The Governor’s Our Kids, Idaho’s Future Task Force recently hit on a one-word description of something that could transform Idaho’s education system – leadership.
At the task force’s last meeting in Pocatello, one by one members said strong leadership from district superintendents, and principals, could be a game-changer for our students.
“I think leadership is the most important thing,” said Idaho’s 2019 Teacher of the Year Marc Beitia of American Falls.
Former Idaho Chief Deputy Superintendent Pete Koehler, who spent a career in the military before going into education, said, “It’s leadership that will produce a successful child.”
“Leadership is essential,” said Gov. Brad Little’s education adviser Greg Wilson.
There you have it. Great leaders can create great outcomes. That is true in the private sector and it is also true in the public sector.
A great superintendent-leader hires and develops great principal-leaders and great principal-leaders create a school culture where great teachers flourish. Great teachers in the classroom develop flourishing students. It has been said more than once that “as the superintendent or principal goes, so goes the district or school.”
Unfortunately, too often we rarely give the importance of leadership a second thought as though leading is on auto pilot. Too often we do not give our superintendents and principals the tools or flexibility they need to excel as leaders and enable change. Too often we turn school leaders into managers who “do things right” instead of leaders who “do the right things.” And too often we forget that increasing bureaucracy stifles leadership.
Why do we give leadership little or no attention? Perhaps because as a society we believe leadership is innate, something you cannot possess unless you are born with it.
Warren Bennis, the author of “On Becoming a Leader,” says the “most dangerous myth is that leaders are born . . .This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense. In fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”
Bennis believes that nearly everyone has the capacity for leadership. But it takes time, attention, commitment and a way to develop leaders just as great writers, military officers, and business leaders are developed.
Other states have recognized the importance of school leadership. Maryland created a “Promising Principal Academy” and Arkansas the “Arkansas Leadership Academy.” Utah created the “School Leadership Development Program” which helped turn around many of its underperforming schools.
Georgia and Tennessee have each created a “Governor’s Academy for School Leadership.”
Former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a true leader in American education, said, “Successful organizations have great leaders at the top, and one of the most important things we can do to transform our schools is to have each one led by a great principal.”
If leadership is the game-changer many think it is, then it’s time for Idaho to create an “Idaho Leadership Academy.” Such an Academy can help develop school leaders who have the skills to create great schools. It can help them move from good to great.
We can do this with little or no additional money if we consolidate some of our current professional development spending into leadership development.
Warren Bennis wrote: “Leadership is the capacity to translate visions into reality.”
The Our Kids, Idaho’s Future Task Force is creating a vision of what it wants for Idaho’s students. But only great educational leaders who are empowered to facilitate change can turn that vision into Idaho’s future.
State Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, is a member of the Senate Education Committee, and Rod Gramer is president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education