By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Educational leadership has never been more important, according to Mike Teahon.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, an ongoing teacher shortage and other challenges, it’s also more difficult than ever, he added.
“Leadership can be very lonely,” said Teahon, an associate professor and chair of the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Department of Educational Administration.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A former school administrator in Amherst, Dunning and Gothenburg, Teahon believes the key to effective school leadership is getting people involved and engaged at every level – from bus drivers and custodians to teachers and technology directors.
“A lot of times people see leadership as administrators. It’s more than that,” he said. “Leadership capacity exists at all levels. Some of the most successful districts have strong teacher-leaders who work together with the administrative team.”
Teahon and his colleagues in the UNK Department of Educational Administration promote this model through the NexGen Leadership Academy, a program launched last fall to develop and support current and future leaders in Nebraska’s educational system.
The two-year academy includes a variety of collaborative activities, both virtual and face-to-face, that allow participants to learn from each other as well as recognized experts and leaders in the field of education. There are mentorship, networking and professional development opportunities, “job-a-like” cohort meetings for educators with similar responsibilities and goals and district-specific meetings to discuss local strategies.
Participants can choose to complete a series of four online graduate courses that focus on school leadership and culture, with these credit hours counting toward an educational administration program at UNK.
A total of 150 educators representing school districts from Bayard to Blair are part of the academy’s first two cohorts. On Monday, roughly 100 of them were on campus for the inaugural NexGen Leadership Academy Summit, an event featuring keynote speakers, breakout sessions, a panel discussion and networking.
Columbus Public Schools Superintendent Troy Loeffelholz attended with several staff members. He was invited to speak to academy participants last fall, then recognized it would be a great program for CPS teachers who are currently in leadership positions or are interested in pursuing one. About 20 people applied for the district’s 12 allotted spots.
“We know that we have to start recruiting from within to fill our leadership positions,” Loeffelholz said. “Instead of relying on the lottery to see what kind of applicants are out there – because they’re few and far between – we decided we needed to grow our own.”
Loeffelholz hopes the NexGen Leadership Academy can help CPS develop an internal talent pipeline by giving employees the tools they need to succeed in these positions.
“We want to broaden their horizons in the way they think about leadership and how to work with students and educators,” he said.
Katie Burger, an instructional facilitator at York Public Schools, signed up for the NexGen Leadership Academy as part of the inaugural cohort last fall. She called it a “low-stress” way to further develop her professional skills.
“I love that this academy brings in all different types of leaders,” she said. “Every month when we hear from our presenters, they all have a different perspective on the same topic. I really enjoy learning from all those different people.”
The academy gave Burger the confidence she needed to pursue a new position at York Public Schools, where she’ll be the assistant elementary principal in 2022-23.
“I just have a desire to serve, and that’s the next step to continue serving my community and school,” said Burger, who received her school principalship endorsement from UNK.
The 34-year-old knows the knowledge and connections she’s gained through the NexGen Leadership Academy will benefit her now and well into the future.
“That’s what we’re trying to do in all of these districts,” Teahon noted. “My goal is to build leadership capacity at all levels across the state.”