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February 15, 2022

Rural School Leadership Development: Trust, Career Mentorship, and Concrete Strategies

BetterLesson and Rural School Leadership Academy logosThe 2020-21 school year was one of the most tumultuous and challenging years in recent memory for teachers and leaders everywhere, especially in rural communities. Rural educators found themselves in a position of having to navigate illness and death in their families, schools, and communities; staffing shortages and other new and complex operational leadership demands; and tough decisions about how best to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Allen Pratt, the Executive Director of the National Rural Education Association recently observed, “We know that rural leaders, from the top to the bottom, from principals to superintendents, have very few people they can rely on to stress release and to bounce ideas off of. They’re alone in the room most of the time. The organic, informal relationships are the ones that people are craving.”

Now in our fourth year of partnership, BetterLesson and Teach for America’s Rural School Leadership Academy (RSLA) are working together to help prepare rural teacher leaders and administrators who are exploring school and district leadership meet these challenges, develop the knowledge and skills they need to be effective in leadership roles, and connect to a powerful and durable network of aspiring school leaders in rural communities.

In this intense environment, we were thrilled to learn that, according to a comprehensive evaluation by The American Institutes for Research, BetterLesson coaches implemented structures and opportunities that fostered trusting and responsive relationships and supported open communication with RSLA participants.

The bond that was established between BetterLesson coaches and RSLA program participants extended beyond the urgent demands of the 2020-21 school year and into broader and more personal domains, including RSLA leaders’ career aspirations and trajectories.

89% of survey respondents indicated that they had, at some point in the program year, sought out their BetterLesson coaches for career guidance and support.

Over 90% of program participants were still in their rural communities as educators in the following school year, many of them in school and district leadership roles.

The goal of our partnership has always been focused on improving participants’ leadership skills. Across the board, RSLA participants characterized their coaching experiences as personalizedbeneficialvery valuable, and useful to their development as educators and leaders.

In a focus group conversation with AIR, participants described feeling gratitude for their BetterLesson coach in this way:

(My coach) really helped me personally as well as professionally as a leader.

There were a variety of strategies that I could implement because it was specific to me and what I was trying to accomplish. That was very beneficial to me.

The partnership between BetterLesson and RSLA continues in 2021-22 and we are now supporting 38 teachers and leaders.  Early indicators suggest that the coaching RSLA program participants are receiving is once again powerful, relevant, and appreciated. The leaders are working on specific areas of their leadership practice, including: Social Emotional Learning, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Trauma-Informed Practices, Culturally Responsive Teaching, allowing them to choose what was applicable and beneficial to their practice. At mid-year, the participants self-assess around each focus area they selected. Overall, the results showed:

Chart showing growth in learning domain

BetterLesson’s coaching strategies are based on research and data. We know that high-quality coaching improves teacher retention, and we were proud to see the impact of our coaching borne out with rural leaders and confirmed by AIR, an independent evaluator.

Contact BetterLesson to find out more about how we can support rural teachers and leaders in your area.

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