Why Leadership Matters

medium shot of LMU SOE dean Michelle D. Young

The disruptions to K-12 education resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have left schools and districts struggling to recover amid evidence of learning loss, staff shortages, and mental health challenges among students and education workers alike. Today, much of the discussion is rightly devoted to ensuring that resources and supports are allocated directly to addressing these deficits. But what’s often overlooked in such discussions is the critical nature of effective leadership, system-wide. Without it, we risk investing precious resources into an ill-equipped system. 

Strong leaders are essential to creating a culture that enables teachers to thrive by providing the support they need to feel effective, along with the instructional feedback and guidance that can help them channel that support into improved instructional delivery. Leaders play a vital role throughout the educational ecosystem—from the teachers who lend guidance to colleagues and the school leaders who support teachers and staff, to the district superintendents and statewide leaders responsible for setting policy, to the community leaders who hold these individuals accountable.


Certain leadership practices transcend professions. The ability to set the right organizational vision and to galvanize team members to work effectively toward that goal are essential skills for all who work in these roles. But those at the helm of schools and districts must possess a formidable toolkit to fulfill their wide-ranging responsibilities as the overseers of teacher development, infrastructure, safety, and social-emotional wellness, to name a few. And, given that the stakes involve the welfare of our children, they have no margin for error in these pursuits.


Educational leaders must be ethical and strategic managers with a clear understanding of, and respect for, the populations they serve, as well as an ability to scaffold their students’ lived experiences to learning expectations in ways that ensure they remain engaged. They must understand what good teaching looks like, implement appropriate assessment systems, and foster teachers’ capacity to analyze data and enact evidence-based instructional strategies. They must also serve as community leaders, working with families and partners to bring resources into the schools.

As our 2022 Impact Report attests, LMU School of Education continues to rise to the challenge of producing outstanding leaders. Through a host of programs tailored to specific leadership positions and settings — including our Institute of School Leadership and Administration (ISLA); Catholic School Leadership Academy (CSLA); Charter and Small School Leadership Program; preparation partnerships with organizations such as the Diversity in Leadership Institute (DLI) and Teach For America (TFA); and our doctoral program in Educational Leadership for Social Justice—we prepare people who are poised to meet the urgency of this moment and transform educational settings of the future.

One of the keys to the success of all of these programs is their clinical focus. Our candidates spend much of their preparation embedded within school sites, where they experience real-world settings under the tutelage of skilled practitioners while following a classroom curriculum that coincides with what they are experiencing in practice. Our leadership students also hone their skills in virtual environments through mixed-reality simulations. While this approach has become increasingly common in teacher preparation, its adoption for leadership development at SOE affords candidates with a rare and invaluable opportunity for hands-on learning and feedback that helps them improve their practice.

At the same time, our SOE programs instill core leadership skills applicable to any setting, and we leverage community partnerships to ensure that our teachings are responsive to the specific needs of the positions our graduates are filling. SOE faculty engage in ongoing conversations with community partners on the relevance of each program’s curriculum and experiences. The courses in SOE’s leadership programs are taught in partnership with practicing leaders, with a focus not on viewing education through the rearview mirror, but on how we can build leaders for the schools of tomorrow.

Fundamental to all of our leadership preparation programs is the emphasis on social justice, a pillar of SOE since its founding. Excellence is impossible without equity. We believe it’s incumbent upon strong leaders not just to reduce the achievement gap, but to raise the bar so that every student can strive to the highest level of educational attainment. This requires culturally responsive leaders who recognize that their calling compels them to ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential. In SOE’s leadership programs, it means that at every point in the curriculum, aspiring leaders must ask how their actions will contribute to an inclusive environment that is most responsive to the communities they serve.

To achieve these goals we must diversify the educator pipeline. At LMU we are doing that through proactive measures such as our Upward Bound programs, which provide academic advising and mentorship to low-income, first-generation college students of color; through partnerships with programs such as TFA and DLI, which prepares educational leaders of color; and by actively recruiting diverse candidates into all of our leadership programs. We are proud at SOE to have the most diverse school on LMU’s campus. We know these efforts make a difference: Research demonstrates that when K-12 schools are helmed by leaders of color, teacher retention increases; fewer students are moved into special education; more enroll in gifted and advanced placement classes; and more students of color graduate and go on to college.

In this year’s report, you’ll read about some of the many ways that LMU School of Education is not only developing leaders, but also setting the standard for leadership development through clinical and technologically rich experiences that blend theory and practice; partnerships that ensure our preparation is authentic and relevant to meeting real-world needs; and producing alumni whose unrelenting emphasis on equity and social justice raise the bar in ways that set up every child for educational success.

Michelle D. Young, Ph.D.
Dean and Professor
LMU School of Education

Michelle D. Young is a nationally renowned scholar in educational leadership and policy. As executive director of the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA), she led the effort to develop national standards for educational leadership preparation.