Putting Leadership at the Center of CTE
Director Conducts Study to Find What Works in Leading a CTC
When it comes to school leadership, doctoral candidate and director of Cumberland-Perry Area Vocational Technical School Mary Rodman found countless research on leadership in the comprehensive high school, but not one single article on school leadership in a CTC.
Rodman has recently finished three years of research on leadership in CTCs to find the qualities leaders possess that have the most impact on student achievement. What she discovered was learning-centered leadership. A model out of Vanderbilt University, the learning-centered leadership style combines many attributes that CTCs need in order to greater influence student achievement.
The Keys to Learning-Centered Leadership
Learning-centered leadership is a set of outcomes (key components) and a series of activities (processes) that work together under an administrator. The key components include:
- High expectations—No matter the type of school, every student must feel like staff members are pulling for them to reach their full potential.
- Rigorous curriculum—Rodman said this is different for CTCs because of the technical components and the greater practical applications than what is needed at the comprehensive high school.
- Quality instruction—This is the same for a CTC as a comprehensive high school. “Good teaching is the same in Algebra 2 as it is in a health field class,” said Rodman. “You also have PSSAs, NOCTI scores and non-traditional student enrollment data to assess quality instruction.”
- Performance accountability—“For CTCs, the performance accountability is somewhat built into Perkins and the Pennsylvania TAP program,” said Rodman.
- Culture of learning and professional behavior—“This is the outcome that ties everything together,” she said. “You can have all the makings of a great lesson and still not reach students. You need to be able to answer why that is.”
There are also six key processes that administrators must use to successfully sustain these components in their centers:
Rodman said to imagine the six components and processes on a grid. You must go through each process with each component. It is the intersection of the components and processes that was the focus of her research.
The Principal Evaluation
The main piece Rodman examined was principal evaluations to understand leadership styles in CTCs. “Not many directors evaluate principals as it relates to student achievement,” she explained. “I thought I was doing a good job of evaluating my principals. Two times a year we would go over the job description and goals, but nowhere were we tying it back to student achievement.”
Rodman researched 17 state CTCs on learning-centered leadership. She used the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education system for her study. She received special permission from Vanderbilt University to have the system validated for CTCs.
According to Rodman, the study helped many stakeholders at the CTCs. For the center’s 37 teachers, they now know that there are six activities their administrators should be doing (the processes) and six outcomes (the components) to be met.
Administrators also benefit from an evaluation of their abilities. “The administrators now know how they will be evaluated and the evaluation will never be a surprise,” Rodman explained. The six components and processes can help principals with their professional development, as well. “Before I had the six components, I focused my professional development on what I was interested in. Now I can target areas where I am weak and that would have the most impact on student achievement. I could have a greater ROI on professional development if I knew where to go and what to do.”
The next step in the evaluation process for the principal and two assistant principals at Rodman’s center will be developing their weak areas in the 12 keys. For example, Rodman is developing a culture of learning and professional behavior using professional learning communities. “Before we were trying to learn everything but learning nothing well. Now we are mastering a few areas and applying it to different situations.”
Influence on the Centers
Rodman believes focusing on learning-centered leadership has put CTCs front and center in student achievement. “Before an administrator was managing the schools, making sure the welding teacher knows how to weld safely,” she said. “We are now being held accountable for a student’s performance.”
“Everybody at the CTC is looking at achievement data and the principal is responsible for what teachers are doing. And now there are questions being asked. Let’s say, year after year, NOCTI scores are going up except in carpentry. We ask is it IEPs, is it equipment or is it the teacher?”
Her center is also working on performance accountability. “NOCTI scores are done in a student’s senior year, but waiting until senior year is too late. You have to do it in 10th grade.” Center staff are using more intermittent benchmarking on the nearly 1,000 students attending the center to test what is covered.
This is the center’s second year implementing performance accountability, and teachers are deciding what they want to do about student achievement. “It was easier before to say ‘your plan does not work’ when the administrator plans your professional development. With performance accountability, the teachers are developing their own strategy.” Rodman said the center staff is conducting group readings and working and planning together. “The subject matter the staff teaches is not important. The techniques work across subject matter.” This year, several staff members are examining grading procedures to make students’ grades more consistent.
Rodman sees her research, which will be completed later in the fall, hopefully assisting those who deliver Pennsylvania Inspired Leaders programs as continuing professional education credits and those who deliver core certification programs that prepare principals for their future roles in career and technical education. “I would love to be involved in the state’s principal assessment pilot,” Rodman added.