Connecting simulations to the real world

One simulation that I’ve administered multiple times, called “The Bully Teacher,” centers on a teacher who comes to the leader—our simulation participants—and shares concerns that another teacher is being mean to them and mean to students. Participants choose how to reply as the principal.

Now, I rarely get unanimous responses, but when I administer this simulation to Christian school leaders, they are always nearly unanimous in their response, which is to tell the teacher to go talk to their bully—because Matthew 18 says that when you have a problem with your brother or sister, you should go talk directly to him or her. If they give that response in the simulation, though, the teacher tells them, “I don’t feel comfortable doing that,” and then she resigns.

Some of the leaders participating in the simulation will tell me the simulation is wrong, but we inevitably have a deep and rich conversation, and everyone walks away with a slightly different perspective.

Making leadership PD engaging

Even when administered on an individual basis without discussion among their peers, simulations engage school leaders. When my online students take sims individually, almost every time, they come back to me and say, “I was so curious about different paths to this simulation that I chose to redo it seven or eight different times, to take different paths and see how they played out.”

It speaks volumes to me that so many school leaders—when they had the time and the freedom to do so—would choose to go back through the simulation multiple times, when the only requirement for the class is to go through it once. I’m not surprised, though. There is an abundance of PD for teachers, but there are few options for school leaders. So few, in fact, that our school leaders often feel isolated.

I frequently hear school leaders say, “You know, I feel like I’m on an island. Nobody really understands what I’m going through.” That’s not true, though: Those of us researching school leadership and training school leaders understand. Their fellow school leaders understand. And simulations can help them connect to each other, understand how their peers face down the same professional challenges, and come away excited and enriched.

About the Author:

David De Jong, Ed.D., is an assistant professor of educational administration at the University of South Dakota. His research spans educational leadership, innovations in preK–12 education, mentoring, and innovations in technology for teaching in preK–20 education. He can be reached at David.DeJong@usd.edu.