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The Impact of Student Voices on Instructional Leadership: A Case Study

By: Megan Campion on April 9th, 2024

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The Impact of Student Voices on Instructional Leadership: A Case Study

Teachers  |  Education Elements  |  School Districts  |  School Leadership  |  Surveys  |  7Cs Teaching Resources

At Education Elements, Personalized Learning reflects many of our core beliefs about how people and organizations grow. This is why we continuously improve our services in this area to support schools and districts in their efforts to personalize learning for students. We know that in and outside the classroom, learning is rarely one-size-fits-all. Every individual can thrive if their unique needs are met. Often the first step to supporting student growth and development is getting to know your people and understanding their needs.

Harrisburg School District located in Pennsylvania serves 6,000+ students in eleven schools and recently moved from state recovery to court-appointed receivership. In the spring of 2023, Dr. Portia Slaughter, Harrisburg’s Chief Academic Officer, connected with Education Elements to explore ideas about how to best meet the diverse needs of learners in the district. Dr. Slaughter is passionate about identifying the most effective approaches for all students to learn, grow, and reach their potential. As the Chief Academic Officer, she approached this project intending to build the capacity of her leaders and teachers to meet the needs of their students. She and the superintendent brought together several complementary resources to support students in Harrisburg, including a two-year plan to implement personalized learning in all eleven of the district schools. New call-to-action

One of the resources we brought to the table to help this work get underway is Tripod Learning’s 7Cs survey tool. Harrisburg launched this student-facing survey tool in October 2023 and it serves as a benchmark for the state of instruction across the district. It is designed to measure student perceptions of classroom instructional practices and was developed by Dr. Ron Ferguson while he was at Harvard University.

Over the past decade, school and district leaders have leveraged this instrument to capture student voice when assessing instructional practices and gauging teacher professional development needs. The 7Cs framework provides district and school leaders with the opportunity to reliably measure the areas where they need to provide support for instructional staff. It was the tool selected by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support their seminal three-year study, The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET)

As you might imagine, the introduction of a previously unknown, student-facing survey in a district in receivership was met by some with an eye-roll and a sigh, considered just “One more thing…” However, we worked to shift those attitudes and demonstrate the power of the collected data in partnership with the principals and district leadership. The implementation of the survey and collection of the data was done at the campus level. This decision was made to allow the Personalized Learning teams from each campus to identify the focus for their individual school’s implementation of Personalized Learning and because we wanted to engage the whole campus with the vision, skills, and support for the instructional shifts to come before focusing on individual teacher development. 

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When we started planning at the onset of the project, we knew we would need to work through campus leaders so that teacher support could be systematic and intentional.

True to the spirit of Personalized Learning, Harrisburg SD district leaders recognized that campuses are no different than students, at least in one regard - each learns and grows differently. Effectively supporting each campus was going to look different at each campus. Due to existing strong relationships and deep involvement with every campus, the Harrisburg leaders already knew a great deal about each campus’s identity. But they were eager to develop an even more comprehensive understanding of the state of instruction and instructional leadership at each campus.

Our Tripod 7Cs data empowered leaders to do just that. District leaders were able to look at the survey data and more deeply understand the state of instruction across the district. The data allowed them to compare relative strengths and opportunities for growth at each campus. By looking at this data through a different lens and engaging in backwards planning, we were able to create and deliver the personalized instructional leadership support they needed to achieve the change they were striving for. 

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In a series of workshops with district leadership, we analyzed each campus’s goals for Personalized Learning and dissected campus-specific 7Cs data. By examining each campus’s implementation goals alongside what the 7Cs suggested about the current state of instruction, the Steering Team was able to identify relevant strengths each campus could leverage, pitfalls each campus could proactively plan for, and supports that would be relevant as they strive towards their goals. 

We also hosted workshops with school teams composed of principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, and teacher-leaders. When we shared the school-level reports with school teams, we were initially met with the same beleaguered response we’d encountered when first introducing the survey. As we dug into the data and started to connect the bar charts with insights and actions, eyes stopped rolling and started lighting up. Campus leaders started talking with each other about the things they were seeing in the data.

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As we walked teams through the specific strengths and areas for growth in their data, one instructional coach asked, “Can we get this data for individual teachers? I am working with a teacher who has been looking for feedback on her instruction, and she would love to see where she should focus.” Here are some of the responses we got when we asked for feedback (the question was, “What worked well about today?”)

  • The time to look through data and have productive conversations about what we are seeing. - ELD Teacher
  • Time with some of the team putting together a plan in response to our most recent survey data was great!  Having direction and knowing where we are going next on this PL journey put to rest some of my wonderings. - Instructional Coach
  • Being able to talk as a team and show the data from the survey- LOVE the survey -Intervention Teacher
  • Diving into the data provided gave us a real look at our deficits from a student perspective. - Team Leader
  • Thank you for allowing the team to talk and discuss our way through some of the items.  This is needed space and time for us all to get on the same page. - Supervisor of Extended Learning

The information from the 7Cs tool enabled the development of customized, data-driven development plans, and built buy-in for the implementation of district-wide initiatives and priorities.

Later this spring, Harrisburg SD will administer the 7Cs survey for the second time. With this updated data, district leaders will be able to gauge not only the current state of instruction at every campus in the district but also how effective their personalized supports have been in achieving the growth they are striving for. 


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About Megan Campion

Megan Campion is Partner with Education Elements, working with schools, districts, regional education agencies, and state departments of education to support effective change management for continuous improvement. Megan came to Education Elements in 2018 with extensive experience working in schools as a teacher and administrator, and with schools as a program manager and consultant. Megan began her teaching career as a kindergarten teacher at an independent school in McLean, Virginia. She transitioned into teaching middle school history in her second year of teaching, and spent her time as a teacher creating student-centered, inquiry-based learning experiences for students. She worked with the Alliance to Save Energy as the national manager for the Green Schools (later named PowerSave Schools) program, a K-12 service learning program that supported students’ work to measure and conserve the electricity usage in their school buildings. She went on to work with a technology and research company as an associate director of research, working with school districts across the country on school and district climate studies, leadership transition plans, and community engagement projects. Megan’s career in education has been centered around the question of what is effective, scalable, and measurable in education, and supporting the development and engagement of all stakeholders in a school community.

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