Principal Mentoring: A Safe, Simple, and Supportive Approach

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Carl J. Weingartner & John C. Daresh

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    Foreword

    Educational research in the early 1980s that looked into the issue of what factors contribute to effective schools discovered a fact that many educators had known for many years: Effective schools have effective leaders serving as their principals. A completely new movement was launched by those who suddenly rediscovered that the person “down the hall from the classrooms” was an important person, particularly if he or she devoted most or all of his or her time to supporting good practice by teachers. “Instructional leadership” became the key to all the good that was to happen in schools everywhere, and principals were rediscovered.

    A few years after this rediscovery, however, another reality began to appear in schools across the United States. Principals—important ingredients of successful schools—were beginning to retire at an amazingly high rate. Individuals who joined the ranks of teachers in the 1950s and 1960s were leaving schools and leaving the duties of serving as effective leaders to a whole new generation of people who would now move into the offices “just down the hall.” The arrival of new and inexperienced principals became common in schools and districts across the nation.

    But in addition to the need for new principals over the past two decades, new expectations for schools were becoming evident. The need to find schools that are more effective became the center of much of the daily dialogue of the political process across the country. Pressures to ensure that all schools would be successful and ensure that “no child” would be “left behind” have become realities to those who take on the challenges of leadership. Not only was there a great need for many new principals, but the new principals faced pressures and stress never experienced by their predecessors. Being a new principal is now more than simply learning how to do a managerial job: it is a daunting challenge to become a principal in a difficult environment.

    Fortunately, the dilemma posed by needing new good principals who are able to perform effectively in a professional environment that is increasingly stressful has been recognized as an issue that needs attention. State departments of education, professional associations for school administrators, and individual school systems have launched numerous efforts to provide support and guidance to novice principals, with the assumption that such formal activities will help beginning principals survive their newly selected career paths in education. However, many of these efforts have been short lived, often because they were designed primarily to simply appear supportive of new principals, or because they were very costly to implement, or perhaps most inappropriately, because they became programs with a focus on evaluating and not necessarily helping principals.

    By contrast, one program designed to assist newly appointed principals not only survive their first years, but also to thrive as instructional leaders, has been operating without a great deal of visibility or fanfare for more than a decade. It began with a simple observation by a retired principal who devoted the majority of his career in education as a dedicated leader and who never lost his enthusiasm for and love of the principalship. Carl Weingartner, author of this book, frequently witnessed the difficulties of his colleagues as they first stepped in to the principal's office. He believed that having more experienced principals around to answer questions, to serve as cheerleaders, and to anticipate and interpret political potholes would be a way to make the principalship more doable, with leaders who could devote more of their time to increasing the learning opportunities for students in their schools.

    That was the beginning of the Extra Support for Principals (ESP) mentoring program, a truly exemplary model of how a single urban school district—the Albuquerque Public Schools, in New Mexico—has been able to keep the focus on the importance of helping principals achieve success in performing what daily becomes a more complex and stressful job. The underlying assumption of this effort that has guided the ESP mentoring program for more than a dozen years has been the motto, “Keep it safe, simple, and supportive.” I believe the Albuquerque model has been able to survive because it has avoided the traps that other efforts have fallen into in creating programs to help new principals. It is not terribly costly, the operation of the program is not tied to pages filled with regulations and policies, and, above all, it holds true to one simple principle: experienced principals are the best source for providing true and meaningful support to new principals.

    This book will provide you with detail about the design of a mentoring program that has served the needs of beginning principals in a large school system for several years. I believe that what Carl Weingartner describes can readily be adapted to support principals in very small districts, mid-size suburban districts, and even megadistricts. As a testimonial to that belief, I have been privileged to work with Carl and serve as a member of a consulting team that has been engaged in trying to fine-tune a program of mentoring and coaching for new principals in the Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the United States, for the past three years.

    Safety, simplicity, and security remain the key ingredients of any mentoring program. Above all, though, as you read this work you will also quickly understand what additional “magic” ingredients must be present. Respect for colleagues and love of the principalship gave rise to Carl's work in developing the mentoring program; these same values will guide you in working through the suggestions offered to guide your efforts.

