“Going All In” to Develop and Support Principals

Principals make many crucial decisions each day, often with limited information, inadequate resources, and all within unforgiving time constraints.  Further, the consequences of making a mistake on any of these decisions can be devastating for the campus, school system, or the principal themselves.

Herbert O’Neil and Troy Mooney

The axiom, oft attributed to the U.S Navy SEALs, ”We do not rise to the occasion, but rather sink to the level of our training” is equally applicable to principals and other campus leaders.  Most leadership preparation programs fail to authentically prepare campus leaders for the crucial decision-making that is an essential part of their job. School systems need more effective leaders, authentically developed at a faster rate, and spread throughout all levels of their organization than most current district leadership preparation programs are scaled to produce. District executives must commit to creating an aligned, authentic, competency based system to recruit, select, develop, support, and evaluate leaders. Otherwise they fail to prepare their principals for the actual challenges they will encounter while leading their schools.

As the Chief Academic Officer of Life School, one of my key responsibilities is to lead, manage and support campus principals.  Recognizing the inadequacy of earlier principal preparation efforts, we have pivoted towards an authentic competency based approach that couples real world problem solving with traditional leadership instruction and reflection.

During this comprehensive overhaul of our leadership preparation for principals and campus leaders, Herbert O’Neil, the Life School Director of Academics and former principal of Corsicana High School, and I created the PRIMER podcast.  The podcast, available on iTunes, provides a further avenue for us to continuously support and prepare leaders in our organization and in all school systems.


While the episodes focus on particular difficult issues for principals, the underlying theme is to encourage organizations to evaluate their own current leadership preparation efforts. If their principals and campus leaders are not able to lead and manage the way that their system needs them to perform, then how should they adjust their current development and support efforts?  We hope that the Life School PRIMER podcast and further information that we share at www.herbertoneil.com and on this site will be beneficial for other school system leaders for developing the kinds of principals that our staff and students deserve.

(A version of this article originally appeared here courtesy of Samantha Womack, TCSA Communications Specialist)