PD for Principals?

Jaime Festa-Daigle Professional Development, Teacher Leadership

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There have been two Stories from School AZ blogs focused on principal leadership this year. Beth Maloney writes a beautiful letter about what support teachers are craving in Dear Principal  and Jess Ledbetter uses poetic transcription in Administrators: Be the Support We Need to share teacher feedback around what was wanted from administrators.

I have moved from teacher to department chair to building level administrator to director of personnel.  What I have needed from administrators has had influence on who I am as a leader and has helped me develop my vision of leadership within my community.  

When I became a building leader, I had no idea what was meant by, “Everything changes when you are the one sitting in the chair.”  Prior to being a building leader, I could see myself doing all the things to run a school, I had earned my degree, filled in at the office, checked all the boxes.  I was a school leader long before I had any title that told me so. But, I was unprepared for the daily stresses and difficulties that being an administrator would mean.  I had the vision, but the balance is a killer.

Being a principal is the most wonderful job in the world.  I spent time with the kids who needed me the most, supported teachers that required the most support, and assisted parents in how to best help their students.  I connected with other agencies as issues arose, and although those issues were emotionally wearing, finding paths forward for struggling students was a beautiful thing.  When I taught 150 students, I didn’t have time to find out all of the “whys” when kids stopped coming to class or suddenly failed. As a principal, my life became uncovering those root causes and helping kids find a better way.  It was not usually a straight path.

I worked with teachers at all stages of their careers and skill levels to find out the best way to support them as they taught students.  Sometimes, these conversations were not appreciated even if they were necessary. I had the luxury of working with the special education department and led some of the hardest working people in my school.  With that, I learned the ins and outs of IDEA and 504. I spent every day before and after school in IEPs. I worked with teachers as they applied for Teacher of the Year, submitted National Board portfolios, and dreamed up amazing plans, while simultaneously I working with educators who I counseled out of the classroom.

What I knew and was able to do as a school leader, I learned on the job.  According to the American Institute for Research, only 31% of school district use any of their Title II funds for principal professional development and of those schools, they average using less than 5% of funds.  As a building leader, the professional development I received was designed for teachers unless I was could creatively cobble together funds from multiple sources.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals studied the effects of leadership on schools.  As can be expected, quality leadership places 2nd only to quality classroom instruction on determining a student’s success.  The NAESP determined that what made an effective principal was the ability to develop a vision, create a culture, cultivate leadership in others, improve instruction, and manage processes. These are the areas where principals move beyond handling the many issues that come their way each and every day and press forward toward improvement on their campuses.

Since funding has increased for CTE, there has been a huge shift in professional development provided for CTE teachers and counselors, but I’ve always wondered what the logic was in not providing funds for quality building level leadership to guide a school forward.  There is massive development in one area of the school, but the leadership skills are not growing at the same pace so how can there be real improvement?

I know that spending money on administration is seen as wasteful, but how can a school improve without quality organizational and instructional leadership?  It is not fair to anyone to have a principal giving feedback to a teacher, when it is clear the teacher has surpassed the administrator in instructional leadership.  Just about every district has a mentorship program for new teachers, but what programs exist for administrators? Who are they supposed to turn to to grow in their roles?

If we know the research-proven positive effects that school leaders have on everything from student success to teacher retention, then why wouldn’t we see it as a key area to devote professional development dollars to?  In addition, where is the quality professional development for administrators that is the deep dive into practice that is so desperately needed?

Principals turn to Twitter chats, webinars, and email blasts to fill some of the void, but I do not expect that this is the quality that Beth Maloney and Jess Ledbetter were looking for.  Moving forward, if Arizona is going to make headway and improve our schools, a focus must be on supporting and growing quality leaders with the same tenacity and intention with which we support those newest to our profession.


My name is Jaime Festa-Daigle and I was born here in Arizona. I work as the Director of Personnel and Technology at Lake Havasu Unified School District. I’ve taught everything from ELL to 8th grade English to student council to college level government and economics. I was recognized as the American Civic Educator of the Year in 2012. I am fully focused on ensuring rural students have equal access to educational opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts. My current passion is the development of mentor and induction programs for novice school leaders in rural communities. I am an NBCT, Arizona Master Teacher, and an Arizona Rural Schools Association board member. During the small moments where I am not focused on how to make Lake Havasu Unified School District the best district in AZ, I am usually nerding out on politics, fretting about my children and pugs, or working up a sweat at Cross Fit.

