_A Pipeline for Principals

Can exposing educators to the arts reduce turnover, improve retention and instill leadership skills?

_Girija Kaimal

Kaimal is an assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

Administrative turnover is high in urban schools where principals face pressure to maintain student achievement despite inadequate staff, facilities and resources. One idea to improve the career pipeline involves exposing up-and-coming school leaders to the arts.

A program being implemented in Pennsylvania arranges for aspiring principals to meet at museums and other arts performance venues four or five times a year to develop their leadership skills through art.

“Knowing how to be creative and innovative with limited resources is essential,” says Girija Kaimal. “The art becomes a metaphor for learning about yourself and learning about others. The goal of a responsible leader is to help [people] excel at what they do and facilitate their performance as a team.”

Kaimal works with Lehigh University College of Education professors George White (the principal investigator) and Jon Drescher for a program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that is designed to help recruit and retain principals in urban districts. The arts-based leadership learning sessions are facilitated mostly by teaching artists from the Maxine Greene Center for Aesthetic Education and Social Imagination. She’s currently evaluating the effectiveness of the five-year program in Pennsylvania’s Allentown School District.


Can attending a jazz ensemble or watching a mime performance inspire educators to think more creatively about communication, interpersonal learning, trust, collaboration and interpersonal support?

The researchers recruited participants — around 14 people per year — from Allentown’s teacher pool. They chose people who are committed to staying in the district, because turnover tends to be greater when principals come from outside the community.

“Principals might be transferred from school to school depending on staffing changes within an urban district so even if they want to stay in a school, they are often unable to stay long enough to make an impact,” Kaimal explains.

Over the course of the evaluation period, many of the participants have either been promoted to principal or have maintained their job as principal, Kaimal says, and some have stayed in the same school within the Allentown district for at least two years.