Learning From Tennessee Principal Preparation Programs

Tennessee is home to 18 leader preparation programs and they collectively help prepare about 500 candidates each year. The work these programs do to ensure that our school leaders are ready for the complexity of being a principal is critical. Here, we profile two programs, Lipscomb University and University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and their leaders about their approach to preparing principals.

Question: Can you tell us a little bit about your program? What is your program’s approach to preparing school leaders?

Dr. James McIntyre: The University of Tennessee’s Leadership Academy is an intensive, immersive, 15-month principal preparation residency program that is now educating its ninth cohort of high potential, aspiring school principals. Leadership Academy fellows spend four days a week working as an administrator in an East Tennessee public school under the mentorship of an excellent and experienced principal, and the fifth day is spent in coursework and seminars with both professors and practitioners at the University of Tennessee. This extraordinary marriage of theory aligned to standards, effective practice, and thoughtful reflection makes for a powerful and successful professional learning experience. 

Dr. Deborah Boyd and Dr. Lance Forman: The Educational Leadership Program at Lipscomb University provides an opportunity for candidates to earn a M.Ed. or Ed.S. degree as well as the administrative endorsement in an intense, 15-month program. The program is founded on 31 research-based leadership competencies that are organized into four main themes: Ethical Leadership, Visionary Leadership, Instructional Leadership, and Organizational Leadership. Each student is paired with a successful school-based leader to learn about school leadership in personal and authentic settings. 

The goal of the Educational Leadership program is to equip aspiring leaders with the tools they need to be successful administrators by combining rich classroom experiences with a practitioner-professor and powerful learning opportunities through authentic experiences in a real-world environment in concert with a successful mentor-coach.

Question: In order for Tennessee to continue strengthening its leader pipeline, what recommendations do you have for policymakers?


Dr. Boyd and Dr. Forman: 
Leadership is unlike the immediate placement of a preservice teacher moving from a teacher preparation program to employment. Aspiring leaders, often, experience some gap of time between graduation and leadership employment. To bridge this gap, some level of mentoring and coaching support is needed during the induction phase of a new leadership position. Authentic learning through residency, mentorships, and induction support, though, are budget-intensive to local school districts, which may present a barrier to districts seeking to develop or strengthen a leadership pipeline.

The recent support for leadership development, residency, and induction through the TTLA and Governor Haslam’s leadership initiative have helped to open the doors to these opportunities to districts in every CORE Region in the state. Close partnerships between districts, nonprofit organizations, philanthropic foundations, and institutions of higher education have been made possible because of this generous funding from the Governor and the Tennessee Department of Education. This type of funding and support, along with a particular level of flexibility and autonomy to create personalized leadership pipelines for the needs of individual school districts, is critical to the continued development of great leaders across the state.

Dr. McIntyre: The Tennessee Transformational Leadership Alliance (TTLA) has identified eight impactful practices associated with high-quality, successful school leadership development programs. TTLA has highlighted elements like alignment to standards, a residency component, authentic assessment, and meaningful relationships with partner school districts. The University of Tennessee’s Leadership Academy reflects all eight of these practices, but not all principal preparation programs in Tennessee do. If Tennessee has identified these practices as critical to success, the state should require, by some date in the near future, that all principal preparation programs embrace these practices.  


Dr. James McIntyre serves as the Director of the Center for Educational Leadership and Assistant Professor of Practice at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Deborah Boyd serves as the Dean and Director of Graduate Studies at Lipscomb’s College of Education. Dr. Lance Forman is an Assistant Professor of Education and Director of the Educational Leadership Program at Lipscomb University. 

Did you enjoy this post? Share below!
Indira Dammu

Indira provides policy and research analysis that advances a more effective public education system in Tennessee. Prior to joining SCORE, she worked as a policy analyst at North Carolina New Schools in Raleigh, providing research support on competency-based education. Originally from India, she earned her Master of Public Policy degree from Duke University and her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Bloomington. Indira was a middle school math teacher in Baton Rouge and a high school college readiness teacher in New Haven.

The SCORE Sheet is the online conversation on public education reform in Tennessee and is hosted by SCORE. The blog mirrors SCORE’s collaborative nature and features contributors from Tennessee and across the country including students, parents, teachers, policymakers, community groups, and members of SCORE’s team. Regardless of perspective, contributors share a common goal: that every child graduates from high school prepared for college or the workforce.

Posts on The SCORE Sheet are the opinions of the individual contributors and are not necessarily reflective of the opinions and positions of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).