The Impactful Leadership of Public School Principals

The BB&T Leadership Institute is training public school principals throughout South Carolina. 

The South Carolina Department of Education and The BB&T Leadership Institute aim to boost student success with leadership development training for public school principals.

The key performance indicators for a public school are a bit different from those of a business. Instead of revenue growth and employee engagement, schools measure student growth and teacher engagement. But like a business, a public school relies on its chief executive – the principal – to lead it.

The South Carolina state legislature recognized the critical role public school principals play nearly 20 years ago when it tasked its department of education with developing an extensive leadership development program for them. The result was the South Carolina School Leadership Executive Institute (SLEI)(opens in a new tab).

Enter The BB&T Leadership Institute

In 2016, The BB&T Leadership Institute (BBTLI) partnered with the South Carolina Department of Education to provide a version of the experiential, psychology-based training it offers to business leaders to public school principals.

Since then, more than 100 South Carolina public school principals have completed Mastering Leadership Dynamics™ for Educational Leaders and have participated in workshops on change and teacher engagement through BBTLI.

Director Lilla Toal-Mandsager and Education Associate Walter Clark lead the South Carolina SLEI through the Office of Educator Effectiveness and Leadership Development(opens in a new tab).

The impact of the four-day BBTLI sessions can be transformational for principals, said Clark. Not only do the principals gain valuable insights about the nature of leadership, but they often develop a new level of self-awareness and understanding of themselves.

“It is incredible to see the self-awareness that these principals gain about themselves,” said Clark. “They see themselves and their behavior in work situations and ask themselves, ‘Is that really me?’ It leaves an indelible mark on them.”

In the BBTLI program, public school principals reflect on their core values and beliefs, evaluate their performance as an educational leader and examine work areas where they are consistently using educational best practices and where they are less consistent.

“It is a great, great learning opportunity for them,” said Toal-Mandsager.

Clark noted that he has often heard from principals finishing a Mastering Leadership Dynamics for Educational Leaders program, ‘This is one of the greatest professional development courses I’ve ever had.’

“They leave the program with such a high level of passion,” said Clark.

Putting training into practice

Clark and Toal-Mandsager can watch the participating public school principals get an immediate boost from the training, such as increased confidence and validation of the meaning of their work. “Participating tells the principals that they are valued not just by the state, but also by a private entity – and one that is willing to invest in the quality of our educational leaders and, by extension, in the quality of our schools,” said Toal-Mandsager. “That is invaluable.”

But these two South Carolina Department of Education professionals are even more interested in the impact the training sessions make in each principal’s school. They take the knowledge and skill sets they have gained in the sessions and readily share it with their assistant principals, teachers and staff, said Toal-Mandsager.

In addition, the sessions help establish new professional connections among each cohort’s participants. Many bond with one another during a session. Afterward, when these principals are facing a new challenge or problem, for instance, “they can pick up the phone and reach out to another principal who can give them solid advice,” said Toal-Mandsager. “That can be very powerful.” 

Principals aren’t just principals anymore

The impact of the SLEI and BBTLI sessions extends beyond a school’s walls. Principals are no longer just managers of a single school. They are community leaders. Today, principals are dealing with school safety, mental health concerns, diversity and other important issues, said Toal-Mandsager.

The SLEI provides principals with the skills they need to build healthy relationships with teachers, students and the students’ families to tackle these issues in a positive way.

In their worst moments, principals’ decisions can be driven by their emotions, said Toal-Mandsager, and the BBTLI training helps principals lead with self-awareness, so their decisions aren’t based on a temporary mood but on educational best practices.

One of the welcome surprises about the BBTLI sessions “is how seamlessly The Leadership Institute’s vision of what it means to be a strong leader aligns with our vision of what it means to be a strong educational leader,” said Toal-Mandsager. “The Leadership Institute has been open to work with us. We have a lot of innovative ideas for education, and BB&T recognizes that and helps us realize our goals.”

By Jack Rosenberger
Photography by Inti St. Clair, Getty Images

A Mission to Support School Leaders

The BB&T Leadership Institute provides leadership development programming for public school principals as part of a commitment to support communities’ futures. For more information, please contact Senior Vice President and Educational Leadership Programs Manager Rosalind Guerrie:

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