Supports for Principals' Sensemaking: Lessons from the Institute for Learning's Instructional Leadership Program in Baltimore, Maryland
Ikemoto, Gina Schuyler
Honig, Meredith I
MetadataShow full item record
Current federal, state, and local policies increase demands on school principals to take an active role in leading instructional improvement within their schools. For many principals "instructional leadership" (IL) represents a fundamentally new set of knowledge, skills, and practices. Accordingly, principals need assistance in engaging in IL. However, research on IL and principal professional development generally has not elaborated what such assistance might entail or how to implement it. This study addresses this research gap. First, it frames the problem of assisting principals' engagement in IL as in part a challenge of supporting their sensemaking about what IL involves and how to exercise it in ways relevant to their local contexts. Then it elaborates how concepts from socio-cultural learning theory help reveal features of assistance that support such sensemaking processes. Data come from an in-depth case study of the Institute for Learning's (IFL's) Instructional Leadership Program (ILP) in Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) and include interviews, observations, and artifacts. The ILP provided an important case for this inquiry because it deliberately aimed to support principals' sensemaking about IL as a cornerstone of its strategy for engaging a cohort of seventeen elementary school principals in IL. Findings reveal that the extent to which the IFL actually supported principals' sensemaking was inhibited by such district conditions as limited time and resources and political distractions. Despite these conditions, principals responded to some IL ideas in ways that reflect reformers' intentions. Principals were more likely to do so when the ILP offered several different types of support for their sensemaking and less likely to do so when the ILP offered a limited number supports for their sensemaking. When the ILP provided a moderate number of different supports for sensemaking, principals' responses to the ideas tended to be more varied; in those cases, other factors including district conditions, school conditions, and principal background seemed to influence their responses more strongly than supports provided by the ILP. Implications address how policymakers, professional development providers, and researchers can support principals' engagement in IL.