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Internships Make Better Administrators

Tingley-021 colorIt is probably too early for me to be optimistic, but it’s in my nature as a school person and I can’t seem to shake it.  I’m beginning to think it’s possible that policymakers are going to refocus their efforts on reforming and restoring K-12 public education and recognize the folly of abandoning it for vouchers and charters and onlines.  It may be dawning on them that while alternate initiatives may (or may not) be effective for some students, they are not panaceas for the great majority of students.

We’re seeing some positive signs that some are beginning to recognize (or remember) the key role good principals have in improving schools.  For example, some principals are being trained in Common Core ideas (in case that initiative ever actually gets off the ground).  More important, some universities are requiring that people being trained as school administrators spend time doing an internship in real schools before being certified.  

To be honest, I am surprised that some universities are just now requiring an internship given my experience with the State University of New York as an adjunct professor in ed admin.  Internships have been required for more than 30 years in the program, and I often supervised students during their practicums and seminars.  The entire ed admin program pairs college professors with practitioners so that students get both theory and practice. Nearly all students feel that the internship experience represents the culmination of their two years of study.

So it’s good news that other programs are getting on board and partnering with school districts to grow their own leaders in a school-based setting.   The difficulty, of course, is funding.

Teachers who enroll in programs to become administrators typically continue to teach and take courses at night.  But a full-time unpaid internship presents a financial challenge for many who cannot afford to quit their day job.  Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, provides a great model by partnering with Principalthe Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district to “grow their own” administrators.   Paid internships are
provided with a grant from the Wallace Foundation.  Whether the program will continue if or when funding dries up will be the question.  At this juncture few school districts can afford to pay an intern as an additional administrator.  If there is a genuine opening that the intern can fill, sometimes a school district can offer the intern the job while paying him or her less than they would for a certified administrator.  Sometimes that situation works out; sometimes it doesn’t.  Funding internships continues to be a chronic problem with developing strong administrators.

Still, it’s essential for aspiring administrators to have on-the-job experience with the mentorship of a good practicing administrator.  Teachers want and deserve good daily leadership, and schools cannot improve without it.


I believe internships are vital to the success of individuals and companies, including schools. People need hands on experience to learn how things really work. You can't get that education from a book. And companies gain valuable employees when they have done internships and have experience, it makes hiring an easier process. Internships should be required for every school program!

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