The purpose of this study is to examine principals’ perceptions of district professional development activities and how they assist principals to influence and promote student achievement. Professional development is important to the field of education because the principal is expected to be the instructional leader of a school. Florida Statues 1012.98 School Community Professional Development Act states, “The purpose of the professional development system is to increase student achievement....” The principal influences the curriculum and instruction, which affects school improvement efforts and student achievement (Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004). Although most principals do not teach students directly, their actions as principals affect what happens in the classroom. The principal’s actions indirectly impact what happens in the classroom because the principal hires, evaluates, manages, and so forth. The principal influences teacher practices, attitudes, and teacher willingness to engage in reform (Van Voorhis & Sheldon, 2005).
Little has been written about the influences of principal professional development on a principal’s ability to serve as the instructional leader within a school and this professional development’s influence on principal impact on student achievement. Gathering data on principals’ perceptions of district professional development activities will provide information for school districts to evaluate their existing principal professional development programs.
Two methods were employed in this study: a survey and a case study. A survey was used to identify the various professional development activities participated in by principals. The survey was mailed to K–12 principals in school districts in the Florida Panhandle from Walton County extending east to Madison and Taylor districts (12 Panhandle Area Educational Consortium (PAEC) school districts). Case study methodology was used including a review of records, FCAT data analysis, observations, and interviews. A purposeful sample of two elementary principals was chosen from a rural school district to interview and observe after data analysis of the survey. When the principals from two elementary schools were identified from the survey data, a review of the school’s records (www.greatschools.net, www.paec.org, and www.fldoe.org) was completed.
Teachers from the two selected elementary schools were interviewed to get a general overview of programs or initiatives that have been implemented by the principal to promote and support student achievement. Each teacher gave his or her perspective on strategies, skills, or knowledge that their principals implemented at the schools to improve student achievement. Additionally, the district coordinator responsible for professional development in the selected district was interviewed to get a general overview of the principal professional development activities available in the district. The district professional development coordinator also gave his or her perspective on what needed to be improved, regarding the district professional development activities, in order for principals to effectively lead schools to increase student achievement. After the field research was completed, the field notes were coded for common themes of professional development activities to draw conclusions or implications for changes in professional development.
The participants were selected from a rural district because there is a gap in the literature as it concerns research conducted in rural districts. Only principals from elementary schools were selected for the case study because of the specific differences in the way elementary and secondary principals lead schools. This difference is due to the age level of the students and the structure of the elementary and secondary schools. The researcher specifically examined the perceptions of elementary principals as it pertains to what professional development activities were influential in assisting them to impact and promote student achievement.
Forty-two professional development activities were identified from the survey, which included various formats (formal, informal, and nonformal) and levels (group or cohort, and individual). From the survey results, strategies, types of knowledge, or skills that principals identified implementing most from participating in professional development activities were reading strategies, data analysis skills, strategies for the principals on visiting classrooms daily, and knowledge on exceptional student education (ESE). The two principals in this case study identified the Classroom Walk Through training, the FOCUS Florida Continuous Improvement Model (CIM), Snapshot, and the Leadership Academy as professional development activities that were influential in promoting and supporting their student achievement efforts.
The goal of this study was to aid districts in redesigning curriculum for principal professional development. This study provided rural principals with the opportunity to reflect on principal professional development activities in which they have participated to examine their perceptions of which professional development activities have been or have not been beneficial in changing their thoughts, actions, and behaviors to influence and promote student achievement. Viewing the data provided from the survey and the case methodology may spark new ideas on innovative content, forms, and levels of principal professional development activities that districts could implement to influence and promote student achievement.