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courtesy of teacherleaders
courtesy of teacherleaders

I’m blessed to work at the Soulsville Charter School.  Our parents are fantastic, our facilities first rate and our student’s motivated and hard working.  Yet it would all fall apart were it not for the excellent administrators that drive our school culture.  These leaders keep everything running smoothly and continually push us to the best we are capable of for our kids.  They work incredibly hard because at the core, they are dedicated to seeing our students succeed now and in the future.  They manage discipline issues, craft professional development opportunities to help us improve our craft and will even cover our classes when asked so that we can observe and learn from our colleagues in other departments during the day.  Without them, our school culture would not be what it is.

Having a positive school culture is vital to retaining our best and brightest educators.  And a school’s leaders are directly responsible for setting and maintaining this culture.  School leaders control the staff expectations, the hiring decisions, the size of classes, the amount of non-instructional time available for collegial collaboration, the professional development schedule, the state of educational facilities and the discipline system within a school.  Without a strong leader, it is highly unlikely that a high-need school will have the type of climate that attracts high performing, irreplaceable teachers.

In Shelby County, my perception is that recruitment of school leadership typically starts and stays local. Classroom educators are elevated through the ranks of administrators and eventually find themselves leading schools.  Some charters and the ASD draw leaders from outside the district, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.  This is not to say that we do not have some stellar school leaders in Memphis.  But if this is our primary pipeline for school leadership in the district we are sure to miss out on the vast pool of leadership talent that exists outside our city.

If Shelby County is looking to truly improve its ability to retain and recruit irreplaceable educators, we need to start by focusing on our recruitment of strong school leaders for both charter and non-charter schools.  We should continue the practice of building potential school leaders from the ranks of highly effective teachers and groomed through several years as administrators and assistant principals, as well as principal positions in smaller schools.  They should train with other highly successful leaders in high-need schools.  But we also need to look at recruiting school leaders should also be recruited from recognized graduate and alternative certification programs, such as New Leaders for New Schools, and from other locations outside the district.  We should be actively reaching out to leaders of successful schools in other large urban districts and encouraging them to come here.

We should not only focus on recruiting talent, but evaluating the talent we already have.  Tennessee is fortunate in that we have a large amount of existing data that can be used to evaluate administrators.  Just as teachers are now evaluated, we can do the same for administrators.  And it’s time that we acknowledge the fact that while some administrators are excellent, others are not and we can do better.  We should go about evaluating school leaders with a mixture of different measures including test scores, school indicators like graduation rate, discipline statistics, ACT scores and qualitative teacher feedback.

So why am I talking about leadership talent in the context of growing our irreplaceable teacher base?  Empirical evidence suggests that a focus on school leadership would dramatically impact our ability to retain top teaching talent.  A national survey (the MET project) found that 97 percent say supportive leadership is very important or essential to retaining top teachers.  Additionally, the New Teacher Project found that Schools that retain high percentages of their high performing teachers were more likely to have principles that communicated high professional expectations and where quality teaching is a priority.  In contrast, the same study found that schools with weak instructional cultures, which are driven by school leaders, are 50 percent more likely to lose their high performing teachers than those with strong instructional cultures.

Evidence also suggests that school leadership is vital to attracting new irreplaceables to our highest need schools. Close to home in Chattanooga, teachers that moved to high-needs schools cited collegial and professional learning communities as key to their desire to teach and remain in their current job.  These communities rely on quality colleagues, but in my experience are initiated and maintained by quality school leaders.  Moreover, any educator will tell you that that new teachers who are supported by their school leadership are more likely to remain in those schools than those without a supportive leader in charge.

Seeking out and recruiting top leadership talent does have a cost.  First, we need to implement an effective evaluation system to first identify our best school leaders, which will take time and money. Second, if school leaders are found to be ineffective, they will need to be removed from their positions of leadership, again requiring time and money as well as political opposition from those with vested interests in the status quo.  Third, searching for talent outside the district will necessitate at most the creation of a new talent recruitment division or at the very least contracting with an outside firm to conduct the search for talent on our behalf.

Recruiting better leadership to our schools has the potential to dramatically impact our ability to keep and recruit our top teaching talent.  Yes, it will be hard and possibly expensive, but the research suggests this is one of the best ways to keep our best and brightest educators. When seen in that light, how can we afford not to?

Post originally appeared on on 10/27/13[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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