Developing Instructional Leadership and Communication Skills through Online Professional Development: Focusing on Rural and Urban Principals

Developing Instructional Leadership and Communication Skills through Online Professional Development: Focusing on Rural and Urban Principals

Doron Zinger (University of California Irvine, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9970-0.ch019
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Principals and school leaders play a pivotal role in teacher satisfaction, retention, and learning; thus, they are uniquely positioned to help teachers improve their practice. Principals face many of the same challenges that teachers do, especially in schools serving low-income, low-performing, and ethnically diverse students. This chapter examines the extant literature concerning online professional development (OPD) and how it may hold particular promise for principals and other school leaders who work in these challenging settings, with a focus on attending to principal instructional leadership. A corollary purpose centers on how effective online communication (and the use of digital modalities) can create greater access and flexibility for participants. Establishing lines of communication and building online community may help overcome the professional isolation experienced by principals. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.
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The Roles of Principals

It can be argued that a principal, more than any other individual, can move a school forward and impact student learning. Indeed, high performing school leaders have long been associated with high performing schools (Barth, 1986; Marks & Printy, 2003), and although teachers play a critical role in and have significant impact on student learning (Hawley & Valli, 2000), principals have a significant and direct impact on teacher learning and performance (Hallinger, 2005; Youngs & King, 2002). Broadly, principals have significant influence on teacher retention, teacher learning and teaching, and subsequently, student learning (Johnson, Kraft, & Papay, 2012). For example, lack of administrative support is responsible for 40% of teacher turnover, more than double the rate of turnover due to teacher concerns about student behavioral issues (Boyd et al., 2011).

Urban School Leadership

Principals in urban settings face a number of challenges that do not exist (or that exist to a lesser extent) in suburban schools (Markow, Macia, & Lee, 2013). These challenges include staffing schools with effective teachers, engaging parents and the community, and coping with greater levels of stress (Markow et al., 2013). Teacher turnover in urban schools serving large percentages of students from ethnically diverse backgrounds is particularly problematic (Grissom, 2011); however, in urban settings principals can have a greater impact on teacher satisfaction and retention. The financial cost, time, and effort of having to hire, train, and support teachers only to see them leave can be daunting. Grissom found that high-performing principals had the same teacher turnover rates at urban and suburban schools. Average-performing principals however; had higher turnover rates in urban schools when compared with suburban schools. Thus, focusing on supporting urban school principals and increasing their effectiveness can have a significant impact on teacher satisfaction, retention, and performance. As high rates of teacher turnover are associated with poor student performance (Grissom, 2011), reducing these rates in urban settings is especially critical for the growing population of students from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Additionally, as principals can often be unprepared for leading schools when they complete their initial accreditation process (Barnett, 2004) and their schools may be under-resourced (Grissom, 2011), they, themselves, may be at a higher risk of burnout and susceptible to turnover. Indeed, Grissom calls for a policy change to promote finding and hiring the best principals into these schools. Nevertheless, even the best principals are unlikely to excel in challenging urban schools without subsequent. Thus, supporting principals’ capacity to directly impact teacher performance and satisfaction may be the top priority for principal development.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Asynchronous Communication: Communication that does not happen in real time, for example e-mail, or blogs, where messages are sent, and responded to at a later time.

Synchronous Communication: Communication that takes place in real time, for example a phone conversation or video conference.

Transformational Leadership: Leadership approach or style characterized by inspiring and motivating followers.

Rural Schools: Schools located significant distances away from urban centers that are often geographically isolated. Rural schools often serve large populations of poorer students. Rural schools are characterized by lower academic achievement than suburban schools, and many have high rates of student mobility.

Online Professional Development (OPD): Professional development that is conducted over the internet. OPD can be synchronous or asynchronous, completely self-guided or guided by an instruction, facilitator, or participant, and can include a variety of instructional approaches, and communication technologies including video conferencing, videos, blogs, and group projects.

Suburban Schools: Schools located away from urban centers that primarily serve more affluent, white and Asian students.

Urban Schools: Schools located in or near urban centers, primarily serving poor and ethnically diverse students in densely populated areas. Urban schools are often characterized by lower academic achievement than suburban schools, and high rates of mobility by students.

Instructional Leadership: School leadership activities and focus on instruction. These activities include teacher instructional support, curriculum development and implementation, and assessment of instruction.

Computer Mediated Communication: Any communication, synchronous or asynchronous that occurs over a computer, but now extending to other devices capable of communication over the internet including tablets, and phones.

Digital Literacy: Literacy across computerized devices and technologies, as well as programs, software. The ability to effectively navigate and communicate over the internet through various digital modalities.

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