Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning

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 Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning

Key Findings

  • The actions that principals take to influence instruction are of two complementary sorts. One sort aims to set a tone or culture in the building that supports continual professional learning (Instructional Climate). The second sort involves taking explicit steps to engage with individual teachers about their own growth (Instructional Actions).
  • Principals whose teachers rate them high on Instructional Climate emphasize the value of research-based strategies and are able to apply them in the local setting.
  • Instructional Actions include principals‘ direct observations and conversations with teachers, in their classrooms and in team meetings.
  • Setting a tone and developing a vision (Instructional Climate) for student achievement and teacher growth is present in high-performing (high student achievement) schools of all grade levels, K-12.
  • Secondary school teachers rarely report that school-level leaders engage in Instructional Action; this is the case for their principals, department heads, and other teacher leaders However, elementary school teachers working with highly rated principals report high levels of both Instructional Climate and Instructional Actions.


As with the sub-study reported in Section 1.4, this sub-study focuses on evidence about practices for successful instructional leadership as judged by educators close to the students—principals and teachers. Section 1.4 relied on evidence from schools selected for the high quality of the instruction their teachers provided. In Section 1.5, we examine evidence from schools in which principals received high effectiveness ratings from their teachers. Five of the 20 schools providing qualitative evidence for this Section were included in the sample of schools for Section 1.4

Prior Evidence

The Changing Role of the Principal from Manager to Leader

Historically, principals traditionally have been responsible for managing a wellrun school. Managing staff, developing rules and procedures, and attending to the general operation of a building have always been part of the job. However, the conception of school management began to shift in the late 1970s. Highly influential school effectiveness studies120 asserted that effective schools are characterized by an climate or culture oriented toward learning, as expressed in high achievement standards and expectations of students, an emphasis on basic skills, a high level of involvement in decision making and professionalism among teachers, cohesiveness, clear policies on matters such as homework and student behaviors, and so on.121 All this implied changes in the principal‘s role.

A further shift in the principal‘s role, beginning in the mid-1990s, involved the expectation that principals should provide instructional leadership. Theorists accepting this expectation contended that the principal‘s role had changed from management to instructional leadership.122 What the concept of instructional leadership means, however, remains vague. For example, studies of how teachers use their time during instruction have not focused on actions principals take to monitor or set expectations for the delivery of high quality instruction.123 One purpose of our study is to clarify the concept, at least in some measure.

Much has been written about the importance of the principal as an instructional leader.124 Often, however, this scholarship is markedly theoretical or vague (not the same things), failing to reflect the messiness of what principals do on a day-to-day basis. Much current research about instructional leadership is focused on distributed leadership125 or on the leader‘s content knowledge.126 Meanwhile, questions about how and when the principal might best engage with a teacher to address specific practices used by effective teachers have been under-researched.

One recent example of research about the link between the principal and teachers‘ professional development is provided by the study of IFL (Institute for Learning) implementation strategies in three urban school districts.127 That study found that teachers reported varying amounts of instructional support provided by their principals. Principals whose teachers rated them higher on an instructional leadership scale had participated in more professional development focused on instructional leadership than had lower-rated principals. However, teachers‘ self-reports of their use of certain instructional strategies were not confirmed in classroom observations by researchers. Furthermore, principals who were described by their teachers as providing instructional leadership were not seen to be providing direct feedback and frequent observations of classroom instruction during the researchers‘ site visits.

Here, similar to the procedure we followed in Section 1.4, we approach the identification of effective leadership practices using grounded theory to explore the perceptions of teachers and the actions of principals around instructional improvement. The theory of action shaping this investigation is based on the belief that high quality instructional leadership and high quality classroom instruction are linked, and together they impact students‘ learning. Thus, when either high quality instructional leadership or high quality instruction does not occur, student achievement outcomes can be variable as a result.

New Evidence

Our examination of instructional leadership in Section 1.5 is guided by the following questions.

  1. What does instructional leadership look like to teachers?
  2. Are teachers‘ reports of instructional leadership similar in substance to what principals have to say about instructional leadership?
  3. Does instructional leadership look different at the elementary and secondary levels?


To address these questions we used both quantitative and qualitative data from our research. Quantitative data included items from the second teacher survey and student performance data on state-level achievement tests. Qualitative data were provided by individual interviews conducted with teachers and principals.

As Appendix A explains in considerably more detail, our instrument for the second survey of teachers includes 131 items. In that survey, we obtained 3,983 responses from 127 schools. The response rate was 74% for schools and 56% for teachers. We obtained qualitative data in a subset of 36 schools in 18 districts, randomly selected from the larger pool of 43 districts. We conducted site visits, using two- to fourmember data-collection teams. During the site visits, we observed 10-12 classrooms in both elementary and secondary schools, and we conducted individual interviews, using role-specific interview protocols, with district leaders, school principals, and classroom teachers. We recorded and transcribed all interviews.

Quantitative data for this sub-study derived from responses to 17 items from the teacher survey. These items asked about principal leadership behaviors deemed likely, in previous research, to influence teachers‘ instructional behavior. A factor analysis of responses to the 17 items resulted in two factors. All 17 items loaded on one of two factors, and no question loaded on both. Ten survey items loaded on the first factor, with weights ranging from .707 to .867. The other seven items loaded on the second factor, with weights ranging from .640 to .771. (See Appendix B for the factor analysis matrix.) To address the possibility that the results of the principal component factor analysis were due to the two different types of question stems, we also ran a principal axis analysis; this analysis confirmed the initial results.

As Table 1.5.1 indicates, the 10 items loading on Factor 1 (measured on a sixpoint scale) ask teachers the extent to which their principals create a productive climate in the school. Items in Factor 1 are about setting a tone of continual professional growth in the school, where the work culture embraces inclusive decision making and the belief that we can always do better. We call this the Instructional Climate factor.

Table 1.5.1
Top vs. Bottom 20%128 Mean Teacher Ratings per Building on Factor 1


The seven survey items loading on Factor 2 measure the frequency with which specific actions with a direct focus on instructional improvement were enacted by the principal with individual teachers. These questions (see Table 1.5.2) measure the frequency with which the principal and the teacher have regular, on-going dialogue about best practices; they ask about the principal being in the classroom, observing instruction, and providing specific feedback. Factor 2 is about making manifest the climate identified by Factor 1. We call this the Instructional Actions factor.

Table 1.5.2
Top vs. Bottom 20%129 Mean Teacher Ratings per Building on Factor 2


Principals whose teachers‘ ratings placed them in the top 20% on either or both of the two factors were labeled high-scoring principals; principals whose teachers rated them low on either or both of the factors were labeled low-scoring principals.

We used student achievement data (mathematics proficiency in 2005-06 on state tests) as an independent variable to stratify the population of principals so that we could see whether high- versus low-scoring principals‘ schools cluster differently, based on their students‘ mathematics proficiency scores. (See the methodological appendix for details on how we computed achievement scores.) Finally, we stratified the data further by using building grade level, elementary versus secondary, as the last independent variable. For purposes of our analyses, elementary schools are grades K-6, and secondary schools are grades 7-12. Middle schools with grades 6-8 are included in the group of secondary schools. High- or low-scoring principals, high or low math achievement, and elementary or secondary level provided a sorting mechanism by which to identify the specific schools where we could begin an exploratory analysis of the interview data.

Site-visit schools for which we had interview data were distributed across the 127 schools in our complete sample. We included all schools ranked highest and lowest on Factors 1 and 2, and for which we had interview data, in the analysis. For the analysis, we used responses to three questions from the interview protocol for the teachers:

  • What role does your principal play in guiding and supporting your work in the classroom?
  • How often does the principal observe or visit in your classroom?
  • What kinds of feedback or suggestions does the principal give to help you improve your instruction?

From the interview protocol for the principals, we examined the answers to the following questions:

  • Tell me about the last time you visited a classroom. What was the purpose of the visit? Describe what you were looking for.
  • What communication did you have with the teacher before, during, and after the visit?
  • How do you know that changes are being made in instruction?
  • How often do you visit classrooms?

