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Are quality urban principals a gift from above? The Center for Urban Education Leadership director Steve Tozer, PhD, thinks not.
At the “For Principals Only” workshop at the 7th annual Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color Conference, Tozer opened the workshop arguing the knowledge behind producing quality urban principals is in place, but the steps of execution remain lacking.
“We’ve acted as if those types of principals were gifts from God who came along, they were born not made, and we’ve done almost nothing at a policy level to say, ‘Hey, if a great principal can produce those kinds of results, is there a way to produce great principals?’” Tozer said.
Tozer’s comments framed the workshop of more than 100 urban school principals from around the nation engaged in sharing best practices and the latest strategies implemented. The conference’s theme, “Young, Gifted and Literate: Boys and Young Men of Color Prepared for the Future” resonated in Tozer’s advocacy.
“The science is clear the problem is not with the kids,” Tozer said. “The science is clear that children have the learning capacity to learn anything we can organize ourselves to teach them. The problem is with the adults.”
Tozer said teachers who earn their teaching certificate rarely are prepared at that point to meet the needs of young children of color. Those needs are addressed by learning on the job. The key to meeting student learning needs, Tozer said, is high quality instruction. But significant barriers stand in the way of implementing high quality instruction in every classroom—social, economic and emotional barriers.
The social-emotional well-being of children should be one of the first issues addressed in struggling schools rather than one of the last, Tozer argued. The macro-level question of “how to get kids motivated,” for example, is a question high quality principals should be supporting teachers in addressing.
Tozer acknowledged changing instruction practices in schools is an enormous undertaking. Noting teachers are “notoriously resistant” to change under traditional leadership approaches, he pointed out that if teachers do not change their practice, the likely outcome is a replay of the previous years’ results.
“I think this is the decade we are going to demonstrate as a nation the single most cost-effective mechanism we now know to improve student learning at scale for kids of color is to put outstanding principals in those schools,” Tozer said. “We know of no other cost-effective method that is even close.”