Harvard University announced last week that it will be offering a doctoral program in Educational Leadership. The press release states that the program will be tuition-free and "taught by faculty from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)." When Harvard creates its first new degree in three-quarters of a century, the times they are a-changin'. This is welcome news.
One of the lessons we have learned at QISA is that school administrators are the key to effective school improvement and change. Whenever we try to improve the 8 Conditions in schools, the staff and students have to get on board, but it is the principal and his or her administrative team that have to drive the train. Without consistent administrative propulsion, few efforts leave the station, never mind become sustained.
I have worked with many gifted and good-willed administrators. Most have come up through the ranks as teachers, and then chairs of departments or team leaders, and then have been offered the seat in The Office. I get emails from them sent at all hours of the night. Many are over-tasked and under-resourced. As hard working as these individuals are, I believe the days of the promoted-teacher principal have passed. This is not a sleight to those who are doing their best to lead their schools. It is a seasoned judgment that the traditional system for creating principals has outlived its usefulness. The task of administering a school is far more complex than it was even twenty-years ago. This complexity is not beyond the intellectual or volitional capacity of any of the principals I have worked with. But the skill set now required--comprising everything from budgets and instructional leadership to personnel management and PR--exceeds classroom experience as a training ground. Principals have told me this themselves.
I am not advocating that we trade those who have walked the walk for those who have only heard the talk. One of the aspects of the Harvard degree that is promising is that it will be practice based. Undoubtedly those who apply will be teachers and administrators. I am for a cadre of administrators that enjoys the benefits of everything we have learned in the last quarter-century about schools and effective leadership. I am also hoping that learning to lead a school that sees students as full partners in education is on the syllabus.