We aggregated responses to the interview questions by question, and we analyzed the responses thematically. From the 127 schools included in the factor analysis, we analyzed data from a total of 20 high- and low-scoring schools (86 teacher interviews and 20 principal interviews).

Principals’ and Teachers’ Views of What Instructional Leadership Looks Like

Our initial analysis of the teacher survey data pointed to a clear distinction between principals‘ efforts to create a vision for learning, on the one hand, and what they do to enact that vision, on the other. Setting a tone or culture of high standards for quality instruction appears to be different from what the principal does in order to be certain that high quality instruction actually occurs. Given that these two characteristics of instructional leadership emerged as unrelated factors, we examined them separately in order to better understand possible reasons for why they were revealed as different from one another. The second research question, "Are teachers‘ reports of instructional leadership similar to what principals have to say about it?" is answered as the analysis of the teachers‘ and principals‘ interviews unfolds. The teachers and the principals were telling somewhat different stories.

Factor 1: Instructional Climate. Instructional Climate is about influencing the context in which instruction takes place. Clearly, what gets the highly rated principals out of bed each morning is what keeps them awake at night: they have a vision and believe that all students can achieve at high levels. They are focused on providing high-quality programs. One characteristic that clearly differentiates high-scoring principals from lowscoring principals is that high-scoring principals want to stay in their current schools until, as one principal put it, the "mission is accomplished."

How do high-scoring principals establish a vision for the school that is centered on high student achievement? For one thing, they emphasize the value of research-based strategies. They speak about the amount of time that is invested in developing the school‘s vision, gathering research information, and then applying it to the local setting. An elementary principal passionately stated, "I‘ve researched and researched and done all I can to meet the needs [of my teachers] because they are very bright." Analysis of the teacher interviews in that school reveals the research-based approach as being real and respected by the teaching staff. One teacher said of her high-scoring principal, "My principal is very firm in what she believes." In a separate interview, her principal expressed the vision as being non-negotiable: "My expectations are high, and [the teachers] know that." The principal went on to emphasize the importance of having an open dialogue about the vision for the school. "I simply put it out there: we‘ve got to kick it up a notch."

The vision for high academic achievement among the principals who score high on Factor 1 also includes a personal vision. As one principal stated, "Our ultimate goal is that our economically disadvantaged children will break the cycle of generational poverty. [We seek] to challenge the status quo and create conditions in which our children have the opportunity to be more academically successful." His focus stands in contrast to that of a low-scoring principal from a different school who emphasized "the standards" without making any effort to connect the standards to a school-level vision. The emerging sense from the analysis of the principal interviews is that low-scoring principals care more about doing their job than impacting lives.

The differences in ratings on items loading on Factor 1 between high- and lowscoring principals are statistically significant in all cases. This difference is at least one scale step and more often one-and-a-half or more steps. The largest difference was on item 4-1, which asked teachers about the extent to which their principal develops an atmosphere of caring and trust ( X =5.52 vs. 3.50). And the largest mean rating was on item 4-27 ( X =5.77), with teachers‘ agreement that, in general, the principal's motives and intentions are good (see Table 1).

Factor 2: Instructional Actions. In order to turn their visions of high student achievement into reality, high-scoring principals are actively engaged in providing direct instructional support to teachers. Instructional Actions in Factor 2 has to do with how the principal carries out that task. The actions taken by the principal guide and support teaching and learning according to the goal of enhancing every teacher‘s practices. Responses from the teacher survey indicate that, in particular schools, teachers saw the principal as frequently providing direct instructional support.

