Growing Instructional Leaders

7 Ways to Grow Quality School Leaders: Coherence and Capacity

People are our most important resource. Dedicated staff engage students daily – 180 days a year – helping them be successful.

  • Teachers are the most important in-school factor that improves student learning.
  • Principals are a close second.  High quality schools don’t appear by magic. They are created by high quality leaders.

7 ways to create high quality leaders

Seattle’s pipeline grows great leaders.  These seven steps reflect a common focus on high quality learning.

Create a Strong Pipeline:

Seattle’s LeadUp program came from a partnership with the principals’ union. Two leadership coaches help train aspiring principals. Then coach them through the hiring process. And that support continues during their first three years.  The majority of new hires now come from this internal pool.  As a result there is less principal turnover.  And therefore, greater continuity and coherence.   Note:  See The Wallace Foundation link below for great resources on principal pipelines.

Lead for Instruction:

Keeping the focus on instruction is essential. Hire school supervisors who know good instruction.  Train them well.  Meredith Honig and Max Silverman from the University of Washington helped Seattle grow strong instructional supervisors.  These supervisors lead the Principal Improvement Networks.  And they meet in their own network to learn from and with each other.

Apply Leadership Standards … Everywhere:

Research based standards drive all parts of principal development.  The leadership framework focuses on: Purpose, Results, Implementation, Determination and Engagement.  This framework brings consistency and coherence to:  hiring postings, interview questions, hiring processes, orientation, coaching, professional development, supervision and evaluation.  Instructional leadership is embedded in every aspect of principal hiring, training and supervision.   Even monthly celebrations are built around the framework.

Grow Instructional Leadership:

Principals dedicate one full day monthly to PD.  Administrivia is limited to 60 minutes or less.  PD days are jointly planned with a principal planning team. The focus is on adult learning. Half of each day-long session addresses race and equity.  The other half-day focuses on implementation of equity-based School Improvement Plans (SIPs).  Principals learning from each other takes priority: sharing implementation plans, getting feedback from colleagues and working in networks.

Start the New Year in June:

Board goals and school improvement plans are finalized in May.  This gives a head start to the year ahead.  Two June workshop days focus on the big ideas for the coming year.  Three days in early August support the launch of those goals.  Research and Evaluation provides updated assessment data.   Principals share replicable best practices. School Improvement Plans focus in on day-one implementation. 

Learn by Doing:

Principals learning from principals is one of the most powerful ways to improve student learning.  This makes all the pieces come together.  Each principal is part of a Principal Learning Network (PLN).  They sit together at the monthly PD sessions.  Principals read and review each other’s School Improvement Plans.  Networks meet in schools between PD sessions.  They take turns hosting; sharing their strategies and leading classroom walkthroughs to showcase progress. And then they debrief – sharing warm and cool feedback – and potential improvements.

Set Gap Closing Goals:

Goals are based on data and closing gaps.  They include targets, strategies and benchmarks.  Finding the right balance between compliance and creativity is a challenge.  Each school sets specific gap closing goals to ensure  the success of the neediest students.

Capacity and coherence – A never ending quest.

These steps sound so simple and logical. Yet, they have been years in the making.  Components were added roughly in the order shown above, over a ten year period.  As a result, Seattle:

  • outperforms similar state-wide peers,
  • typically sees many schools recognized as schools of distinction, and
  • ranked third in the US out of 200 large districts in student growth from grades 3-8.

For great resources on principal pipelines see the Wallace Foundation website:



Posted in
Larry Nyland speaking

Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
Contact: | 425-418-4398 |