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Articles: Professional Development

Chris Bierly is the co-author of a report on how schools can develop leaders internally.

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.

Superintendent Art Fessler pursued creating the 21st Century Leadership Academy for his Illinois district administrators when he started working last summer. 

An instructor in a classroom addresses the students. “We’re going to discuss how to ask questions in a way that doesn’t sound threatening, but instead builds trust. Let’s look at some of the vocabulary we’re using now to interact with teachers and how, through word substitution, we can reshape those conversations to foster better outcomes.”

Matt Saferite, principal at Ramay Junior High School in the Fayetteville Public Schools, meets with ninth grade teacher Susan Whitley, using a new teacher evaluation system to start beneficial conversations with teachers.

As secondary school principals guide their schools and teachers through a myriad of changes, it’s becoming necessary for these leaders to reinvent themselves. No longer can principals succeed by operating only as a manager—the evolving school environment requires a more extensive approach.

To develop the skills necessary to be effective in the evolving environment of today’s schools, principals have several places to turn. Here are some ideas:

Lisa Todd is deputy superintendent of schools at Greenbrier Public Schools in Arkansas.

Greenbrier Public Schools in Arkansas has always had a strong focus on using classroom observation to encourage positive growth within our schools. When I joined Greenbrier Schools about 12 years ago as the deputy superintendent, I had spent almost 20 years as a classroom teacher and district administrator.

In "I Got Schooled," author and director M. Night Shyamalan examines America’s achievement gap.

I Got Schooled: The Unlikely Story of How a Moonlighting Movie Maker Learned the Five Keys to Closing America’s Education Gap

Simon & Schuster

Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp once said, “If top recent college graduates devoted two years to teaching in public schools, they could have a real impact on the lives of disadvantaged kids.” I agree. TFA members and other short-term teachers have changed kids’ lives—for the worse.

As an idealistic Ivy League graduate, I was the student TFA likes to recruit. According to Kopp’s thesis, my education, academic achievements, and enthusiasm would transfer into great teaching.

Teachers are the single most important factor in student learning. Yet, our field as a whole spends little time ensuring that only the best teachers enter our classrooms—and even less time ensuring that the best teachers feel supported.

The question of whether prior experience as an educator should be a required qualification for superintendents has been asked for a number of years. The issue comes to the forefront of education reform efforts, particularly in big city school systems, where former corporate CEOs, politicians, or military officers without prior K12 experience have been appointed district CEO or superintendent.

Robert Halpern looks at how various institutions can make unique contributions to those crucial learning.

Youth, Education, and the Role of Society: Rethinking Learning in the High School Years

Harvard Education Press

This book’s author, Robert Halpern, argues that education leaders need to expand, enrich, and diversify the learning opportunities available to young people today. The initial chapters explore productive learning experiences for adolescents. The rest of the book looks at how various institutions—including schools, after-school progams, businesses, and nonprofit and civic organizations—can make unique contributions to those crucial learning experiences.

Superintendent Jim McIntyre interacts with Knox County elementary school students.

Knox County Schools is a flourishing district in Tennessee, with most of its 15 high schools having graduation rates above 90 percent. Within the last five years, the district has also has also seen modest gains in reading/language arts, math, science, and social studies as measured by the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests for grades 3 through 8.

ASCD, which held its annual conference in Chicago in March, promotes advocacy, in part through its Whole Child Initiative.

Professional associations have a reputation for being averse to both change and risk, but they have started to look ahead and almost start from scratch to attract more diverse members and retain the ones they have.

The superintendent of the K12 school district where I first taught held a drive each September to encourage teachers to join state and national education associations beyond our local union. We knew that participation, at least in the NEA—which functioned as a professional association in some states and a labor union in others—was not really optional, especially because our enrollment level at 100 percent was announced each year as a matter of pride.


ALAS, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents
Oct. 16-19
Denver, Colo.

ASBO, Association of School Business Officers
Oct. 25-28
Boston, Mass.

AECT, Association for Educational Communications and Technology
Oct. 29-Nov. 2
Anaheim, Calif.

Most U.S. teacher preparation programs are failing to adequately train teachers for the rigorous Common Core standards—a fact administrators need to consider when hiring, according to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

The comprehensive NCTQ Teacher Prep Review, released in partnership with U.S. News & World Report in June, represents data from 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained teachers.