Our Impact: Marshall Leadership Institute

We develop transformational leaders for all schools.

Our goals for Marshall Leadership Institute go beyond simply building a pipeline of strong and diverse educators entering leadership. In the last year, we implemented programs that nurture leaders through their entire career journey, from the moment a teacher first considers becoming a school leader, through the early stages of leadership, to the time they’re ready to lead change beyond the walls of a single school.

But there’s more to be done. Real educational transformation will occur when school systems are able to cultivate their own leaders. That’s why our programming builds the capacity of values-aligned partners to develop their own pipelines of excellent, diverse school leaders.

This explicit capacity-building approach has allowed us to accelerate our impact. We’re building on our foundational pedagogy—proven over 20 years with more than 200 leaders—to provide a training and development program for today’s challenges and a wide and growing array of partner schools.


What We're Doing


Developing Outstanding School Leaders Along the Entire Career Path

What began as leadership development just for aspiring and early-stage leaders has since become much more.

In the 2021–22 school year, Marshall Leadership Institute added specialized programming for school and system leaders further along in their careers, growing into a comprehensive program that supports the entire leadership journey.

  • Aspiring Leaders—Supporting experienced teachers into entry-level leadership roles
  • New LeadersGiving beginning leaders the foundational skills for success
  • Seasoned Leaders—Honing leaders’ established skills to prepare for senior leadership
  • System Leaders—Realizing the power of transformational leadership

At every level, we start by strengthening leaders’ foundational skills, and within each leadership phase, we layer on the unique and dynamic expertise a leader needs to build along the way.

In addition, with our values-aligned partners at the Washington State Charter Schools Association, we launched the WA Charters Transformative Leader Fellowship (TLF), to nurture new leaders from the Global Majority and to support seasoned leaders’ skill development. Seventy percent of charter schools in the state of Washington are represented by leaders in the first TLF cohort, and over half are leaders of color.

These new offerings add to the diverse collective of courageous and self-reflective school leaders we’re building, and they support and develop those leaders along the entire career path.


Strengthening the Diversity of the Leadership Pipeline

Sixty-five percent of our participants identify as leaders of color. But our commitment to diversity is about more than numbers.

We believe in the power of heterogeneous groups to create better leaders, as each member of the group learns from others’ experiences and grows stronger through exposure to others’ perspectives.

The racial diversity of our leadership cohorts stands in stark contrast to the leadership in American schools. Roughly 78% of principals nationwide are White, despite an increasingly diverse student population. This disparity hurts both teachers and students. At schools that gain a Black principal, Black teachers are also more likely to be hired. And a more diverse teacher population improves student outcomes in the short and long term.


Training Leaders Who Get Hired into Leadership Positions

Ninety-four percent of aspiring leaders who applied to leadership positions were offered those roles. This success rate is by design.

Our intensive, problem-based practice exposes aspiring leaders to actual problem scenarios encountered in early leadership positions, and allows them to build practical skills. Leaders read, discuss, understand, and apply learning to contemporary school dilemmas and real-world school leadership situations. They establish their own leadership styles, practice high-stakes decision-making in authentic school contexts, and reflect on their experiences and growth. This performance-rich learning cycle, in turn, prepares them for the challenges and opportunities of leadership ahead.

“When the opportunity came (earlier than originally planned) to apply for an administration job, it was [Marshall Leadership Institute] that gave me newfound confidence. I found myself preparing for the interview by going over the sample problem-based learning scenarios and readings my cohort and I discussed to better understand not just what my future role could entail, but also how I could fit into it. There is no one way to be a leader, rather it is a skill to be learned and practiced. I am grateful for the journey [Marshall Leadership Institute] has started for me.”

— Mary Beth Thompson, Former Teacher and now Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, Summit Prep


Effectively Preparing Principals for Today’s Leadership Challenges Through an Adaptable Problem-Based Model.

100 %

of Marshall Fellows would recommend the program to those interested in leading schools.

Our problem-based model incorporates a broad base of universal challenges that leaders encounter in their everyday work.

This includes inspiring and coaching teachers, guiding them through instructional challenges, and working effectively with parents.

Our model also allows us to incorporate the challenges that schools are facing right now. And those challenges—in the current political and social climate—are historic and daunting:

  • “How do I navigate heated political divides between students and families in my school?”
  • “How do I coach and develop teachers in virtual classrooms?”
  • “How do I maintain high expectations for my team through the sustained crisis of COVID?”

Our approach provides participants with the personal and practical tools and theoretical foundation to confront the challenges that school leaders face today. Our participants agree: 100% of Marshall leaders would recommend the program to others interested in leading schools.

For example, Ferdinand Orbino was an English teacher when he started to consider leadership. He credits the Marshall Leadership Institute for providing a pathway into his next role.

“[Marshall Leadership Institute] has given me the knowledge and practical experience to feel confident in any opportunity that requires leadership. The tools, strategies, and insights I received during this program have made an immediate and positive impact on the ways in which I have approached various situations. Leadership isn’t just a role, it’s a life skill.”

—Ferdinand Orbino, Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, Summit Atlas, Washington


Going Beyond Pedagogy to Customize Programming for Partners

We work with district partners to understand their community context, leadership training landscape, school culture, and individual leader needs to design a cohesive leadership program that adapts our model to their community.

