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New education techniques required to prepare the 21st century principal

Simulations link theory and practice for Nova Southeastern University's students in education leadership and principal preparation.

K12 education is experiencing significant change. With it, the role of the school administrators has changed as well.

Today, they must be "leaders, in addition to being managers," according to Dr. Mary Clisbee, associate dean of Nova Southeastern University's Abraham S. Fischler School of Education in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

The successful administrator must master a variety of nontraditional skill sets that include:

  • The ability to think strategically and to use data-driven decision making is critical. Says Clisbee: "the ability to really use data to make strong decisions and then to strategize a plan to address what you have learned from the data is a very different skill set from traditional school management expectations."
  • Strong communication skills and a comfort level with multiple delivery platforms are necessary to engage parents and students on their terms.
  • Schools and districts require collaborative leadership styles. "We do not have the luxury of a top-down leadership model anymore," she says.

"Real leadership skills — not policy, or management — and administration skills are necessary to engage a variety of school stakeholders to ensure that everyone is working for the ultimate goal in education,

Among them are the new class of teachers coming into the profession. "They have been raised to express themselves; they are adept in technology; they aren't afraid of authority figures, and they expect their opinions will be heard and valued," notes Clisbee. Engaging this new breed of teachers and providing them with mission-driven support directly impacts student learning.

that of improving student achievement," Clisbee says. There are many contributing factors to this change in leadership skills—one that emphasizes feedback and adaptability.

Since many of its more than 11,000 students are working professionals, with many from outside the U.S, the school has pioneered new methods of instruction, including distance learning, interactive leadership and simulation learning. "Many theoretical leadership skills are very difficult to teach in isolation," says Clisbee. "You have to be immersed in the practice of them."

Unfortunately, 'learn-by-doing' takes years of trial and error to develop. That is time and mistakes that schools can now ill-afford. Simulations, as an example, allow participants to develop these key skills in safe practice environments. "We feel that our students should learn how to build teams, how to communicate through a variety of media and channels, how to resolve conflicts, and how to solve problems through the application of critical thinking skills," Clisbee notes.

"Many theoretical leadership skills are very difficult to teach in isolation. You have to be immersed in the practice of them."

The Fischler School's computer-based simulation programs vary in complexity at the master's, specialist and doctoral levels. For doctoral candidates, the simulated fate of a large and complex organization is placed in their hands.

During a single semester, student teams lead their sims through a fictional, compressed six-year cycle. Doctoral candidate Lawrence Phillips, a former school administrator in Indiana, says he's a better administrator and community leader because of his work in the program.

Phillips has completed the simulation course. "The detailed international crisis taught me to think about global perspectives. The management casework taught me how others, not always successfully, approached their business issues. Doing is much better than listening, and working out complicated solutions is more interesting than any paper," he says.

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