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Principals Group and McKinsey to Offer Online Executive Leadership Courses

The National Association of Secondary School Principals is teaming up with McKinsey Academy, an arm of the global management-consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., to provide a series of executive leadership professional-development courses for principals and other school leaders.

Beverly Hutton, the NASSP's deputy executive director of programs and services, touted the three courses offered through the McKinsey Management Program for School Leaders as among the best professional development that the Virginia-based organization has offered to its members.

The program is expected to start this month. McKinsey will provide the content for the three online courses in team management, communicating for impact, and mastering challenging conversations. The NASSP will provide a teaching assistant to help those enrolled in the program, while McKinsey will provide a technical assistant.

Principals will be able to log on and follow the curriculum at their pace, but they will also work in groups on team projects that they are expected to try out in their schools and report to the group for feedback.

Participants will have access to the kind of executive leadership training that McKinsey offers to global leaders in the business world, which will be tweaked for an educational context, Hutton said. Examples will be made relevant for the education setting, with videotaped principals providing examples of how what they are learning could be applicable in schools, Hutton said.

"We see this program as being as rigorous as a graduate program, as far as its impact on [principal] practice," she said. "This is not a one-off. We are looking for lasting impacts on principal practice."

"This should be impacting their daily practice, enhancing their daily practice, changing their daily practice," she added. 

Each course will cost $2,500, and school leaders can take all three or any one they think will help them become better school leaders. (School leadership teams may be able to get a discount.)

Principals as CEOs

The NASSP partnered with McKinsey after hearing from its principals that they needed more tools to do their jobs well in an environment in which their responsibilities were expanding.  

Education Week wrote last year about school leadership preparation programs that were augmenting traditional programs with lessons from the business world. Rice University's Education Entrepreneurship Program at the Jessie H. Jones Graduate School of Business,  Woodrow Wilson MBA Fellowship in Education Leadership, and the Bright New Leaders for Ohio Schools are examples of such programs that are infusing business principles and practices in education-leadership training.

Hutton said the NASSP also wants its principals to see themselves as CEOs.

"We want principals to see themselves as much more than instructional leaders," Hutton said. "We want them to see themselves as executive leaders, and they need executive leadership skills to do that."

Hutton said that after reviewing McKinsey's offerings, the NASSP settled on the three courses, which she said were being offered to global leaders and CEOs and "were transferable and translatable" to the education leadership setting. Principals needed to be able to communicate effectively with parents, school boards, and teachers. And they need to have difficult—and effective—conversations with teachers about goals and evaluations, she said.

Positive Feedback From Trial

Marilyn Boerke, the principal of Liberty Middle School in Camas, Wash., was among the group of approximately 25 principals, assistant principals, superintendents, and other school leaders from 19 states who participated in an eight-week pilot of one of the courses last summer.

Boerke said she was initially reluctant to participate because she had not seen many high-quality online training programs. But her mind changed as she got deeper into it.

She said she has started using a lot of what she learned right away. For example, her dean and school leadership team use an online performance board to keep track of deadlines and responsibilities.

She also liked that the sessions were presented in different formats: videos that she could watch at any time and as many times as she wanted to; reflection periods; and collaborative group sessions. She said the feedback from the session on having difficult conversations with teachers has been useful as she now feels she is a better coach and consultant to her teachers rather than someone just seeking compliance.

"I got completely invested in it, and it was one of the most powerful trainings I have ever done," Boerke said. Still she said that she would have liked more examples from the school setting, something McKinsey is hoping it addressed by adding videos from education leaders and principals to the new offerings.

Many of the participants shared Boerke's experience, according to McKinsey.  The pilot had more than 90 percent completion rate, 93 percent said they found it useful for their overall professional development, and 100 percent anticipated applying the knowledge they gained from the course on the job, said Marc Metakis, the general manager of McKinsey Academy.

The results, he said, were "inspiring."

Metakis said that the organization is hoping to partner with NASSP on the program for the long-term. 

More information on the program can be found here. 

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