Providing instructional vision and support for school leaders and teachers is a core responsibility of the central district office, yet district leaders themselves often have limited professional learning opportunities to engage in that work.

Professor Jessica Rigby of the University of Washington College of Education shared how a research-practice partnership collaborated with central office staff in job-embedded instructional design teams, which allowed for the leaders and university partners to engage both in leadership development and leadership actions toward instructional improvement, during the 2019 meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

Rigby, whose co-authored paper “Leadership Development Through Design and Experimentation: Learning in a Research-Practice Partnership” was recently published in the Journal of Research on Leadership Education, said that learning can be most powerful for district leaders when it is ongoing and embedded in the daily work of improving instruction.

The design-based implementation research (DBIR) approach taken by Rigby and her team recognizes that district leaders have experience and context-specific knowledge that is essential to implementing instructional reforms.

Rather than expecting district leaders (or researchers) to already know how and what to do to improve instruction, Rigby said, this approach affirms that learning happens through the improvement process.

“The leadership development was about the [design] team’s learning,” said Rigby, who noted that these types of learning opportunities are essential for both researchers and district leaders working together to improve school systems at scale.

Rigby received the 2019 Early Career Award from AERA Division A (Administration, Organization, & Leadership) and uses lenses from organizational sociology to understand the role of school and district leaders in the implementation of policy, classroom instruction, and improving teacher practice towards increasing equitable outcomes for historically marginalized communities.

Her current project is Systems Leadership for Math Improvement, a DBIR project in collaboration with two local school districts and a team of other researchers and students at the UW to improve elementary mathematics instruction through redesigning systems, tools and leadership development at the district-level.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications