Districts looking for transformational leaders to turn around schools may find more success by rigorously training their own teachers and assistant principals for leadership roles, according to a recent report.
But most districts lack an effective model for identifying, encouraging and developing an internal pool of qualified future leaders, according to a December 2013 leadership survey from Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm that works with businesses, nonprofits and governments.
Some 4,200 teachers, assistant principals and principals from 12 districts nationwide were surveyed. Almost 80 percent of the school leaders cited early encouragement from supervisors as the reason they sought leadership positions. But only 33 percent of teachers said their school had ever worked to identify and encourage high-performers to consider leadership roles.
“There is no other way to have a high percentage of truly capable leaders in your school unless you intentionally develop them over time.”
The skills a principal needs to flourish in the demanding job are best developed when personnel are groomed for the job over many years, says survey co-author Chris Bierly, a director at Bain and leader of the company’s work in the education industry.
“When you train a person to take on leadership responsibilities, you have the chance to consider those who have thrived, rather than guessing who may adapt,” Bierly says. “There is no other way to have a high percentage of truly capable leaders in your school unless you intentionally develop them over time.”
Half of the principals surveyed by Bain were hired from outside the district within one month of the first day of school. More than half of principals and two-thirds of assistant principals said school systems are not attracting and hiring the most talented candidates with this rapid-fire process.
The report contains three proposals to foster a leadership pipeline within districts:
- Set a high bar for school leadership. Link school system goals to the leadership qualities needed to achieve them, and learn if potential job candidates have shown such skills in their prior work.
- Build a talent-development organization. Examine teacher leader and assistant principal roles, and make sure their responsibilities include managing other adults. Identify educators who have the ambition and leadership skills to someday move into broader leadership positions, such as school principal.
- Actively promote, monitor and support the talent pipeline. This may include encouraging high-potential teachers to pursue a leadership role, such as grade-level or department chair, or providing additional professional development opportunities focused on leadership.
“I’ve yet to see any study in which a truly good school wasn’t being led by a great school leader,” Bierly says. “There are lots of different models to improve educational outcomes, but the school is the unit of change, and nothing is more important than the leader of that building.”