Archived Information

Tried and True: September 1997--The information in this publication was current as of September 1997, and has not been updated since. Some services described in the publication may no longer be available.
[Teacher Professional Development]

Peer-Assisted Leadership (PAL)

A Yearlong Program of Professional Development for
Educational Leaders Involved in School Improvement

Developed and Tested by WestEd and Far West Laboratory

What is the idea behindPeer-Assisted Leadership?

Some 15 years ago, researchers at Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development--now WestEd--set out to learn more about how school principals influence teaching and learning. Using qualitative, anthropological methods, they spent much of 2 years at school sites "shadowing" and conducting reflective interviews with principals.

As it turned out, the researchers weren't the only ones learning. Principals reported that the experience of being research subjects had helped them grow professionally, giving them insight into their own practice and a sense of being supported.

That raised an intriguing possibility: why not design a program that would, in effect--and in fact--make principals each other's and theirownresearch subjects? The result was thePeer-Assisted Leadershipprogram in which principals form partnerships to help each other reflect upon their respective organizations, their leadership, and how one affects the other. Today's administrators grapple with the challenges of leading their schools in an era of rapid change and heightened expectations. As a result, their capacity for reflection, inquiry, and analysis becomes increasingly important. In developingPAL, program staff saw a means to help principals develop that capacity.

In this non-judgmental, inquiry-based approach to leadership development,PALpartners work together over a period of 4 to 8 months, shadowing and interviewing each other to collect data and analyze their leadership activities in context. A growing mutual trust provides fertile ground for candid exchanges of ideas, deep reflection, and self-analysis, whilePAL's conceptual framework helps them see the big picture of schools as systems.

Participants also meet regularly as a group, learning and practicing various inquiry skills (e.g., shadowing, interviewing, theme identification), as well as sharing and processing their partnership experiences. These meetings, together with the partnerships, provide a supportive forum for professional dialog that reduces isolation, deepens understanding, and supports change.

What does research say about how this idea can help teaching and learning?

PAL was developed as a result of a research program--the Instructional Management Program--that examined the work of successful school leaders. The research found that

In its attempt to address those factors,PAL's self-guided professional development is in keeping with principles of constructivism and adult learning. It also reflects current concepts of professional networks, communities of learners, and learning organizations. Research in these areas has illustrated the importance of dialog, self-reflection, and community among the members of an organization if change and improvement are to occur.PALparticipants, interacting as part of a professional community, improve inquiry and dialog skills that, in turn, can be applied to change efforts at their schools. One of the most important aspects of thePALexperience, as voiced by one participant, is that a principalĘs personal experience of collaborative and constructivist professional development encourages him or her to support teachers to learn in the same way.

How was program tested?

During the initial development year, program staff worked with a volunteer group of 14 principals who piloted the effort and served as an advisory group in refining the process. A standardized self-report survey has been used to gather data on the experiences of participants in subsequent groups; survey results allow WestEd staff and other certifiedPALfacilitators to document outcomes and to continue fine-tuning the program. Results indicate that participants experience benefits in both affective and cognitive areas. Some common benefits are

Additionally, a survey of all past participants was conducted at the end of the third year to determine if the program had sustained effects. Barnett and Mueller showed that participation inPALpromoted sustained changes in principalsĘ actions and activities, particularly in causing them to more routinely examine their actions against their professional belief systems and longer-term goals. In another example of sustained results, participants from one school district continued to meet as a group after theirPALexperience and became a forum for problem solving and for influencing district policies and practices.

What communities and states are using this program?

By working directly with groups of school leaders and by certifying others to deliver the program, WestEd'sPALstaff have disseminated the program broadly in the United States and internationally. Within the United States, approximately 2,000 school leaders in 15 states and the District of Columbia have participated, and approximately 45PALinstructors have been certified. In Canada, about 200 principals in three provinces have participated in groups led by about 18 Canadian PAL facilitators. Several groups of private school heads in Australia have participated in an adapted version. The staff of a PAL training center at the University of Amsterdam, established in the early 1990's has worked directly with hundreds of Dutch administrators and has prepared more than two dozen facilitators from eight European countries. The program has been translated into several languages.

What's involved in using this program in my school and community?

PAL is implemented at the school level in one of two ways--either by WestEd trainers or by a local team (or teams) trained and certified by WestEd. The team of instructors leads the formal meetings and, guiding participants through the process, provides instruction and practice in the various skills partners use with each other, and offers feedback on their application of these skills.

While other formats are possible,PALis typically implemented with a group of 12 to 24 participants who meet together five or six times over a period of 4 to 8 months. PAL participation also requires individuals to be away from their schools for several visits of 3 to 4 hours each to the partner's school. It is important for school district administrators to be aware of these program requirements and to support participants' engagement in this professional development process. Because each participant needs to work with a peer partner, which includes multiple visits to the partner's school, WestEd recommends that groups not be too geographically dispersed and that the distance between partners' schools be relatively short.

The group need not be composed entirely of principals; anyone involved in a leadership role can benefit from this experience. Although it is often the case that a group comes from a single school district, this is not necessary; cross-district groups and cross-district partnerships have both worked very well.

Instructor preparation and certification is available from WestEd for districts, intermediate agencies, and state departments wanting the capacity to deliverPALto their audiences. The instruction includes 6 days of training in three sessions (one 3-day session, one 2-day session, and a single day at the end), typically distributed over the course of a school year. WestEd requires the enrollment of a two- or three-person instructor team for this training.

As part of the certification process, each team is expected to implement thePALprogram with a group of principals over the course of the year. WestEd staff, in addition to leading the training sessions, conducts a direct observation and feedback session for each team as it implements the program.PALinstructor certification allows individuals to disseminate the program using both thePALname and the copyrighted materials available from WestEd. In addition, certifiedPALinstructors earn the right to modify and adapt the process for other audiences and delivery formats.

Costs associated with implementing this program vary, depending on the components of the program being used.


Ginny Lee
730 Harrison Street
San Francisco, CA 94107-1242
Phone: (415) 565-3022
Fax: (415) 512-2024


[Improving Multi-grade Classroom Instruction in Small, Rural Schools][Table of Contents][Questioning and Understanding To Improve Learning and Thinking (QUILT)]