Top 5 tips for getting the right school leader

Top 5 tips for getting the right school leader

by Tim Waley

One of the most important decisions a school will make is appointing a new Principal. Get it wrong and you could put back the development of your school by years. This is a critical decision, but often the people making it don’t have the experience or knowhow to get it right.

What can your school do to put itself in the best position to make the right call?

1.0 Get the right people to make the decision

It may be tempting for school boards to think they can find the right school leader themselves. After all, who knows the school better? But the members of school boards are usually volunteers, who may be nervous about appointing a Principal. While they may be able to conduct interviews and find those qualities needed on paper, what about the more abstract characteristics necessary for school leadership, such as essential education knowledge and experience? If your school board lacks the sort of people who can recognise these qualities, think about how you are going to fill in these gaps.

The board members, or a chosen group of them, have to be willing and able to make the commitment to carry out the full recruitment process. They need to prepare for what could be an arduous process to generate the best possible field of candidates before assessing them to determine the right individual.

2.0 Consider the cost

Your school may opt to employ an agency, both to fill in the gaps in the board’s knowledge and to make the whole process easier. Whether you do this or take on the job yourselves, there will be a cost: financially or in terms of people’s valuable time and energy. However, do think about the cost to the school in failing to get the decision right – schools take years to recover from a mistaken leadership appointment.

3.0 Prepare the ground

If a school is to get the decision about its next leader right, the right criteria have to be agreed first of all. There needs to be firm agreement on the type of leader required: what is the person specification for this school, at this moment in time? It is up to the board how they determine this and they have the freedom to do as much or as little consultation with school staff, parents or students, which could be helpful in answering this question.

4.0 Map out the process

Once you have established what type of person you are looking for, you need to set out what the process for finding them will look like. This will come in three main stages: preparation, attraction and selection.

The preparation phase includes setting out the selection criteria, time frames and contractual details. Don’t forget that things can always change, so build in some flexibility to this process from the start.

When thinking about attraction, consider how wide to cast your net and how the shortlisting will be done. Who will screen the candidates and draw up the shortlist? You will need to refer back to the specification that you drew up earlier and make sure the final candidates are the ones that match this checklist closely.

The selection phase will require some planning: board members are busy people and they will need time to prepare for interviews. These will need to be scheduled in people’s diaries well in advance. There is the option again at this stage to consult various interest groups within the school, which is a delicate balancing act: you want to be inclusive of your whole school community while not delaying the recruitment process.

5.0 Trust the experts

Ultimately the key to recruiting the right school leader is planning the whole process, so that you can trust in the decision that has been made. Whether it is an external expert agency or the school board themselves, at the end of the process you need to feel confident that you have made the right decision. The new Principal will have to work closely with the school board, leading the whole school, hopefully for many years to come. By getting the recruitment right, you can show the whole school community the importance of leadership and the many benefits of having the right leader for your school.

Tim Waley is an Executive Consultant at Tes Australia and helps schools find leaders who fit into their culture. Tim has more than 30 years of experience as a principal in Australia, the Middle East and Asia.