How Professional Development Supported Principals as Instructional Leaders Within Two School Divisions in Virginia: A Qualitative Investigation

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Virginia Tech


Principals have an impact on the teaching and learning that takes place in their schools. This research focuses on principal involvement in professional development (PD) to meet policy requirements while developing principals' skills to meet their changing roles to serve as instructional leaders accountable for student academic performance. The purpose of this qualitative study was to identify the types of PD principals and principal supervisors find most beneficial in developing principals' instructional leadership skills along with the perceived benefits and challenges of participating in PD designed for the principalship role. The secondary purpose was to identify the impact principal PD may have on instructional leadership practices and student achievement. The two research questions were: What types of PD do principals and principal supervisors find most impactful to developing principals' instructional leadership skills? What are the perceived benefits and challenges of participating in virtual, hybrid, and in-person PD specifically designed for the principalship role? A demographic survey and one-on-one, semi-structured interviews were completed with five elementary school principals, four secondary school principals, and three principal supervisors from a rural and suburban school division in Virginia. Deductive coding was used to analyze the data from interviews to determine common themes, patterns, similarities, and differences. Nine findings were discovered, including principals engage in PD focused on instructional leadership skills and perceive that PD has improved instructional practices and student outcomes, principals find value in networking and choice in PD, time is a barrier to participating in PD, and principal supervisors select and support principal PD opportunities. The findings provide principals, principal supervisors, and providers of principal PD with guidance on how to design PD focused on developing instructional leadership skills. Practitioners can utilize the study to guide the design of effective PD sessions that leverage the benefits noted by study participants while overcoming the challenges. Division leaders may consider the findings when developing PD plans for principals based on the literature and perceptions of study participants. These practices will help ensure principals receive the timely, targeted PD they need to become instructional leaders with a positive impact on student achievement.



principal professional development, instructional leadership, benefits of principal professional development, challenges of principal professional development, virtual and hybrid principal professional development formats