SOUTHERN REGIONAL EDUCATION BOARD 3
A Leadership Imperative
The first decade of the 21st century will soon be over. Does Illinois have enough learning-centered
school leaders to ensure that your schools — and your next generation of workers and
citizens — will succeed in a fiercely competitive, knowledge-based global economy?
Despite the time and attention states have devoted to this question, in most cases the answer
continues to be: “No, we do not.”
Since 2002, SREB has used six indicators to track the progress of states in creating a leadership
system that produces cutting-edge school principals. At best, the advances have been modest.
Only three states — Alabama, Louisiana and Maryland — have made “promising” progress on
several indicators, with other states only pacesetters on individual indicators.
Why should Illinois’ state leaders and policy-makers care about these indicators and these states?
The indicators grew out of SREB’s deep understanding of effective school leadership — gleaned
over two decades of on-the-ground work with many hundreds of schools and universities across
the southern region. These indicators and the progress made by pacesetter states will help Illinois
leaders determine whether the state is creating a school leadership system that can improve
student performance in every school — or whether, in the midst of unprecedented 21st century
challenges, Illinois must continue to rely on the luck of the draw to find the leaders your schools
Learning-Centered School Leadership
What do we mean by a learning-centered school leader? The demands of 21st century life and
work call for principals with a deep understanding of how students learn and at what levels they
need to learn. Schools must have principals who can provide teachers with the leadership and
support they need to help students gain the skills and knowledge now identified as important for
success in a “flat” world filled with uncertainty and constant change.
A learning-centered school leader puts curriculum and instruction first. He or she understands
what students should be learning, how today’s students learn best, and how to assess and develop
the capacity of teachers to use proven instructional methods. Learning-centered school leaders
know how to create a professional environment where all the adults in the school are constantly
improving their own skills and knowledge, and helping and challenging each other to serve the
particular needs of every learner.
To achieve and maintain a high level of learning-centered leadership, school principals require
support from school system, university and state education leaders who also have a good
understanding of what the 21st century demands of every school and classroom.
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