How Can Instructional Leaders
Actually Change Teachers' Practice?

As instructional leaders, we're supposed to provide feedback to teachers, right?

But it's not just an obligation...it's supposed to actually be helpful.

How can we provide feedback that truly makes a difference?

If you've ever wondered...

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    "How can I impact teachers who aren't interested in my feedback—who just seem to be waiting for me to leave their room?"
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    "How can I help the teachers who need more support than I can provide in a few minutes?"
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    "How can I help master teachers continue to improve—from great to even greater?"

...you're not alone.

I'm Justin Baeder. When I became a principal at the age of 27, I struggled to provide good feedback.

I'd been a middle school science teacher, but I became an elementary principal.

Literacy? New to me. 

Math? I knew the concepts, but not the curriculum.

Kindergarten? Uh-oh...

And even at the middle or high school level, I would have faced the same problem:

As instructional leaders, we can't be experts in everything.

I wanted to take instructional leadership seriously. I wanted my classroom visits to make a difference

So I did what we're taught to do in graduate school.

I tried to provide every teacher with a "feedback sandwich" consisting of:

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    A compliment, followed by
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    A suggestion for improvement
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    And finally, another compliment

Did it work? 

At first, it felt great. I'd visit a teacher, find something nice to say, come up with a helpful suggestion, and close with another compliment. 

But soon, I started to run into trouble.

I'd observe an outstanding teacher...and struggle to find a suggestion for improvement.

Or I'd write a nice-sounding compliment...but it'd ring hollow. 

Or I'd see a lesson that looked like a mess, and not really know where to start with the teacher.

I was doing what I'd been taught, but it felt wrong.

I wanted to provide good feedback, but the "feedback sandwich" wasn't working.

I was frustrated, and if you've felt frustration at this point, you're not alone.

​So I decided to try something else...

Instead of "providing feedback," I redefined my goal for classroom visits.

My new goal: simply having a conversation.

Conversations turned out to be lower-stakes and higher-impact than traditional feedback.

In these conversations with teachers, I started to listen more than talk. 

And I started to learn far more than I could have anticipated:

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    I learned about our curriculum and age-specific pedagogy
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    I learned each teacher's strengths and weaknesses
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    I learned where we needed to make operational changes to better support learning

And here's what DIDN'T happen...

No one came running to my office demanding their "feedback sandwich."

No one said "Justin, I really need two compliments and a suggestion from you!"

Instead, teachers grew more relaxed and open to talking with me.

I started to have more fun—instead of tough conversations, I was having enjoyable conversations—and most important of all, conversations that impacted teacher practice.

But it wasn't until we adopted a new curriculum that I realized the power of a shared instructional framework.

The Power of a Shared Instructional Framework

Having conversations with teachers was great...usually.

Sometimes, talking with teachers about their practice is fun and rewarding.

But too often, we'd get off track.

I'm sure you've seen it all:

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    Good teachers go on tangents, and don't focus on the lesson
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    Marginal teachers get defensive and shift the blame to students
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    We struggle to find the right words to prompt reflection and improve practice

I needed a way to keep conversations focused on improving teaching and learning.

So I started with our state's teacher evaluation criteria.

I thought they'd provide some structure to our conversations.

Rather than talk about anything that came to mind, we'd have a specific focus. 

For example, one of the criteria was "Interest in teaching pupils."


We could talk about whether the teacher was demonstrating interest in teaching pupils...but for how long?

It wasn't much to go on.

There was no rubric. No descriptors or indicators.  Just the phrase "Interest in teaching pupils."

What did that even mean? 

So I was delighted when my district adopted Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching.

The Framework became our new evaluation tool, and its rubrics were much more useful.

Organized into four domains, each with sub-components, the Danielson Framework is very specific.

It also identifies four levels of performance:





Still, it was lacking what teachers cared about most: relevance to their subject and grade level's curriculum.

So I started to refer to a few other kinds of resources when visiting classrooms:

The teacher's guide and other curriculum documents became part of my instructional framework, too.

I realized these documents were critical for providing good feedback.

One day, I was observing a math lesson in a great teacher's classroom.

Despite the teacher's skill and experience, the lesson wasn't making any sense to me.

"Why is she only teaching half of this concept?" I wondered.

So I looked in the teacher's guide, and saw how the rest of the unit was structured.

And it made total sense—once I had the full picture.

I almost gave this great teacher terrible feedback—because I didn't know how the unit was structured.

And that's when I realized:

Feedback must relate to the teacher's goals for the lesson, not just our evaluation criteria.