For example, as Impact Public Schools in Washington expanded, they wanted to intentionally support the development of teacher-leaders who were taking on the important role of leading grade-level teams. The Marshall Leadership Institute worked with senior leaders at the network to design and facilitate a series of launch experiences to prepare the emerging leaders for their new roles. Through these experiences, Impact’s emerging leaders encountered tools that would support their team leadership and management. But just as importantly, the sessions helped participants lead with authenticity.

“We were grateful to have the [Marshall Leadership Institute] program enhance the development of some of our aspiring leaders. Those who went through the program brought a new lens to their work with other adults, were increasingly reflective and driven to make a change, and developed confidence in themselves as educational leaders. We hired all three – into formal leadership roles!”

—Alex Horowitz, Senior Director of Talent, Impact Public Schools


Building Resilience Through Community, Connection, and Support Among Fellows

Community and connection are key to principal resilience and retention.

School leadership is demanding and isolating, especially today. But even before the pandemic and current political and social upheaval, schools in the United States faced retention challenges among school leaders. Annual principal turnover is 18% nationwide and 21% for high-poverty schools. Nearly half of new principals leave their schools after three years. The turnover of effective principals can result in greater teacher turnover and poorer student outcomes.

We intentionally foster community through discussion, dialogue, and group reflection, and build trust through routines like cohort check-ins and check-outs. Through our consultancy model, fellows bring the challenges they are facing at their school sites, and collaborate with the group to get what they need in a rigorous, structured way.

“There were countless Saturdays where I was feeling overwhelmed and/or disappointed in something happening at work. [Marshall Leadership Institute] provided a space for me to step-back, decompress, reconnect with an amazing group of educators, and be reinspired by what we can accomplish together. I found the experience rejuvenating throughout this tough year.”

— Anna Halat, Assistant Principal, East Bay Innovation Academy, SY21 Fellow


Growing Rapidly to Meet Demand for Powerful Leaders

In just three years, the Marshall Leadership Institute has taken Summit’s successful professional development and training program and expanded it to serve partner schools nationwide.

Altogether, since 2019 we have supported the leadership journey of 212 leaders at 35 schools across five states.

And we are not done yet. By building the capacity of our partners to develop their own leadership pipelines—like we’re doing with the Transformative Leader Fellowship with WA Charters—we’ll accelerate the reach and impact of our model, delivering the transformational leadership that our nation’s schools need. To that end, the Marshall Leadership Institute is partnering with DSST Public Schools, and the Charter School Growth Fund, to lead an Aspiring Leader Program to support the network in developing strong, diverse, and sustainable internal principal pipelines. This program will be offered for free to 16 aspiring leaders within the network, with the goal of preparing each one for entry-level leadership roles in the organization. Ultimately, we will build the capacity of DSST to operate this program independently so it can sustain its leadership pipelines for the long term.

Case Study: Dedicated Efforts in Washington State


A Pilot for Future Growth

In 2021–22, Marshall Leadership Institute partnered with the Washington Charter School Association to launch the Transformative Leader Fellowship. The Transformative Leader Fellowship equips charter school principals, assistant principals, and deans across Washington state with the knowledge, skills, and vision to lead equitable schools where all children thrive. This pilot effort has become the model for similar national partnerships in the coming years.

Like all Marshall Fellowships, the proven, problem-based model of the Transformative Leader Fellowship provides participants with meaningful and relevant professional development readings, group experiences, and shared reflections, along with opportunities to workshop challenges with trusted peers. The program fosters intentional community among fellows through discussion, dialogue, and facilitated breakout groups.

In addition, concerned with a lack of diversity in leadership across the state, Washington Charters partnered with us to customize the fellowship, placing two particular goals at the forefront:

  • to nurture new leaders from the global majority
  • to develop the racial literacy, awareness, and cultural humility of White leaders in the sector to make them more effective at leading schools serving students of color

In this inaugural pilot, over half of fellows are leaders of color. Participants are passionate about leading schools where all children thrive. They are committed to anti-racist leadership, and approach their work with a sense of cultural humility.

Through co-facilitation of the fellowship with WA Charters, we’re also teaching and developing our co-facilitators’ skill in implementing our development model. Ultimately, the goal of all of our programs is not only to help the fellows in them; it’s also to build the capacity of organizations to run future fellowships by themselves.

“Partnering with the Marshall Leadership Institute and Greg Ponikvar to pilot the Transformative Leader Fellowship in Washington has been a deeply collaborative, iterative process focused on answering one question—how do we meet our newest leaders where they are to provide them with equity-centered support for real-time challenges? Leading schools has never been more difficult and through relationship-driven design and expert facilitation, the TLF is a space for Washington’s charter leaders to share the stresses and joys of the work and commit to anti-racist practices in their schools and leadership. We are so excited to see how TLF fellows will take the Washington charter sector to the next level of what we know all schools can and must be—hubs of belonging, joy, and learning for students and staff alike. I highly recommend partnering with MLI to develop a program tailored to your next generation of executive leaders.”   

— Rekha Bhatt, Co-President, Programs and Services at WA Charters

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