As admissions coordinator for the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, I spend a lot of time talking to both teachers and school leaders. I’m fortunate to get the chance to work with many of our current Remick Leaders and graduates — many of whom are principals themselves at the outset of their careers in leadership. They are passionate, energetic, and full of zeal to make God known, loved, and served. They’re doing great work and it’s part of my job to find more of them.
In my conversations with many teachers, however, there’s sometimes a disconnect. They are frequently just as passionate and energetic, yet when I ask many if they’ve considered school leadership as a vocation themselves, they say no, or that they’re uninterested.
This isn’t surprising, unfortunately. After all, more than 80 percent of teachers and 75 percent of teacher leaders nationally indicate they are not likely to pursue the principal role (Bierly and Shy, 2013). This is getting to be more and more of a problem. In Catholic schools specifically, some dioceses replace 20 percent of their leadership per year, most archdioceses hired no fewer than 25 principals per year from 2009-2012 (Nuzzi, Momentum, Spring 2015).
It’s certainly not my goal to have every every Catholic school teacher become a principal (there’d be no one left to teach our kids!), but I do think it’s something every teacher should consider at least a once or twice in their career.
For those who have never considered leadership, or have never been asked, here are a few questions to consider:
1. Do you love teaching?
A common response when I invite teachers to think about leadership is something like “I just love teaching too much; I don’t want to leave the classroom!” This is — I want to make clear — a totally fine and legitimate response! But those who are especially concerned about quality instruction might consider how they could extend their influence to build and improve the quality of instruction throughout an entire school community.
For some, this might be the principalship. For others, it might be pursuing a role as academic dean, instructional coach, or some other position. The best principals don’t just tell their teachers what to do, they show it, leading by example. For this reason, a great classroom teacher should discern if and how God might be calling them to share their gifts with a larger community, perhaps in the role of leadership.
2. Do you love learning?
No new school leader knows exactly how to do their job one Day One (or Two, or Three, or One Thousand…). The best leaders are those that embrace a growth mindset, knowing that in order to do the job justice, they must be constant learners. For many prospective leaders, the act of just looking into preparation programs is a way for them to find out if leadership is “for them.”
Indeed, some of our own Remick Leaders were at first drawn to the program simply because they knew it would help them be stronger educators — not because they wanted to be principals the very next day. It was through their peer encouragement and coaching they received within the program, however, that allowed many to make the jump and assume the roles of school leaders they have now. If you’re considering school leadership, find a preparation program that will help grow your own skills and talents and resist compromising or cutting corners — the preparation you receive can make all the difference (we like to think we have a pretty good program ourselves).
3. Do you like to coach and help others grow?
If good leaders embrace a growth mindset, the best ones cultivate it in others. It’s the school leader’s responsibility to make sure the school itself achieves greatness — both among its students and faculty. A great leader challenges and supports all stakeholders, building leadership capacity in everyone. They encourage collaboration, help good teachers become great, and guide the overall vision of the school. In a job that’s not always easy, the best ones do this with joy. Part of helping to build capacity in others is spreading joy and acknowledging that while the job can be hard at times, the end goal — helping children achieve their fullest potential — is paramount.
4. Do you love working with (and for) students?
So many teachers resist the call to leadership because they are afraid of “administration” — and rightly so! Administration — while an important facet of leadership — can evoke paper-pushing, monotony, and staying at a desk all day (Has anyone ever grown up wanting to be a “Building Level Administrator”?). For this reason, we prefer the term “leadership,” and have said on many occasions that “Transformational school leaders are world-builders, architects who bring to life a compelling vision of a better future for the families and communities they serve.” School leaders are the agents of change in a school. No one makes more of a difference in the quality of a school than the school’s leader. They drive the culture, they hire the teachers, they engage the community.
If my most common question to teachers is whether they’ve ever thought about leadership, my most common question to principals might be “When did you feel ready to take over a school? And the most common response is, “Uh...I didn’t.”
But they’re often quick to follow up by saying that despite the occasional challenges, there’s nothing more rewarding. Whether it was a mentor or colleague who first tapped them on the shoulder or whether they came to the decision to pursue leadership themselves, nearly all will say there’s not a more rewarding profession.
Whether you’re a first-year teacher or a veteran, it’s worth considering whether our communities, Church, and schools might benefit from you broadening your reach through pursuing school leadership.
The answer might surprise you.