3 Ways Leadership Training Improves School Performance

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

We take leadership development training very seriously,. In fact, leadership is at the heart and soul of everything and everyone we approach. 

And we’re not alone… a growing swell of practitioners and experts and evaluators and folks from across industries are having a collective “oh, right!” moment as the evidence practically smacks us in the forehead:  the social emotional skills are not the “soft” skills—they are not the things to toss aside and think about when there is time after all of the “important” work is done.

No, the social emotional skills—which dare we say are the heart of leadership—are the building blocks that drive people to perform better, collaborate as an effective team, and empower organizations to thrive. And the same is true for our young people. 

If schools want to perform better, they need to focus on leadership training for themselves, their staff, and their students. They need to not just “make” time for this work, they need to hold this time as precious as any time spent on standardized tests. (Because ironically focusing on leadership development and training will actually serve to improve your standardized test scores and overall performance. I triple dog dare you to test me on this theory).

It’s that important.

Here are three truths about how infusing a hearty amount of leadership development training into your school will directly lead to better outcomes, for your staff, your students, and your community:


Leadership Starts From the Top—and the Stronger it is at the Top, the More it Trickles Down… All the Way to the Youth.

A 2017 article from The Learning Policy Institute emphasized the importance of strong principals at the helm of achieving schools.  In fact it went so far as to indicate that “improvement in principal quality was associated with increased student achievement equivalent to more than 4 weeks of additional learning in reading and over 6 weeks in mathematics.” They also indicate that principal quality is directly linked to higher graduation rates.  A 2010 report from The Wallace Foundation said the same.  

There is no doubt about it—principals who are given the opportunity to invest in their own leadership development use those leadership skills to build a staff of leaders… who then use those leadership skills to build a student body of leaders. 

Strong leaders build strong leaders. But it’s more than that: People follow people. You know this, because you can feel it the moment you walk into a building that has this kind of leader. It feels different, and it’s palpable. 

So the strongest leaders build up those around them so the rest of the group willingly follow them just about anywhere.  


Leadership is an Aspirational Arrow, Not a Checking Off of To-Dos.

Building off the point above, you can tell if the idea of leadership development is a valued one almost immediately—it’s in the non-verbal (and sometimes oh-too-verbal) cues of everyone you encounter. You see it in the:

  • eyes of the security guard when they won’t even meet yours.  

  • posture of the receptionist when they can barely even lift their body to hand you a hall slip

  • classrooms, where it’s hard to tell who is looking more at the clock to see if the bell is finally going to ring—the teacher or the students

  • teacher sitting behind their desk and the students with their hands on their faces. Anywhere but here. Anywhere but here.

And energy is contagious, no matter which way it flows. So it doesn’t take long for anyone in that kind of environment to start to feel the same way. Trapped. 

Those who choose to invest in a leadership development program understand that it’s about lighting a spark in a darkness. Leadership development reminds us that though the “what” is important, the “Why” is the life source – it’s that thing that keeps us all, collectively, looking always beyond the horizon, to what’s next, to what’s possible.


Teambuilding is Not About a Trust Fall.  (Well… it’s not always about a trust fall)

Have you ever watched a student come to life at the end of a school day, bounding with energy they haven’t displayed since the moment they walked in in the morning, as they run toward their after school sports team or extracurricular activity? Why do they do that?

Because in the best of those spaces they are looked at as leaders.  They are challenged to be team leaders. They are encouraged to push, to risk, to fail, to try again, to push harder. In the best of these situations, they are loved fiercely and they are not let off the hook for a minute. 

CASEL’s work on social and emotional intelligence continues to show us how building those skills help our students learn and make them better in… well, in just about every way. 

That’s what thriving teams do—whether it’s a family, an organization, a team, a neighborhood.  They trust each other, and by trusting each other they build each other up, and push each other beyond what any individual might think was possible.  That’s team building. 

Teambuilding lives in trust that goes beyond the “fall.” And the best part of that kind of leadership and community is that the collective is so much greater than the individual. That kind of leadership says I will stand by you even if I’ve lost sight of that aspirational arrow, even if I can’t quite see beyond the horizon (because that happens to all of us from time to time).

There is plenty of funding out there for professional development training. It’s imperative that you don’t just spend that on checking off the mandatory regulatory grant-required check-this-off-the-list subjects. Yes, it’s important to get your CPR certification up to date and make sure you know the latest deal about lice and have learned the ins and outs of the newest on-line budgetary system. 


You want to look beyond the horizon? Then put leadership development squarely next to you, and tend to it as fiercely as a gardener would tend to his precious rare Kokia Cookei tree. 

It’s that important. 

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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.