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Elaine Schuster, education fellow, leads an exercise during the Leading Successful Schools seminar, June 2007.

New Kellogg nonprofit program producing results for education leaders

Offerings ‘hugely successful’ and attracting diverse participants looking to bring top management practices into their schools

By Adrienne Murrill

9/7/2007 - Running a school can sometimes feel like a juggling routine. In fact, that’s one reason why some teachers have started tossing actual balls in the air. Among them is William Truesdale, principal of Chicago Public School’s Taylor Elementary, who led his staff in this exercise at the start of the new school term this year.

He wasn’t clowning around, but rather taking a serious look at how school leaders can learn new and better strategies for success.

Truesdale learned the activity while participating in one of the Kellogg School’s recently created executive programs directed at leaders in education. Offered through the Kellogg Center for Nonprofit Management, the multiday programs focus on key leadership topics, combining theory and practice in a highly interactive setting. Kellogg has spent about two years developing the programs, which include the seminars Leading for Change and Leading Successful Schools. Each program runs over three days.

Truesdale attended both offerings, held in January and in June. Kellogg has designed these seminars to equip school leaders with management skills to effectively direct their organizations, and, in turn, better meet the needs of the children in those schools.

The tennis ball exercise was one that Truesdale shared with his staff to build an understanding of teamwork. “It exposes the strengths and weaknesses of each team and [shows] how people need to work together,” he said. In the activity, teams of six people start with two balls and must eventually work in an additional four balls — but the rules mandate that each person can touch the ball only once, it can’t be thrown to an immediate neighbor and it must return to the person who originated it. Once a team can handle six balls, they are timed to see who can best improve their score.

“The staff learned how to be synergistic, to coordinate, communicate and problem solve,” Truesdale said. By working together, the teams found creative ways to succeed. In addition, he said, the balls represented the changes schools face today, such as legislation and technology. “You have to be able to juggle all those balls at once to be able to negotiate everything.”

Liz Livingston Howard ’93, who is the associate director of the Center for Nonprofit Management, said this is an important Kellogg initiative because “we have an expertise that school leaders need.” She said the program has been “hugely successful” with more than 60 senior participants enrolling from a diverse range of schools — from public to private and religiously affiliated institutions. “School leaders come to their positions most often with outstanding academic credentials and experience,” said Howard. “However, few of them have management experience. Our programs help these leaders better understand the financial, leadership and management issues they will face running major operations.”

Not only are these programs supported by expertise from one of the nation’s top business schools, but also by knowledge from senior practitioners in the education field. Elaine Schuster, former superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago, is the education fellow at the Kellogg Center for Nonprofit Management. After spending 35 years in educational administration, Schuster was CEO and president of the Golden Apple Foundation, where she first connected with the Kellogg nonprofit center’s executive offerings

“I sent some of my staff to the programs and became aware of the quality of programs and the teachers,” she said. When she heard that the center wanted to reach out to school leaders specifically, her expertise was a fit for the role.

“It’s an honor to help bring the high-quality research, expertise and teaching from Kellogg to those who make a commitment to lead schools for young people,” Schuster said.

She knows that today’s school leaders are asked to direct a very complex organization. Doing so demands knowledge of budgeting, management and fundraising, as well as the ability to work with a board and the local community. “The leadership skills, the research and the kinds of knowledge that come from the Kellogg School of Management’s professors can be of tremendous help,” said Schuster.

Howard added that the unique blend of theory and practice that Kellogg brings to its programs, along with the customization of exercises and readings, makes the school’s programs rigorous and relevant. “We provide key takeaways for the participants that they can apply directly in their school setting,” she said.

This experiential learning approach is what Truesdale enjoyed most about the seminars at Kellogg. “You get some theory, but it’s married with practicality,” he said. “I think a lot of times in professional development it’s lecturing — not the hands-on participating and learning.” He also appreciated a focus on teamwork and shared leadership, something he said is unique to Kellogg. “There is the opportunity for feedback from other principals on what they’re doing in their schools. It teaches you to come out of your comfort zone and try new ideas.”

Schuster said the programs give school leaders “time to network and to think about and put all the pieces together.” These benefits were much appreciated, as shown in the participants’ positive feedback, which included comments about how the content spurred their professional growth.

“They found it invaluable,” Schuster said. “I found it very gratifying to be with them and see that my instincts were right — there’s a lot that these professors of management, social psychology, economics, strategic leadership and marketing have to teach school leaders.”