Wanted: Effective Leaders and Managers for Public Schools and Teachers as Instructional Leaders on Campus

What follows is a post I wrote in one of my Administrative Services Credential classes on Educational Leadership. The discussion focused around Superintendent’s hiring practices related to Administrator candidates that had taken the test to become Administrators versus those that had gone through a program from an accredited institution of higher learning to attain their Admin credential. Interestingly the Superintendent’s were split almost evenly with half having no issues with hiring an Admin that had received their credential through testing and half taking issue with it.

The class discussion was interesting to say the least and three main themes came up. One, that Administrators should be required to have classroom teaching experience. Two, that Administrators that took the test would not necessarily have the information needed to be an effective administrator and Three, that test or classes, it all came down to the individual candidate. I tend to agree with number three more than any of the others, which prompted the following reply:

I’ve been reflecting on the many and varied responses this discussion has elicited and I think regardless of testing out or taking classes, Administrators need to be good leaders and good managers. Effective schools are ones that are well managed by the Administrators for that school.

Classroom teaching experience doesn’t really help with leadership or management and being a good teacher does not automatically translate into being a good leader or manager. Neither does passing the admin test. While the Admin classes touch on a great deal of important information and certainly set our thinking for how to lead and manage in the right direction, they aren’t really teaching us how to be leaders or how to manage people. In the Army I took actual leadership and management classes that taught us the skills and tools to be effective leaders. Management and leadership are definitely skills that can be learned and taught. It seems to me that with Admins, it’s really hit or miss on their effectiveness in these two key areas.

I’m currently reading three books on leadership and management for a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) program I am in. These books are written for business, but they have a wealth of information that can be applied to managing an educational organization as well. It seems to me if you manage your organization well, have the right people in the right positions with the right resources, then you put yourself in a proactive rather than a reactive position. Too often it seems we have the wrong people in the wrong positions with not enough resources.

As Charters and Private organizations move more into the K-12 space (this is the direction NCLB re-authorization seems to be heading) it will be interesting to see for profit business practices go head to head against public school organization and management. I think the for profits will do to K-12 what they’ve done to Higher Ed and I don’t think it will be good for kids. We need more effective managers and leaders in our public schools.

Upon further reflection, I’m pretty sure the most important skills a school leader can have are management and leadership based and not classroom based. We are asking our school leaders to be Instructional Leaders on top of all the other duties they already have. We don’t ask CEOs to be leaders of welding or finance or sales. Why are we asking Principals to be masters of learning too? I think maybe they should just be well rounded managers and leaders.

Don’t we hire teachers to be instructional experts? Shouldn’t teachers be the Instructional Leaders on campus? Supposedly we hire teachers based on their effectiveness in delivering good instruction. In a business, they would be the leaders in instruction and the Principal would be the manager. Very rare is it to find a manager with expertise in everything the people that they manage do. In fact I would argue that to be an effective manager you need the opposite. You need a broad sense of what your people do. Much more important is an understanding of what is required for the organization to be successful and managing your people and resources as efficiently as possible to meet those objectives.

As Instructional Leaders, we are setting Principals up for failure. Telling teachers how to instruct is like hiring a musician and then telling them how to play. Musicians are hired because they can play, not so they can be told how to. Teaching should be a profession of creativity, not lock step standardization and rigid pacing. Hire teachers that can teach, give them the resources and support they need and then get out of their way. How much time and effort are Administrators wasting every day trying to be the Instructional Leaders on campus? Let Administrators concentrate on the big picture and day to day issues of running a school and let teachers teach. How hard is that?