3-year program ended in March for Cohort 3
Eleven Central Louisiana public school administrators have completed a three-year instructional leadership program that aims to improve classroom instruction and student achievement. Leading for Better Instruction is a training curriculum for administrators developed for Central Louisiana by the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership. It is funded by The Rapides Foundation and administered by The Orchard Foundation.
The goal is to develop instructional leaders, not just managers, to lead schools throughout Central Louisiana.
“It’s all about instructional leadership,” said Marjorie Taylor, Executive Director of The Orchard Foundation. “The Center for Educational Leadership theory of action is that student learning is not going to be improved until the quality of teaching in the classroom improves, and that doesn’t happen until you have leaders who are able to identify what high-quality instruction looks like. Principals need to know how to lead for instruction and not just be a manager. They need to be instructional leaders, and the goal is to improve instruction to impact student achievement.”
The administrators, who represent four Central Louisiana school districts, are:
- Melanie Fontenot, Allen Parish
- Pamela LeBoeuf, Allen Parish
- Lauri Phillips, Allen Parish
- Ashley Ducote, Avoyelles Parish
- Vicki Clinton, Grant Parish
- Amy Merrell, Grant Parish
- Terrie Taylor, Grant Parish
- Virginia Hopewell, Vernon Parish
- Kayla Hopkins, Vernon Parish
- Dylan Solice, Vernon Parish
- Susan Teegardin, Vernon Parish
Their work ended on March 13 with presentations before their peers and district supervisors. The presentations focused on an identified problem of practice in their schools and districts, and it represented the culmination of their learning experience.
Leading for Better Instruction is part of The Rapides Foundation’s Education Initiative. The initiative seeks to increase the level of educational attainment and achievement as the primary path to improved economic, social and health status.
“One of the core strategies under the Education Initiative has been to provide professional development and leadership opportunities for teachers and school leaders. Research tells us that strong school leadership and instructional strategies ultimately lead to improved student achievement,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation.
The Rapides Foundation brought Leading for Better Instruction and its companion program, Aspiring Leaders, to Central Louisiana more than 10 years ago. Aspiring Leaders is a two-year program designed to train teachers with aspirations of becoming administrators. Graduates of Aspiring Leaders typically move on to the three-year Leading for Better Instruction program after being promoted to administrative positions, although it is not a requirement.
In Leading for Better Instruction, participants studied developing a learning-focused culture; deepening their ability to observe and analyze instruction; using an inquiry model to analyze the needs of students, teachers and leadership; identifying an area for improvement; implementing an improvement plan and measuring its impact; and designing a system of professional development tailored to the specific needs of teachers.
The group met five times during each school year. The sessions included visiting host schools for classroom observations and other practical work. In the third and final year, participants used what they learned to implement a school-wide improvement plan unique to their own schools. Examples include increasing student engagement, focusing on literacy and improving overall student achievement.
“They are a hard-working group who are serious about their learning,” said Diane Marcantel, Professional Development Associate for Leading for Better Instruction. “Each year in LBI they have accumulated numerous leadership skills that they have practiced and replicated in their schools. This has made them effective administrators who are very intentional about implementing these skills every day.”
The program gives superintendents a pool of highly qualified candidates for administrative positions. At the same time, it gives participants the confidence to pursue principalships, knowing they are fully prepared for most aspects of the job. Leading for Better Instruction also gives participants a group of colleagues to turn to as they navigate their new administrative positions.
Many of the recent graduates went through Aspiring Leaders, were assistant principals when they started Leading for Better Instruction and were promoted to principalships during their training. They said they felt confident and prepared.
Amy Merrell was promoted to principal of Pollock Elementary after the holidays when the school’s longtime principal retired.
Amy Merrell, Pollock Elementary
“With me just starting at a new school as a principal, it was extremely helpful. When you are an assistant principal, you are not really an instructional leader. You are doing all the busy work to free up the instructional leader. And when you are at a busy school, you don't get to see a lot of what the principal does. So had I not had Leading for Better Instruction, there is no way I would have even known where to begin. Leading for Better Instruction just sets you up as a leader to be able to do this.”
Merrell’s assistant principal, Vicki Clinton, is also in her Leading for Better Instruction class, so the two administrators get to compare notes and share ideas to improve their school.
“Aspiring Leaders built me as a mentor teacher and when I got to Leading for Better Instruction I was really able to focus on my Instructional Leadership and train people to do what I had learned in Aspiring Leaders. I came into Leading for Better Instruction already knowing how to script and already knowing how to define that focus area and finding ‘look-fors.’ I understood what they were saying in the sessions and I understood the purpose behind everything, so I was able to dive into my whole Instructional Leadership team,” she said. “The work we do in Aspiring Leaders and Leading for Better Instruction is so meaningful, it applies to what we do every day. We know the purpose behind our work, and that is important.”
Susan Teegardin is in her first year as principal of West Leesville Elementary School.
Susan Teegardin, West Leesville Elementary
“I have learned so much from my participation in Leading for Better Instruction. Focusing on effective instruction has allowed me to go into classrooms with one goal and one purpose: improving academic success. My focused classroom observations allow me to focus on what needs to improve,” she said. “This experience has given me the skills needed to develop into a leader, making decisions daily to move toward improvement. My experience and the knowledge I gained in these three years has allowed me to take what I have learned and help teachers improve their practice. I have seen great results from targeted feedback cycles.”
Teegardin appreciated the opportunity to get hands-on experiences in other schools and from other educators throughout Central Louisiana.
“I think just being able to share what I have learned with others has benefited our school. I work alongside two coaches and my assistant principal, who is in Year One of Leading for Better Instruction. We are always sharpening our own skills and collaborating on what we can do to improve instruction based on our area of focus. I spend a lot of time reflecting. As a team, we reflect on what is working and what isn’t, and we make changes that strengthen our area of focus. We have made a lot of changes this year, but they were necessary for our students to grow. It is taking time to rebuild a culture of reading.”
Pamela LeBoeuf is in her first year as Principal of Oberlin High School. She too attended Aspiring Leaders before Leading for Better Instruction.
Pamela LeBoeuf, Oberlin High
“As a Math Coach, I was honored to be able to participate in Aspiring Leaders. This was a great experience! Leading for Better Instruction gave me the confidence I needed to get into the classroom and give notable feedback to teachers. By giving factually-based feedback our teachers began to grow in their learning, resulting in our students moving forward. This program also gave me the reassurance I needed when applying for the Assistant Principal, then the Principal’s position.”
Like other participants, LeBoeuf appreciated the practical experience she gained from attending the two programs.
“Through the work that we completed in Leading for Better Instruction, I have learned to become more focused, and this has kept our school more focused. This program gives one direct support and feedback for our real-life situations,’ she said. “What’s amazing is there are times we discuss things in Leading for Better Instruction and then we come back and the superintendent will visit and say ‘this is what we are going to move toward,’ and it’s exactly the things that we had talked about and discussed in the program. It validates what you are and it validates what you are doing. This program is something that you live and use. It benefits your students, it benefits your teachers and it benefits your school as a whole. And you can utilize the skills that you learned there and use it at any school that you go to. That’s what makes it so valuable.”