Essential elements of a leadership development programs

Last updated: November 30, 2018

puzzle pieces of elements of leadership programs

Essential elements of a leadership development programs

Although effective leadership development programs are a form of professional learning, they’re a bit different from the professional learning programs developed for teachers. You’re working with a different group of learners with specific learning needs.

Ask school leaders what they want to learn

Ask your school leaders what skills and training they need to thrive in their roles and what skills and knowledge they need to be more effective? Their feedback will guide you in choosing topics to include in your leadership development program.

For example, if a district has goals around formative assessment or teaching and learning, include these within the leadership development program with a specific focus on how to promote these goals within a school. This can anchor the work on learning conversations.

If school leaders don’t have specific ideas, some common topics for training that you could build on for your district include:

  • Increasing teacher engagement and building capacity by supporting teachers to continuously build upon or improve pedagogy
  • Finding a balance between leadership and management
  • Developing a culture of learning where teachers and students feel supported
  • Having learning conversations

Context matters

It can be hard to transition from the classroom to a leadership position within the school as an administrator or a teacher-leader . Leaders must shift their perspective from focusing on what is effective in “my classroom” to what will be of the greatest benefit to the entire school population and/or district. An effective leadership development program can help people make this change in perspective and priorities.

The best leadership development programs allow participants to test out learning in real time. While theory alone does little to help a principal or teacher-leader, providing examples of theory put into practice is of great benefit. Similarly, research for research sake may have little value, whereas research grounded in school life can be very valuable.

For example, almost all leadership development programs include sessions on how to have difficult conversations. Leaders need to learn how to have conversations that help teachers become more engaged, explore beliefs about their teaching, question and explore what needs to improve, and build on their successes.

Make sure that your sessions on having difficult sessions incorporate examples from the school environment. If you are using a program developed for a different industry or offered by a trainer not familiar with the education sector, the content will not be as relevant for your audience.

And so does content!

Cross-district programs are an effective way to add a diversity of perspectives that enhances the learning of all participants. Such programs can build in district-specific content through comparative discussion so that participants can explore the similarities and differences in various districts. This has the added benefit that districts can learn from each other and reflect on the effectiveness of their own practices.

Incorporate leadership standards

A useful tool in developing the content of any leadership development program is the Leadership Standards for Principals and Vice-Principals in BC. These standards are also helpful for administrators seeking a self-assessment tool to guide their continued improvement and professional development.

leadership in context

Above all, focus on process

Leadership development programs should provide content, and they should also have a strong focus on process. In most cases, administrators have completed or are in the process of completing an advanced degree that often involves theories of management and leadership, and they may have a great deal of leadership knowledge.

That makes it important for leadership development programs to focus on practical or real-life applications rather than explorations of theory and research.

An emphasis on application – i.e., “what does it look like?” – helps participants more deeply understand the relevance of a theory or research at the school level rather than at the classroom or purely intellectual level. Sharing ideas, critically examining practices, questioning and discussion are essential to this process. To that end, effective leadership development programs provide learning experiences that:

  • create a community of support
  • allow an exploration of the new role
  • provide a venue to explore challenges

This format can be supported by developing the program through a series of questions or inquiries, which also allows participants’ ideas or concerns to be embedded more easily and therefore adding to the sense of community and culture of learning. Some guiding questions could be:

  • How do we increase teacher engagement?
  • What is important about juggling leadership and management
  • How can we help struggling teachers improve their pedagogical skills?

Learn more

Explore best practices to implement in your district.