A Busy Summer for Aspiring Principals | Teachers College Columbia University

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A Busy Summer for Aspiring Principals

TC’s new summer academy for school leaders is just one facet of a broader change initiative.

There's no mystery behind the proliferation of new education leadership programs in America. Quite simply, research has confirmed what many people already suspected: The single most important factor in a school's success - and certainly in turning around a failing school -- is the quality of its principal.

But how to train successful school leaders? Most people would certainly start with Colin Powell's dictum about leadership in general - that it's "the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure." But some other key elements of good programs have also emerged in recent years, including:

  • A "cohort experience" for students - that is, one that allows them to move through training with a group of peers who will form the nucleus of a professional support group in the years to come.
  • Participatory learning, in which leaders-in-training work to solve real problems of the kind they will confront on their jobs.
  • A faculty and curriculum that bring together both academics and school practitioners.
  • Training that stresses real-world skills, such as how to involve a community in school concerns - and how to manage a budget.
  • Standards that will draw high-quality applicants.
  • And then there's one more. Some of the best and brightest potential candidates to become principals are teachers who are currently busily engaged in their careers, without the time to drop everything and go back to school. These folks need a program that offers all the above - yet operates in a compressed time-frame during the months when they're not working.

    All of those elements, along with a few others, are contained in a new Summer Principals Academy that will open in June at Teachers College under the aegis of the Education Leadership department.

    "Our first cohort of 50 students will be experienced teachers who have been in the field three-to-five years and already demonstrate a sense of leadership," says Professor Craig Richards, chairman of the Education Leadership Department, who is directing the program. "They will have met certain academic requirements, have the recommendation of their school's principal and possess the commitment to do a 450-hour on-the-job internship that will be supervised by their principal. And they will also be committed to working in urban schools."

    The Summer Principals Academy is just one change initiative that has grown out of a unique self-examination process undertaken by TC's Education Leadership department, supported by a grant from the Broad Foundation. That effort - which has included lengthy interviews with such champions of alternative leadership preparation as Sandra Stein, Chief Academic Officer of the New York City Department of Education's Leadership Academy; former New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, now a senior vice president at Kaplan Inc.; and innovators at Sylvan Learning, Edison Schools and New Leaders for New Schools - has helped the department rethink some of its programs and practices and begin to sharpen its focus and build on its strengths. Steps already taken include:

    • A reconfigured doctoral cohort program intended as executive training program for superintendents;
    • Improved and expanded internships;
    • Increased collaboration with school districts and non-university based organizations;
    • Exploring strategies to increase collaboration with school districts and non-university based organizations, particularly those working in urban environments and wrestling with issues of achieving excellence and equity.

    The department is currently in the midst of a search to hire three new faculty members who are expected to strengthen its emphasis on "leading learning" - cultivating the ability of future principals and superintendents to help their faculty and students meet the academic standards set by No Child Left Behind and various laws at the state level.

    Meanwhile, the Summer Principals Academy is a clear step in that direction. Richards and Assistant Director Tom Haferd believe the program's intense requirements are one factor that will ensure high-quality applicants and weed out those who are just looking to accumulate credits to raise their pay. Another obvious draw is the faculty, which includes some of the most successful school leaders in the field-Tom Sobol, Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Educational Practice at TC and former Commissioner of Education for the State of New York; Bob Monson, a senior lecturer at TC, former school superintendent, and past participant in a Harvard principals program; Jay Heubert, Professor of Law and Education at Teachers College; and Craig Richards, himself, who is a Professor of Education and Chair of the Department of Organization and Leadership.

    The program, newly registered in the State of New York, consists of an intensive six-week long semester during each of two summers, combined with the internship and an extended weekend program at some point during winter months. Participants will earn 32 credits over the 14 months, a "building level" certification, and either an M.A. or, if they already have a master's degree, an Ed.M. upon completing the program.

    On the first day of the program, participants will be assigned to five-member teams that will work together to prepare a writing curriculum for a school. Participants will also take courses on how students learn best, what curriculum responds to how students learn, and how to know that it's working. In addition, they will spend three weeks covering mediation, conflict resolution and negotiation adapted specifically for school leaders.

    "We'll be teaching to an entire rubric," Richards says. "The people coming out of our program must be able to develop, implement and evaluate progress toward a vision. They must have the polished social and cultural skills to mobilize an entire community to work on behalf of their schools." And yes, he says, they must not only be able to manage a budget but also use creative strategies to redeploy funds in the pursuit of student achievement.

    In addition, during the summer semesters, the participants will attend a Friday seminar that covers communication, speaking, teamwork and sensitivity skills with a heavy emphasis on personal development of the emotional intelligence of successful leaders. Much of that training focuses on working effectively with a multicultural school population.

    "In reality, everything we do, the case studies, the emotional development work, the conflict resolution, the curriculum course, understanding the research that tells us about teaching literacy to kids from different cultures and language groupings, is to prepare people for working in multicultural situations," Richards says. "That's not a course - it's something that infuses the whole curriculum."

    More information about the Summer Principals Academy.

    Published Friday, Mar. 11, 2005