Developing Effective School Leadership Pipelines Using Simulations

October 27, 2022

By Nick Kovalcik & Danielle Miller

Leading a school is a difficult job. Significant obligations and unforeseen difficulties encourage frequent turnover. No matter what stage of the leadership continuum an individual is at, districts should prioritize continual support and development for principals and other school leadership responsibilities.

Ann Cunningham-Morris and Phyllis Pajardo, coauthors of The Principal Influence: A Framework for Developing Leadership Capacity in Principals, have created a framework for leadership growth that is being implemented all across the United States. Leaders today are  focused too much on professional shortcomings. This framework shows how leaders should focus on how they may leverage their abilities to improve the areas where they face challenges.

Cunningham-Morris and Pajardo explain that effective leadership begins with educators learning how to grow as leaders. The four essential functions that leaders play are the focus of the ASCD framework for effective leadership development at every stage. According to them, these roles can give current and prospective leaders and those who assist them clear objectives for actions that will most promote instructional leadership.

The Framework for Principal Influence Leadership Development

  1. Principal as a Visionary: In this role, leaders develop a shared vision and then coordinate practices, procedures, and initiatives to bring that vision to fruition. The school’s mission and vision must be clearly expressed, communicated, and led in its collaborative implementation and ongoing revision. All decisions, practices, policies, and resources (such as staff, time, money, and facilities) must also be aligned with and based on the school’s mission and vision.
  2. Principal as an Instructional Leader: In this position, principals should focus on developing the collective and individual capacity of the staff through professional learning communities, coaching, and leadership and on integrating evidence-based practices into instruction. 
  3. The Principal as an Engager: According to Pajardo, in this capacity, leaders exhibit an “unwavering dedication” to the welfare of the whole child, enhancing social-emotional learning. They involve all parties in supporting that purpose, including the corporate world and caregivers.
  4. Principal as a Learner and Collaborator: Leaders consciously tend to develop themselves and their teams professionally in this role. Examples include facilitating work-integrated professional development, encouraging distributed leadership, and exhibiting reflective habits.

Cunningham-Morris explains that there are two different supports for applying the framework and instilling these attributes. First, leaders build plans and carry them out to strengthen the practices, structures, and processes necessary for their progress in each of the four roles. This provides opportunities for personal and professional development and real-world application of learning.

The second is a systems-level pathway for leadership that involves incorporating the framework’s ideas into district-wide strategies, including district succession planning and development initiatives. This strategy is centered on training up-and-coming leaders, matching principles’ talents to their tasks, and organizing transitions during leadership changes.

A more accurate image of what is required for the job is provided to potential leaders through transparency surrounding leadership positions This includes a mentoring process by giving aspiring leaders different leadership responsibilities. You can use them to oversee a committee at school, plan an event for the school, analyze data, run a professional development session, represent you at meetings at the central office, and manage the building while you are gone.

If you want to strengthen the leadership skills of the current assistant principals at your school, give them a couple of the most challenging jobs or responsibilities to perform. For instance, a high school can have one to four assistant principals depending on the institution’s size. If you have two assistant principals, consider giving them responsibility for two grades.

Additionally, you can ask them for assistance with tasks outside their primary responsibilities, such as budgeting, school transportation, IT, food services, etc. When they have finished, the leadership pipeline will have taught them how to function as administrators in their own right. This kind of strategy helps to not only build the leadership pipeline, but improves retention, and the overall success of the school. 

The SchoolSims Library of Simulations helps to provide current and aspiring school leaders with the tools they need to apply this framework. Simulations are an experiential learning tool that provides opportunities for personal and professional development and real-world application of learning. Principals and assistant principals must be prepared to handle difficult and complex situations. Utilizing simulations is the best way to prepare them. Simulations will assist in helping your staff develop their experience portfolios in a safe environment, while improving retention and building.


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390, et al. “How Effective School Leaders Create a Leadership Pipeline.” The Edvocate, 16 Mar. 2019, https://www.theedadvocate.org/how-effective-school-leaders-create-a-leadership-pipeline/.

“School Leadership Development? There’s a Framework for That.” ASCD, https://www.ascd.org/blogs/school-leadership-development-theres-a-framework-for-that.