A Case for Establishing Leadership Training at an Earlier Stage

In some areas of the world there is a leadership crisis in schools; England reports an alarming lack of head teachers. Workload and stress levels have been cited as contributing to the paucity of teachers willing to take on leadership roles, but Ciaran McMahon suggests that directed leadership training will enthuse teachers and offers a positive route out of the leadership shortage predicament.

This article appears with the kind permission of the Irish Primary Principals’Network (IPPN) It originally appeared in Leadership+,  the IPPN’s members’magazine.


In order to be effective leaders in our schools, we must understand what leadership is. Leadership and management of schools are often referred to in the same import but are two distinct entities, albeit their characteristics are intertwined.

Management is the effective operation of school routines. Management involves designing and carrying out plans, getting things done and working effectively with people.

Leadership relates to mission, direction and inspiration. Knowledge of leadership theory is key if we are to successfully manage school organisations.

Day to day management of schools tests leadership theories and grounds them in everyday work practice.



KFinlay_MFullan_v1_022_croppedWhen younger leaders are cultivated from within the rank, the likelihood of continuity and good direction is greatly enhanced. Michael Fullan

Encouraging leadership

As a school principal, I have often reflected with colleagues on the theories advanced in the literature and found correlations with our own experiences and the challenges that they have presented. These same theories have been tested against real situations and have helped me to make sense of them. This is the essence of what leadership theory is. It helps us to make sense of practical real-life situations. It has also led me to the view that leadership courses of study should be available to all aspiring principals, deputy principals and middle management personnel in schools.

Leadership courses and study should not be the preserve of principals and deputy principals alone, but should be available to those involved in school management or teaching staff who exhibit leadership mindfulness. This would help grow and nurture future school leaders, while at the same time offer the opportunity to upskill at an earlier stage those who are contemplating embarking on leadership or management roles.

It may also, in practical terms, alleviate the problems faced by schools – how to motivate teachers who are not in promoted posts to take on more leadership / management roles. Acknowledgement, recognition and professional development can also be great motivators.

2014-10-27_MBA_speakers-600x400We will already have taught you to do the right thing in the setting in which you work. Elmore

Earlier leadership training would also assist and enrich the preparation and transition experience of those taking on the position of principal for the first time. If leadership training which recognizes the interconnectedness of management and leadership were made available at an earlier stage to middle management personnel and those teachers recognized as leaders in the making, a starting point for the leadership journey could be initiated and firmly established.

No longer would there be uncertainty or major adjustment on entry to the position of principal. The stark realization that we do not initially possess all of the necessary skill-set to achieve what we ourselves, and others, expect us to do, would be less of a shock.

leader-developmentIf we lack experience of leadership positions, we lack insight; if we lack practice in how to recognize and create leaders, we remain static. We must be responsible for creating our own leadership culture in schools. Where better to gain experience in leadership than at ground level in our schools? In-school management structures in schools enable us to build leadership capacity.

Let us as leaders of our schools share in the creation of future leaders, by building leadership capacity. Let us think of all teaching staff in schools when providing leadership courses. In this way we can build leadership capacity for the future and strengthen leadership practice in our schools. The most lasting and effective change is the change that occurs from within.





Ciaran McMahon, Principal of Scoil Bhride, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

For more about the Irish Primary Principals’Network, see http://www.ippn.ie/


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  • Guy Arcuri June 30, 2016  

    A great, helpful insightful distinction also inciteful in the traditionally minded Public field of Education! There, leadership stays at the county and district levels and the collaboration between management and leadership rarely inspires an entire school. Thanks for the challenge!

  • Joseph July 2, 2016  

    I like the idea of engaging middle level managers and teachers in leadership courses hence building leadership capacity as well as creating a leadership culture. It certainly prepares morevteachers for the role!
    I believe it also allows certain challenges that may be faced by individuals to be highlighted and addressed.

  • K Vijaya Kumar July 5, 2016  

    A very nice article on leadership I too agree that the schools should give opportunities to all aspiring teacher leaders a chance to exhibit their thoughts and actions. They should be groomed, nurtured so that in the course of time these young budding administrators can head the schools more efficiently.

  • nat July 18, 2016  

    I have been a teaching staff for a long time and agree wholeheartedly with the writer. In China, this is not the case. Many in position of leadership could hardly care about grooming promising teachers, which is one possible reasons why average parents willing to borrow to pay for private international schools with cuurculums that their kids can acquire good learning/skills that will enable them to attend quality tertiary institution in the future.