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School Leadership

Instructional Leadership | Culture Leadership | Operations Leadership | Becoming a Principal

Pursuing school leadership is an opportunity to expand your impact and to work with and lead others toward our goal of educational equity. School leadership is multifaceted, and there are a range of roles available -- including leadership in instruction, culture, and operations -- that have both common and distinct skill sets.

The most common leadership roles are in:

  • Instructional leadership:

    • Instructional Coach

    • Dean of Curriculum & Instruction (DCI)

    • Department Head

    • SPED or ESL Coordinator

  • Culture leadership:

    • Deans of Students 

    • SEL coordinators 

  • Operations leadership

    • Director of Operations 

    • Operations Coordinators 


Within Districts and Charter Management Organizations, there are also often centralized roles for Instructional experts, such as Math Curriculum Specialists or ESL specialists. There may also be centralized Operational leadership roles, such as a Chief Operations Officer or a Network Director of Operations.

In general, moving into an instructional leadership role requires 4-6 years of demonstrated success as a teacher, while culture and operations leadership positions involve complementary skill sets that may not need as many years of teaching.

Teacher and Blackboard

Instructional Leadership


How to build up your instructional leadership skills:


  • Ask if you can mentor a new teacher this/next school year

  • Seek an in-school leadership opportunity, such as a grade-level chair or department head position, where you will learn more about coaching and adult management

  • Talk to your principal about what it would take for you to be a ‘Master’ teacher - then, create a plan to improve your skills and student outcomes and demonstrate your instructional expertise

  • Pursue professional development opportunities that build your content and pedagogy expertise, such as those offered by NCTM or Facing History and Ourselves

  • Apply to a Fellowship or other opportunity where you can build teaching skills outside your school, such as the Sontag Prize.

Once you’ve built strong skills in this area, you may consider pursuing a formal leadership role as a coach, DCI, department chair, or assistant principal.

Teacher and Blackboard

Cultural Leadership


How to build up your culture leadership skills:

  • Co-create behavior plans for your students with your Dean of Students 

  • Prioritize building deep relationships with students and families through calls home (don’t forget positive calls!), and co-create support plans for students with their guardians

  • Work with colleagues to help plan culture building programs, such as community meetings, incentive events, field trips, etc.

  • Start an extracurricular that specifically enhances your school culture or student voice, or builds up the leadership of students in your school

  • Spend a free period in the Dean’s office and ask the Dean how you can provide support to students


Once you’ve built strong skills in this area, you may consider pursuing a formal leadership role as a dean of culture/students or assistant principal.


Operational Leadership


How to build up your operations leadership skills:

  • Become a School Operations Manager, Operations Director, or other Operations position at Institute this summer

  • Talk with your school’s Operations point person (Director of Operations, Assistant Principal, Operations Coordinator) to learn more about their job responsibilities

  • Seek an in-school leadership opportunity, such as a grade-level chair role, where you will learn more about laterally managing peers and setting agendas

  • Offer to support in the logistics for events at your school, such as a school dance or art show

  • If you’re at a charter school, join the family recruitment team and get to know families in your neighborhood who may apply to the school lottery


Once you’ve built strong skills in this area, you may consider pursuing a formal leadership role as an operations coordinator/director.


Becoming A Principal


Knowledge and experience in all three types of school leadership are important to becoming a strong principal. While all mid-level leadership roles are equally critical to the success of a school, instructional leadership is often considered fundamental to the principal role. So, if you have become a strong culture leader, make sure to find opportunities to develop your instructional leadership skills so you can bring those to the principalship. Once in a mid-level leader role, you can pursue a direct promotion into a principal role, or pursue a School Leadership Program that gives you a license and additional experience before seeking a principal role. Take a look here at several popular School Leadership Programs in Massachusetts.

  • As a note - to become an administrator (principal, dean, AP, coach) in a district school, you will most likely need an administrative license. You can earn this through a School Leadership Program or by completing the required tasks and supervised internship on your own. For more information about licenses, check out the Licensure page.


If you're looking for information on School Leadership Programs, please check out this page!

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