May 19, 2021

The Delaware Leadership Network: Evidence-Based Professional Development and Capacity Building for Low-Performing Schools

Jeanine Hildreth
Region 4 logo

In partnership with the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE), the Christina School District, and the Red Clay Consolidated School District, the Region 4 Comprehensive Center (R4CC), is facilitating in-depth leadership development training in both the Red Clay and Christina school districts. This year the training is targeting identification and use of evidence-based best practices around building effective systems and structures that support improved learning opportunities for all students. The Delaware Leadership Network (the Network) focuses on helping participants define, identify, and implement effective systems and structures that facilitate efforts to support teacher readiness, rigorous instruction for all students, assessment literacy, student engagement, effective teaching practices, and effective feedback and bi-directional communication. The Network offers professional education sessions (both whole- and half-days) for state- and district-level employees (principal supervisors, curriculum and instruction personnel) from both districts, and for 12 principals and school-level leadership teams. In addition to these group training sessions, the Network offers principals tailored one-on-one coaching from experienced former principals working under contract with the R4CC.  

Delaware Framework

Delaware uses the Four Domains of Rapid School Improvement to guide its school improvement efforts, and DDOE staff request that all current project activities continue to align with this framework. Additionally, DDOE and R4CC staff partnered to develop a scope and sequence for professional learning and a model for coaching. This scope and sequence was informed by interviews with principals who had completed a similar training program during the prior school year, regular discussions with both state and district staff, and a review of research on school improvement and instructional leadership. Principal interviews explored such topics as professional learning practices that have worked well in the past; current challenges faced by school leaders; what successful professional learning and support looks like; and the characteristics of effective coaching. The resulting four broad professional learning topics for the year included:

  • Systems and structures of highly effective schools and intentional practices for improving instruction for all students
  • Expectations for learning and academic press
  • Aligning the written, taught, and tested curriculum
  • Leading professional learning and effective professional learning communities(PLCs)

Throughout the project year, R4CC staff, DDOE staff, and staff from the Red Clay and Christina districts have collaborated to develop and deliver content for each of the professional learning sessions. At the center of this effort is a clear and consistent focus on human capital and the importance of developing trusting relationships among staff to help maximize talent and to increase organizational capacity, productivity, and cohesion across participating school communities. Each of the nine professional development sessions includes a combination of self-directed work, collaborative group activities (both within and across schools), and participant feedback and evaluation. 

Specific session topics for the year have included:

  • Identifying different strengths of school staff and leveraging those strengths to build and support effective school leadership teams
  • Collaborative planning
  • Developing a balanced assessment program
  • Including reviewing current assessments used and identifying ways to leverage formative assessment data to identify the impacts of interrupted learning
  • Conducting effective walk-through observations and using data to provide useful feedback to teachers 

Continuous improvement has been the guiding principle throughout the project. Sources of data on project successes and challenges include:

  • Feedback surveys administered after each training session. Project leaders review these data internally and share with district and state staff to identify implications of the feedback and ways to incorporate into upcoming sessions
  • Monthly coaching reports submitted by coaches are analyzed internally and de-identified summaries are shared with district and state partners
  • Feedback from state and district partners about their impressions of the work to date and potential new areas of focus and bi-monthly planning meetings

Throughout the year, the project team has used these different sources of data to identify the most relevant and useful content and to find the right balance between whole-group and small-group work. 
The opportunity to regularly have state, district, and school staff participate in the same school improvement-focused learning opportunities has allowed the R4CC team to help state and local partners develop a shared and clearer understanding of what supports are available for school leaders and what additional supports may be needed to support school improvement efforts.