by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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The effective preparation of aspiring school leaders is integral to the success of the educational system and the achievement of students. The key is to provide opportunities for aspiring school leaders to develop a wide breadth of knowledge and engage in the practice of school leadership. By providing multiple avenues and experiences in these areas, aspiring school leaders are able to build on the foundation of their existing skills and capacities as top-notch educators, while beginning to develop new leadership skills and capacities. Through these methods, aspiring school leaders engage in a growth pattern that enables them to truly make a difference in the world of education. The following six aspects enable these programs to effectively develop school leaders:
Collaborative Learning Environment: The learning environment needs to be a comfortable place to develop in, where aspiring school leaders feel able to share their challenges and successes with their peers in a constructive environment. A collaborative approach to the classroom where students are openly sharing their individual experiences and perspectives with their peers, participating in open dialogue opportunities, and learning from their peers is the key.
Learning from Current School Leaders: By bringing current school leaders into the higher education classroom as guest presenters, aspiring school leaders are afforded the opportunity to ask questions, bounce ideas off experts, and learn from the challenges that these practitioners face in real-world settings. Bringing the real world into the higher education classroom enables students to blend theory and reality in a manner in which positively impacts their development. This real world learning should include case studies and the current real-life situations occurring in schools.
Fieldwork Opportunities: Similar to the approach taken in teacher credential programs, aspiring school leaders need to actively participate in the practices of school leadership in schools. While this can be difficult for many aspiring school leaders due to their active roles as educators, the opportunity to train as a school leader, shadow current school leaders, and deal with situations in real time is crucial to their development. Project-based learning is a great method of providing fieldwork scenarios in the classroom.
Technology-Infused Learning: With technology being integrated in schools and districts across the nation at an intense pace, school leaders must be knowledgeable in this key area. Aspiring school leaders need the opportunity to experiment with technology, learn the supports and challenges to technology integration, and understand technology from the student perspective. Great methods for building tech leadership skills include research on tech integration, as well as learning to blog, run websites, and tweet.
Learning about PD: PD is a crucial aspect of improving teachers’ instructional practices and students’ learning outcomes and thus aspiring school leaders need to be knowledgeable about the forms of professional development that have the greatest impact on teacher development. This will enable them to make effective financial and developmental decisions on programs and plans for teacher learning. Infused into this learning on professional development should be an understanding of adult learning concepts and teacher development theories.
Balancing Management & Leadership: Effective school leaders are able to balance the use of management and leadership skills. The majority of principal preparation programs focus almost entirely on learning management skills such as budgets, curriculum mapping, calendaring events, and student discipline. However, there is also a need for developing leadership skills including how to motivate and inspire educators, how to build a student-centered culture of respect, and how to bring together the community of all stakeholders.