The Principal's Role in Sustaining Effective Practices

by Sharon deFur, Ed.D.

Breaking News: Eastern Virginia School Implements Inclusive School Initiative - Community Asks Will It Continue? Principal Provides Plan to Sustain and Grow the Initiative ...

Let's assume that over the past few years, you and your staff have worked hard to make a change in how your school includes students with disabilities in the general curriculum. Together you chose an evidence-based practice to be a focus for your school. Collectively you developed a shared vision. As the instructional leader, you joined your staff in professional development and coaching to learn the skills associated with the initiative. Further, using a team approach, you developed an action plan and implemented the plan. Faculty, students, and parents responded positively to the efforts. You and your leadership team believe that continuing this practice will help all students succeed.

However, slippage in initiatives is commonplace and not without reasons. Since beginning the initiative, you have hired new staff. Some of your faculty who led the initiative may feel overworked. Undoubtedly, you have a new group of students and parents. You may be asking, can this initiative continue?

Don't get discouraged. Collaborative leaders plan for sustainability. Questions to consider as part of your sustainability plan include the following (Fixsen, Naoom, Blase, Friedman, & Wallace, 2005; Lambert, 2003; Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005; RMC Research Corporation, n.d.):

  • How will our school sustain a shared sense of purpose related to this inclusive practices initiative?

    • Is everyone on board? (Reach for more than 90%!)

    • Are teacher, administrator, and staff skills sufficient? (A good sign is when teachers collaborate with their peers to problem-solve how the initiative can improve student achievement.)

    • What evidence do we have that this initiative is working, and have we shared it with the relevant stakeholders? (Data on student improvement, parent support, and faculty/staff satisfaction will be key.)

  • How will our school culture provide ongoing support for this inclusive practices initiative?

    • Have we hired new staff with the initiative in mind? (Have these individuals received adequate professional development to participate fully in the school-wide effort?)

    • What are the plans for ongoing professional development related to the initiative? (Everyone needs ongoing renewal.

    • How do I as school leader create time for faculty and staff to engage in collaborative discussion, planning, and problem solving? (Teachers constantly name planning time as a critical practice to any inclusive initiative.)

  • How will we maintain energy and commitment to inclusive practices?

    • Do we celebrate small victories as well as large successes? (Meaningfully and memorably!)

    • Do I make sure that major responsibilities rotate or are distributed so that people do not burn out? (Collaborative leadership teams help!)

    • Do I give sufficient time for faculty and staff to consolidate skills before expecting new growth? (The research says it takes 3-5 years to implement a reform.)

    • Do I support extension and adaptation of the initiative based on the needs of faculty, staff, and students? (Teachers want to use their skills in curriculum development.)

  • Would the inclusive practices initiative be sustained if school leadership changed?

    • Have we identified what aspects of the initiative are to be sustained, what resources are needed, and how those resources are accessed?

    • Have we created a system of shared leadership with faculty and administrators?

    • How will we convert successful practices associated with the initiative into policy or procedures at the classroom, school, or district level?

The field of education is sometimes criticized for a tendency to adopt new approaches without measured reason or without evaluation. Initiatives need to be evaluated and they need time to become part of the school culture. Choosing to implement an initiative assumes that administrators believe the initiative will be effective. If true, then a plan for sustaining the effort that addresses the questions posed above must be part of the decision to begin the initiative in the first place.


Fixsen, D. L., Naoom, S. F., Blase, K. A., Friedman, R. M., & Wallace, F. (2005). Implementation research: A synthesis of the literature (FMHI Publication #231). Tampa: University of South Florida, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, The National Implementation Research Network.

Lambert, L. (2003). Leadership capacity for lasting school improvement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

RMC Research Corporation. (n.d.).  Reading First sustainability literature review. Retrieved December 4, 2008 from [doc].


Date: February/March 2009