Building Strong Schools Through Strong Leadership

There are no strong schools without strong leadership. To be successful in their field, principals and other school leaders have several key areas they must address to help build a successful school. Some of these include:

  • Diversity. One of the big changes for principals in Minnesota is the immigrant population and increased diversity all over the state—not just in urban communities. Principals need culture competence and experience dealing with diverse cultures.
  • Community Engagement. School leaders need effective strategies to connect with parents of students and others in the community.
  • Achievement Gap. Minnesota has one of highest achievement gaps in the U.S., so principals must be prepared to address this issue in their school by staying current with research and relevant strategies.
  • Special Needs Students. Principals also need to learn effective ways to create success for all children, including special needs students. In recent years, there has been a dramatic rise in autism and ASD. Principals need to work with teachers and staff to find the best ways to teach all students.

Despite the importance of strong educational leadership and the demands placed on principals today, relatively few school leaders receive ongoing professional development that enriches their leadership abilities to help create high-achieving schools. We are working to solve this problem.

Principals Academy Helps Drive Change in Schools

The Principals Academy fills this gap by bringing to Minnesota the research-based program of the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL), an initiative of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center on Education and the Economy. This executive development program was refined over six years with strong support from national foundations and is being used to provide leadership development for school principals in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and many other states.

Using the NISL program, The Minnesota Principals Academy is pleased to announce its new home in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development (OLPD) in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD). The Minnesota Principals Academy enables existing principals to put educational leadership best practices to work on behalf of their students and schools. Delivered in a 30-day program (the next begins this fall!), the curriculum combines face-to-face instruction in workshops, seminars and study groups with interactive web-based learning. Through this group setting, principals gain a sense of what happens in other districts and develop relationships with professionals around the state. It becomes an intense learning opportunity for existing principals and educational leaders.

The Minnesota Principals Academy is a powerful and much-needed source of support for principals across our state as they play their critical and challenging roles in improving schools and raising student achievement. Principals participate because they want to drive change in their school and beyond. Through my involvement with the Principals Academy and my own experience as superintendent and principal, here are 6 ways for principals to create a high-performing school:

  1. Use a strong team approach. Creating a high-achieving school is a building-wide effort. The teaching staff plays a large role, but also includes the support staff of administrators, secretaries, custodians, social workers—all who are led by principals.
  2. Have a strong vision. Identify your goals for your school and create a plan of where you want to go. When I go into schools in my consulting role, I first ask what their objectives are and what data they’re using to base these objectives on.
  3. Individualize education with technology when applicable. Stay up to date about what technologies are being used in the classroom and how this impacts student achievement.
  4. Encourage a high degree of engagement with families. Parents can work with teachers through communication and feedback to help children be successful.
  5. Be a community school. Create ties between your school and the surrounding community to build strong relationships.
  6. Apply targeted interventions. There is a lot of research out there but you need to identify the specific needs of your school and target specifically to those needs. Don’t just do what other schools are doing if it doesn’t apply to your students.

Since the program has been in Minnesota, I’ve helped train over 300 principals. In an independent evaluation, 81% of participants said the Principals Academy was “excellent” compared to other leadership development programs, and all said it changed their professional practice. In addition, 90% of program participants have reported they have improved their executive capabilities and have come away with numerous positive approaches for improving school achievement.

Strong leadership is absolutely essential. Through all my work here at UMN, my involvement with Minnesota Principals Academy and through my roles as a consultant, K-12 superintendent, principal and teacher, I have not found a great school without great teachers and great leadership. If you have strong, well-trained leaders with knowledge of research – you will find a successful school.

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Kenneth Dragseth

About the Author

Kenneth Dragseth, Ph.D.

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2 thoughts on “Building Strong Schools Through Strong Leadership”

  1. Kathi Kusch marshall says:

    I would like to receive more information on the principals academy, thank you.

    1. CEHD says:

      Hi Kathi, thanks for your interest. More information about the Minnesota Principal’s Academy and its fall 2013 cohort can be found here:

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