    Principals are important people, and their job becomes more difficult each year. We are blessed to have resources such as this book and its author to make the job a more effective and satisfying place for great educators. I wish you success in your safe, simple, and secure efforts to create an environment that will help principals help children.

    John C. Daresh, PhD

    Professor of Educational Leadership University of Texas of El Paso Author and Consultant

    Preface

    The principalship has become more challenging over the past ten years. Many school districts have looked at support systems such as mentoring and coaching to assist neophytes through their first year as principal. Best practices and research have been reviewed, and successful mentor programs have been developed across the nation that address growing concerns about principal recruitment and turnover. “After five years in the district, one-third of all principals hired had left that district,” Dr. Susan Villani (2006, p. 9) cites the Denver Board of Education. Other districts across the nation can relate to similar statistics. Again as cited by Villani, the Institute for Educational Leadership identifies research that supports the theory that the principalship is in crisis, as does the National Association of Elementary School Principals (2001). Districts must make a concerted effort to address principal attrition by developing a process that encourages and supports experienced educators in pursuit of principal positions. Mentoring can be a significant segment of the total package needed to recruit, support, and retain effective principals.

    In Albuquerque, this process began with a small group of principals reflecting on their first year as new principals. They recognized that their cohorts were the only means of support available in a nonthreatening atmosphere. This was their motivation for pursuing a formalized support system for new principal appointees. This group evolved into the Extra Support for Principals (ESP) advisory board.

    The advisory board realized that a beginning principal comes into a new school setting having to adapt to all the responsibilities the predecessor may have handled with ease. New principals are aware that a district will have expectations that may include a variety of concerns, such as improving curriculum and test scores, student safety, or enhancing school climate. There may be a need to provide extra support in the areas of budget, instruction, state standards, or evaluation procedures for the newly appointed administrator. The Kentucky Association of School Administrations and the Appalachian Education Laboratory identified time management as the single most requested in-service topic by new principals (Villani, 2006, p. 7). Poor time management can become a contributing factor that can impact the health, mental state, and success and progress of the new administrator. Stress can lead to issues that may contribute to principal attrition rates. The Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) ESP advisory board embarked on a quest to provide a mentor program for new principals that would provide a safe environment, a simple format, and a professional support plan to minimize the feeling of isolation that new principals can experience. In the total support concept, I address district concerns while providing unencumbered mentoring for the new administrator as illustrated with the Venn diagram in Chapter 3. The “safe, simple, and supportive” concept evolved out of those concerns. This approach for extra support gives the mentor an opportunity to assist the new principal with growth and development as the mentee becomes an effective leader. It also provides opportunities to support and advise on district mandates, management, or operational issues. I address stress and burnout in Chapter 10.

    As coordinator for a principal mentoring program in APS for the past twelve years, I have had the opportunity to share and exchange ideas with school districts, individual principals, doctoral students, researchers, consultants, and university professors across the nation. Although there are many successful mentor programs, increasing numbers of these programs have a brief lifespan of no more than three to five years. Why are these programs vulnerable? And, conversely, why has the program in APS lasted twelve years? Patterns emerge that have negative or positive impacts on programs. Certain established practices become predictors of success or failure of a program. I review these predictors at the end of Chapter 10.

    Principal Mentoring: A Safe, Simple, and Supportive Approach will present successes and concerns of mentor program development. Mentoring is addressed on a supportive and comprehensive level. Additional mentoring approaches are recommended throughout the book. A significant concept of this book is the focus on the relationship between the mentee and the mentor. Mentees are often reminded that the objective of the program is not to create extra work and hardship, but rather to create an environment in which the new principal is safe and supported through a simple process. The book will be devoted to establishing and developing that safe, simple, and supportive approach. Chapters 3 and 4 will focus on the development and implementation of mentoring relationships. Chapter 10 focuses on some practices that might have a negative impact on the successes of a mentor program, and Chapter 11 encourages reflections on principal recruitment and retention.

    Again, the purpose of this book is to share information about a successful mentor-mentee model and to provide insight that will stimulate innovative ideas and creative thinking within and among school districts, large or small, rural or isolated. My primary goal is to emphasize “how to,” rather than “research shows.”

