Florida State University trains principals to support math, science learning

With help from Florida State University, some 700 public school principals from throughout Florida are learning more about the state’s new math and science education standards — and discovering new techniques regarding the teaching of “STEM” (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects that they can implement in their schools.

Laura Hassler Lang

“I can clearly say that the Principal PROMiSE program is in my top five professional development experiences of my educational leadership career,” said Jose Enriquez Jr., principal of Jose Martí Middle School in Hialeah, Fla. Enriquez is among the first group of principals to receive training through the program.

Laura Hassler Lang, the director of Florida State’s Learning Systems Institute and one of the leaders of the Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, is the principal investigator of Principal PROMiSE (“Partnership to Rejuvenate and Optimize Mathematics and Science Education in Florida”), a three-year, $2.5 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Florida Department of Education. It is one of three major initiatives under Florida PROMiSE, a statewide, systemic approach to improving mathematics and science instruction in Florida through a partnership that includes the University of South Florida, the University of Florida, four large school districts and three consortia of smaller, rural school districts.

The other two major components of the Florida PROMiSE project include developing and offering two-week summer institutes for teachers and creating an online curriculum planning tool for mathematics and science teachers.

Lang said the goal of Principal PROMiSE is to ensure that principals are well trained to provide teachers with the resources needed to teach the critically important STEM subjects.

“Far from being just a school manager, research indicates that, as the instructional leader, the school principal plays a key role in learning,” she said. “Through this grant, we are providing a year-long opportunity for principals to work with teachers in their schools and with colleagues across the state to acquire the knowledge they will need to improve learning and, in the long run, help students obtain the skills they’ll need to succeed in a rapidly evolving workplace.”

A group of approximately 100 principals — half from elementary schools, the other half from middle and high schools — made the trip to Florida State in early December for two-day seminars as part of the project. Another 300 are scheduled to visit in January and February as they begin the year-long training, working with their colleagues in groups of 50. In 2010, a third group of 300 will participate in the project.

“The idea is to ensure that principals are very familiar with the new Next Generation Sunshine State Standards benchmarks in mathematics and science and the changes in teaching and learning that will occur over the next several years as they are implemented in schools throughout the state,” said Christi Moss, Principal PROMiSE’s project director and a former principal herself. “Working together, we model effective mathematics and science instruction, and analyze videos of various classroom scenarios to improve the principals’ ability to recognize both effective and ineffective instruction. After each of the four two-day sessions, principals return to their schools to implement what they have learned through ‘video clubs’ and other activities.”

The real results will be available at the conclusion of the study, when the researchers can compare a number of outcomes — including student achievement in mathematics and science — in schools where principals are involved in the training and those led by principals in a control group. Lang said one focus of the project is to prepare principals to assist teachers in the transition from providing “mile wide and inch deep” coverage of material to teaching far fewer standards and benchmarks in ways that go well beyond procedural knowledge.

Thus far, Principal PROMiSE has received glowing reviews, both from participating principals and from their school districts.

“The program helped me to clearly frame a new progressive perspective of teaching and learning based on Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards,” said Enriquez, the middle school teacher from Hialeah. “I have taken this perspective back to my school and have begun the process of bringing my teachers closer to this new understanding.”

“The Seminole County Public Schools principals participating in the Principal PROMiSE program have reported time and again that this is one of the most valuable and meaningful professional development experiences of their careers,” said Anna-Marie Cote, deputy superintendent for instructional excellence and equity in Seminole County (Fla.) Public Schools. “…These principals have returned to our district and shared their experiences with other principals and their own teachers.” To learn more about Principal PROMiSE, visit this link.