School growth and improvement is an elusive goal that many pursue but confusion lingers among boards and administrators about what success looks like. What should be measured to learn and improve? What matters most? How do we win?
Tensions and expectations are high, so it’s imperative that we find some common language for excellence and alignment around meaningful goals.
In other words, elevating the quality of our schools is more about renewed commitment to the disciplines of effective school leadership than cutting edge innovation.
Conflicting expectations have consequences for leadership stability and organizational health. This is true for both government-run as well as independent schools. In the U.S. approximately 18% of public school principals leave their schools each year, and about half of new principals leave after three years.
Similarly, the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) saw 19% turnover of school heads among its membership in 2022-23. And, about one-third of private schools reported having three or more heads over the last ten years.
Leadership turnover at that rate exacerbates the uncertainty and anxiety that is ever-present in the school environment, creating massive distraction from learning and destruction of trust.
Overcoming the dysfunction evidenced in this data requires a progressively greater level of commitment by board members, parents, policy makers, and community leaders to understand the genuinely unique challenges of school leadership combined with a collaborative approach to solution development rooted in humility and curiosity.
Preparing education leaders for the real issues facing today’s schools is a challenge for higher ed. Schools of education at universities across the U.S. are exploring models of school leadership, accountability, and management that are adaptable to the community context while also providing a reliable pathway for execution and efficacy.
I have the privilege of serving on the National Advisory Council for the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, where they have multiple initiatives underway to address the broad scope of leadership challenges. A few of these programs include:
- More effective development of and support for urban school educators,
- Equipping all educators to elevate the quality of curriculum and culture,
- Implementation of data and technology to advance student growth and school quality,
- Cultivation of authentic belonging in a society that is deeply fractured.
Interest in education as a career path has been waning for over a decade, with nationwide enrollment in teacher education programs down by nearly 40%. The inevitable impact on schools, particularly those that serve disadvantaged students, is having long-term repercussions.
Efforts to streamline the educator qualification process risk further devaluing the profession of teaching. Some are gifted to teach and many are not, but we definitely need more talented, energized, and engaged educators who have the discipline and fortitude for this work. Few shortcuts exist for that progression.
Schools that seek to attain authentic and sustainable excellence require extraordinary individuals to lead the way.
Leaders who are expert at recruiting and growing a team of educators who are missionally and behaviorally unified.
Leaders who have relentless, even fanatical, devotion to the vision and goals.
Leaders who deliver on their promises with disciplined execution that produces breakthrough momentum.
Leaders who understand the organization’s genius and can communicate a compelling narrative.
Leaders who can cultivate a complex ecosystem of relationships connected through trust.
That’s a model of education leadership that changes lives and transforms schools!