George Lucas Educational Foundation
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From where will the next generation of outstanding school leaders emerge? According to Building Pathways, a new report by Chris Bierly and Eileen Shay, school systems need to move from leaving great leadership to chance to strategically building an internal pipeline of new leaders.

According to the report, the challenge to building that internal pipeline is this: More than 80 percent of teachers and 75 percent of teacher leaders nationally indicate they are not likely to pursue the principal role.

Bierly and Shay surveyed and interviewed a large sample of principals, assistant principals, teachers, and teacher leaders from a cross section of school districts (varying in size and location) and chief marketing officers across the country. The resulting report outlines the challenges to creating a school leadership pipeline and offers a road map for system leaders to establish new standards, practices, and management structures to meet the challenges.

At Envision Schools, we found this report and survey very helpful. Understanding the critical importance of excellent leadership, we are attempting to create a bench of highly qualified candidates for future school leaders -- especially leaders of color. We already have some solid structures in place, such as training in facilitation and professional development delivery, but based on the survey, we have identified some key gaps. One of those gaps, which seems to be universal across school systems, is what I call the leadership paradox.

The Leadership Paradox

Principals -- at Envision and across the country -- overwhelming agree that they enjoy a high degree of job satisfaction, have the right level of autonomy and responsibility, and feel supported. However, most of them would not recommend the position of principal to their teacher and assistant principal colleagues. Furthermore, teachers and teacher leaders have an opposite perception: They think that principals don't like their jobs, do not have autonomy and do not have enough support. Given this misperception, it's unlikely these potential leaders would pursue the path to the principal's office.

I'm willing to bet that this same paradox holds true with teachers and students: Teachers love their jobs, but students would never know it because they most often hear about how hard it is.

In addition to the great suggestions found in the Building Pathways report, I would add one more: I challenge all of us in education, but especially school leaders, to share the joys of our work and the reasons we love of our jobs with our colleagues, our students, and our communities. If we can share the overwhelming positives about leading excellent schools, instead of always sharing how hard we work and how challenging it is, we can inspire future excellent leaders to join our ranks.

I encourage you to read this great report from Bain and reflect on how your school system is addressing the leadership pipeline challenge. Please share examples from your schools in the comment section below.

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Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy

Thanks for an interesting article, Bob. I can understand why so many teachers would not pursue a principal's job -- the hours seem overwhelming and pressure seems to come from all directions. I think that as a culture, we need to re-design that role so that it attracts quality people.

Interestingly, I just conducted and published the results of a survey of 85 teachers to learn more about their relationships with their principals. It's a long report, but a fascinating read. I think the comments shed some light on why so many people see it as a miserable job. Still, many other comments offer some guidance on what teachers really need in a leader. You can read it at

David Franklin's picture
David Franklin
HS English - Philadelphia area

I agree with Jennifer.

It wasn't long ago, people stayed with their school districts 10, 20, 30 years. However, like so many other aspects of the field of education, the current atmosphere surrounding the position of administrator (and teacher) has made the job VERY unattractive. The workload is tremendous.

In fact, I notice most principals and assistant principals rarely stay with one school district more than two years anymore.....and districts seem to encourage that instability.

As someone who holds an principal's certificate, I'm often amazed that schools favor hiring candidates that are a some combination of inexperienced (as a teacher and/or administrator) or have hopped around from district-to-district. Inevitably, when they hire these people that have moved around a lot, they say, "Well, they're bringing all of that varied experience to us." You would think they would want some stability, especially in a high-profile position like that, but their logic and business practices dictate(s) otherwise.

Everything that's currently considered an acceptable work environment by school districts is probably making both new-comers to the profession and college students re-think their choices.

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