What's the best way
to develop
School Leaders?

Dr IOAN REES

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Over the next few years, approximately 10,000 school leaders — heads, deputies and assistant heads — will be retiring. That means there is real need to develop a strong leadership pipeline.

According to the ULC Institute of Learning blog, filling these vacancies is already presenting a challenge at the primary level, and the threat of having to replace school heads considered “requiring improvement” will become a deterrent to new application. 

Great schools are often the result of great leadership, so in many ways, the lack of candidates in the leadership pipeline is as big a concern as the growing shortage of teachers. In fact, the two go hand in hand: There is no way to develop talented and passionate school leaders without recruiting talented and passionate teachers. And it’s time to face the possibility that the shortfall might be a result of embattled school culture and a negative employment brand. 

An important thing to remember is that great leadership is defined — at least in part — by the inevitable rise of other great leaders. Furthermore, new leaders are most likely to emerge within a culture that fosters growth and development. So when addressing the challenge of recruiting leadership within school system, we have to examine how school leaders are creating a culture of continuous improvement amongst their staff. 

But we’re not talking development for development’s sake. Not only are teachers happier when they have opportunities to learn and grow — which improves recruitment and retention rates — there is a measurable impact on student achievement well. 

“It’s pretty clear that if designed well, [continuous development programs] can improve outcomes for children, and there is evidence to show that it improves outcomes for children from more disadvantaged backgrounds most,” David Weston, chief executive and founder of the Teacher Development Trust told the Guardian. “It also improves teacher morale.”

Indeed, the most effective schools are those that develop a culture of continuous improvement with development programs throughout the year. But the development programs are only part of the equation: Teachers also need time to share and apply ideas, evaluate their impact, and eventually go back for more expert input. And school leaders play a critical role in fostering such a culture. 

In any industry, strong leadership, relationships among colleagues, and a positive culture of growth and development are perhaps the most important levers when it comes to building a strong leadership pipeline. For the school system, it bares out in the ability to recruit high quality teachers, retaining talented staff, and ultimately, improve outcomes for students overall.

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