Academic journal article Rural Educator

A Beginning Rural Principal's Toolkit: A Guide for Success

Academic journal article Rural Educator

A Beginning Rural Principal's Toolkit: A Guide for Success

Article excerpt

The purpose of this article is to explore both the challenges and skills needed to effectively assume a leadership position and thus to create an entry plan or 'toolkit 'for a new rural school leader. The entry plan acts as a guide beginning principals may use to navigate the unavoidable confusion that comes with leadership. It also assists aspiring new leaders to think through, and vicariously experience, the challenges they may face in a leadership role. If focuses on three specific areas most relevant to rural principals: Dealing with professional isolation and loneliness, getting to know and thriving in a rural community, and basic management skills for the lone administrator. It provides a series of tools that beginning principals may find useful as they embark on a leadership journey in a rural setting and also identifies the specific skills various stakeholder groups perceive as most important for rural school leaders.

Key Words: Beginning principals; rural principals; entry plan.

Effective expeditions generally begin with a plan and a map acknowledging the potential challenges as well as the skills needed to progress through the journey. While few travelers plan to fail at the outset, history gives many examples of explorers derailed by their lack of planning or skills. In August of 1913, the Karluk, an American built ship, set sail under the direction of Captain Vilhjalmur Stafansson, for a sea/ice expedition to reach the North Pole. The ill-fated expedition was plagued from the outset with poor leadership, meager planning, and a serious lack of the needed skills that would have allowed the party to succeed. The Karluk was soon entrapped in ice and was pulled off course. The ship was eventually crushed by the sea ice leaving the men stranded on the pack ice. Of the 25 original voyagers only 14 survived the expedition (Perkins, 2000). While much less dramatic in nature, the journey from educator to educational leader requires the same understanding of the potential challenges as well as the skills needed to progress through the journey.

Much research has focused on entry plans for beginning principals, and a lesser amount on rural education, but there is a dearth of literature around the intersection of these two domains, that is, the specific needs of beginning principals in rural areas of the US. This lack of information is surprising, given the fact that US rural schools (29, 264) outnumber those located in cities (24,447), suburban areas (22,500) and towns (12,003) (Chen, 201 1).

The challenges new rural administrators face often include lack of decision-making experience, feelings of professional loneliness and isolation, little administrative support, as well as standardized compliance with state and national requirements that do not account for school or staff size (Starr, 2008). Without a plan and an understanding of potential challenges, new rural administrators, like historical explorers can find themselves derailed and lost.

The purpose of this article is to explore both the challenges and skills needed to effectively assume a leadership position and thus to create an entry plan or 'toolkit' for a new rural school leader. The entry plan acts as a guide beginning principals can use to navigate the unavoidable confusion that comes with leadership. It also assists aspiring new leaders to think through, and vicariously experience, the challenges they may face in a leadership role (Jentz, 2009). It is also important to note that this entry plan is not meant to serve as a detailed itinerary of the leadership journey. Rather, it provides multiple sign posts or road markers against which new principals can check their progress to make sure growth is in the right direction.

Because the information regarding new rural school leaders is limited this article weaves the theme of rural schools and the new principalship together. It examines the challenges of being a new rural school leader and suggests a toolkit for new rural school leaders to help flesh out a research-based entry plan for a successful beginning as a rural principal. …

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