This past year, we have witnessed an historic number of teacher strikes across the country. The demands of picketing teachers in Arizona, Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and elsewhere bore a striking resemblance: better pay, more support staff, and more manageable class sizes. But news headlines about strikes miss the greatest force driving teachers out of the profession: ineffective leadership.
Like workers in any other profession, the best teachers want to work for the best bosses. In fact, research confirms that 97% of teachers list supportive leadership as critical to their career decisions—more than any other factor. If districts and states aren’t paying attention to principal and school leader quality, many teachers—including some of the most effective—will continue to experience stressful working conditions, few opportunities for advancement, and a surefire path to exhaustion, burnout, and premature departure from the profession.
Research Shows Great Teachers Depend on Great School Leaders
At New Leaders, we believe ensuring every school has well-prepared and highly effective leaders must be a key element of any strategy to address the issues raised by striking teachers.
The research backs us up. Successful school leaders set the vision and create the culture for a great school. They make sure teachers know they are valued. They respect teachers’ time. They coach teachers. They provide regular time for teachers to collaborate. They tap teachers for leadership positions, sharing ownership over school decisions and initiatives. In all these ways, highly effective principals foster supportive work environments and help teachers grow. When schools are led by these kinds of leaders, teachers can make a real difference for students.
Earlier this year, the RAND Corporation presented new evidence that quality school leader training matters for teachers, students, and schools, affirming the effectiveness of New Leaders’ approach to leadership development. RAND found that students who attend New Leader schools outperform their peers by statistically significant margins in both math and literacy.
We are energized by these findings. At the same time, our school system partners tell us that they need quality leadership training for a wider range of educators, and they need it to be more targeted to their unique needs and financial circumstances.
We’re Bringing Our School Leader Training to More Leaders in More Ways
In response, New Leaders began carefully adapting our successful leadership training for principals to support leaders at all levels of the system, from teacher leaders to principals and their supervisors. We also began using a wider range of quality delivery methods, including a blended learning approach combining our in-person training with online learning and collaboration.
In two new reports—Tailored: Strengthening Leadership and Delivering Results through Customizable, Evidence-Based Programming and Reporting from the Test Kitchen: Blended Learning at New Leaders—we share some of our lessons learned from this transition. We are hopeful that by sharing these insights, we can help schools, districts, charters, states, and other professional development providers invest in effective leadership strategies, carefully customized to more directly address local needs and conditions.
Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve found:
Our work is more effective when we partner deeply with school districts. For school leader development to be most effective, school systems and development providers must engage in open and sometimes difficult conversations about how best to achieve shared goals. Those conversations look very different from a traditional vendor-client relationship.
Those deeper partnerships yield unexpected benefits. When those partnerships deepen, not only do we see expected changes to educator practice and growth in student achievement, but we also see our school system partners increase their capacity to implement and sustain research-based practices.
With the right supports in place, blended training can be an effective strategy to help educators learn and grow. Given thoughtful design and adequate preparation, blended training can deliver time-savings, flexibility, ease of use, and independent learning—all without sacrificing program quality. Participants in blended training provided overwhelmingly positive feedback on program content and design as well as an improved ability to create the conditions necessary to improve student achievement.
Blended learning may initially be more expensive than in-person training. Frequently, blended training demands up-front investments in technology and other areas of support. This finding contradicts conventional thinking about virtual learning and immediate cost-savings.
Educators deeply value blended learning. They especially value opportunities to connect with colleagues both in-person and in virtual learning environments. This mix of opportunities can help educators grow and improve while also promising to help reduce burnout.
Shifting to more adaptable leadership programming and delivery methods to better meet our partners’ needs has been challenging, yet necessary—and we still have much to learn. As we learn, we continue to be guided by our fervent belief that all teachers deserve to work in a school run by leaders who can help them grow, thrive, and do their very best work for students.
To be sure, school leadership alone is not a panacea for the current woes facing public education. But, along with better compensation and other needs highlighted by the teacher strikes, it is a crucial piece of the puzzle. When more school systems prioritize leadership and provide high-quality training and support for current and would-be school leaders, we will see a proliferation of schools in which teachers want to stay and build meaningful, sustainable careers supporting children to reach their full potential.
Jean Desravines serves as the Chief Executive Officer of New Leaders, a national non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure high academic achievement for all children, especially students in poverty and students of color, by developing transformational school leaders and advancing the policies and practices that allow great leaders to succeed. Jean has over 20 years of professional ...