How should principals be trained? Like MBAs? Like CEOs?

We recently explained and fundamentally believe that next-gen principal prep should be blended, personalized and competency-based, echoing our vision for next-gen teacher prep and professional development in “Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning.”

Our new “Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning” project draws on the expertise of researchers, practitioners and pioneers who have made tackling the leadership challenge a key part of their mission.

Today we share two recently expressed opinions that explore if principals should be trained more like MBAs and CEOs. (Spoiler alert: That’s a “yes!”)

Art Levine knows a thing or two about preparing school leaders. He is the current president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and the former president of Teachers College, Columbia University.

Levine asked in recent commentary, “Should Principals Be Trained Like MBAs?”

He sets up the challenge this way:

“The current model of school leader preparation is ill-equipped to provide long-term answers to [the problem of international and domestic achievement gaps]. With an emphasis on seat time and a goal of graduating as many M.Ed. seekers as possible, as quickly as possible, many current programs lack a rigorous clinical experience and strong mentoring support. We need a new, more rigorous terminal degree to prepare school leaders.”

Levine describes the diverse and increasingly complex set of skills that are necessary for current and future principals to master and shares a business school perspective:

“Our education schools do not hold all the solutions in isolation. They need to look to the answers found in other academic pursuits, particularly in business administration. This is not saying that our schools should be run like companies. But there is no denying that understanding and developing mastery of topics such as budgeting, human resources, strategic planning, and other areas in which our business schools excel are now non-negotiables when it comes to running schools with multimillion-dollar budgets.”

Levine’s is a sentiment shared by Lawrence Kohn, former school principal and current Director of Programs and Evaluation for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program (REEP) at Rice University–the first and only U.S. institution to permit aspiring principals to receive a state certification to serve as a school leader through a business school. In “Preparing Principals Like CEOs,” Kohn explains:

“REEP believes that preparing principals to run their schools like CEOs will enable them to solve problems, manage resources, and transform their schools. To instill this CEO mindset, we developed a creative and complex set of learning experiences for both current and aspiring leaders. In short, REEP is a new approach to education leadership development that equips school leaders to tackle new challenges in new ways.”

What’s more, the REEP program is getting results by better equipping school leaders to thrive. The white paper School Leaders as CEOs provides empirical evidence that the focus on CEO mindset enables principals to better lead change, lead people, drive results, build coalitions and build the business.

As we continue to build our own framework for next-gen principal prep and development, we couldn’t agree more with Levine, Kohn and others regarding the skills and mindsets that school leaders will need to have mastered to lead increasingly personalized, blended and competency-based learning environments. As both the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the REEP examples provide, there are some promising practices that can serve as a model to transform the current system.

There’s a sense of real urgency — as teaching and learning evolve, so too must leading.

Levine leaves us with a compelling call to action:

“This is no longer an issue of what we could do or what would be nice to do. The role of a school leader will continue to grow more complex and more demanding. The preparation programs of old will grow more and more inadequate with the start of each new school year. We must redesign how we prepare our future school leaders.”

To learn more about Deeper Learning environments for students, teachers and leaders check out:

This post is part of our “Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning” series.  If you have thoughts about what today’s school leaders should know and be able to do and how they should be prepared, we’d love to hear from you. Contact [email protected] with the subject “Preparing Leaders” for more information.

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