Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Get Real-Improve Leadership Learning

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Get Real-Improve Leadership Learning

Article excerpt

Leadership in practice

When one university asked itself how to improve leadership education, the answer took it closer to the real-world, reformin-fused environments where its candidates operate.

Schooling has changed dramatically in recent decades, but critics say the universities that prepare school leaders have done little to adjust their curriculum to these changes--the myriad of reforms and the complex political environment in which school leaders now work.

This reality led the educational leadership department of Shippensburg University to ask ourselves this question: What if we just turned every course in our Superintendent's Letter of Eligibility Program into a form of practicum?

To be sure, there was sarcasm in the question. But we also knew about the calls for overhauling educational leadership programs. Did emerging school leaders really need to spend endless hours in university classrooms far removed from the realities of their school districts? Did the study of such topics as the characteristics of successful leaders or the analysis of best practices in an academic setting really transfer to an educator's unique work situation?

From our initial discussions about alternatives to traditional programs, we emerged with a clear problem of practice and a workable theory of action to guide our reform efforts. We needed to think through how we could maintain program relevance and sustain it over time while increasing the probability that we're preparing our emerging leaders for the challenges of today's and tomorrow's public schools? If we redesigned our program so that it would focus our candidates on issues confronting their own organizations, we believed their training would be more connected to their needs and to the realities of their day-to-day challenges. We would help candidates define problems of practice in their own organizations. Further, candidates also would be better able to link their activities to the big ideas presented by the university faculty and field experts with whom they would be working each semester. As we moved forward, it became clear that a shift from learning about leadership to becoming more fully engaged in the practice of leadership had the potential to be truly transformative. Why not turn every course into a practicum? This question became our point of departure and the beginning of our journey.

Redesigning the program

We began by working with the Pennsylvania Department of Education while simultaneously coordinating our proposed program revisions with the university's curriculum-related committees. Our approach was evolutionary because we weren't sure we were asking all the right questions or had a workable format and methodology. Our goal was to transition to an approach that minimized a conventional classroom delivery system based on selected topics to in district, applied-learning field work supplemented with seminars and Professional Learning Community (PLC) activities. To foster program relevance, we expanded the cadre of content experts who would work with candidates. In addition to members of the educational leadership faculty and the candidate's school district mentor, we added leadership fellows. They are practicing educators who excelled in one focus area of a particular leadership residency. For example, the leadership fellows for the finance residency were school district chief financial officers who were also active leaders in Pennsylvania's school business officials' organization.

The Leadership Residency program, as it has come to be known, now consists of six completely field-embedded, four-credit courses, or residencies, that are cosupervised by a member of our faculty and a leadership fellow who is a practicing expert in the field. Each residency focuses on local district-level leadership areas of interest intertwined with a few "big idea" seminars and PLC sessions. The focus areas are centered on leadership and community partnerships, public school finance, curriculum and technology, school law, facilities, and human resources and negotiations. …

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