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State School Administrators Benefit from UW-Led Efforts

April 22, 2016

After successful launches of two school leadership-building initiatives, the Wyoming Center for Educational Leadership (WyCEL) is preparing to expand services to meet even more of the professional development needs of the state’s K-12 schools.

WyCEL is headquartered in the University of Wyoming’s College of Education.

More than 500 individual school leaders from 51 agencies participated in the UW ECHO Project in Educational Leadership in its first three months, according to WyCEL Coordinator Mark Stock. The WyCEL Executive Coaching Project paired seven principals with mentors in the program’s pilot.

The UW ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) Project in Educational Leadership, a partnership between WyCEL and UW’s ECHO Project, uses videoconferencing technology to deliver weekly training and networking experiences supporting Wyoming school leaders.

Among the project’s goals: Increase the capacity of superintendents and school leaders to implement best practices in educational leadership; establish an effective platform for distance educational leadership training and district mentoring; and contribute to the field of educational leadership by determining the impact of school leadership on student outcomes.

“This project is just one part of the state system of support that the Wyoming Legislature has required,” Stock says. “The Wyoming Department of Education through the State Board of Education has funded this pilot program for this year, and we believe it has tremendous potential to help Wyoming schools and school districts.”

ECHO Project participants meet every Tuesday morning. Each 90-minute session starts with a 30-minute didactic training module taught by a regional, state or national expert. Following a question-and-answer session, two superintendents present case-based scenarios. The multidisciplinary team of experts offers suggestions and solutions for handling the situation described.

During the spring semester, representatives of 41 of Wyoming’s 48 school districts participated from their desktops or mobile devices using the Zoom videoconferencing platform. Stock says he expects school district participation to expand in the coming months.

“The WyCEL ECHO in Instructional Leadership has been a great resource and staff development program for Wyoming's superintendents, principals and other leaders,” says Dan Espeland, Converse County School District 1 superintendent. “With the distances we face in our state, the opportunity to provide weekly expertise and advice to those in need has been wonderful.”

While ECHO’s first year has been “very good,” Espeland adds, “I believe that the program will continue to evolve and improve as we learn more about how to provide quality staff development through an online format. I look forward to the future of ECHO and the benefits it can provide to our administrators, staff and students.”

Also in WyCEL’s expansion plans: a parallel ECHO Project program for building-level leaders. While participation in the initial ECHO programming has included building employees -- principals, assistant principals and instructional facilitators -- the content has primarily been district-level in focus.

“The things that concern superintendents aren’t always the things that concern a principal or a teacher,” Stock says. “They are still going to focus on instructional leadership -- how to improve student achievement, dealing with all of the assessment and curriculum kinds of issues.”

The second ECHO Project will address those individuals’ needs more directly.

The Executive Principal Leadership Academy, currently in its pilot phase, pairs principals of Wyoming schools receiving “does not meet expectations” ratings with recently retired principals. WyCEL-trained coaches visit their matched principals at their schools, observing and offering guidance on issues that challenge student performance. 

“In private industry now, it is very common for leaders to have coaches,” Stock says. “It’s common in every level of performing arts, every level of athletics -- everyone has a trainer or coach that helps them. But in this profession, because the notion of a continuous progress mindset is new, people wonder, ‘Is it saying I’m weak if I have a coach?’”

Plans for this WyCEL program include expanding the number of pairs to 15 and extending the coaching relationships from six months to one year, Stock says.

Another WyCEL program, the Wyoming Principal Leadership Academy, provides professional development and networking opportunities for 20 school leaders. Academy members meet face to face three times for a day and a half of intensive learning experiences. They also meet monthly via Zoom. Among academy activities is a data visualization project, guiding participants to finished, self-explanatory, layperson-friendly presentations telling their schools’ stories that can be shown in public settings.

Also continuing is a sixth WyCEL program offering consulting and coaching to multiple schools and districts. Stock provides a range of tailored services, such as mediation, staff training and facilitation, to schools and education organizations around the state. Proceeds from those contracts fund WyCEL programs.

To ensure the ongoing effectiveness of all WyCEL’s initiatives, each has an embedded evaluation component. Those assessments provide graduate-level research opportunities, particularly for doctoral students enrolled in the UW educational leadership program.

“The students have a higher level of excitement and engagement when they realize that you’re actually going to do something with their research,” Stock says. “Their work accomplishes more than fulfill the requirements for a doctorate. Their findings will help to inform Wyoming educational programming and policy.”

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