Differences were significant between high- and low-scoring principals on all items loading on Factor 2. In every case, the difference between top versus bottom 20% mean teacher ratings of principals is the difference of at least one scale step (see Table 2). The largest difference among the items in Factor 2 for the top and bottom 20% of buildings for perceived principal leadership is on item 4-18, asking how often the principal attended teacher planning meetings ( X = 4.06 vs. 2.31). And the largest mean rating is on item 4-14, asking how often the principal encouraged collaborative work among staff ( X = 4.27). It is particularly noteworthy that the smallest difference and the lowest-rated item is 4-21, which asked how often the principal has given teachers specific ideas for how to improve instruction. Teachers working with low-scoring principals indicated that somewhere between "Never" and 1-2 times per year is the frequency with which that happens. Even for high-scoring principals, teachers reported that the principal gave teachers specific ideas about how to improve instruction less than 3 times per year, on average. Nonetheless, as high-scoring principals implement their mission, their actions are very intentional and focused on high student achievement. In order for students to learn and grow continually, high-scoring principals claimed, teachers need to learn and grow at the same time.

Thematic analysis of the teacher interviews revealed three kinds of on-going activities or behaviors that clearly distinguished high-scoring principals from low-scoring principals.

1. High-scoring principals have an acute awareness of teaching and learning in their schools.

One means by which high-scoring principles gain awareness is collecting and examining lesson plans. As one principal noted, "I look at lesson plans and I attend team meetings." A teacher in that building independently concurred: "She makes sure my lessons are in line with the standard course of study." Another teacher explained, "If there are any questions on the lesson plans I turn in, she asks me, =Why are you doing this? Is this relevant to what you are doing to meet this objective?‘ " Low-scoring principals described a "hands-off" approach to instructional leadership. One low-scoring principal indicated that she delegates all instructional leadership to an instructional "coach." However, this coach has no role in teacher evaluation and is discouraged from providing any negative feedback to teachers.

2. High-scoring principals have direct and frequent involvement with teachers, providing them with formative assessment of teaching and learning.

Both high- and low-scoring principals said that they frequently visit classrooms and are "very visible." However, differences between principals in the two groups come into sharp focus as they describe their reasons for making classroom visits. High-scoring principals frequently observed classroom instruction for short periods of time, making 20-60 observations a week, and most of the observations were spontaneous. Their visits enabled them to make formative observations that were clearly about learning and professional growth, coupled with direct and immediate feedback. High-scoring principals believed that every teacher, whether a first-year teacher or a veteran, can learn and grow. High-scoring principals described how they "meet each teacher where they are, by finding something good in what they are doing, and then providing feedback in an area that needs growth."

In contrast, low-scoring principals described a very different approach to observations. Their informal visits or observation in classrooms were usually not for instructional purposes. Even informal observations were often planned in advance so that teachers knew when the principal would be stopping by. The most damaging finding became clear in reports from teachers in buildings with low-scoring principals who said they received little or no feedback after informal observations. One of these teachers stated, "I haven‘t had any feedback or suggestions to date." Another teacher considered the lack of feedback as a signal that "my principal has been in [my room] enough to know I am on top of things."

Often, the frequency of informal classroom observations by low-scoring principals decreases as the year progresses. Low-scoring principals focus more on formal, summative observations, providing limited, non-threatening feedback, primarily to nontenured teachers. As to why the principals did not link their observations to any discussion about instructional practice, or any attempt at broader efforts to unite teachers around a vision for the school, teachers said, for example, "He is supportive of my teaching philosophy." Insofar as low-scoring principals do not regard the improvement of teaching and learning as an ongoing, long-term process, a culture for continual learning is compromised in their schools.

3. High-scoring principals have the ability and interpersonal skills to empower teachers to learn and grow according to the vision established for the school.

These principals seek out and provide differentiated opportunities for their teachers to learn and grow. For example, one high-scoring principal led Saturday workshops for new teachers in order to catch them up to the rest of the staff. Another high-scoring principal got teaching assistants involved in a workshop designed to help staff members implement a new reading strategy. In contrast, teachers reported, lowscoring principals seldom suggested or supported professional growth opportunities.

