Becoming a School District Leader

School district leaders have very important roles in the life of schools, administrators, teachers, and students. The culture and climate of the school district are greatly influenced by a district’s leadership team. Administrators look to central office personnel for information, mentoring, and assistance. Teachers are guided by and receive professional development from district-level leaders. Students are directly impacted by the district’s mission, vision, beliefs, values, and policies. The path for becoming a district superintendent requires work at each level of teaching and administration. Individuals who strive for excellence at each organizational level can be highly effective leaders of a school district.

The education a superintendent undertakes and completes helps shape his or her ideas about classroom instruction, school needs, and more. Their own coursework, undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate, such as that within an Ed.S. degree, provides superintendents with tools for making informed decisions and recommendations. Post-graduate work also assists emerging superintendents with accessing the latest information regarding theories, research, and best practices.

In addition to the required coursework, a number of other factors are key for school district leadership. It can be beneficial if a superintendent is from the same state in which they are going to work, as he or she is more familiar with state laws as well as the region’s political norms and cultural values. While knowledge about federal law is critical, it is law and policy from the state and local levels that can have the biggest impact on a school district.

Attributes of an Effective School District Leader

Effective school district leaders know how to recognize, acknowledge, and bring out the best attributes of those around them. Clear communication is a crucial foundational skill needed by school district leaders. A superintendent needs to know how to effectively communicate correct information in a timely manner with colleagues, administrators, board members, teachers, staff, students, parents, and the at-large community. When interacting with such a broad spectrum of people, it is inevitable differences of opinion and personality emerge. Superintendents need skills with communicating in ways that respect and manage such differences.

Strong academic and teaching backgrounds, such as those found in someone holding an Ed.S. degree, are important attributes for school district leaders, although those are not the only qualities that an aspiring superintendent should strive to have. One should possess superior strategic thinking and thought. Strong personal and professional ethics such as honesty, care, advocacy, morality, and integrity are also key attributes underlying all aspects of a superintendent’s job.

Learn about the Write State University online Education Specialist in Curriculum, Instruction & Professional Development program.


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