Panel Paper: Leadership Preparation for Deeper Learning: New Conceptions from the Field

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Marjorie E. Wechsler, Julie Adams, Desiree Carver-Thomas, Daniel Espinoza, Madelyn Gardner and Maria Hyler, Learning Policy Institute

To better prepare students for success in college and careers in the 21st century, K-12 education is shifting away from rote learning and standardization toward more experiential, innovative, and deep learning that better prepares students for the demands they will face. Creating this type of learning requires schools that are designed to provide it. The importance of principals in shaping teacher working conditions, job satisfaction, classroom instruction, and student learning is well established. However, the changes required of leaders to support deeper learning are more fundamental and involve all aspects of school from scheduling, to resource allocation, to staff and student assignments, to providing the necessary time and support for teachers to provide engaging, experiential instruction and to support students to learn deeply.

This paper presents findings from a study on leadership preparation for deeper learning. The study was designed to answer the following questions: What is the role of leaders in creating deeper learning environments? How are programs preparing leaders for their changing role and to develop the competencies to lead for deeper learning? What contextual factors support or inhibit the development and sustainability of programs that prepare leaders for deeper learning? How successful are these programs in preparing leaders for deeper learning?

Findings are based on in-depth case studies of 5 exemplary leadership preparation and in-service programs. We used snowball sampling, and selected the sample based on effectiveness, as determined by extant data, and an explicit focus on deeper learning as determined by a review of program documents and curricula. The case studies included stakeholder interviews (program faculty, mentors, program participants, graduates, and district leaders); surveys of program participants and alumni; observations of participants in their school or clinical placements; observations of courses; and analyses of extant data on program effectiveness.

We found that leading for deeper learning requires a new conception of leadership. Principals who lead for deeper learning: 1) have a vision for teaching and learning focused on developing students’ deeper learning competencies and intentionally build systems, culture, and norms to enact that vision in their schools; 2) believe that leadership is a collaborative and social endeavor that includes administrators and teachers; 3) provide learning opportunities for staff that are developmentally grounded, personalized, and focused on the skills and knowledge to develop students’ deeper learning competencies; 4) take a systems perspective to school change that is grounded in the specific school and district contexts; and 5) prioritize equity and social justice.

Likewise, learning to lead for deeper learning requires a new conception of principal development. Programs that teach principals to lead for deeper learning: 1) have a vision for teaching, learning, and leadership centered on deeper learning that drives all program components; 2) create communities of practice among participants; 3) incorporate deeper learning instructional strategies; 4) provide sustained learning opportunities for participants to learn, practice, reflect, and deepen their knowledge and skills; 5) emphasize equity and social justice; 6) embrace a culture of continuous learning.

The paper concludes with implications for policy and practice.