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Businesses and Schools Are Similar, Let's Take Advantage of Lessons Learned

While the environment is different, really businesses and schools are similar. We should take advantage of what we know works effectively in a business environment and see how we can implement it in a school environment.

Article by Ioanna Papas October 27, 2017 //   3 minute read

At the George W. Bush Institute we see companies that invest vast resources into the retention of their frontline managers. Global corporations such as Deloitte, AT&T, and others have departments focused on things like, “Leadership and Organizational Development”, and they have entire campuses devoted to professional learning of their managers as well as other talent. Why are Fortune 500 frontline managers supported differently than a principal of a school? When you think about it, there really is no difference. Both create the vision, policies, and strategy to run a school or company effectively, manage their own talent, look for ways to improve said school or company, and then implement those improvements.  

Retention means more to us than simply keeping a principal within the profession or keeping a principal within a district.  

Like any frontline manager, for a principal to be effective in a school environment they need to have experience, knowledge, support, and an opportunity to implement change. Sadly, we commonly see that principals are plucked from one school within a district and dropped into another too soon. Research has shown that principals need at least three years—and preferably at least five years-- in a school to change mindsets and implement new rules and policies that benefit both teacher and student.  

These moves are understandable. When an effective principal has early success in one school, it may seem logical to move them to another struggling school so that other students and teachers benefit from their great leadership.  

However, these changes create instability and don’t allow for effectiveness. Think about a Fortune 500 company. No truly effective frontline manager has been in power for only one to two years before moving on to another company. They need time, just like a principal needs time.  

Changing out a frontline manager, just like changing a principal, causes employees to feel anxious about their position and uncertain about their future. While this can affect a business’ bottom line, for a teacher it affects the performance and ultimately ability to teach future generations, and the district overall risks losing great teachers. 

Finally, it’s worth noting that making a significant change in a school in just a few years take a ton of work. Principals who are able to bring about this change are working long, hard, emotional weeks with little rest and no break. Giving them a chance to recover from those difficult first few years could prevent burnout—and the chance that the district, or even the field, loses another great leader.  

While the environment is different, really businesses and schools are similar. We should take advantage of what we know works effectively in a business environment and see how we can implement it in a school environment.