    Acknowledgments

    Many individuals have contributed to the success of the Albuquerque principals' mentor program. I want to acknowledge specific individuals at five levels of involvement and support.

    First, I must acknowledge my wonderful family who supported and provided inspiration. To My Love—My Wife—Mary Lou Weingartner (August 3, 1941–October 31, 1993), whom I lost too early in life; to my wonderful daughters Erica, Amy, and Karin; to Karin's husband Eric Case and their sons Samuel and Thomas; and to my extended family Joanna Cramer, her daughter, her son-in-law, and her granddaughter (Denise, Brian, and Sadie Bickel), and Joanna's son Andrew Cramer. Thank you.

    Second, thank you to the many Albuquerque principals who supported the mentor program for more than twelve years. I must recognize Peter Espinosa, Principal, Kirtland Elementary School, Albuquerque Public Schools (APS), and the Extra Support for Principals (ESP) advisory board for their dedication to the program. It was Peter's vision to pursue a mentor program. He was willing to invest time to organize a steering committee, which later became the advisory board. Peter served as chairperson of the board for twelve years. My gratitude to the board, which includes Bob Hennig, retired secondary principal; Russell Goff, retired secondary principal; Jim Steinhubel, secondary principal; Wayne Knight, secondary principal; Linda Sink, secondary principal; Dr. JoAnn Krueger, retired secondary principal and retired professor from the University of New Mexico; Dr. John Mondragon, retired APS regional superintendent, Central New Mexico Community College board member, and professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico; Eva Vigil, elementary principal; Marcella Jones, elementary principal; Victor Suazo, retired elementary principal; Ron Williams and John Miera, control agents; and Patricia Gilberto, retired elementary principal and executive director of the APS Principals Association. Although Dr. Krueger and Dr. Mondragon served as professors at the University of New Mexico, there was no official affiliation between the University of New Mexico and the ESP mentor program. The mentor program was an APS district initiative. This advisory board represented the heart of the mentor program; their guidance and knowledge were greatly appreciated.

    The third level of involvement and support must include our district-level administrators. Without their willingness to support both the concept and the program, the program would not have survived. ESP is fortunate to have superintendents who can interject ideas while respecting the intent of the program. By working together, we have been able to develop a comprehensive program that met district needs while providing an individual support system for beginning principals. I am proud to acknowledge the support of the team of Dr. Elizabeth Everitt, superintendent; Susie Peck, associate superintendent; Nelinda Venegas, associate superintendent; Diego Gallegos, assistant superintendent; Andrea Trybus, executive director of human resources; and Amelia Gandara, project manager. The working relationship between district-level administrators and school principals has been one of discussion, compromise, and support.

    The fourth level of acknowledgement includes appreciation for those who support the mentor program. They believe that the concepts provided in ESP are important. These include the APS staff and business sponsors who have graciously assisted the program over the years. I must acknowledge the special support from APS human resource secretarial staff members Cippie Chavez, Jo Anne Galindo, and Mary Lou Benevegna, as well as that of the APS superintendents' secretarial staff: Carol Vigil, Anna Armijo, Rita Roybal, and Tena Chavez.

    Limited funding could eliminate many program amenities were it not for the business partners. Because of the support and generosity of Sharla Reinhart and Hena Torres of the New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union; The Flower Company Staff; LaDonna Carley and Bob Skoglund of Portraits by LaDonna; and Karin Tarter, Lisa Lawrence, Michael Hazen, Judy Elder (retired), and the APS graphics production and district services staff, the mentor program has been enriched beyond budget limitations. Chapter 5 describes how the program utilized the generosity of our business partners and how their support enhanced the program. Business partners supported the principals' mentor program for most of the twelve years of the program's existence.

    The fifth level includes the contributions of several experts in the field of the principalship. The knowledge and insight gained from their experience are invaluable to the mentor program as support is provided for neophyte administrators. For sharing their knowledge and expertise, I must acknowledge Dr. Jo Nelle Miranda, retired principal and editor; Dr. John Daresh, University of Texas at El Paso, professor, consultant, author, and lecturer; Dr. Lois Zachary, president of Leadership Development Services, Phoenix, Arizona, consultant, author, and lecturer; Dr. Bruce Barnett, University of Texas at San Antonio, professor, consultant, author, and lecturer; Dr. Susan Villani, Senior Program and Research Associate at Learning Innovations at WestEd, Woburn, MA, consultant, author, and lecturer; and Gail Ward, Mary Beth Cunat, Linda Shay, Michael Alexander, Dr. Addie Belin-Williamson, and Dr. Dick Best from the Office of Principal Preparation and Development, Chicago Public Schools.

