School districts invest a lot of time and energy into training teachers, but they often miss the mark when it comes to training leaders. If districts invested a comparable amount of time and money into training leaders we would see more schools improve student performance, an increase in staff morale, and a decrease in teacher turnover. Investments in leadership are essentially investments in the long-term culture and success of a school, department, or district. These types of investments also communicate to teachers that the the district values them, wishes to help them advance in their careers, and presents a clear cut series of steps to help them do so.
My ideal structure for a school district leadership pathway would include the following:
- Selection and Commitment
- Training and Internship
- Job Placement
Leadership Panel Formation:
The first step in selection and commitment would be the formation of a leadership panel. The leadership panel would include current teacher leaders (department heads, grade level chairs, leadership team members, etc.), special education lead teachers, instructional coaches, principals, assistant principals, central office staff representatives from the legal, finance, and communications departments, and at least one school board member.
The panel has to represent the widest possible cross section of leaders within a school district in order to have the greatest impact on a school district’s long-term culture and climate. If the panel only represents school leadership, we only build local school leaders. And we only impact the district’s culture one school at a time. This is both inefficient and ineffective in the long run.
The panel would be responsible for the selection of potential leadership pathway candidates and for designing the training experiences for potential candidates.
Level 1: Paper Screening
I would begin with a paper screening of future school district leadership. The paper screening process would include a review of the candidates’ resumes, teaching certificates, 2 years’ prior evaluations, four letters of recommendation (2 from supervisors and 2 from colleagues), and a response to an essay prompt. In order to prevent a flood of unqualified applicants at level 1, I would limit applicants to those individuals who have at least 3 years in the school district,at least 5 years of experience in the field, and who hold or are eligible to hold leadership certification in their state. The application window would close relatively quickly, after two weeks or so.
The essay prompt could possibly address one or more of the following:
- The candidates’ philosophy on leadership
- The candidates’ reason for exploring leadership
- The candidates’ prior experience as a leader
- The capacity in which the candidates’ have the most desire to act as leaders
The paper screening process would need to include some sort of scoring rubric to ensure fairness and impartiality (as much impartiality as possible) with regard to candidate selection.
All candidate produced items (resumes and essays) would be scored based on a rubric which might address the following categories:
- Presentation [resume and essay response]
- Prior leadership experience or experiences that would suggest the candidate is ready to assume leadership roles [resume only]
- Grammar and Punctuation [resume and essay response]
- Clarity of Thought (how well did the candidate communicate his or her ideas related to the chosen topic) [essay response]
- Leadership potential as communicated by essay response [essay response]
The rubric could be based on a 4 point scale, with 3 being the highest score for technically perfect essays and resumes, and 0 being the score for the worst.
Positive evaluations and complete letters of recommendation would be awarded a point each. Teaching certificates would be used for informational purposes only and would not garner applicants any additional points in the paper screening process.
Level 2: Panel Interview and Performance Task
The top 20-50 percent of level 1 applicants will be moved on to level 2. I haven’t quite settled on an appropriate percentage of level 1 candidates to eliminate. I think the percentage eliminated would depend on the current and/or projected need for leadership positions within the district, available funds for training classes, and the overall quality of the applicants. Ideally, I would want the pool to remain relatively large should any of the applicants who make it all the way through the selection process drop out, take jobs outside the district, etc.
Level 2 would consist of a panel interview and a performance task. The level 2 interviews would be conducted by 3 junior members of the leadership selection panel (teacher leaders, instructional coaches, assistant principals, etc.). Level 2 interview questions might address:
- How candidates would respond to challenging leadership scenarios involving students, teachers, parents, or members of the general public.
- The history of the district
- The reasons that candidate wishes to work as an educational leader
- The candidates’ feelings on managing people, etc.
- Questions about where/how the candidate wishes to serve as a leader (school level administration, central office work, etc.)
