The Principal's Primer
Research-Based Supports for Early Learning Classrooms
This bi-monthly newsletter is designed specifically for Principals and Assistant Principals with early learning classrooms on their campus. In an effort to strengthen your understanding of instructional strategies and developmentally appropriate perspectives, the Children’s Learning Institute is pleased to provide you with the latest research, best practices, resources for supporting early learning on your campus, and innovations in technology that support collaborative leadership. Past issues can be viewed in the archive on CLI Engage.
CLI Wishes You Happy Principals Month!
Principal with students

October 2020

In this issue:

Leading in the Midst of Uncertainty
  • How Leaders Can Support Educators
  • Supporting Teachers with Struggling Learners
Leading in the Midst of Uncertainty

Many challenges are on the forefront for America’s schools as everyone copes with uncertainty. Teachers are faced with planning and developing completely new models of learning. As teachers are grappling with the challenges in providing high quality instruction remotely, face-to-face, or in a hybrid model, educational leaders have a significant role to support teachers, students, and families. When teachers feel supported by their leaders, they are more willing to work towards a common vision to ensure academic success for all students. Principal leadership is highly correlated with academic achievement, which is based on fostering a sense of community with students and families and best instructional practices. A report issued by the Southern Regional Education Board suggests that “it is neither teachers alone nor principals alone who improve schools, but teachers and principals working together” (Schmidt-Davis & Bottoms, 2011, p. 2).
Teacher remote teaching
Student remote learning
How Leaders Can Support Educators
Principals have experienced heightened emotions during times of change and uncertainty. Adapting faculty and staff to new schedules, expectations, and different ways of teaching and connecting with students may be difficult as they also try to manage their own families and personal health. All educators need to first take care of their own emotional health, so they can best care for students and provide quality instruction. Thus, leadership roles have shifted focus to not only new models of instruction, but also the well-being and mental health of their staff, students, and families. Staff feel confident to overcome hurdles when leaders make everyone feel cared for by supporting their needs and building a positive school climate. “It is important to explore innovative ways to maintain school connectedness, build relationships and cultivate a positive climate within the new safety guidelines” (Returning to School, 2020).
According to an article by Canlé (2020) in Edutopia, here are some ways principals can support staff:

  • Lead with inquiry to check the pulse of staff members. Start by actively listening to teachers voices, which will inform areas of need, support, and possible changes.
  • Build trust by practicing transparency. Let staff know that current circumstances cannot change but communicate a collaborative effort to work together as a team.
  • Connect with staff frequently to provide a sense of normalcy and increase communication.
  • Stay in tune with staff morale to continually support and problem solve.
  • Stay clear of information overload while working towards student achievement goals. Provide smaller chunks of manageable action items. Stick to essential facts and provide valuable realistic tools that teachers can integrate into instruction.
  • Express gratitude and teamwork. Teachers feed off the leadership’s energy. Send handwritten notes of appreciation and provide schoolwide peer encouragement opportunities.
  • Be genuine with your encouragement to practice self-care so that you are displaying the authenticity needed for a safe, collaborative environment. 
  • Engage in positive feedback and healthy dialogue in a safe environment.

By practicing these strategies, leaders can support their faculty that are feeling overwhelmed and build a sense of community contributing to increased academic achievement for all students. 
Teacher helping struggling student
Supporting Teachers with Struggling Learners
As instruction moves between different settings, there is concern about students who are already at a disadvantage. Students who struggle with in-person classroom instruction are likely to struggle even more online. While research on virtual schools in K-12 education has not compared differences in high performing versus low performing students, studies of college students found lower performing students performed significantly worse in online courses than in in-person courses (Loeb, 2020). Principals can put systems in place to support teachers with struggling learners in face-to-face and online instruction. The CLI Engage platform offers comprehensive tools and resources to support both teacher growth and student growth.
Providing High Quality Staff Development - Opportunities for targeted and individualized teacher professional development can provide strategies for teachers to support struggling learners in different settings. In these professional development sessions, teachers can learn best practices, such as how to differentiate instruction based on data and use scaffolding to bridge the gap between what students already know and what they need to learn.
Promoting Effective Data Use - To build a strong foundation, principals assess instructional needs to support teachers and students. Principals collaborate with teachers to monitor the needs of students and help determine best strategies that can support both academic progress and instruction. Assessments help leaders to understand and address academic gaps that have possibly widened during the pandemic.

Establishing Intentional Instruction - Principals influence intentional instruction by empowering teachers to link assessment to instruction. By developing intentional instruction that meets the needs of each individual student, it will set the foundation for purposeful learning. Teachers give forethought to every book, activity, question, transition, song, and group they have each and every day. “Intentional teaching is the opposite of teaching by rote or continuing with traditions simply because things have always been done this way” (Early Years Learning Framework, 2009). The CIRCLE Activity Collection allow teachers to translate research into practice in a fun, playful and yet planned and purposeful way.
Connecting with Families - There is a substantial research base that concludes play-based learning, in combination with responsive interactions, is the best way to build academic and executive functioning skills in students. Planning ways for teachers to engage families in embracing play-based and responsive interactions at home is a way for teachers to support struggling learners.
Mother and daughter using a tablet

Australian Government. Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2009). Belonging, Being and Becoming - The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Retrieved from
Canlé, A. (2020, June 17). Keeping Lines of Communication Open During Distance Learning. Retrieved from
Loeb, S. (2020, April 01). How Effective Is Online Learning? What the Research Does and Doesn't Tell Us. Education Week, 39(28),17. Retrieved from
Ohio Department of Education. (2020, September 30). Returning to School: Supporting the Social, Emotional and Behavioral Health of Students and Staff. Retrieved from
Schmidt-Davis, J., & Bottoms, G. (2011). Who’s Next? Let’s Stop Gambling on School Performance and Plan for Principal Succession. Retrieved from
CLI Engage Resources

Leaders can get started planning with this high-level, research-driven overview of how CLI’s Family Engagement Resources can be folded into a district-level family engagement plans.
The collection includes over 500 activities and includes video examples, sample lesson scripts, scaffolding tips, and alignments to state guidelines.

This collection includes fun, easy, play-based activity ideas that families can do together to help support important school readiness skills for children ages 0-6.

High quality early learning programs use data to drive decision making with help from research-based tools that track progress in specific child and teacher skills.

This webpage will provide an overview of how different assessments can be administered remotely. The results of these remote administration tools will still provide a reliable measure of students’ abilities and assist in differentiating instruction to meet the individual needs of students.
CLI Engage is part of the Children's Learning Institute at UTHealth