Principals have a difficult job. It requires them to be instructional leaders, managers and mentors, all with the goal of helping every student succeed.

How can school districts provide principals the support they need to excel in this challenging position? Two knowledge products—A Story From the Field and a WNET-produced video, School Leadership in Action: Principal Supervisors—explore how some school districts are responding to that question by remaking the job of the principal’s supervisor.

The idea—to shape a job focused squarely on helping principals improve instruction—represents a dramatic break with the conventional notion of the principal supervisor as a bureaucratic enforcer of principal compliance with regulations.

The article and video profile efforts in two districts, Tulsa and Washington, D.C., that have rethought the supervisor’s job, in part by giving supervisors fewer schools to oversee. The result is that supervisors now are fixtures in Tulsa and D.C. schools, doing things like classroom walkthroughs to observe what’s working and what isn’t—then sitting down with principals to discuss solutions. “I can’t imagine doing this job without her,” one novice D.C. principal says of her supervisor, who is helping her face such challenges as closing an achievement gap between African-American and white students.

Changing the supervisor’s job is no easy task. In addition to finding funding for the work—assigning each supervisor fewer schools means increasing the number of supervisors—district leaders face initial wariness from both principals and central office staff members. Supervisors, for their part, don’t necessarily step into the job fully prepared to tackle it; so each district provides the supervisors with a considerable amount of professional development. Even with that, supervisors need to figure out how to reconcile two seemingly contradictory roles: developing a trusting relationship with principals while also being their judges in job performance evaluations.

Both Tulsa and Washington, D.C., school districts receive Wallace support as part of the foundation’s Principal Supervisor Initiative, which seeks to help participating districts and generate lessons for the broader field.

 Points of Interest

  • How can principal supervisors help principals? By being “someone who’s been there and can offer solutions that I can’t see in the moment,” one principal says.
    What a supervisor can be to a school #principal: “Someone who’s been there & can offer solutions I can’t see.”
  • In Washington, D.C., principal supervisors now handle an average of 12 schools, down from as many as 28. This gives them more time to spend in schools coaching and guiding principals.
    D.C. drops number of schools supervisors oversee to 12 on average. Result? More time for coaching #principals.

 Supplementary Materials