The consulting firm collaborated with 12 school systems nationwide (7 urban school districts and 5 charter management organizations) and conducted a broad, quantitative survey of over 4,200 teachers, assistant principals (AP), and principals. Interviews were also conducted with school level, district, and charter leadership.

Looking over 40 years-worth of experience with schools, as well as from survey data, the consulting firm noted that schools need to stop looking for the best available candidate when openings occur [for principals and leadership] and commit to a model that developed and retains the most promising leaders over time.

“Instead of identifying and developing the largest possible pool of talent, they are often left choosing among the best-available candidates, frequently at the last minute,” explains the report. “In essence, they are leaving this critical school-leadership function to chance.”

However, the report notes that just 23 percent of teacher and 26 percent of teacher-leaders and APs believe that the most talented people in their systems move into school leadership positions. In traditional school districts, those percentages are even lower.

5 roadblocks to great leadership

Based on the study, the consulting firm identified five persistent roadblocks that stand in the way of improvement:

1. School systems encourage too few high-performing educators to pursue leadership roles.

More than 80 percent of those surveyed said they were unlikely to pursue school leadership in the future.

For almost half of this group, the issue is a desire to stay in the classroom. However, just as many have said they found the principal’s role unattractive, meaning that a negative perception is curtailing interest among a large group of potential candidates.

Yet, unlike teachers, those in a leadership role believe the role offers a good balance of autonomy and support.

“I stick around because I get immense satisfaction out of the work,” explained one principal of a Houston school. “Teachers see how hard leaders work and they already know how hard they work so they just don’t think about it as an option.” In this responder’s case, however, mentors “helped [to] understand that it was extremely fulfilling—and possible.”

In fact, 80 percent of the school leaders surveyed noted that early encouragement around the attractiveness of leadership roles was formative in making their decision to pursue one.

As one principal explained, he never gave much thought to being a principal until his boss tapped him on the shoulder. “Great leaders can see people down the road as a leader before they can see it in themselves.”

Unfortunately, only 33 percent of teacher in the survey said their system had encouraged them to consider pursuing leadership roles.

According to the report, the problem may be cultural—a hesitance to do anything that would encourage great teachers to leave the classroom, even if that might align with those teachers’ ambitions and benefit the broader system.

For others, the challenge is knowing with confidence who to encourage.

(Next page: Stepping-stone roles and talent pipelines)

Meris Stansbury

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