Professional Practices



Volume I Issue XII






Marcia Baldanza, the author of Professional Practices and a Just ASK Senior Consultant, lives in Arlington, Virginia, and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She recently retired from the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.

The Year in Review

I approached this issue by reflecting on the purpose and vision I held for writing Professional Practices for the 21st Century Leader in the first place. It all started with a summer 2015 hint that there might finally be a new set of leadership standards approved that could have enormous impact on the daily lives of educational leaders and outcomes for students everywhere.  While the standards went through several peer reviews, revisions and juries, I waited eagerly. The final version came in October 2015. I spent the next couple of months unpacking and understanding them in light of my 25 years of experience as a teacher, principal, director, and mother. The inaugural issue was published in January 2016 and has continued throughout the year. My goal was and remains to deepen your understanding of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) 2015 by describing the standards, defining their elements, comparing/contrasting them to past practice, and offering some practical tips and tools to help district and school leaders implement them. At this writing, it appears that five states have adopted the PSEL including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington. Arizona and Hawaii are almost there. Given that nearly all 50 states adopted the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) version in 2008, I am optimistic that with some strategic communication, support and implementation of the PSEL will follow.

Professional Standards for Educational Leaders 2015

  • Mission, Vision, and Core Values
  • Ethics and Professional Norms
  • Equity and Cultural Responsiveness
  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
  • Community of Care and Support for Students
  • Professional Capacity of School Personnel
  • Professional Community for Teachers and Staff
  • Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community
  • Operations and Management
  • School Improvement


I participated in a webinar sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals that was designed to introduce the new standards and answer questions from districts and schools. Mark Smylie of the University of Illinois at Chicago was co-host and pointed out that there was a natural and integral support of each standard with another. He described the driver, core, and support standards. I think this is an interesting way to highlight the interconnectedness of the standards.

The drivers are the vehicles by which we get to the core. They are

  • Standard 1: Mission, Vision, and Core Values
  • Standard 2: Ethical and Professional Norms
  • Standard 3: Equity and Cultural Responsiveness
  • Standard 10: School Improvement

The core standards are the ones most proximal to student learning. These are

  • Standard 4: Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
  • Standard 5: Community of Care and Support for Students

The supports are the standards that when implemented, scaffold the core. They include

  • Standard 6: Professional Capacity of School Personnel
  • Standard 7: Professional Community for Teachers and Staff
  • Standard 8: Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community
  • Standard 9: Operations and Management

Questions That Surfaced as I Studied the New Standards

I’ve spent a year digging in, around, and through these new Professional Standards for Educational Leaders and a few questions kept creeping up. You may have had the same questions. I pose those questions and offer answers below.

Why do we have new standards for educational leaders?
These standards are built on a foundation of public expectation that places the success of each student at the center. Further, there has been fundamental changes in the work of educational leaders and with those changes come opportunities and challenges of present and future leadership work. As you can see in the Yesterday & Today graphic, there are four discrete standards present in 2015 that were not prominent in 2008.

There are defining features communicated in the standards including:

  • A strong foundation of research and practice wisdom
  • Theory of leadership-to-learning
  • Central domains of leadership work
  • Applicability to leadership across levels and roles
  • Inspirational focus: a vision of leadership for the future

What is new and different in these standards?
For one, the name is different. Formerly known as Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards and adopted by nearly every state, they made a pivot to “professional” and are known as 2015 Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL). Also new is the strong and clear emphasis on students and student learning and well-being. A focus on each student is evident throughout every standard; this focus on students and their learning is confirmed by continuous and clear references to:

  • The importance of each student; each student’s success, and each student’s well-being
  • A call to action based on the belief that academic success and social-emotional learning go hand-in-hand
  • The fact that all domains of leadership work (including operations and management) must be focused on students

What are the implications for my practice?
To elevate and elaborate the standards there is a strategic combination of press/rigor and a community of care and support of students, development for teachers, engagement with families and communities, and leadership for school improvement. Purposely,

  • The standards are principles and priorities for practice, not a script or checklist. The standards help principals focus on the things most important to student success and encourage practice that fits situations and needs.
  • The standards provide an orientation toward students and their success by promoting clarity and understanding of leadership most helpful to students—promoting press and support, rigor and care.
  • The standards focus on capacity development of school personnel and organization that serves students effectively.
  • The standards encourage our leading with moral purpose by placing vision, values, ethics, service, and improvement at the core.

Yesterday & Today…

Contrasting the 2008 ISLLC with the 2015 PSEL confirms what we know and believe to be important in leading the schools for today and beyond that was not obvious within the first set of standards. However, usher in the era of standards, accountability, teacher leaders, PLCs, equity, and culture and these four become necessary and important. The 2015 PSEL reminds us of what we know and compels us to act with urgency and purpose.