Differences in Instructional Leadership between Elementary and Secondary Schools

Do principals in elementary and secondary schools differ in their enactments of the instructional leadership role? In examining this question, we found some clear differences and some similarities. Elementary and secondary school teachers‘ perceptions reflected in their responses to the Instructional Climate items (Factor 1) were similar. All teachers indicated the degree to which their principals were able to create a culture of professional growth and an emphasis on high student and teacher performance. However, elementary and secondary teachers‘ responses to the Instructional Actions items (Factor 2) were quite different, as the evidence in Table 1.5.3 indicates.


For Factors 1 and 2, the percentage of high- or low-scoring principals differs by building level; a higher percentage of elementary school principals scored in the top 20% on instructional leadership on both factors. The reverse is true for the bottom 20% on instructional leadership, with secondary schools in significantly greater numbers at the low end.

These data confirm our qualitative results. According to interview data, elementary school teachers and principals characterize high-scoring principals that are effective instructional leaders as having a hands-on, direct role in instructional operations. They confirm that Instructional Climate Factor 1 is reinforced daily or continually. Teachers in elementary schools whose principals score in the top 20% on Factor 1 say that "things [new initiatives] will be supported because they are related to a greater vision." This point is consistent with findings from many studies of leadership which have focused on the importance of setting a vision.

Elementary school principals who scored high in both Instructional Climate and Instructional Actions also led schools in which student achievement was relatively high. An elementary school teacher vividly describes the way in which Factor 1 and Factor 2 interact:

    His [the principal‘s] role and the benefit that I see for me is really twofold. One is that he is a strong instructional leader. He knows his stuff. It would not surprise me if he were walking in one day and could take over my classroom without skipping a beat. I think that he knows what he‘s talking about…when I sit down and talk with him about an observation that he has made, the questions that he asks, the suggestions that he gives, I know [that these] are from experience and I can trust them. They are the ones that are going to help move me along the path of instructional excellence. So he is not just a principal in name, but he knows what he is talking about. But then on the flip side, he also allows me to be the professional that I have been trained to be. He is not going to mandate that I teach a particular way. He is not going to tell me I have to be on this page on this particular day doing this particular grade-level expectation or this has got to be my learning target. I don‘t have to be in lock step. When you are as old as I am, you‘ve been around a lot of different people and many times that is the expectation. That is one of the neat things I like about working at this school. [He gives the message that] 'I‘m going to force you in a positive way to become better, but I‘m going to allow you to bring your own personality into the classroom and make that happen.' So he is two-pronged on that way [that we are supported].

This combination of instructional climate and action blends on-going professional learning with a hands-on, direct role in instructional operations. High-scoring elementary school principals do both effectively.

A different story emerges from our evidence about secondary schools. In the interviews, secondary school principals repeatedly said that there was not enough time in the day to complete all their responsibilities, and they told us directly that instructional leadership "gets placed on the back burner." Instructional leadership, or planning for it, takes place, instead, outside the school day. Secondary school principals assert that they provide instructional leadership through a structural framework of teacher leaders, in which responsibility is delegated to department heads. In this way, many secondary school principals believe, they act as instructional leaders even though they are one step removed from the process.

Data from the teacher interviews reveals, however, that instructional leadership actions at the secondary school level are generally not happening. FAdministrators in general observe my classroom 1-2 times per year," one teacher reported. Another stated, "I‘ve never gotten any feedback that has affected my teaching or that has changed the way I teach besides broad initiatives that the school wants you to do, that everyone wants to see happen." From our analysis of the teacher survey we found that Factor 2, Instructional Actions, requires a direct role in instructional operations. As one teacher noted, "The only time that I was observed was by an assistant principal. It was the second year I taught. She was here five minutes…five minutes! And one of the things that she observed about me was that I start on the left-hand side of the room. Do you call that feedback?"

While principals pointed out that they frequently delegated instructional leadership to department chairs, teachers did not regard that sort of delegation as a source of instructional leadership. Most teachers described their department chairs as being in charge of the departmental budget; they also said that teacher leaders have a responsibility to attend team-leadership meetings called by the principal. We did not find any evidence in our interviews with secondary teachers that their department chairs or content-area colleagues were providing instructional leadership in the form of on-going classroom visits and dialogues about instructional practices. This was true whether the principal scored high or low on Instructional Climate Factor 1.

