In the last few months, I’ve been intrigued by the think pieces that describe the COVID-19 pandemic not as the source of radical change but instead as an accelerant for trends that were already slowly taking place. If we take that perspective to examine the roles of Academic Leaders in our schools, we can see acceleration in a number of areas.
Pre-pandemic, our roles were certainly complex and required regular upskilling. In pre-pandemic years, Academic Leaders might learn new skills in communication, lead change initiatives, or strive for closer alignment between the mission of the school and the academic program. The advent of COVID-19, however, meant that building these skills–often, all these skills and all at once–became imperative and urgent. As we return to some sense of normalcy, we know that our jobs won’t go back to what they were prior to COVID-19, but also know that we cannot sustain the speed of growth and development that we had to adapt to. So, how do we set charts for growth that are sustainable? Enter the idea of competencies.
Educators have become more familiar with competency based learning for students over the last number of years. For reference, a competency is a cultivable collection of skills that captures what is valued and is measurable. A competency based approach, whether for students or adults, allows for individual paths for growth – there is no one-size-fits-all. Thus, prior knowledge and experiences are valued, as are the needs of particular roles and circumstances. When One Schoolhouse set out to build the Association for Academic Leaders, we knew we could best serve the community by both honoring the formidable experience of Academic Leaders and providing the resources and community they can use to rise to any occasion.
Let’s take an example using one of the Association for Academic Leaders competencies: “Shape a just and inclusive school.” Many Academic Leaders had been working hard to build this competency prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and some were jolted to deeper engagement with this competency by a summer of racial reckoning in 2020. Every leader and community, however, is unique. Some independent schools have a long history of centering inclusion and belonging, while others are creating measurable goals for progress and accountability for the first time . A competency based approach to development recognizes and values that Academic Leaders were and are at different stages in their journey for building this competency, and helps them grow from there.
In academic leadership, it’s all too easy for the urgent to gobble up time that’s reserved to tackle the important. By identifying competencies, the Association for Academic Leaders provides the pathways that both direct us to the essential work that drives schools forward and defines pathways for growth and development.
Academic Leaders are closing out their third disrupted school year this spring. It’s time to take a breath and re-center the work that’s at the heart of schools. The pressure of the urgent is finally lifting. As we launch the Association side-by-side with Academic Leaders, we’re here to offer the opportunity and the community that can help you connect with and develop what you value most.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)