Executive Training: National Institute for School Leadership
By Frédéric M. Martin, Editor-in-Chief
One of the many moving parts that make up a successful school district is the quality of the design, implementation and administration of its strategy; without proper administration, the best of plans can only amount to the best of intentions. The Madera Unified School District has been conducting executive training from the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) since May 2018. The leadership team takes 12 units of training, one per month, over an entire year, except for the month of July – the program runs from May 2018 to May 2019.
There are currently two cohorts (comprised of twenty-five school and district administrators) enrolled in the program. Course students must do quite a bit of reading and homework ahead of each unit (the picture above shows the substantial set of books and other course materials). Since May, the first leadership cohort has already taken the first two of three units of course one. Course one has three units, which translates into 6 days of training (two days per unit). Unit three of course one took place in August. The complete program has three courses: course 1 has 3 units, course 2 has four units, and course 3 has 5 units.
The content being discussed is not just school related; in fact, the first two units of course one address multiple topics to prepare the administrators to look at the world through a different analytical lens and equip them with versatile tools. This training aims to deeply affect the way in which business is conducted at the leadership levels of MUSD. The core goal of the training is simple: bring state-of-the art analytical, decision making, conflict resolution, and best practice tools to the leaders of our school district. The training also helps participants question assumptions and presents in-depth results of real-world research on many topics that are relevant to improving leadership skillsets for our MUSD administrators. The first two-course units provide in-depth discussions about world urgencies, the world economy, surveys of other nations’ best practices, for example, in Finland or Canada. The first cohort also studied the fundamental need for team input and teamwork to construct and reach feasible decisions. As the administrators go deeper into the training, educational concepts, teaching and learning, are increasingly introduced into the course material and the individual and team assignments, such as the preparation and presentations of case studies. The administrators are to select case studies that are based on real work being currently performed in the school district, which perfectly leverages the training’s team research, work and solution building processes.
The urgency of the training is also being used to address some of the needed transformations that lead to better student results, deeper engagement of the students to improve their own achievements, and for fluid communication between all the stakeholders. Other countries, for example, have more play built into school schedules, critical for the youngest students, which has proven to improve overall achievements.
Our site leaders are studying the best practices from other countries, reports on international educational benchmarking, how some national educational initiatives have resulted in strikingly positive student achievement results; for example, in some other countries, teachers are required to teach at multiple grade levels to achieve a better “big picture” understanding of what is at stake, and the best teachers are routinely leveraged to benefit at-risk students’ programs.
The training is expensive, but the school district was able to benefit from a grant that allowed for a second twenty-five student cohort at no additional charge — a “two-for-one”. After the second cohort has completed the training, a few administrators will be selected to undergo additional education to become trainers to other administrators within the school district and benefit from updated course material. The objective is to make this program perpetually self-sustaining.
One aspect of the training that really stuck out to the interviewees was the study of real-world examples, from outside of academia, such as employee involvement at Ford Motor Company, or the decision-making processes used during the Cuban missile crisis – the ways in which both examples yielded solutions that can be adapted and applied to the world of education. The take-away from the Ford study shows that involving all the participants will yield solutions that top-down structures are unable to discover or implement, because of the mere fact that the top is, by nature, removed from the daily interactions and processes of the service or product development and production. The students also learned from the turn-around of failing school districts, the work required to determine what was broken and how to fix it. One of the specific examples was the dramatic improvement of a failing Pasadena high school and how redefining its vision and processes lead to its transformation into a leading educational institution in California.
Besides the training’s mandatory reading, students are also exposed to additional suggested reading, and provided access to online content in perpetuity. They are also expected to maintain a journal of their experiences during the training to facilitate more accurate self-reflection at the completion of the program, which more solidly cements the acceptance of new productive habits and best practices. All the course content will be available to the administrators long after they have completed the courses, through a secure portal on the NISL website.
The Madera Unified School District will require all new administrators to go through the NISL training, which is quickly becoming a selling point for MUSD. It will eventually attract more applicants into the district who see a serious path for career advancement for themselves and, thereby, deliver a more competitive hiring environment, higher quality employees, more serious scholars, and increasingly productive administrators at MUSD.