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Guiding Principals: Middle-Manager Coaching and Human-Capital Reform

by Susan Bush-Mecenas, Julie A. Marsh & Katharine O. Strunk - 2020

Background/Context: School leaders are central to state and district human-capital reforms (HCRs), yet they are rarely equipped with the skills to implement new evaluation, professional development, and personnel data systems. Although districts increasingly offer principals coaching and training, there has been limited empirical work on how these supports influence principals’ HCR-related practices.

Purpose: Drawing on a two-year, mixed-methods study in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), this paper examines the role of principal supervisors in HCRs. We ask: What role did principal supervisors (Instructional Directors [IDs]) play in the implementation of human-capital reforms? What did high-quality coaching on the part of IDs look like in this context?

Research Design: Our two-part analysis draws upon survey and interview data. First, we conducted descriptive analyses and significance testing using principal and ID survey data to examine the correlations among principals’ ratings of ID coaching quality, ID coaching practices, and principals’ implementation of HCRs. Second, we conducted in-depth interviews, using a think-aloud protocol, with two sets of IDs—those consistently highly-rated and those with mixed ratings—who were identified using principals’ reports of coaching quality. Following interview coding, we created various case-ordered metamatrix displays to analyze our qualitative data in order to identify patterns in coaching strategy and approach across IDs, content, and contexts.

Findings: First, our survey data indicate that receiving high-quality coaching from IDs is correlated with stronger principal support for and implementation of HCRs. Our survey findings further illustrate that IDs support a wide range of principals’ HCR activities. Second, our think-aloud interviews with case IDs demonstrate that coaching strategy and approach vary between consistently highly-rated and mixed-rated coaches: Consistently highly-rated IDs emphasize the importance of engaging in, or defining HCR problems as, joint work alongside principals, while mixed-rated IDs often emphasize the use of tools to guide principal improvement. We find that, on the whole, the consistently highly-rated IDs in our sample employ a nondirective approach to coaching more often than mixed-rated coaches.

Conclusions: These findings contribute to a growing literature on the crucial role of principal supervisors as coaches to improve principals’ instructional leadership and policy implementation. While exploratory, this study offers the first steps toward building greater evidence of the connections between high-quality coaching and policy implementation, and it may have implications for the design and implementation of professional development for principal supervisors and the selection and placement of supervisors with principals.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 10, 2020, p. 1-50
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23436, Date Accessed: 1/24/2021 5:06:41 AM

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About the Author
  • Susan Bush-Mecenas
    Northwestern University
    E-mail Author
    SUSAN BUSH-MECENAS, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at the Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy. Her research examines the enactment and implementation of PreK–12 education policy in urban districts and school systems, blending perspectives from organizational theory, sociology, and political science. Recent publications include “Evaluating Teachers in the Big Easy: How Organizational Context Shapes Policy Responses in New Orleans,” in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and “Learning from Early Adopters in the New Accountability Era: Insights from California's CORE Waiver Districts,” in Educational Administration Quarterly.
  • Julie Marsh
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    JULIE A. MARSH, Ph.D., is a professor of education policy at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. She specializes in research on K–12 policy, including the implementation and effects of accountability and instructional-improvement policies; the roles of central-office administrators, intermediary organizations, and community members in educational reform; the use of data to guide decision-making; and the politics of educational reform. Recent publications include “Challenges and Choices: A Multidistrict Analysis of Statewide Mandated Democratic Engagement,” in American Educational Research Journal, and “Evaluating Teachers in the Big Easy: How Organizational Context Shapes Policy Responses in New Orleans,” in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
  • Katharine Strunk
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    KATHARINE O. STRUNK, Ph.D., is the Clifford E. Erickson Distinguished Chair in Education and Professor of Education Policy and, by courtesy, Economics at Michigan State University. She is also co-director of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC). Dr. Strunk’s research focuses on teacher labor markets, accountability policy, and school and district reform, all in service of helping education policymakers use evidence to inform programs and policymaking.
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