The performance task might be to allow the candidate to self-select and complete one or more of the following:
- Disaggregating and analyzing school or district level academic or discipline data
- Preparing a sample Title 1 or department budget
- Using mock data to make staffing choices for a mock school
- Using mock data to prepare a PD calendar for a mock school
- Using mock data to prepare a report
- Viewing a model lesson and scoring that lesson using the district’s standard rubric
- The preparation of a mock master schedule
An individual rubric (with a common maximum and minimum score across performance tasks) would be used to score each task. The tasks should be completed prior to the interview and would have a 1 week turnaround time.
Level 3: Panel Interview and Presentation
The top 20 to 50 percent of applicants from level 2 will be moved on to the third round. The third round would be an interview with more senior members of the leadership selection panel (principals, school board members, central office staff, etc.).
Level 3 interview questions might address questions about:
- District policy
- Potential violations of the law
- Communicating with the public
The presentation would require the candidates’ to present their level 2 performance tasks to the senior panel members. Presentations would be scored using a rubric. The rubric should address:
- Clarity of thought
Level 4: Meeting with Superintendent and School Board Chair
The top 50 percent of Level 3 candidates would make it into the leadership pathway/leadership pool. These candidates would meet with the Superintendent and School Board Chair to discuss the expectations and responsibilities of the members of the leadership pool.
The members of the pool would then be expected to sign a 4 year commitment to work in the district as leaders and to serve on subsequent leadership pathway selection panels 2 years AFTER they have completed their own leadership pathway coursework.
The commitment may be severed by the district if the candidate commits an ethics violation or otherwise abuses his or her position as a district leader. This is the final step in the selection and commitment stage of the leadership pathway.
Training and Internship: Year 1
The training and internship phase would include the formation of leadership professional learning communities (PLCs) that would meet twice weekly and two weekends a month for a full year, including summers. The PLC’s would include all of the candidates who made it into the leadership pathway cohort.
The PLC’s would conduct book studies, case studies, and receive instruction in the following areas from experts in the district. These topics aren’t presented in any particular order, yet:
- School Finance and Budgets
- Strategic Planning and Project Management
- Team Building and People Skills
- School Law and Ethics
- Public Speaking and Communications
- Positional Power vs. The Power of Influence (Leadership vs. Management)
- Safety and Crisis Management
- Planning, Logistics, and Operations
- Human Resource Management and Employee Performance Reviews
- Data Collection, Analysis, and Usage
- Professional Development and Mentorship
- School-Community Partnerships
- Culture, Climate, Mission, and Vision
My vision is that the PLCs are more of a collaborative conversation/work session designed to make the cohort members reflect and grow than they area district sponsored version of a college course.
Training and Internship: Year 2
Toward the the end of year 1, cohort members should start thinking about where in the district they would like to work as leadership interns. They would apply to different departments and would essentially shadow and support the work of principals, department heads, etc.
PLC meetings would continue in year 2 and would address the same topics as in year 1, but the PLCs would meet one per week and one weekend a month. The structure of the meetings will be entirely geared toward reflecting on how they have been able to apply what they have learned to their internship experience.
Cohort members would run summer school sites as site administrators, assistant site administrators, central office content heads, etc. to prepare them to assume roles as full fledged leaders at the conclusion of the 2nd year of training.
Job Placement: Year 3
The cohort members will be the pool of applicants from which Principals and department heads MUST select to fill open leadership positions within the district. As more positions become available, cohort members who have yet to find work in the district as leaders will either be placed or have the opportunity to interview for one of the vacancies.
Mentorship: Year 4
After one full academic year as a district leader, cohort members will be expected to mentor new cohort members for one full academic year, during their 4th year in the cohort (their 2nd year after training and internship)
I admit, I haven’t worked out all the details, considered the budgetary constraints, etc. but I think that this model…or a version of it can ensure that school districts without a leadership pathway can develop their own leaders to ensure the future success of the district.
As always, thanks for reading and pardon my errors. In a future post, I may try to work out the associated costs, necessary resources, and mock up a timeline for such an endeavor.