The Highlands Company Blog

Preparing Aspiring School Leaders

highlands ability battery for principals

Research consistently reveals a direct correlation between strong educator leadership and the overall performance level of young teachers in schools, suggesting the significance of proactive approaches to the identification and training of school administrators.

In this post originally published several years ago, we look at the work of The Triangle Leadership Academy, which is housed within the Wake County Public School System in Raleigh, NC. The organization is committed to the process of training educators to recognize and take advantage of this new approach to leadership.

Aspiring Administrators Leadership Institute

Executive Director, Dr. Steve Bingham, developed a two-year Aspiring Administrators Leadership Institute designed to identify and prepare prospective principals for this challenging role. The program is based on “The Seven Critical Functions of School Leadership” and offers an opportunity to study theories, practice administrative leadership techniques, and discuss best practices as school executives. Topics addressed include systems and change theory, mental models such as emotional intelligence and influence, school culture, and tools for improving success rates.

Assistant principals with a minimum of three years of experience are eligible to participate, and each group includes representatives from each superintendent’s region. Participants share their acquired knowledge by mentoring a new assistant-principal and facilitating Learning-Leader Lab session. The group meets monthly in addition to attending a variety of professional development opportunities over the course of the two years.

I had the pleasure of providing a customized Highlands program as a component of the two- year Leadership Institute. It included the Highlands Ability Battery and feedback, plus a full-day program.

Including Highlands in the Leadership Institute provides a foundation of self-awareness along with specific shared language for navigating this significant transition. Ongoing interaction and exploration cultivate a clearer understanding regarding the expectations of the job, along with potential personal pitfalls. The job of a school principal is complex and all consuming, making this preparation instrumental to long-term success.

Unique Aspect of this Particular Program

Individuals, along with their employers, invest two years clarifying the role and confirming compatibility prior to their promotion to principal. This is a stark contrast to the corporate “Peter Principle” practice of promoting people to their highest level of incompetence. The concept of climbing the corporate ladder has taken on new meaning as many have learned after the fact that moving into a role of leading and managing people not only takes them away from a job they enjoyed and excelled at — it requires a completely different set of skills and abilities.

School systems seem particularly vulnerable to this trap due to linear organizational structure, and the unique nature of the teaching profession. People who are good at and enjoy teaching are not likely to be the same people who will enjoy or excel at administration.

A 2007 School Leadership Supply and Demand Report prepared by UNC’s Principals’ Executive Program revealed that although there seems to be a sufficient number of qualified people to fill administrator vacancies in North Carolina’s schools, these qualified individuals are not applying for available jobs and the situation seems to be worsening over time. In addition, over half of current principals in Wake County are within five years of being eligible for retirement, compounding the urgency of proper preparation and succession planning.

Results of this HAB Program

Past participants report a clear and more specific understanding of how they are naturally hard wired and how those tendencies lend themselves to particular leadership and management styles. The ability to articulate this new awareness to colleagues and hear their collective confirmation regarding observations of specific abilities and skills in use is a particularly powerful process. A primary objective of the Highlands program is to encourage work with less stress and greater enjoyment. A recent participant confirmed this capacity:

“I have been able to occasionally take a deep breath and understand why some things bother me more than they bother other people. I also am able to see why some things don’t even register on my “stress meter” while they drive other people crazy.”

Depersonalizing individual differences is another significant aspect of understanding for the prospective principals and their colleagues. Simply stating specific preferences, and comparing and contrasting them to others, was enlightening and encouraging for everyone. Individuals expressed awareness of and ownership for aspects of their personal styles and how they impact interactions and effectiveness. They easily recognize a variety of attributes and can cultivate shared language for communicating about them

Aligning individuals appropriately with organizational roles, goals, and values is instrumental to their overall effectiveness. Stephen Covey talks about making sure your ladder is leaned against the right wall. Jim Collins (in his book Good to Great), describes the significance of “getting the right people on the right bus.”

Career Evolution Is Analogous to Riding Waves

highlands ability battery for principalsWaves, like career opportunities, come in all shapes and sizes, and when confronted with one you have three choices:

  1. Dodge the wave by going under it.
  2. Body surf the wave and go with it wherever it goes.
  3. Surf the top of it, waiting patiently for just the right moment, poised and prepared with the appropriate equipment to ride it into the shore.

According to the bulk of career research, most people are dodging and going with the flow. Few take the proud brave-surfer approach to embracing and riding their careers boldly and consciously into the future. The Triangle Leadership Academy and The Aspiring Administrators Leadership Institute prepare prospective principals and school leaders to do just that!