Principals As Coaches: The Thomson Fellowships

Many of the principals quoted in this issue, though not all, have been named Thomson Fellows by the Coalition of Essential Schools, under the aegis of an ambitious professional development project called the National Re:Learning Faculty.

The Re:Learning Faculty may be best known for its Citibank Faculty, experienced teachers who work closely with colleagues in their own Essential schools and others nearby. (Sixty Citibank Faculty members have been selected since 1990, including 24 for 1992-93.) But the project also has two other tiers: one which includes district administrators, school board members, and community representatives; and the Thomson Fellows program, which seeks to develop and deepen the leadership skills of twelve to fifteen Essential school principals each year.

As Fellows, principals come to planning seminars and workshops held at Brown University–an intensely focused setting, the Coalition believes, that plays a key part in their examining the complicated issues of Essential School leadership. Crucial to these sessions is their interaction with the Citibank Faculty who are brought to Brown for similar and often entwined experiences.

For example, principals and teachers might work together on matters such as conflict resolution, strategies for professional development and for consulting with faculty members, teaming, school scheduling, and other common challenges that confront schools in the midst of change.

Each Thomson Fellow then establishes a intensive consulting relationship with one or two schools in his or her geographic area–either Essential schools or those who are still in Re:Learning’s early stage of “networking.” In some cases a Citibank Faculty member and a Thomson Fellow work as a team with one school. Serving as “critical friends,” the Coalition hopes, the principals will bring insight and support as schools venture upon important pedagogical and structural change.

“We are not evaluators of any sort,” program administrators emphasize. “We are concerned colleagues who are willing to be involved in difficult discussions about how to best improve our schools.” For seven or more working days during the school year, each Fellow will help gather resources, identify roadblocks to change, and establish important connections outside the school’s normal channels. Thomson Fellows, like Citibank Faculty, only go to schools upon invitation by a significant number of the school faculty and administration.

Thomson Fellowships are named after Scott Thomson, the former executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and funded by a grant from the Danforth Foundation. All expenses are paid for the fellows’ spring planning meeting and ten-day summer institute, and fellows are also provided a modest stipend. The deadline for applying for Thomson Fellowships is in December; more information can be obtained by writing Paula Evans or Mary Hibert at the Coalition of Essential Schools or calling   (401) 863-3473   (401) 863-3473 .