Over the past six years, the Harold K.L. Foundation has spent more than $4M to support instructional leadership teams in 80 schools. This investment has supported 1) direct service from Targeted Leadership Consulting to facilitate and coach, 2) substitute teachers, 3) numerous convenings, 4) focused training sessions and 5) travel both within and outside of Hawaii to see how leading districts create shared leadership teams.
Teams of teachers and administrators collaboratively look at schoolwide data and then identify an instructional area to focus on as an entire school. Together, the team leads “cycles of learning” where the entire faculty receives professional development, practices the new techniques in safe environment and receives feedback from teachers visiting from other schools that observe whether the new techniques are occurring in the classroom. Teams of schools across the entire complex area share promising practices and problem solve together. In short, this approach reflects literature on how best to build school capacity to improve.
What began as a small and highly successful project to distribute leadership in Windward schools has spread organically to six other complex areas and a third of the schools in the DOE. More than 700 teachers voluntarily take on positions of increased leadership within their schools. Equally important, complex areas now direct the work themselves largely without support from Targeted Leadership Consulting.
As the project began to scale, we contracted in-depth interviews with Windward principals in 2012 and then completed an internal analysis of student data in 2014. We also tightened the logic model to generate a stronger data set used for project oversight. Given the size, duration and centrality of the investment to our strategy, we then decided to commission a formal third party evaluation from EducationNW.
A full summary of the findings can be found here. In short, findings are mixed. Leadership is indeed being shared across the 80 ILT schools and the school culture has become much more positive – an important precondition for learning. The evaluation also shows that DOE staff are ably picking up and leading the work from Targeted Leadership.
However, we were disappointed to see inconsistent implementation of the full improvement model. For example, we expected stronger evidence that instructional leadership teams help bring greater coherence to the DOE’s many improvement initiatives. And as a result, overall learning gains do not stand out when compared with “non” ILT schools.
There were, though, important statistically significant gains in elementary school reading of 4 percentage points per year compared to “non” ILT schools. Especially for schools that have shared leadership for four or five years, this finding represents steady and sustained progress year over year.
We closely examined the evaluation findings alongside our complex area superintendent partners and their teams. All have agreed that the core challenge ahead is how schools – especially secondary schools – can be helped to fully commit to the ILT model. As a result of strong leadership from the complex area superintendents, our Board has agreed to continue funding instructional leadership teams for the 2015-16 school year with an added emphasis on targeted support to the fifteen high schools. We hope the evaluation findings will help all of us to sharpen our focus and zero in on the right leverage points. After all, leadership matters more than just about anything else – other than excellent classroom instruction!