It's not enough to have overall standards for teaching.

For feedback to be helpful, it needs to speak to what the teacher intended to accomplish.

I was starting to gain momentum with high-quality feedback.

And as I continued to visit classrooms and talk with teachers, I found one more type of expectation to include.

It kept coming up over and over again: our school-wide expectations. 

For example, we'd done some training on "strategies for accountable talk," and teachers were using the strategies.

They didn't appear in our curriculum, or in our evaluation framework. 

But they were a part of daily instruction, so I worked them into my feedback, too.

Together, these three set of expectations comprised our shared instructional framework:

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    Teacher evaluation criteria
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    Curriculum-specific content and pedagogy
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    School—and district—specific expectations and strategies

This framework transformed my conversations with teachers.

It kept us on track, and it allowed us to have deep, authentic conversations...conversations that changed practice.

Instead of simply telling teachers what they were doing well—and where they could get better—I could use the language of our framework to dive deep into teachers' thinking and decision-making.

This gave me a much deeper understanding of our approaches to curriculum and instruction, and it gave me the context I needed to write high-quality evaluations.

From Informal Walkthroughs to Airtight Evaluations

Equipped with our instructional framework and a conversational approach, I finally started to enjoy getting into classrooms.

Classroom walkthroughs became a habit—not just something I did occasionally, but a core part of my leadership.

Because I was in classrooms so much, I had plenty of evidence for annual evaluations.

Teacher evaluations are always a lot of work, but they're much easier to write when you can be specific about areas of strength and weakness for each teacher. 

When I did only my required formal observations—once or twice a year, for 30-60 minutes—I didn't have much to work with.

You can learn quite a bit from observing a whole lesson...but you can't learn everything about a teacher.

When your evaluation system has 20+ components in 4 domains, and each requires a rating on a 4-point scale...

Gathering enough evidence becomes essential.

Two formal observations per year didn't give me nearly enough evidence.

So when I made daily walkthroughs a core part of my practice, I started to learn much more about my teachers and how they could improve.

But I was worried that my informal visits would be taken the wrong way.

"Is this evaluative?" teachers would ask me. ("Is he out to get me?" is probably what they were really thinking.)

"Well, it's not one of our formal, scheduled observations..." I'd reply. "But the richer a picture I have, the fairer I can be in your final evaluation."

Instead of one or two chances to evaluate each teacher, I now had a dozen or more.

But these walkthroughs were valuable precisely because they weren't focused on evaluation.

In fact, I never gave teachers a rating, or a score on a rubric, or anything evaluative during walkthroughs.

Instead, we focused on conversation.

And in that conversation, I uncovered the thinking behind the teaching I was seeing. 

I discovered what each teacher needed to move forward, and of course, writing final evaluations became very easy, because I had so much context about each teacher.

More importantly, though, the pieces all started to fit together, because something unexpected happened.

As I spent more time in classrooms, I thought I'd be letting my "building management" duties slide...

But instead, they got easier.

How could spending more time in classrooms make the rest of my job easier?

In a word, information.

With the information I was gathering in classrooms, I could make better operational decisions that supported instruction.

So instead of having three separate leadership tasks—walkthroughs, evaluations, and running the school—I finally had a system.

It served me well as a principal, and it's been the foundation of my work with instructional leaders at The Principal Center since 2012.

A hallmark of Justin Baeder’s professional development content is its highly practical relevance for school leaders, revealing the benefit of his years as a working principal.

Dr. Joe Schroeder , Associate Executive Director, Association of Wisconsin School Administrators

A System for Instructional Leadership

Over the past five years, I've developed the High-Performance Instructional Leadership model into its present form, and the response has been incredible.

More than 10,000 people in 50 countries have participated in the Instructional Leadership Challenge.

I've shared this model at dozens of conferences around the country.

Administrators have taken the Challenge to heart, with many leaders visiting classrooms 500+ times in a single school year.

(One leader, Sam, visited classrooms 1,173 times this past school year.)

The Challenge led to a book:

Now We're Talking!

21 Days to High-Performance
Instructional Leadership

The book gives you the complete model—but a book isn't enough to help you develop the instructional leadership skills that will take your school to the next level.

This is long-term work—work that requires a more intensive level of training and support, over multiple cycles of classroom visits.

If you're ready, I want to help you master the High-Performance Instructional Leadership model, so you can achieve your goals as an instructional leader. 

I can't spend the next two months on your campus—I'd have to charge too much, and I'd miss my family too much.

So I've created a self-paced online program to help you master these practices.

