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The Bottom Line Will Education Leadership Adapt?

The Coronavirus has caused great uncertainty and change — especially in schools.  It has also given us an opportunity to pause and think about how we can improve education in America.

Ryan Smith, Co-Founder and CEO of Qualtrics, wrote in a recent Forbes article, “Data shows that workers are looking to their own employers and managers to lead even more than they are looking to governments and other organizations.”

Unfortunately, one of key features of today’s public education system is a lack of effective leadership that can help us navigate these stormy waters.

ACTE program chair Don Nielsen explains that we have an ineffective system of training, hiring, and promoting leaders within public education.  The core of the problem is this:  It is the “only professional segment of our society in which promotion is based upon self-selection.”

That is, almost any teacher can become a principal.  All they need to do is attend an education school for a year. The same goes for superintendents.

This is not a formula for success.  

So what sort of leaders are we looking for and where do we begin?

Strong education leaders are visionaries who seek to improve the system as a whole.  They don’t tolerate the system we have now; but find a way to transform it, one way or another.

Visionary leaders create a movement, even in an entrenched bureaucracy.

But how do we go about creating these leaders?

Leadership change requires change at the state level, not the federal or municipal level.  States control the curriculum, the selection of leaders, the certification programs for teachers, the compensation for those positions the money, testing, and graduation.

As Nielsen argues “We must look at changing the laws that now govern the present system. To do that will take political courage, something that is in short supply.” He continues, “what is needed is a new type of leader: a ‘change agent.’ In a way, we are looking to create educational entrepreneurs who think of doing school differently, leaders who will not be satisfied to effectively educate only a portion of their students.”

In essence what Nielsen is advocating for is “to create leaders ‘by design’ who will then create whole new types of school for the 21st century. These leaders would be placed in schools or districts that need and want change.”

Improving our schools depends on improving the leadership in those schools. It’s time to reexamine how we produce education leaders.  

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.
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