Even more surprising is the fact that secondary schools dominate the lowest achievement cell in our matrix of high- and low-scoring principals. Of the 31 schools in the bottom 20% in the ranking for all principals on Instructional Actions Factor 2, 20 schools were middle schools and high schools. Put differently, out of a total of 127 schools returning surveys, with 67 of those being secondary and 60 elementary, nearly 66% of all schools with principals scoring in the lowest 20% for taking direct action to support teachers‘ instructional practices were middle and high schools.

The link to student achievement emerged from our quantitative analysis, with apparent differences between elementary and secondary levels emerging as a topic needing further investigation. From the initial sorting of all principals whose teachers rated them as either high- or low-scoring, there were five elementary schools and five secondary schools in the top 20% of all schools whose principals were rated high on Factor 1 and who also had high mathematics achievement. Low-rated principals on Factor 1 whose schools also had low mathematics achievement numbered three at the elementary level and eight at the secondary level.

For Factor 2, there were four elementary schools but no secondary schools whose principals were rated high (i.e., in the top 20% of all schools) and who also had high mathematics achievement. Principals who rated low on Factor 2 and whose schools were lowest in mathematics achievement numbered 2 at the elementary level and 7 at the secondary level. See Table 1.5.4 below.


Note: The number in each elementary or secondary cell is the total number of buildings satisfying the characteristics of each respective cell. The percent is the number of buildings in each cell divided by the 60 elementary or the 67 secondary buildings in the total Round Two survey sample.

When mathematics proficiency for school year 2005-06 is used as a final sorting mechanism (independent variable) for the high- vs. low-scoring principals, the greatest differences, once again, appear at the secondary level. Factor 1 emerges as a significant positive feature of high-performing secondary schools, and the absence of Factor 1, or Instructional Climate, is strikingly evident in secondary schools with low mathematics performance.

Findings for Factor 2 (Instructional Actions) are equally remarkable. There were no secondary school principals who scored high on Factor 2 whose schools also had high mathematics achievement. At the other end of the scale, there were seven secondary schools whose principals ranked the lowest on Instructional Actions and who also had low mathematics achievement.


About the concept of instructional leadership, a clear distinction appeared in our data, suggesting a missing nuance in much of the existing scholarship. It is a distinction between principals who provided support to teachers by "popping in" and "being visible" as compared with principals who were very intentional about each classroom visit and conversation, with the explicit purpose of engaging with teachers about well-defined instructional ideas and issues.

We did find that high-scoring principals emphasized the establishment of a vision for their schools. In many schools, however, the principal‘s engagement with individual teachers to ensure that the vision would be realized appeared to not be occurring— especially not in middle schools and high schools. Some of these principals, mostly at the secondary level, wrongly assumed that if a vision of high-quality instruction was well articulated, then high-quality instruction would happen—without much further action on their part or through the delegation of necessary actions to department heads and other teacher leaders. Indeed, one major finding is that department heads provide little to no instructional leadership. They appear to be particularly well-situated to offer leadership to their colleagues, but that potential for leadership appears nonetheless to be a squandered resource. Why this might be so is a question worthy of further investigation.

Unsurprisingly, our evidence also points to the continuing preference of many of teachers to be "left alone." These teachers typically view the presence of a principal in their classrooms as unnecessary and sometimes bothersome. Said one teacher, "I haven‘t been observed in 17 years, and that‘s OK with me." Another teacher noted that her principal had previously been a school psychologist, not a classroom teacher, and for that reason the teacher believed that her principal had an insufficient grasp of the stresses of teaching and could not "really give me any realistic suggestions of how to be a better instructor." Maintenance of the status quo, which for most secondary school teachers meant not having direct and frequent contact with the principal (or anyone else, for that matter) about ways to improve instruction, was preferred.