The High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification Program

The High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification Program has two major components:

1. The course, which is divided into 8 modules (see below)

2. The certification—a rigorous, evidence-based portfolio assessment process, validating your mastery of the essential components of the High-Performance Instructional Leadership model. You can complete the certification at any time after completing the course.

Course Modules

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    Module 1: The Power of Professional Conversation
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    Module 2: High-Performance Habits for Getting Into Classrooms
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    Module 3: The Classroom Connection: Understanding Instructional Improvement
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    Module 4: Seeing Deeper with Learning Dynamics
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    Module 5: The Power of A Shared Instructional Framework
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    Module 6: Gathering, Discussing, and Using Evidence from Classroom Observations​​​​ 
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    Module 7: High-Performance Formal Evaluations
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    Module 8: Go and See: Fueling Organizational Learning

Module Format

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    Each module is filmed in high-definition video in our studio, and accompanied by a PDF Workbook
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    You'll also receive transcripts of each video training module for quick review
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    Everything is organized into our password-protected learning management system, so you can track your individual progress

What You'll Learn in Each Module

Module 1

The Power of Professional Conversation

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    Why talking with teachers is the best professional development for leaders
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    How to help teachers make better instructional decisions—when you're not present
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    Why the  classic "compliment / suggestion / compliment" approach is counterproductive—and a better alternative is faster, easier, and more fun
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    How to have quick, impactful conversations after informal walkthroughs 

Module 2

High-Performance Habits for Getting Into Classrooms

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    Develop a schedule that gets you into classrooms daily, AND gives you more time for full-focus office work
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    A system for dealing with interruptions that keeps your office staff happy—without pulling you away from classrooms
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    End the frustration of constant "Got a minute?" interruptions, without a harsh "closed door" policy
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    How to get PERMANENTLY caught up on email and paperwork, so you can visit classrooms without falling further behind
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    A proven plan for your first three cycles of classroom visits—even if teachers are saying "What are you doing here?!"
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    Why focusing on visibility and frequency, not rigor, is the best way to start
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    How to overcome the natural resistance—your own and teachers'—to regular classroom visits (one mindset shift can make all the difference)

Module 3

The Classroom Connection: Understanding Instructional Improvement

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    Help teachers take charge of their professional growth, while INCREASING accountability and trust
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    What teachers hate about typical feedback, and why it doesn't help them improve (it's no wonder they just smile and nod and wait for the boss to leave)
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    Why walkthrough forms steal our attention away from what really matters (and what we should be talking about with teachers)
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    How to differentiate your feedback for teachers with the Practice Awareness Continuum™ (veteran teachers may need more basic feedback in some areas, and you can help even new teachers advance quickly)

Module 4

Seeing Deeper with Learning Dynamics™

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    How to use Learning Dynamics™ to help teachers understand their instruction’s impact on students—even before looking at assessment results
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    A 6-step process for using Learning Dynamics™ to quickly gain expertise and help teachers grow—especially useful for subjects you aren't certified in and have never taught
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    See for yourself how district initiatives are really playing out in classrooms—and what changes need to be made
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    EXCLUSIVE: In-depth model conversations with real teachers, based on video of their classroom practice (you'll see our post-conference on video)

Module 5

The Power of A Shared Instructional Framework

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    The four sources of your instructional framework (teacher evaluation criteria are essential, but not enough)
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    Why teachers aren't implementing your vision—and what they need to truly internalize it and take responsibility for their professional growth
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    How to bring your instructional framework to life, so it serves as a common vocabulary for teaching and learning
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    Why your framework is better at being the "bad guy" than you could ever be (and why teachers actually prefer it)

Module 6

Gathering, Discussing, and Using Evidence from Classroom Observations

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    How to gather robust evidence of practice, without scaring teachers into calling their union rep or complaining to the higher-ups
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    10 questions for post-observation conferences that get teachers thinking and talking—without triggering defensiveness
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    How to end the awkwardness of feedback conversations by ignoring your own opinions (and what to focus on instead)
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    Why teachers actually prefer when you have more evidence about their practice—and why you should NEVER say that walkthroughs are "non-evaluative"
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    EXCLUSIVE: On-camera modeling of evidence-based post-conferences with real teachers

Module 7

High-Performance Formal Evaluations

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    Provide support and accountability to deal with persistently underperforming teachers—without creating more work for yourself
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    How to compile all the evidence you need for high-quality teacher evaluations, in just a few minutes a day (even if your teachers' union is very strict about what "counts")
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    How to use the CEIJ (Claim, Evidence, Interpretation, Judgment) format to write rock-solid evaluations that won't be overturned
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    How to spend 80% less time on "low-risk" evaluations, so you can focus on your highest-priority teachers

