Expectations of school principals are rising.
Principals are no longer expected simply to be effective building, resource and personnel managers. Growing evidence shows that the most effective principals are ones who manage those needs while also serving as instructional leaders who build and nurture learning communities.
But many principal preparation programs have been slow to keep up with those rising expectations, with curricula that often feature a heavy focus on theory and little input from the school districts that hire program graduates.
Martinette Horner, Ed.D., the UNC School of Education’s Master of School Administration (MSA) program coordinator, writes in an article published in the Journal of Organizational and Educational Leadership that partnerships between university-based principal preparation programs and school districts can bridge the preparation-practice divide that can hamper effective school principal preparation.
Horner co-authored the article with Derrick Jordan, who received his Ed.D. degree from the UNC School of Education and has served at all levels of K-12 education, including at the state level and as a principal and school system superintendent.
In the paper, Horner and Jordan point to research that has found a lack of opportunity in many educator preparation programs to apply theory to practice in schools.
“Our schools face numerous new and continually emerging challenges,” Horner said. “To be effective, school principals today must be able to address multifaceted problems, juggling demands from a wide number of constituencies, while also paying deep attention to building a supportive learning environment.
“It’s a tough job,” she said. “But candidates for principalships can gain important insights and experience in principal preparation programs that have strong ties with school districts,” Horner said. “These partnerships also can inform our preparation programs, making them more relevant to the challenges our graduates will face when they take on school leadership positions.”
Writing from experience
Horner, a clinical assistant professor, began her career working as a third- and fourth-grade teacher for eight years, during which she earned distinction as a National Board Certified Teacher. She has worked as a district mentor for beginning teachers and supported students in a Title I school as a literacy tutor. She worked for four years as a school administrator before joining the UNC School of Education as its first P-12 Distinguished Educator.
At UNC-Chapel Hill, in addition to serving as program coordinator of the School Administration program, Horner serves as regional director of the N.C. New Teacher Support program, which offers services to enhance teachers’ skills and to reduce attrition among beginning teachers.
She also leads efforts around the UNC School of Education’s participation in the N.C. Principal Fellows Program, which funds preparation of educators to serve as school principals. UNC-Chapel Hill’s participation in the program — in an MSA initiative called “UNC LEADS” — features partnerships with five county school districts and a group of charter schools.
UNC LEADS provides a framework for student’s preparation that is built on three pillars emphasizing equity and social justice, educational leadership, and continuous improvement. UNC LEADS builds on relationships the School of Education has developed to help districts and schools in under-served areas.
Horner’s research and service agenda focuses on school leader preparation with practice. She has worked to build and nurture partnerships that serve schools while also informing continuous improvement efforts of educator preparation programs.
Jordan now works at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as assistant superintendent for agency schools, a position in which he oversees the state’s schools for the deaf and the blind, university-affiliated laboratory schools, and alternative schools. His 20-year career as an educator includes service as a middle and high school English teacher, an assistant principal at elementary, middle and high school levels, a high school principal and eight years as a school district superintendent.
Seeking effective partnerships
Horner and Jordan write that effective university-district partnerships often build on professional development school models (PDS) developed beginning in the 1990s in which K-12 schools and educator preparation programs partnered to renew programming and professional education in the K-12 schools and at the universities. But PDS models often left out the explicit preparation of school principals.
In more recent years, two types of principal preparation partnerships have emerged: organizational partnerships and partnerships for learning.
Organizational partnerships promote collaboration between districts and preparation programs primarily in the realm of recruitment, by seeking to identify educators with leadership potential from within districts and developing leadership pipelines to facilitate their entering into principal preparation programs.
Partnerships for learning work to incorporate opportunities for principal candidates for clinical experiences that are coordinated with the curriculum in their academic preparation. In addition to providing principal candidates with real-world problems, districts can also contribute to program and curriculum design, implementation, and candidate assessment.
Horner and Jordan write that more research is needed to understand how principal preparation programs and K-12 school districts interpret and experience these partnerships. Other questions that researchers need to explore: How do university-district partnerships influence principal decision-making and leadership behaviors? How do specific partnership activities best support candidate learning?
Horner, Martinette and Jordan, Derrick D. (2020) The partnership imperative for preparing effective principals in North Carolina schools. Journal of Organizational & Educational Leadership, Vol. 5: Issue 2, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.gardner-webb.edu/joel/vol5/iss2/3