‘Adaptive Leadership’ Training in Maryland Helps Groom Future Principals

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 28, 2015 2 min read
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What’s the best way for a state to train the next generation of principals?

As part of the “Shaping Strong School Leaders” special report in Education Week and at, my coworker Corey Mitchell visited the Governor’s Promising Principals Academy in Maryland. The academy takes 48 assistant principals in the state, or two from each of the state’s 24 districts, and trains them to become principals. It may not sound revolutionary, but the program is remarkable, as Corey writes, for how it deliberately taps assistant principals and tries to prepare them for an increasingly complex job.

The academy, which relies on district superintendents to select the assistant principals, is using $440,000 in federal Race to the Top grant funds for financial support. The participants are also selected with an eye to creating a diverse class of assistant principals representing urban, suburban, and rural districts. Each assistant principal gets a former principal as a mentor. It runs three multi-day retreats in July, September, and December, as well as a final session in March. In between those retreats, the assistant principals in the academy meet through their state-provided iPads to network and complete leadership exercises.

One focus of the “syllabus” for assistant principals is communication. For example, during one December meeting, they practiced giving mock on-camera interviews in response to school shootings or other possible crises on campus. The “interviews” were recorded and then later reviewed by the assistant principals.

“Much of this work is about adaptive leadership, and emotional intelligence is necessary,” said academy coach Nakia Nicholson, an educational consultant and former principal in the 127,500-student Prince George’s County, Md., school system.

Corey’s story also focuses on the Wallace Foundation’s “Principal Pipeline” initiative, which tries to help districts identify and recruit the most highly-qualified candidates to serve as principals. (The Wallace Foundation also supports coverage of school leadership, arts education, and extended- and expanded-learning time in Education Week.)

“The vice principal’s role was to handle grunt work—busing, behavioral challenges, cafeteria,” said Doug Anthony, an official with the Prince George’s County district in Maryland, describing how views of assistant principals’ jobs have changed. “The assistant principal has to be well-rounded and understand instruction well enough” to prod teachers to foster better results in the classroom.

Be sure to check out the entire “Shaping Strong School Leaders” series, and the gallery of photos from around the country that was part of a crowdsource project, “A Day in the Life of a Principal.

Photo: Assistant principals in Maryland watch their recorded test emergency press conferences to get feedback from peers during a quarterly retreat for the Governors Promising Principals Academy in Maryland, at the Sheraton in Annapolis, MD on Dec. 9, 2014. The academy is a yearlong training program that prepares assistant principals to run their own schools. --Greg Kahn for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.