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Arming school leaders for the big task ahead!

January 2, 2015

Some disturbing data points:

  • Low-achieving, high-poverty schools face twice the leadership turnover rates of other schools and generally fill positions with the least experienced leaders

  • 30% annual turnover in low-achieving, high-poverty schools

  • Over 60% of urban superintendents cannot recruit or retain qualified principals

  • More than 45% of superintendents turned over every three years

  • Reasons most often sighted for turnover relate to burnout caused by interpersonal challenges and conflicts


(Béteille et al., 2011; Burkhauser, 2012; Darling-Hammond et al., 2007; Grissom & Andersen, 2012)


Another disturbing point: no surprises.  These numbers reflect countless numbers we have seen for struggling schools.  Inherent to all of these data lies leadership. Or rather lack of leadership.


This silent crisis undermines School Reform. In any major organizational change effort, especially in a context as complex as the education system, leadership is a key ingredient to success.  However, in schools, leaders leave or find it difficult to “step up” when it comes to running schools.


Are these trends reversible?  Yes. 




Start from the beginning. ‘Leadership’ can be defined in many different ways.  It is also clear that different forms of leadership are required for different situations. However, the ability to communicate, coordinate, and make decisions is key under any circumstance. What makes the Ed Leadership job so challenging is that those abilities are rife with ‘painful’ trade-offs that make them difficult to do under the best of circumstances.


The role of leadership in Education is one of the more daunting positions in any industry. Nowhere do we have a group of stakeholders whose demands are more exclusive of each other and that each one can be more irrational than the next. Students, teachers, parents, unions, communities, districts, States, Government, etc. it is practically impossible to satisfy one without dramatically upsetting at least one other. This makes the challenge not just about making good decisions, which is challenging enough, but to be prepared for the negative consequences that are sure to follow from one or more of the stakeholders that view the issue differently.


From a PD perspective, we can provide leaders with frameworks, insight, strategies and even support for this challenge but making decisions in this challenging and evolving context is not something you can master because the minefield is constantly shifting and the consequences manifest clearly in the data above.


Experience is the way that leaders improve at making good decisions.  We also know that good experience is often the result of making mistakes, of failing, and having the wherewithal to learn from it.


How do we provide leaders with the opportunity to “fail forward” in a way that is not so painful as to cause burn-out and early exits?




By capturing realistic and engaging scenarios that manifest different inherent challenges, we enable leaders to practice Exercising Judgment, to Experience the Consequences of their decisions and to Get Feedback on what’s happening.  Participants get the opportunity to gain experience without the pain of the ‘school of hard knocks.’


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