Experts agree that a critical part of any principal’s preservice training is field-based learning under the mentorship of a skilled school leader. And yet, early results from a recent survey of administrators who mentor would-be principals suggest that many of those experiences may be, to put it bluntly, pretty lame.
For example, 79 percent of the respondents said that a primary strategy to develop the competencies of their interns was to have them observe faculty meetings.
“Observing isn’t going to do it for the kind of leaders that we need now,” said Cheryl Gray, who coordinates leadership development and training at the Southern Regional Education Board.
Ms. Gray discussed the findings at a May 18-19 conference in Atlanta, where the group is based. The survey polled 80 mentors of aspiring principals in university-based preparation programs.
Observing and job-shadowing may have their places, but Ms. Gray said the techniques should be seen as just the beginning. Principal-interns also need coaching from mentors in taking part in, and actually leading, school improvement efforts.
The results also revealed that matching principal-candidates with mentors is determined far more by whether the two already work in the same school than any evaluation of interns’ strengths and weaknesses.
Also, the training that mentors receive focuses largely on the administration of the program rather than on how to teach skills and concepts to their interns. Fewer than half the mentors said they got any training at all.
The data bolster arguments made in a recent SREB report, “Schools Can’t Wait: Accelerating the Redesign of University Preparation Programs.” It calls for states to leverage improvement in principal-training programs by adopting stricter criteria for approving them.
“This won’t change unless states get serious,” said Betty Fry, who directs research on leadership at the SREB.
A version of this article appeared in the June 07, 2006 edition of Education Week