teachers] timely feedback. I was trying to have everything look perfect, have it all done, tied up in a bow with my feedback entered into it, and I was waiting too long to have those conversations with teachers and focused too much on that one observation period versus instructional practice overall.”

How does she make sure those are more than just one-way conversations? How does she build trust?

“I ask [teachers] for feedback, and I’m very honest. I put my cards on the table, and my staff has seen that who I am is who I am every day. They see that honesty, and that transparency and vulnerability….They see that I am learning and growing as well, which has been part of the feedback teachers have given me: that they really appreciate that they see that I’m learning, and that I’m growing, and that I’m dedicated to that process, which is very similar to the process that they’re going through.”

Chris asked Erin if she’d be willing to conduct a post-observation conversation with a teacher in a fishbowl setting for other principals to observe.

“As administrators we don’t see each other engage in post-observation conversations, so we assume that we’re probably all doing it in the same way. I was told that I’m not necessarily doing it in the same way as others. Chris approached me to see if I’d be willing to model a post-observation conversation in front of other administrators.”

“I approached a teacher that is a real growth-mindsetted professional and asked her if she would be willing to put herself out there, be vulnerable with me and model a post-observation conversation. [The day after her classroom observation] we engaged in the post-observation in front of all the other principals, directors and superintendent within the district.”

“We were in the middle of the room with tables around us in a U-shape, but I think that that the most important thing was that I had a document camera displaying my notes from our pre-observation conversation, and then the notes that I took along the way….The other principals were asking, ‘How did you circle to this feedback? Did you know what you wanted her to learn and where it was going to end?’”

Since then, Chris and the other directors at the district have continued to observe principals as they conduct these conversations.

“It’s caught on. ‘Look at the work that Erin has done over the last year, and how that has developed her and the feedback she’s received.’ I and two other directors have all observed at least two or three principals in the venue and provided feedback.”

“We as a director team meet every Monday, and one of our standing agenda items is to calibrate around our observation of principals and share what we saw, talking about the post-observation conversation. We’re trying to model and do what Erin does with her teachers, with our principals as well — whether it be one-on-one or in small groups.”

Chris and Erin both emphasized that these open conversations, rooted in trust between principals and teachers, or directors and principals, are vital to their growth efforts — and ultimately, to student achievement.

You can listen to the entire interview above, or — better yet! — subscribe to Field Trip and get new episodes every other Friday.

Ryan Estes

Ryan is managing editor for the global award-winning creative team at Frontline Education. He spends his time writing, podcasting, and creating content for leaders in K-12 education.