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Teaching the Teachers’ Teachers

By Mark Green

Members of the team that wrote instructions explaining a team-building task and how to accomplish it could watch but not explain or answer questions about their written guidance to their fellow team.

If, as Kentucky policy makers firmly believe, an educated workforce is key to economic development success, then school principals who can lead and inspire their teams of teachers and students is a prerequisite.

It’s in the works.

Since last summer, a first group of 47 public and private school principals from across the commonwealth has gotten executive leadership training through an institute created and paid for by the state’s business community through the Kentucky Chamber Foundation. Another class of principals enters training this year.

The Leadership Institute for School Principals program’s instructors are from Greensboro, N.C.’s nationally recognized Center for Creative Leadership. A top-ranked global provider of executive education founded in 1970, CCL established an education and nonprofit section in 1988.

Numerous Kentucky corporations use CCL to provide training for their executives.

“Education has consistently been the Kentucky Chamber’s top policy priority, reflecting our belief that a strong education system is the best foundation for a strong economy,” said Dave Adkisson, secretary of the Chamber Foundation and president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

“After reviewing many possible ways we could support improvements in education, we believe leadership training is the most appropriate focus of our efforts,” Adkisson said. “Employers understand the positive impact of strong leadership in the workplace, and the same is true of schools. That’s why we think it is important that Kentucky principals be given executive-level training similar to that provided for corporate leaders.”

Thanks to generous donations from businesses throughout the state, 47 school principals began attending Leadership Institute for School Principals sessions in late June and mid-July of 2011. A $200,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation and another $200,000 in donations from chamber members and non-members alike made it possible for the principals chosen for the program attend at no cost to themselves. An advisory board of business leaders and school superintendents selected participants from among applicants.

Current plans are for a second cohort of Kentucky principals to enter the program in mid-April. The application period for that group begins Feb. 1.

“The AT&T Foundation’s focus is to keep kids in school. We felt that the Leadership Institute was a perfect pilot program to see if leadership training for principals can make a difference in school systems,” said Mary Pat Regan, AT&T Kentucky president, who played a key role in getting the initial $200,000 donation from her company’s Texas-based foundation. “I’m thrilled that chamber members across the state stepped up to match our initial AT&T grant.”
The institute is available to Kentucky principals who have at least one year of experience working at any school level. Both public and private school principals may apply.

The chamber ultimately would like to broaden the program so that all new principals in Kentucky are able to undergo the training, said Allyson Hamilton McIntire, executive director of the Leadership Institute for School Principals. The state averages 144 new principals annually.

Based on research by the CCL, the best time to maximize the benefit of leadership training for principals “is after they’ve been in the job for a year,” McIntire said. They have developed enough of an understanding of their duties and are still early in their careers for the training to create the most bang for the buck.

It costs $9,000 per principal for the training, which for the first cohort included a three-day trip to CCL’s campus in Greensboro in June and July and two days of sessions by Center for Creative Leadership facilitators in Frankfort in October. It will conclude in late January and early February with two more days in Frankfort.

The program for principals is the first active step by the chamber toward fulfilling its five-piece New Agenda campaign, McIntire said. The five policy areas of the agenda address: energy; global competitiveness; improved education; government modernization; and health and wellness.

When The Lane Report visited the Kentucky Chamber’s offices in Frankfort during the October two-day session, principals heard about the unexpected and disproportionate impact and influence a leaders’ words and actions can have – sometimes even when it is an offhand comment not intended to mean anything.
A video presentation explained how to find and create opportunities for positive outcomes when expected conditions change by exercising intellectual curiosity rather than becoming frustrated or by taking interest in someone beyond typical key players in events.

The principals also participated in a challenging administrative team-building and problem-solving exercise. Paired teams were tasked with assembling a complex wooden puzzle under special conditions: One team had 15 minutes to write a set of instructions that included describing the task itself; the second team had 15 minutes to understand and execute the task using only the written instruction – while the instruction writers watched without being able to explain their directions.

There were frustrating, amusing, satisfying and confusing moments. The principals gained insight into the difficulty and value of giving good direction, and they learned about the frustration and wasted effort that result from ineffective communication.

McIntire said fundraising for the second cohort of principals is underway and donations can be earmarked for specific counties or other geographic areas.
Kelly Wolf is coordinating fundraising and can be contacted at (502) 848-8725 or [email protected]. Details about the chamber’s Leadership Institute for School Principals program are at principalsleadky.com.

Principals selected for the program will attend at no cost to themselves. Tuition and hotel costs will be paid by the Kentucky Chamber Foundation, and each participant will receive a stipend to cover travel and meals.

“Education has consistently been the Kentucky Chamber’s top policy priority, reflecting our belief that a strong education system is the best foundation for a strong economy,” said Dave Adkisson, secretary of the Chamber Foundation and president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

For more information about the Leadership Institute for School Principals, visit www.kychamber.com/leadershipinstitute.