The Network for College Success began by partnering with a group of high school principals, and that relationship remains central to our efforts today.
A principal is the key change agent in a school, and his or her actions have direct and indirect effects on teaching and student achievement. Research shows that effective principals provide focus and direction to the curriculum and instruction at their school and that leadership is a key factor in whether schools are able to build their capacity to create the conditions under which learning improves. Our partner, the UChicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR), has found that strong principal leadership is a primary catalyst for school improvement.
NCS directly supports principals to lead continuous improvement in their schools. We help principals improve instruction and ensure that their students are successful during freshman year, on the right track to graduate, and ready for college enrollment and success. Our approach helps principals develop leaders and high-functioning teams in their schools, create structures and processes to develop a strong learning environment, and guide changes in the building.
NCS accomplishes this work by bringing together principals in our partner schools for a monthly Collaborative, or professional learning community. Led by our Leadership Coaches, the Principals' Collaborative meetings are structured around key goals for school improvement. The meetings typically include discussions around research and ongoing analyses of each school’s performance on critical indicators to improve student outcomes.
Each Collaborative meeting is also focused on a specific topic that all schools are working to improve, such as using teacher evaluations to strengthen instruction, focusing on building students’ non-cognitive skills, and integrating Common Core State Standards. We drill down to the specific details at each school and problem solve. Sharing ideas and practices from various schools also transfers innovation—and we consistently hear from participants that it’s both extremely useful and a rare opportunity to collaborate with other principals. Everyone benefits from each other’s strengths and experiences.
One-on-One Executive Coaching
Each principal has a dedicated NCS Leadership Coach who visits the school at least twice a month to talk through the ideas and research shared in the Collaborative meetings and to help apply strategies to that school’s unique context. Coaching sessions are structured to improve the principal’s capacity to develop targeted teams at the school and create systems to successfully implement plans.
The NCS Coach, principal, and key members of the Instructional Leadership Team also conduct quarterly instructional Learning Walks to see how programs and initiatives are working in the building. The time gives the NCS Coach an opportunity to observe how the school and its leaders operate on a daily basis. NCS then provides feedback to the principal as reflection and advice on leadership style are part of the coaching package.
From the start, NCS recognized the important and unique role each principal plays in a school. Our Collaborative and coaching give these crucial school leaders new resources and ideas so they can be the primary source of improvement in their building.