Building the School Leadership Ladder

On Thursday, Bain and Company* released Building Pathways, its first major education policy report, which focuses on the need for districts to develop an end-to-end model for forging the best school leaders. The report includes compelling new data on how leaders are currently selected and developed in seven school districts, and finds that their practices are badly out of step with how high-performing organizations approach these challenges.

For example, schools rarely leverage teacher leadership positions to prepare candidates for greater responsibility or give teacher-leaders useful opportunities to practice essential skills. Bain found that only about a quarter of teacher-leaders spent time ensuring that teachers under their supervision were able to reach high levels of student achievement, and even fewer than that spent time developing high-potential individuals. If stepping stone roles aren’t allowing potential leaders to start learning some of the key skills for being a strong principal, how will we build the principal cadre we need?

At TNTP, we have struggled with the same question. We recently piloted a new leadership program in Philadelphia that operates with a very different perspective. Our PhillyPLUS program selected and trained 13 participants over the summer, and then placed each into an AP role this fall, where they are responsible for developing a subset of teachers over the course of the year. Only those individuals who can show growth among their teachers will ultimately be certified as principals. Not only does this allow aspiring leaders to practice the job before fully stepping into it, it sets a very clear expectation that being the instructional leader of a school has to be job No. 1 for any principal.

Of course, we don’t have all the answers here. But our experience in Philadelphia so far has showed there are untapped aspiring leaders within our midst, and that districts would do well to approach this issue with an open mind.

* Disc: Chris Bierly of Bain and Company serves on TNTP’s Board of Directors.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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