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#CorwinTalks: Four Pathways, Three Tips, and Two Words for Current and Aspiring Education Leaders

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Four Pathways to Prepare Aspiring School Leaders 

By Tim Cusack & Vince Bustamante

There’s a tremendous need to attract more aspiring leaders into school leadership! The question is: how do we do this? When it comes to nurturing future educators, there are four key pathways that can help guide them on their leadership journey. By attending to leadership standards, culture, leadership experiences, and mastery experiences, you can create the conditions for aspiring leaders in your learning community with the skill, will, and thrill needed to experience success in school leadership. 

Mentorship and coaching are key to the development of aspiring school leaders.

Raise the Bar on Leadership Standards

Leadership standards may be the “mother” of all roots for leadership development. The important thing is that you consistently and wholly use the standards as they are the root from which all assistant principals’ foundational knowledge develops.

Create a Culture for Implementation

By determining the dispositions and strengths aspiring leaders bring with them, you can better understand how they can complement existing leadership at your site. This will lead to what is considered an “optimum learning environment,” that has a certain “feel”: a culture conducive to risk-taking, candor, and trust.

Plan Guided Leadership Experiences

Mentorship and coaching are key to the development of aspiring school leaders. While many school authorities offer a range of support intended for the mentoring of new school leaders, including professional learning consortia or professional associations and organizations, only a few focus solely on the development of leaders. Influenced by Social Cognitive Learning Theory, and through the creation of vicarious leadership experiences, jurisdictions can better equip their principals in supporting the mentoring of leaders.

Attain Mastery Experiences

Through the establishment of high impact experiential-based learning opportunities, aspiring principals will have greater exposure to unique leadership opportunities that are generally reserved for principals themselves. Whether modeled for them, or whether they have had time to participate in them alongside leaders, the next step is for current principals to provide space for them to take the lead by designing mastery experiences. 

Three Tips for Leading Programs and Initiatives

By Jim Marshall

Education programs and initiatives are messy.  Yes—I said it. It’s especially true when you’re leading a bunch of them.  First, they come in all shapes and sizes. Second, success implementing any such endeavor must bring predictable benefits to the people involved—typically our students, teachers, parents, or leaders. Third, the collective impact of the programs and initiatives in the school you lead makes up a significant part of your total impact you’ll have upon the people you lead. 

So, failure with programs isn’t an option, and therefore Tip #1 is quite simple: Pay attention, and then more attention to the programs and initiatives you’ve committed to support because their success = your success = your students’ success.

Now that you’re paying (close) attention… watch great things happen. As you do, take the opportunity to make the program all it can be. Talk to the people involved, broadly demonstrate your interest and care, and use what you learn to shape the implementation—even reshape it, where necessary—into something high performing and impactful.  Thus, Tip #2: Experience the satisfaction that comes with watching the program-in-action, challenging your assumptions, and boldly leading improvements to the program through your lived experience with it.

Finally, my lived experience demonstrates that successful programs get shelved every day. Sometimes it’s a lack of patience in fully reaching successful implementation to the point of measurable impact—the “too little, not soon enough” fate.  Other times it’s simply the lack of offensive program “public relations” that leads to an early demise.  Therefore, Tip #3: As leader, promote your programs so they become known for their successes each step of the way. Whether promoting the earliest of successful implementation steps, or sharing persuasive data about meaningful impacts on participants over time, make your programs and initiatives invincible by making their accomplishments known far and wide. 

Two Words of Wisdom for Principals

By Matt Renwick

A colleague moving into her first year as a principal asked me if I have any words of wisdom for her.

I said I had two:

Trust teachers.

I became a head principal in 2011. Shortly after my hire, a teacher leader in my new building asked me if I would attend a literacy institute with other faculty. It was over the summer so I had time to commit to it. But instead, I declined. I cited the need to focus on finishing the master schedule and other managerial tasks.

Once that first year as a principal began, I realized what a mistake I made in declining to engage in professional learning with faculty. That teacher leader led our professional development based on the resources discovered at the institute. I fully participated in these sessions with faculty during the school year. But I understood too late what an opportunity I missed from declining that initial experience.

  •  We could have bonded, talking about the successes and challenges the school faced.
  •  I could have communicated the importance of professional learning in my commitment to attend the institute.
  •  I could have walked into that first day of school with initial trust established between faculty and me.

Instead, it took me longer to earn their trust during that initial school year.

When we say “yes” to teachers’ requests of our time and school resources, we also communicate that we believe in their ideas and decisions. I realize we cannot always say “yes”. But the more times we do, the more we show we believe in their capacity to lead.

Written by

Timothy P. Cusack , Ed.D. is an educator with thirty years of experience as a classroom teacher, department head, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent of learning services (curriculum, assessment, professional development) and currently serves as deputy superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools (Leadership Support Services). In his current role, he directly supports the daily work of school leadership teams and aspiring leaders across almost 100 schools.

Vince Bustamante currently serves as the Social Studies Curricular Consultant for Edmonton Catholic Schools. In this role he is responsible for resource development, providing teacher support, overseeing curriculum implementation as well as delivering professional learning sessions. He is trained as a Secondary Social Studies teacher with vast experience in middle and high schools, and has a passion for creating a social studies classroom that seeks to empower students to maximize their learning.

Jim Marshall is a Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University and Senior Director of the Doctorate in Education program.  His book, Right from the Start: The Essential Guide to Implementing School Initiatives, examines the meaning of initiative, provides an intuitively sequenced structure, and eagerly shares a vast array of tools. Whether you have a day, a week, a month, or a year to dedicate to initiative design and implementation, Marshall’s differentiated guidance supports any leader’s quest toward initiatives that yield predictable results. He can be reached at www.jamesmmarshall.com.

Matt Renwick is an elementary principal in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Previously he served as an assistant principal, athletic director, coach, and classroom teacher in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Matt was recognized as a Friend of Literacy by the Wisconsin State Reading Association in 2020 and received the Kohl Leadership Award in 2021. You can find Matt on Twitter @ReadbyExample.

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