Comments 11

  1. Miss Buzan

    I don’t have administrative experience, but I have worked in six different districts and have formed the personal opinion that the quality of principals varies as much as the quality of teachers. As with teachers, there are some who do the bare minimum and have poor understanding of social nuances. And, like teachers, there are some who work harder than the sun and are on constant vigilance for how to improve and be better. I’ve always perceived the role to be a lonely job in the spotlight. Everyone is always watching and critiquing; additionally, it seems the nature of the supervisory duties may disorient natural friendships with teachers– are you left only to be friends with other administrators?

    I’ve had two principals and one–let’s call her a superintendent– who have had such a profound impact on my teaching career that their lessons have profoundly impacted my IDENTITY. I think of them often in gratitude and though I have reached out to say thank you, there is somehow no way to fully articulate the power of their impressions on my life.

    I think the heart of your post centrals on your question: why aren’t administrators provided quality support, mentorship, and feedback? Any district who boasts of excellence in education needs to consider support for all of their teachers– even the “big kids”.

    I really enjoyed this post.

    1. Miss Buzan

      Oh my gosh, how brilliant that your image is of Principal Skinner! What an ironic character– kind of a silly man, but the name and resemblance is such a nod to the great B.F. Skinner– exactly the kind of paradox you examine in your post. There are revolutionary teachers who influence education and those who are a bit cartoonish. ; )

      1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

        I love the Simpsons so very much. I couldn’t help myself! Skkkiiinnnerrr! Superintendent Chalmers was not likely to support Principal Skinner with what he needed!

  2. Tim Ihms

    From your blog, you sound like a very good administrator. I was a K-12 principal for 18 years. Besides the classes through NAU and the University of Phoenix, there was no other training or support. I expect I would have made a few less mistakes with more support and training. Growing quality leaders, as you say, will take more than our present system. Good thoughts. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Austine Etcheverry

    Yesterday I was joking with some other professionals after a situation came up that I didn’t find that training in any of my administration classes. There is such a lack of real knowledge that I gained during school. What I have learned has been in the job, day-to-day and reaching out to other administrators when I get stuck. More Pds for admin would be awesome because not only would I get to develop my skills but I could then connect with other leaders.

    1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

      Austine, I agree that my Ed Leadership degree looked very little like my job. And I deeply needed to connect with other administrators. I felt like I knew what I was doing, and was doing a good job, but there wasn’t the same feedback loop that I had as a teacher.

  4. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    “I know that spending money on administration is seen as wasteful, but how can a school improve without quality organizational and instructional leadership?” This rings really true. I know a lot of larger districts have leadership cadres that provide training for teachers who have achieved their admin. certificates and would like to move into administration, but once they are IN those shoes, then what? I honestly don’t know, but I do agree with you that continual development of strong administrators and other key staff is every bit as important as continually supporting teachers.

  5. Rachel Perugini

    Being in administration has never been something that appealed to me personally, but I like what you said about having time to figure out the “why” behind your student’s attendance or grades. I always want to know that why so I can help, but there is just never enough time. I reach out to counselors and parents when an issue becomes super concerning, but there are a lot of times where I just need to get kids caught up and move on without digging deeper into what is going on.

  6. Treva Jenkins

    Great post Jaime. Powerful words-“Moving forward, if Arizona is going to make headway and improve our schools, a focus must be on supporting and growing quality leaders with the same tenacity and intention with which we support those newest to our profession.” As a mentor teacher, I spend a lot of time with my principals, and I have seen firsthand just how the principal’s role has become both the most important in a school building and the loneliest, and the stress it places on everyone. Your blog raises some very important issues in our profession: The importance of principal professional development is often trumped by other issues or ignored altogether. Our profession needs to investigate how special mentoring programs can be beneficial for our principals. Principal Mentoring programs can benefit both new and veteran principals; it can help them reflect on what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately, what makes them successful in their position.

  7. Jess Ledbetter

    Such a great blog. I’m hoping this gets a wide audience. Our building leaders do so much for our schools–and they need their own support and opportunities for growth to stay energized.

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