Module 8

Go and See: Fueling Organizational Learning

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    How being in classrooms makes you a more effective organizational leader AND manager—even as you're spending less time on management work
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    How to choose a school-wide instructional focus that won't make teachers feel like they're jumping through hoops (and what to avoid because it always wastes your time)
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    How to help teachers let go of the status quo and do what's best for kids
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    Special considerations for superintendents and other central office leaders—for making your entire district a learning organization

Joining the Principal Center has been the single best PD decision I have made for myself this year. [The Principal Center] empowers me to approach my work with confidence and a mindset of growth.

Daniel Ludvigson , K-12 Principal, Munich Public School

Certification Program

The High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification allows you to demonstrate your ability to provide effective instructional leadership—particularly through evidence-based, framework-linked feedback conversations with teachers.

Register for the certification and you'll receive:

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    Individualized support and feedback on your work
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    Portfolio review and assessment
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    Certification Plaque upon successful completion of certification requirements

You can register for the certification when joining the course, or add it later.

To receive your certification plaque, you'll complete the following portfolio tasks and submit them for scoring. 

Certification Portfolio Tasks

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    3 documented cycles of informal classroom visits
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    Evidence-based, framework-linked feedback analysis
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    Video of debrief conversation with a teacher
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    CEIJ-format formal teacher evaluations
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    Compiled instructional framework
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    Curriculum-specific question repertoire​​​
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    80/20 staff evaluation prioritization

Who Is This Program For?

Current Administrators

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    Give feedback that actually helps teachers improve—even if you're not an expert in their subject area
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    Gain the context you need to make sound evaluation decisions about each teacher
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    Gather evidence throughout the year—not just in "dog-and-pony show" formal observations
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    Turn classroom visits from a "should do" into a rewarding habit

Instructional Coaches

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    Understand the thinking behind teachers' instructional decisions
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    Quickly assess teachers' present level of performance via evidence-based conversations
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    Break through resistance and deflection to help teachers change their practice
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    Get teachers to take ownership of their growth

Aspiring Administrators

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    Prepare for your next instructional leadership role
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    Distinguish yourself from other candidates
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    Learn how to give effective feedback to peers and teachers in your internship school
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    Get a 100% tuition credit toward our comprehensive Ascend career coaching program

Central Office Leaders

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    Deploy an instructional leadership game plan for school leaders
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    Set clear expectations for informal classroom visits and formal observations
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    Help administrators craft airtight evaluations that won't get overturned
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    Coach leaders in providing non-directive feedback to master teachers

The resources provided by Justin and The Principal Center have supported my growth as an Administrator and Principal. The ideas, concepts, and practices are useful and valuable.

Greg Louie , Principal/Santa Teresa High School


When you enroll in the program, we'll include even more to help you succeed:

1-Year Principal Center Professional Membership

Gain access to our library of on-demand trainings to help you build capacity for instructional leadership—plus two new live webinar trainings each month ($228 value)

Concierge Setup of Repertoire App

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    Staff import
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    Instructional framework import
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    Personal 1:1 training

Free Copy of Now We're Talking!

You'll receive a signed copy of Now We're Talking! 21 Days to High-Performance Instructional Leadership, by Principal Center Director Justin Baeder.

High-Performance Feedback Flowcharts

You'll receive the High-Performance Feedback Flowcharts: A Playbook for Keeping Conversations on Track PDF guide, designed to streamline your feedback conversations.

100% Tuition Credit for Ascend

If you've been considering our Ascend program, we wanted to make it an easy choice.

Register for the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification program, and you'll be able to add Ascend at any time in the future, with 100% of your HPILC course registration fee applied to your Ascend tuition.

Money-Back Guarantee

The High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification Program will dramatically strengthen your instructional leadership skills, and allow you to provide highly effective feedback to teachers at all skill levels.

We're fully confident that it's the most powerful professional development for instructional leaders anywhere—but don't take our word for it.

Try the program for yourself, and experience the transformation that it brings to your leadership.

If you're not 100% satisfied with the our program for any reason, contact us within 30 days for a full refund.

Frequently Asked Questions

What will I do in this program?

Can I add the certification later, and just take the course for now?

Do you offer a payment plan?

What if I'm not currently an administrator?

What's the certification? Is it a form of licensure?

What evaluation systems is this model compatible with?

What if I have questions before registering?