If teachers do not look to principals as instructional leaders, where will they get feedback about their instruction? Our findings indicate that discussions about teaching and learning occur informally between colleagues and peers; they occur less frequently in the context of structured team meetings, content-area meetings, or formal team leaderfollower channels. Infrequent provision of instructional leadership by principals, especially at the secondary school level, leaves little room for dialogue about teaching and learning between leaders and followers. Consistent with Supovitz‘s (2006) findings, our research indicates that under current secondary school structures, authority relationships tend to discourage candor about problems that secondary school teachers may be having.

Our evidence did not provide a strong test of the impact of instructional leadership on student performance. Nevertheless, schools ranked in the bottom of the instructional leadership continuum for Factor 1 or Factor 2, with student achievement scores in the lowest 30%, were predominantly secondary schools. It is even more notable that the raw number and relative percent of secondary schools with low ranking and low achievement were significantly higher than for elementary schools.

Given that this study identified a random sample of districts across the United States as participants, and that we have data only for districts that chose to become involved, actual differences between elementary and secondary schools nationwide may be even wider than those we have discovered. Supportive instructional actions, such as those constituting Factor 2, may be extremely under-provided in secondary schools. Furthermore, establishing a culture of professional learning, as identified by the actions in Factor 1, appears to have greater effect on student outcomes in elementary schools than it does in secondary schools. Overall, secondary schools appear to suffer from a "double whammy"—low professional growth climate and few actions taken to support classroom instruction appear to be indicators of lower student performance. Academic achievement in elementary schools, however, appears to be more sensitive to principals who score low on either Factor 1 or Factor 2.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Four implications for policy and practice emerged from this section of the study.

  1. District leaders should acknowledge, and begin to reduce, ways in which secondary school principals are limited in their capacity to exercise instructional leadership by the work required of them in their role as it is currently structured. District administrators are normally aware of the managerial effectiveness of their principals regarding immediate tasks and problems. They may also be aware of principals‘ efforts to create an instructional vision in which student achievement is an explicit priority. Still, a troublesome pattern apparently persists: secondary school principals do not, according to our data, interact with teachers frequently and directly about instructional practice. District leaders need to find ways to help secondary and elementary school principals work with teachers in order to improve. They also need to help principals structure their work schedules in order to find sufficient time to do this.
  2. The role of department head in secondary schools should be radically redefined. Department heads should be regarded, institutionally, as a central resource for improving instruction in middle and high schools. Our evidence confirms the managerial role in which many department heads are now entrenched. Relegating them exclusively to a managerial role amounts to a great waste of a potential resource for instructional improvement. A radical redefinition of the role would help school districts solve the historical problem of inertia in secondary schools.
  3. Principals need to be held accountable for taking actions that are known to have direct effects on the quality of teaching and learning in their schools. Creating a vision for instructional improvement is not enough. Districts should expect principals to take targeted action aimed at implementing instructional leadership within each school.
  4. Most districts will need to have honest and in-depth discussions with their principals to develop procedures for systematically and practically monitoring implementation of instructional leadership. The needs and circumstances of elementary and secondary school principals may need to be differentially addressed, however the bottom line would have each principal expected to take specific steps to enact instructional leadership in his or her school.

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120. See, e.g., Brookover et al. (1978).

121. For a review of changes in principal praxis and practice, see Wenglinsky (2004).

122. E.g., Goddard (2002); Joyce, Calhoun, & Hopkins (2002); and Sergiovanni (2005).

123. Hargreaves (1992); Newmann et al. (2001); and Smith (1998).

124. E.g., Creemers & Reezigt (1996); Hallinger & Heck (1998); and Spillane, Halverson, & Diamond (2004); Wenglinsky (2002).

125. Spillane (2004).

126. Stein & Nelson (2003).

127. MDRC, 2007.

128. Using Factor 1, we created a ranking of all 127 principals in whose buildings their teachers completed the survey. There were 25 buildings in the top 20% and 25 buildings in the bottom 20% of the continuum.

129. Using Factor 2, we created a ranking of all 127 principals in whose buildings their teachers completed the survey. There were 29 buildings in the top 20% and 30 buildings in the bottom 20% of the continuum.