  • We know that to move our schools forward, we must act as agents of continuous improvement (not continuous change) to promote the academic success and well-being of every student.
  • We know that to foster a professional community of teachers and other professional staffs promote each student’s academic success and well-being.
  • We know that to develop the professional capacity and practice of school personnel is vital to promote each student’s academic success and well-being.
  • We know that to strive for equity of educational opportunity and culturally responsive practice that promote each student’s academic success and well-being is critical today and tomorrow.

Whether you are a first-year novice or veteran of the profession, educational leaders need ongoing support to succeed in a job that is dramatically changing. The nature and qualities of work articulated in the 2015 standards serve as a foundation for high-quality professional development opportunities so that educational leaders can continually develop and refine their abilities to excel at their work.

Schools and school districts need effective leaders like never before to take on the challenges and opportunities facing education today and in the future. The 2015 standards paint a rich portrait of such a leader, one whom our students are counting on to help them reach their full potential. They shouldn’t have to wait any longer.





Throughout the year, I shared each issue of Professional Practices for the 21st Century Leader with my social and professional learning networks. I reached out to ask which topics, articles, tips or tools they found most useful. Given it is that time of year when our children are making lists of things they hope will be theirs this holiday season and that Oprah’s List of Her Favorite Things has friends talking and shopping, at the end of this newsletter, I offer a list of Favorite Factors from the inaugural year of Professional Practices for the 21st Century Leader.



Professional Standards for Educational Leaders

Favorite Factor #1
Mission, Vision, and Core Values
School Improvement Tools: The Five Whys

When seeking to attain and sustain the components of mission, vision, and core values, defining barriers to improved performance among school boards, district administrators, principals, teachers, and students help determine support plans and scaffolding and is critical to the success of each student. Identifying the wrong barriers to work on can be a waste of time and resources, to say nothing of the major risk of not achieving the intended outcomes.

Favorite Factor #2
Ethics and Professional Norms
Conversation Starters: Take a Stand and Case Study

To motivate staff members to share experiences and expertise, place them in situations that cause them to grapple with a reading or a video that requires them to consider the need for ethical decision-making and professional norms.

Favorite Factor #3
Equity and Cultural Responsiveness
What Does a Culturally Responsive School Look Like?
Viewing Log for Videos: Three-Column Chart

To be effective in multicultural schools and classrooms, principals and teachers must relate content to the cultural backgrounds of their students. Teaching that ignores student norms of behavior and communication provokes resistance while teaching that is responsive promotes involvement.

Favorite Factor #4
Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
Lesson Plan for a Faculty Meeting on Rigor

What do all schools with high student achievement share? They tightly link standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. They do this across, as well as within, all grades and subjects to promote rigor, assess school instructional practice efforts, and create a plan to support alignment.

Favorite Factor #5
Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
Growth-Producing Feedback
Feedback Graffiti

At Just ASK, our essential question is “What do classrooms and schools look like when they are organized around a commitment to the achievement of high standards by all students (and teachers)?” When we keep this essential question in mind, our thinking about what feedback we want to provide around teaching, learning, and leading shifts. /

Favorite Factor #6
Community of Care and Support for Students
Principal Pointers for Creating a Community of Care and Support
Tools for Building School-Wide Community

At the core, students learn when education leaders foster safe, caring, and supportive school learning communities. As Collaborative Classroom says, “By creating a community where children feel supported, safe, included, and known, students and teachers are able to take risks and jump into the learning at hand.”

Favorite Factor #7
Developing the Professional Capacity of School Personnel
Tips for Promote Personal and Professional Health

Leaders who relentlessly develop and support teachers, create positive working conditions, effectively allocate resources such as time, staff, materials, construct appropriate organizational policies and systems, and engage other deep and meaningful work outside of the classroom have a powerful impact on what happens inside it.

Favorite Factor #8
Professional Community for Teachers and Staff
It’s About Time!
7 Steps to Establish Time for Professional Learning (Killion)

When schools create structures and assign specific authority and responsibility to those charged with supporting it, overseeing it, and reinforcing it , school morale is enhanced, teacher performance improves, new teachers stay in the profession, and students achieve high standards.

Favorite Factor #9
Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community
Making Parent-Teacher Conferences a Partnership
19 Questions Your Child’s Teacher Would Probably Love to Answer (Heick)

To build a true partnership with families, give them ample time and opportunity to engage at conferences.

Favorite Factor #10
Operations and Management
The Instructional Focus Calendar

The Instructional Focus Calendar is created to place the instructional focus on assessed standards while respecting the standards-based planning process. Using this calendar approach can ensure adequate time and opportunity for all standards to be taught…and learned!

Favorite Factor #11
School Improvement
Principal Pointers: Learning from My Mistakes
Manage the Change

While leading school centers and districts to improved outcomes for students, there were a few bumps, if not potholes, in the road that, hopefully you can avoid. The tips here can help!


Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only.

Please include the following citation on all copies:
Baldanza, Marcia. “The Year in Review.” Professional Practices. December 2016. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2016 by Just ASK. All rights reserved.