Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning

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 Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning

  1. In order for principals to devote more time and attention to the improvement of instruction, their jobs will need to be substantially redesigned. In many schools this will require the creation of other support roles with responsibility for managing the important tasks only indirectly related to instruction. The gap between how principals spend their time and what they are being encouraged to do has persisted for at least a half century. By now it should be obvious that structural changes in the work of school leaders are a pre-condition for the emergence of this significant change: cajoling, demanding, advocating, explaining, and wishful thinking—typical strategies used to date—just will not do it. Differentiated administrative staffing—with different administrators assigned to managerial and academic roles—is one example of changes that merit exploration.
  2. Distribution of leadership to include teachers, parents, and district staff is needed in order to improve student achievement. School and district leaders should, as a matter of policy and practice, extend significant influence to others in the school community as a foundation for their efforts to improve student achievement. Such an expansion of influence to others will in no way diminish their own influence.
  3. District-level and state policy makers must assume the responsibility for nurturing principals’ dispositions toward the distribution of leadership. Promoting productive forms of distributed leadership in schools creates new challenges for principals, and without sustained encouragement and support from outside the school it is unlikely to become common practice. Distributing leadership more widely in schools is definitely not a means of reducing principals‘ workload, as has sometimes been suggested; neither is it likely to diminish the principal‘s own influence. This conclusion brings us back to our second point about the need for serious consideration of redesigning principals‘ jobs.
  4. Policy makers and practitioners should avoid promoting conceptions of instructional leadership which adopt an exclusive or narrow focus on classroom instruction. Our study suggests that successful school-level leadership involves significant attention to classroom instructional practices, but it also includes attention to other issues critical to the health and welfare of schools. Furthermore, school leaders can have a significant influence on teachers‘ classroom practices through their efforts to motivate teachers and create workplace settings compatible with instructional practices known to be effective.
  5. Significant additional support should be provided for middle and high school principals to foster the kind of instructional leadership that is “workable” in their larger and more complex settings. Our data suggest that efforts must be made to develop instructional leadership capacities in the middle-level leaders in these settings. Secondary school leadership-development initiatives should focus at least as much effort on improving the leadership capacities of department heads as principals and vice principals.
  6. Educators and policy makers should avoid “one size fits all” leadership development programs. In particular, more dedicated programs should be developed to: (a) support instructional leadership in secondary schools, and (b) address the specific leadership needs of large, high-poverty schools. Principal preparation and professional development programs should continue to emphasize both the "softer" (emotional) and the "harder" (behavioral) aspects of leadership.

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