Report Offers Recommendations for Creating Pathways to Education Leadership

Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders who oversee systems that collectively serve more than 7 million students, today released a new multimedia report, Teacher to Chief: Pathways to Education Leadership. It provides recommendations for how districts and states can encourage teachers to consider system leadership roles and create meaningful pathways to help them get there.

“COVID-19 has given many Americans an even deeper appreciation for their child’s teacher,” said Carey Wright, Mississippi state superintendent of education and a member of the Chiefs for Change Board of Directors. “When the virus began spreading, teachers here in Mississippi and all across the United States immediately pivoted to new ways of supporting their students and are helping to chart the course forward. We have always known that teachers are leaders in the classroom. Now, it is more important than ever to recognize our teachers as the heroes they are and to provide avenues for those who want to become a system leader.”

The report includes a podcast and video interviews with several members of Chiefs for Change who are former teachers. They describe how their role as a state education leader or district superintendent allows them to positively impact students’ lives in a different way, at a different scale.

As part of the project, Chiefs for Change commissioned a Change Research poll in January to gauge teachers’ views on leadership roles. The poll, outlined in the report, found that only 5 percent of current teachers surveyed expressed interest in becoming a district or state chief, and just 13 percent believe state chiefs make a very big difference in the lives of students. In addition, most respondents said they are rarely encouraged to pursue the top job and that they think the path to leadership is too difficult and too political.

“We need to give educators a fuller picture of the chief role, how chiefs can make an impact, and the pathways to leadership,” said Susana Cordova, superintendent of Denver Public Schools and a member of Chiefs for Change. “Virtually every job I’ve had, I got because somebody tapped me on the shoulder and encouraged me to go after it. That made a huge difference for me. It’s important to recognize those with the potential to serve as leaders and help them to advance.”

Chiefs for Change is working to develop the next generation of education leaders through its Future Chiefs program, which is designed for people who are one or two steps away from becoming a chief. There is also a need to reach people early in their careers who show great potential to become a system leader. Through Teacher to Chief and partnerships with other organizations, Chiefs for Change hopes to spark teachers’ interest in the chief role, help systems create clear career pathways, and eventually offer placements within districts and state education departments led by members of the network.

“From my very first job teaching sixth-grade English, my principal asked me if I saw myself as a leader and involved me in conversations and decisions about how to improve our school,” said Donald Fennoy, superintendent of The School District of Palm Beach County and a member of Chiefs for Change. “That really helped me develop the skills to move from a peer to a supervisor. I became a superintendent with my eyes open, and the support I received from my mentors helped ensure I was prepared to lead from day one.”

Teacher to Chief includes recommendations for districts and state education departments that want to help teachers develop into system leaders. Systems should:

  • Introduce teachers with the potential to become chiefs to the role and establish coherent pathways to leadership with associated compensation structures.
  • Collaborate with partners to create targeted networking, mentorship, and sponsorship opportunities for teachers of color—and, especially, women teachers of color—who are interested in education leadership roles.
  • Establish succession plans to sustain leaders’ work over the long term.

About Chiefs for Change 

Chiefs for Change is a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education chiefs dedicated to preparing all students for today’s world and tomorrow’s through deeply committed leadership. Chiefs for Change advocates for policies and practices that are making a difference for students, and builds a pipeline of talented, diverse Future Chiefs ready to lead major school systems.