3 trends in education leadership

ASCD Director of Educator Engagement Emily Davis in this Q&A highlights three important issues on the minds of education leaders in 2017. Davis, a former classroom teacher who served as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the US Department of Education, also discusses the types of skills today’s leaders need and the best environments for leadership to grow and thrive.

Q. What were some of the biggest trends in education leadership in 2017?

Over the past year, I have had countless conversations with educators and attended numerous educator-facing conferences and events. Throughout these engagements, three trends have consistently emerged - all three have critical implications for strong education leadership.

The teacher shortage.
The teacher shortage is on everyone’s mind. While shortages tend to focus on recruitment issues, a report from the Learning Policy Institute finds that 90% of open teaching positions are created by teachers who leave the profession. While some are retiring, about 2/3 of teachers leave for other reasons, most due to dissatisfactions with teaching, such as lack of administrative support, low salaries, testing and accountability pressures, lack of opportunities for advancement, and dissatisfaction with working conditions.

The impetus of social-emotional learning.

All means all. Educators across the United States are seeing increases in populations of students who are homeless, exhibiting extreme classroom behaviors, have experienced trauma, have little family support, or have severe emotional and mental health issues. Regardless of the root cause, teachers and leaders are supporting more and more students like this in schools every day - and in most cases without an increase in resources, staff or training. A recent ASCD SmartBrief ED Pulse poll found that 69% of readers believe that a shift toward social-emotional learning has the potential to greatly improve student achievement overall and provide a foundation for students who are coming to school with severe emotional challenges. 

2% is not enough.

Two percent of the teaching profession are black male educators. Two percent. However, there is growing evidence that when black students have black teachers, those students are more likely to graduate high school. Organizations and activists around the country are striving to make this a reality. The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice in Philadelphia is a professional membership and activist organization dedicated to advancing the recruitment, development and retention of black male educators in schools throughout Greater Philadelphia. Their call to action is simple - ALL students benefit from the opportunity to learn from highly effective, conscientious black male educators and two percent is undoubtedly not enough.

What does this mean for education leaders? It means that they must fight for better teaching conditions from preservice to in-service; they must support educators with the resources, funding and policies to provide for students with severe mental and emotional challenges; and they must fight to diversify the teaching profession to ensure that all students benefit from highly effective teachers and leaders who look like them.

Q. What qualities or skills do you think are most important for effective leaders?

I think that effective leaders are great listeners. They listen with intent and to absorb quantities of research, data and qualitative information to inform decisions and build successful initiatives and systems. They also consider a variety of perspectives and listen through the ears of those who are closest to the work, as well as those who are the furthest.

I believe that effective leaders are intense strategists. These types of leaders set goals, determine actions to achieve said goals, and mobilize resources to execute the actions. Great strategists not only understand the importance of formulating a comprehensive strategy with the input of others, but also how to properly implement and redirect when a strategy veers off course.

Q. Describe the type of workplace culture or environment that best fosters education leadership.

Workplace cultures that best foster education leadership are environments that promote and accept risk-taking. Taking risks are just that - “risky.” But failure fosters an individual’s ability to be self-determined and makes learning accessible to all. Failure in any organization or workplace can be difficult, but teaches individuals to overcome challenges and to handle disappointment with empathy, adaptability and perseverance.

Teachers encourage students to take risks every day - knowing that failure is a potential outcome. Regardless, they continue to expose students to risk, as it is an essential aspect of teaching students to believe in their capabilities and to guide them as they persevere through challenges towards future success. Likewise, great administrators encourage teachers to take risks in their classrooms. It is these classrooms where students value inquiry, reflection, iteration and the learning process as a whole.

Q. What advice would you give educators on enhancing their leadership skills in 2018?

My advice to educators for enhancing their leadership is to remember two truths about leadership: great leaders always make leaders of others and great leaders aren’t always the people in charge.

Emily Davis is the Director of Educator Engagement at ASCD. Davis is responsible for engagement focusing on educator and teacher leadership through collaboration with government agencies, education organizations and global partners. Her leadership includes grant design and implementation, teacher-led professional learning and initiatives and facilitation and support for ASCD constituent groups. Prior to joining ASCD, she served as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the US Department of Education in the Office of the Secretary and the Office of Educational Technology. Davis was a classroom teacher for 10 years.

Katharine Haber is an education editor for SmartBrief, writing and editing content about a variety of topics in education.

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