[Editor's note: This post marks the first in a series of blog entries that examines what can be learned from the most promising alternative leadership development programs in the country. John Chubb, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, interviewed leaders in several of these programs to learn more about how to cultivate successful leadership. We’ll roll out the six lessons that he learned over the next week.]
At a time when US education is consumed with the lagging achievement of students, why should we care about school leaders? Compelling evidence indicates that teachers are the key to student achievement.
Yet principals can significantly influence student achievement through their interactions with teachers. They hire teachers directly (or oversee the people who do). They supervise and evaluate teachers. They coach and mentor, or ensure teachers receive those supports. They set school goals, instill a sense of mission, and inspire, coax, and counsel teachers to do their best. They have the hard conversations when teachers require them. (Or at least the successful ones do.)
Leaders also set the tone in schools, the culture and expectations that may motivate students directly. They provide for student safety and well-being, fostering an environment in which students can focus on learning undistracted. Even these influences require work with and through teachers. Great leaders can cultivate great teachers.
Yet we know as little about how to develop great school leaders as we know about developing great teachers. Ninety-eight percent of principals in US public schools are...