Principals’ Leadership Network

PLC for Principals: Principals’ Leadership Network
With the challenges of school leadership, no principal should go it alone.
The School Leader’s Dilemma
  • Complex challenges are faced in leading schools in the 21st century
  • Principals work largely in isolation
  • Few opportunities exist for professional learning
  • Experience with a supportive community of fellow principals is rare
The Solution

By working with networks of like-minded peers, principals coach each other to solve problems and grow as 21st-century educational leaders who can meet the learning needs of all students.

The Opportunity

The VDOE Training and Technical Assistance Center at Radford University is piloting an online Principal’s Leadership Network (PLN). Principals and assistant principals are invited to join peers in a collaborative problem solving and learning community. This is an opportunity for principals to network with other educational leaders in VDOE Superintendent’s Regions 6 and 7.


Principals’ Leadership Network (PLN) participants will support each other and collaboratively work to learn from research, explore school-based problems, examine possible solutions, and share their experiences with implementation.

While the criteria of the seven VDOE Principal Performance Standards will be a guiding focus, the unique questions and concerns of principals will be the center of the PLN. This is a time to share and learn with other administrators within the context of current school issues.

  • Instructional Leadership
  • School Climate
  • Human Resources Management
  • Organizational Management
  • Communication and Community Relations
  • Professionalism
  • Student Academic Progress
What Meeting Model Will The PLN Follow?

The PLN will use Critical Friends Group (CFG) meeting protocols. A CFG is a professional learning community consisting of five to 12 members who are committed to improving their practice through collaborative learning and structured interactions (or protocols). CFG members meet at least once a month for about two hours.

What are Protocols and Why Do We Use Them?

Protocols are structured processes or guidelines to promote meaningful and efficient communication, problem solving and learning. By using them within a group who share common values, they’re great vehicles for building the skills and culture needed for successful collaboration. Protocols permit an honest, deeply meaningful, and often intimate type of conversation which educators and school leaders may not be in the habit of having. Like guardrails along a highway, protocols provide guidance and safety, and help ensure arrival at the proposed destination rather than sliding off-track.

Essential Values of Protocols
  • Give time for active listening and reflection.
  • Prioritize equity and parity so all voices may be heard and honored.
  • Make it safe to ask difficult questions.
  • Allow participants to gain differing perspectives.
  • Accomplish much more than typically happens in a short period of time.
Learn more from a real world example of a structured PLC for principals. Read: Where Principals Dare to Dream: Critical Friends Group Narrows the Gap between Vision and Reality

Summary: Being a principal was the most demanding job the author, Kevin Fahey, ever had. He worked hard, mostly in isolation. Like most principals, he struggled to manage the position’s political and bureaucratic necessities in order to concentrate on what he thought was the fundamental work of schools: teaching and learning. He struggled to continue to learn and grow as a leader to keep alive a dream of schools as collaborative, reflective places that persistently focused on teacher practice and student learning. It was only after he left the principalship that he learned that a large body of research confirms that principals work in isolated, often competitive, bureaucratic cultures and that one key to their success is the ability to continue to learn and grow as leaders.

In fall 2004, a group of recent graduates of a district-college educational leadership partnership program built on the concept of learning community to craft one answer to the question of continued leadership learning. Program graduates formed a professional learning community based on a Critical Friends Group model, which they had used as part of their leadership practicum. This model is characterized by two essential elements: regular, intentional use of structured conversations–or protocols–to guide the group’s learning and skilled facilitation. The Critical Friends Group encouraged members to continue to learn about specific aspects of their practice in a way that was not regularly available to them. Moreover, this learning was directly connected to real-time issues that the school leaders were facing.

Read the full article: Journal of Staff Development, v33 n3 p28-30, 42 Jun 2012