Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Fast-Tracking Leaders with No Teaching Experience Into the Principalship

By Justin Baeder — February 02, 2011 2 min read
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If you were worried that we’re running out of proposals to fix education by taking it out of the hands of educators, rest easy. Washington House Bill 1593 would establish alternative routes to certification for principals, purportedly to address the shortage of qualified school leaders. However, a quick read of the bill reveals that it would place managers from other fields in principal positions with no required teaching experience.

While I am sympathetic to the logic that leadership in other sectors should translate to successful leadership in education, experience does not bear this out. Over and over again, I have seen non-educators who work in education make bad decisions because of their lack of teaching experience. These decisions have real consequences for schools, and they create more work for everyone else in the system. Perhaps this is unavoidable, since we need qualified professionals in a variety of disciplines—such as accounting and architecture—to support the work of schools, and these professionals may or may not have a teaching background.

However, if non-educators are allowed to become principals, this problem will grow a hundredfold. The work of the principal is key in so many ways to the success of teachers and students. If people without teaching experience are allowed to become principals, the essence of this contribution—a deep knowledge of what contributes to excellent teaching and learning—will disappear

I taught for four years before pursuing a position in school administration (3 years is currently the minimum), and frankly, I’d be a better principal today if I’d spent more time in the classroom before moving into administration. Principals are expected to be instructional leaders, and should therefore be master teachers before entering school leadership. In this era of reform, principals are under increasing accountability to ensure the quality of teaching and learning in their schools, and this requires firsthand knowledge of what quality teaching entails.

The last thing we need in our schools is strong, confident leaders who have no idea what they are doing. Success in the business sector could translate to success in school leadership, but not without teaching experience. If we need to increase the supply of quality school leaders, we should start by funding the State Leadership Internship Grant program, or better yet, creating a residency program that will pay master teachers to obtain their principal certification.

But non-teachers hiring, leading, supporting, and evaluating teachers? No thanks.

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