Preparing Successful Educational Leaders

Alberta’s schools are among the finest in the world, offering students and teachers a wide range of resources to encourage learning.

But it takes more than new computer labs and playgrounds for children to succeed. Student learning is a complex process that hinges on strong educational leadership from principals, superintendents and other administrators.

For many years, post-secondary educational institutions nationally had lost sight of this, say Faculty of Education professors Dr. Art Aitken and Dr. George Bedard.

Knowing that there was a strong need for a master’s program to prepare educational leaders, the two began research into what a new program might require. They explored, in great detail, how educational leadership programs in North America and other places were designed with a view to sort out what worked and what didn’t.

They decided it would be critical to structure the program around very specific competencies or standards – an idea later supported by the report of Alberta’s Commission on Learning (2003). A stakeholders’ committee was subsequently formed by Alberta Education to articulate a seven-dimension “made-in-Alberta” educational leadership standard.

“We thought the standards would be a reasonable and justifiable framework to design our program, and we have ‘tweaked’ our course package and program over the years to ensure compatibility with Alberta’s draft standards,” says Bedard. 

In 2004, the Faculty rolled out the program officially and accepted 22 students, carefully screened for their commitment to leadership in their schools. “We have some fairly tight criteria that require successful teacher background,” says Aitken. “It sets the tone for a successful program.” 

Coursework is a mixture of face-to-face classes and online learning. Students in the program are paired with administrator mentors in schools to support their internship experiences.

“The program provides the students with opportunities to bridge the gap between theory and practice,” says Aitken.

Since its inception, the program has graduated teachers and administrators who have gone on to hold a wide range of leadership positions.

“People who were teaching in school classrooms have entered the program and now have administrative positions in schools. We’ve also had some people move into district administration, and some move into school principalship,” Aitken explains. “In approximately 75 per cent of cases, our students have experienced some sort of promotion into leadership positions since starting our program.”

“Students in successive cohorts have also formed connections with one another that continue to inform their work as educational leaders,” says Bedard. “They’ve established learning relationships that are still strong today regardless of the fact that they’ve graduated. They still work together.”

Bedard says the success of the program’s students will only add to the program’s momentum. Word-of-mouth is increasing the program’s popularity, although he says they will continue to restrict intake to approximately 20 students per cohort.

Two recent evaluations of the program by external reviewers attest that the program has generated a high degree of satisfaction with graduates and school district leaders. With strong support from Faculty administration and continued participation of other professors who teach in the program, Bedard and Aitken are confident about the future quality of subsequent offerings.