(Cross-posted at Change Agency)
I've been thinking about "paths to leadership" quite a bit lately. In recent months my school district and a local organization that works with area school districts on a variety of reform initiatives have both announced two separate principal leadership "academies" to help prepare more leaders for our urban schools in the Houston, Texas area. You can learn more about HISD's academy and Houston A+ Challenge's academy by following those two links.
My own path to leadership was interesting and surprising to me. When I graduated from my undergraduate program all I wanted to do was to make art. I was accepted into a master's program in studio arts and that experience led me to an interest in teaching art as a career (at the college level.) In time, after a few years of teaching at the college level, I made the decision to move into K-12 art education. I was living in Texas at the time and I was able to take advantage of a program that allowed me to begin teaching while I went back to school to take the required coursework leading to K-12 certification -- another 30 credit hours (including "student teaching hours") and state certification exam later I was fully certified as a K-12 art education teacher. During the three years that I was taking the coursework -- and teaching in a local high school -- I was selected to be one of five teacher-leaders for a new comprehensive school reform initiative on my campus. This was my launch into leadership and school administration. If someone has asked me even then (in the first two years of my teacher-leadership role) if I wanted to pursue a path to school leadership as a principal I would have firmly stated NO.
However, as time went on I decided to pursue a Master's in Educational Leadership Administration & Supervision (along with principal certification) to add credentials that would allow me to pursue a variety of leadership roles in education. I started the program while I was serving as a campus-based School Improvement Facilitator -- a role focused entirely on assisting the campus principal with implementation of a variety of school improvement initiatives (Small Learning Communities, Professional Learning Communities, literacy initiatives, etc.). My leadership path emerged from some very innovative work on my campus, and I eventually had the opportunity to also serve as a Dean of Instruction on another campus and am now working as a Literacy/Instructional Coach on another campus.
As I look at the two new programs in the Houston area that have been developed to bring new and better prepared leaders to our campuses, I am thinking about my own leadership path and the experiences that have shaped who I am as a learning professional. I include in that the non-traditional and informal learning that I have experienced as a blogger and member of a loosely-joined and voluntary online learning network (my PLN) -- experiences that will certainly not be a part of the two new programs emerging in region -- as well as the formal training in my graduate program and in a leadership cohort in which I have participated over the past two years, and the on-the-job practical experiences that I have had in my campus-based positions. (Which leads me to the question of what content should be included in a leadership development program -- only traditional leadership topics/activities, or emerging technologies and emerging professional learning options as well?)
I think it's valuable to reflect on one's leadership path as we work on ideas for developing new leaders. Whether we are developing new leaders through a formal program or through one-on-one on-the-job mentoring, I believe we can provide greater value to the "learners" if we have a better understanding of where we have been, how we moved into leadership roles, and where we see ourselves going as educational leaders.
What was/is your path to leadership? In reflecting on it, is there anything that surprises you?
On a less personal note --
What is your school district, state, or any local organizations doing in the way of developing leadership academies designed specifically for preparing new leadership/new principals for the schools in your geographical area? Do you think these efforts are adequate or not, and why?
What other general thoughts do you have on educational leadership development in the 21st century?