    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin Press gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following individuals:

    George W. Bayles

    Principal

    Timpview High School

    Provo, UT

    David Freitas

    Professor

    Indiana University South Bend

    School of Education

    South Bend, IN

    C. Bruce Haddix

    Principal

    Center Grove Elementary School

    Greenwood, IN

    Alice Hom

    Principal

    NYC Department of Education

    Public School 124

    New York, NY

    Jim Hoogheem

    Retired Elementary School Principal

    Maple Grove, MN

    Deborah Long

    Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Induction Coordinator

    Merced Union High School

    Merced, CA

    Andrew Nixon

    Assistant Professor

    University of West Georgia

    Carrollton, GA

    Stephen D. Shepperd

    Principal Sunnyside Elementary School

    Kellogg, ID

    About the Author

    Carl J. Weingartner has been an educator for more than forty-six years. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from East Central State University at Ada, Oklahoma, and completed postgraduate work in school administration at the University of New Mexico. He taught eleven years at the junior high and elementary levels in Gallup-McKinley County School District, Gallup, New Mexico; Midwest City and Del City School District, Midwest City, Oklahoma; and at the Albuquerque Public Schools District (APS), Albuquerque, New Mexico. He served as a junior high and elementary principal for twenty-two years in the APS District. He considers himself a practitioner rather than a researcher. After the death of his wife in 1993, he retired with thirty-three years of educational service.

    In 1994, he was contracted by the Albuquerque Public Schools on a part-time basis to establish and coordinate the ESP mentor program for first-year principals. The program has involved and supported more than 210 first-year principals. He has become active in promoting mentor programs across the nation by writing and contributing to several organizational websites. He has written or contributed to articles and books for the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National School Boards Association, the George Lucas Educational Foundation, and to the works of independent authors, including Dr. Susan Villani, author of Mentoring and Induction Programs That Support New Principals (Corwin Press, 2006). He has been asked to advise or consult with more than sixty-five individuals or institutions across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. His assistance has helped several school districts establish principal mentor programs. He has given presentations on mentoring at the National Association of Elementary School Principals Conference in San Diego, California, and at the Arizona Department of Education Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Mr. Weingartner worked as a consultant for the “Transition to Teaching” teacher mentor program for two years. This program served the small rural school districts of Springer, Clayton, Cimarron, Raton, and Mosquero, New Mexico. He presently is instructing aspiring principals at New Mexico Highlands University Satellite, Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and is consulting for the Chicago Public Schools District, Office of Principal Preparation and Development/Effective Leaders Improve Schools Principal Mentor Project.

    He has been active during his professional career in promoting education and the principalship. He served as president of several educational organizations including the National Association of Elementary School Principals, SCA-Zone VIII, the New Mexico Association of Elementary School Principals, and the APS Principals Association. He held several offices and served on executive boards and principal committees at the national, zone, state, and district levels. Weingartner has been a member of National Association of Elementary School Principals throughout his career as a principal and has maintained his membership since his retirement in 1994.

    He has received honors and recognitions, including the National Distinguished Principal Award from the U.S. Department of Education in 1987. He has received Outstanding School Administrator Awards from the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Elementary School Principals-Zone VIII, the New Mexico Association of Elementary School Principals, and the New Mexico School Administrators Association. “Carl J. Weingartner Day” was declared on March 20, 1981, in the City of Albuquerque by Mayor David Rusk. New Mexico Governors Bruce King, Jerry Apodaca, and Garry Carruthers also have recognized him for educational achievements. He received recognition in the United States Congressional Record and from the New Mexico State Board of Education and the APS Board of Education. Weingartner also received Outstanding Community Service Awards from the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts of America, Campfire Boys and Girls, and the Albuquerque Public Schools. Recently, he was inducted into his high school hall of fame at Varnum High School, Seminole, Oklahoma.

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