What do principals need to do their jobs more effectively? This is a question school administrators struggle with on a daily basis. The truth is that the best people to answer that question are the school administrators themselves. After all, they know their schools best and they know the unique nuances that may affect any new initiative. So, why not ask principals to create the tools they need to make their jobs easier? This is precisely the idea behind the Principal Professional Learning Community, part of The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative, developed in cooperation with NASSP. For 18 months, principals representing all grade levels from large, urban school districts worked together using design thinking methodology to create innovative tools specifically created for principals and districts nationwide to adapt and use as they see fit.

Central to the success of each tool is the solid research base of The Wallace Foundation’s 5 Key Leadership Practices, which are research-proven practices that must be in place in order for a leader to be successful. The practices shaping a vision of academic success for all students; creating a climate hospitable to education; cultivating leadership in others; improving instruction and managing people, data, and processes were the foundation of the guiding practices for this design work.

The practice of cultivating leadership in others was considered when creating the Collaborative Planning Tool. This innovative tool serves administrators in a multitude of ways. Specifically, it provides systems and structures for staff; allows administrators to confidently delegate collaborative planning to staff; and provides leadership opportunities for all teachers. Contained within this are three useful modules built into one tool for administrators to use when considering how to cultivate leadership in others. The modules are:

Student Work Analysis

This module houses videos, protocols, and research articles on how to analyze student data to answer the right questions. It further supports the leader to challenge stakeholders’ growth by asking questions that may not have been originally considered when first reviewing student work. The goal of this module is to build the internal capacity of new leaders, seasoned leaders with new responsibilities, or teacher leaders who have been given the charge of building and running effective collaboration meetings. In using the resources built into this module, leaders will feel confident that not only will the collaboration time be spent in a more structured manner, but that the outcomes of the meeting will lead to increased student gains using their own students’ work to drive it.

Deep Data Dive

Now it’s time to look at the data of that modified instruction. Did the shifts we decided to make based on student work pay off with greater student understanding? Well, let’s look at the data and determine. Here’s where this module becomes essential. Like Student Work Analysis, it is also full of videos, protocols, and research-based articles and strategies that will help build a firm foundation in data talks. Remember—this tool is to cultivate leadership in others. So the resources found here are to help leaders begin the conversations and facilitate growth in others regarding how to use data to further refine instructional practice (according to trends and patterns found in the data). The leader will facilitate their stakeholders’ exploration with questions like: What is this data really saying? Am I asking the right questions based on the data I have? How is this data helping me provide individualized or small group instructional opportunities? Or better yet, is what I’ve been teaching even measured by this data?

Lesson Plan Study

Once student work has been analyzed with a deep dive into data, the Collaborative Planning Tool brings it full circle by leading the work on using this new knowledge to facilitate stronger lesson-planning designs. In this module, as with all the others, leaders are provided with real resources and protocols to facilitate growth in the oftentimes complex design of quality lessons. This can be achieved with stated measurable outcomes, research-based components, and opportunities for assessment and student learning indicators.

It’s easy to see how a comprehensive tool such as this was designed by effective principals. Please take a look, try it out, and let us know what you think.


Kimberly Harris is The Wallace Foundation facilitator who led a group of NASSP principals in the development of tools that focus on cultivating leadership in others.

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