Selecting Right leader for school

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Puneet Rathi
Founder & CEO, World is Flat BV, the Netherlands

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. –John Quincy Adams

School leaders, world over have been experiencing a great change in last decade and there has been numerous research in the US, UK and Singapore over what are the future challenges of a school leader!

School leader, or a Principal, or a Director, like any other organisation plays the most crucial role in guiding the school to a success. With the emergence of ‘world class schools’, global standards and internationalisation of education, this role has become more crucial for any school.

Selecting a right leader for an education institution is therefore very important factor for a successful school (a caution here – that students getting good marks is not the only parameter of a successful school).

In the past, at least in India, teachers who were senior by age and experience were selected by a panel or by a group of people to be a School Principal. Many instances are seen where these teachers struggled to lead a school as teaching and leading an organisation are not directly linked.

Teaching requires different skills and school leadership requires a different skill set. The challenge of getting right kind of school leaders emerges from the fact that passionate teachers or people who are passionate about schools are not available in plenty and there are lot of limitation of availability of teachers or leaders who can make a difference.

The challenges for school leaders are not only internal but external too – from Government, policy makers, school management, parents, teachers, etc. So in real sense, are we looking at some super-human to lead a school? Answer is almost ‘yes’; but realistically speaking we have to define a robust process of identifying these individuals and then selecting them through a rigorous process.

A research study conducted by Bill Mulford on behalf of OECD in 2003 on challenges of school leaders and its implications highlighted:

  • Review whether accountability measures are undermining teacher and school leader autonomy. ?
  • Ensure that school leadership is about leadership, not management. ?
  • Encourage more teachers to extend their work as educators beyond the classroom to the entire ?school. Recruitment and retention issues in teaching and middle management are a key here. ?
  • Develop comprehensive succession frameworks for the management of educational leadership (including recruitment, development and retention) – succession planning needs to be more than just-in-time job replacement. Needed are enough good applicants who are interested in a job with which they are familiar enough (i.e., ensure there are opportunities for familiarisation with the role) to make an informed career decision. Monitor numbers seeking middle ?management posts and principal training and respond if numbers look unpromising. ?
  • The position of school leader needs to not only provide job satisfaction but also to be perceived by others as providing job satisfaction. More work is needed on making school leadership an attractive and ‘do-able’ task for all those who hold or aspire to such positions, including looking at the workload implications. Strategies include:?. providing early leadership experiences for young teachers;?. disseminating examples of good practice in managing workload and models of school structures and processes that make effective use of administrative and other staff, using appropriate task delegation; demystifying the principal’s role, especially administrative and financial roles and responsibilities; and,?encouraging principals to articulate and display a sense of job satisfaction.
  • Selection processes need to encourage and support rather than deter leadership aspirants by, for example: ?recognising multiple career paths;?being simplified to reduce complexity, time required and stress; and, being based on merit and equity principles. ?
  • Further develop professional development programs for effective selection processes. ?
  • Implement recruitment and hiring programmes aimed at increasing the number of minority ?students in educational leadership programmes. ?
  • Build the attractiveness of leadership roles in schools in ‘challenging circumstances’.”?

If we look at the research of 2003, the challenges in India for school leaders are same now also and what got added is:

  • Globalisation of education
  • Use and availability of technology
  • Ever increasing demands of parents
  • Frequent changes in education systems
  • Complexity of non-availability of right teachers

So let’s come to the point on how to select a right school leader, given such scenarios.

I feel if we go with competency based assessments for school leaders it will definitely help.

The first step is to define the right competencies needed for a school. It will be common and similar for most schools but will have little changes for the kind of school and the target segment. Some of the common competencies may include:

  • Strategic leadership
  • Understanding of child behavior and
  • Leading change
  • Inspiring people
  • Leading teams
  • Operational excellence
  • Influencing and Persuasion
  • Conceptual thinking

These are similar to any leadership competency of an organisation. So the process of competency based assessment should include:

  1. Identifying the right talent through a Psychometric and basic interview of people who have shown interest
  2. Shortlisting
  3. Conducting a detailed competency based assessment using simulations
  4. Creating a detailed report and shortlisting two candidates based on pre-defined criteria of Competencies assessment
  5. Giving feedback to individual candidates on their strengths and areas of development
  6. Offer to School leader

Step 5 is hardly used in India in schools. However, it’s a great help as it helps Employer branding of a school and will also help the selected school leader to work on his/her strengths and areas of development The author has been using this process and its very well appreciated by all and is able to create a positive impact on both the school management and the prospective candidates.

The process of selection is not over with the above steps. The most important part is to help the school leader inducted into the school through a well-defined induction program than just “hello-hi meetings”.

Also its important for school management to sit together with the school leader after a month of joining and defining the KRAs together for the school and the school leader (though these would have been also mentioned in brief during the hiring process).

School leaders who have been successful in past have shared that regular support of School management is critical for their success and success of their schools.


Puneet Rathi
Puneet Rathi

Puneet Rathi is a passionate professional with a clear life purpose to make a positive difference to people, organisations and this world.
He recently founded World is Flat BV (www.worldisflat.nl) in The Netherlands to create an impact on youth and people in society. Prior to this he worked as Head of Advisory with SHRM India and also held many leadership roles in human resource function for many organisations. He is a leadership coach and assessor for senior leaders and has coached many senior business leaders across Asia. In his more than 25 years’ experience, he has worked in many business functions and consulting – to make an impact on company’s bottom line. He also started Atmachetna in 2007 (www.atmachetna.org)
He is a mechanical engineer from Delhi College of Engineering and an MBA from SP Jain Institute, Mumbai. He is also a certified parent coach, life coach, NLP Practitioner and Hogan Coach (all from USA) and conducts parenting and Happiness programmes across globe in his spare time.