Preparing School Leaders for a Changing World: Lessons from Exemplary Leadership Development Programs

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Preparing School Leaders for a Changing World: Lessons from Exemplary Leadership Development Programs

Our nation's underperforming schools and children are unlikely to succeed until we get serious about leadership. As much as anyone in public education, it is the principal who is in a position to ensure that good teaching and learning spreads beyond single classrooms, and that ineffective practices aren't simply allowed to fester. Clearly, the quality of training principals receive before they assume their positions, and the continuing professional development they get once they are hired and throughout their careers, has a lot to do with whether school leaders can meet the increasingly tough expectations of these jobs.

Yet study after study has shown that the training principals typically receive in university programs and from their own districts doesn't do nearly enough to prepare them for their roles as leaders of learning. A staggering 80 percent of superintendents and 69 percent of principals think that leadership training in schools of education is out of touch with the realities of today's districts, according to a recent Public Agenda survey.

That's why this publication is such a milestone, and why The Wallace Foundation was so enthusiastic about commissioning it. Here, finally, is not just another indictment, but a fact-filled set of case studies about exemplary leader preparation programs from San Diego to the Mississippi Delta to the Bronx that are making a difference in the performance of principals. The report describes how these programs differ from typical programs. It candidly lays out the costs of quality programs. It documents the results and offers practical lessons. And in doing so, it will help policymakers in states and districts across the country make wise choices about how to make the most of their professional development resources based on evidence of effectiveness.

Drawing on the findings and lessons from the case studies, the report powerfully confirms that training programs need to be more selective in identifying promising leadership candidates as opposed to more open enrollment. They should put more emphasis on instructional leadership, do a better job of integrating theory and practice, and provide better preparation in working effectively with the school community. They should also offer internships with hands-on leadership opportunities.

Districts, for their part, need to recognize that the professional development of school leaders is not just a brief moment in time that ends with graduation from a licensing program. This report contains practical examples of how states, districts and universities have effectively collaborated to provide well-connected development opportunities that begin with well-crafted mentoring and extend throughout the careers of school leaders.

Is training the whole answer to the school leadership challenge? Certainly not. The best-trained leaders in the world are unlikely to succeed or last in a system that too often seems to conspire against them. It requires state and district policies aimed at providing the conditions, the authority and the incentives leaders and their teams need to be successful in lifting the educational fortunes of all children. But better leadership training surely is an essential part of that mix. And that’s why this report is so welcome.


M. Christine DeVita
President, The Wallace Foundation
April 2007

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