How Leadership Influences Student Learning

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How Leadership Influences Student Learning

Many stakeholder groups have a direct or indirect interest in schools and school leadership, and commission reports on the state of education have lamented the lack of involvement of stakeholders in decisions that affect them (Patterson, 1993). There is, however, little research on how these groups affect the work of superintendents and principals. Certain themes are evident in the practitioner literature, most of which look at the ways in which stakeholders block or impede the work of school leaders, or point to ways in which their volunteer energy can be corralled to improve the work of schools. Among the themes are:

  • Superintendents must manage community stakeholders, including the school board in order to maintain their jobs and gain support for schools (Carloss, 1999; Thiemann and Ruscoe, 1985).
  • Parents are valuable primarily as volunteers and collaborators in at-home education (Simon, 2001).
  • Community cultures often make change difficult (Taylor and Hampel, 1996).
  • Communication and public relations are the keys to working effectively with stakeholders (Townsend, 1993).
  • Unions are typically viewed as opponents rather than stakeholders.

There are few studies of successful stakeholder-school leader collaboration (Doyle and Pimentel, 1993). Similarly, discussions of the roles of colleges/ universities and business as collaborators and stakeholders are notable by their relative absence, except in a few cases of formal “compacts” (see McLaughlin, 1987 and Hickey and Andrews, 1993 for exceptions).

Because the educational literature on the topic of stakeholders and leadership is so limited, it is important to consider alternative lenses to guide future research. For example, political science frameworks that focus on the policy process may be productive (Sabatier, 1991). As our earlier review of state roles suggested, within this line of research it is useful to inquire about how agendas get set, where agendas are the identification of issues or topics around which policy is formulated (Kingdon, 1984). A focus on agenda-setting, and the role that different groups play in agenda-setting is warranted because the discussion of key issues and topics affect leader behavior well before any policy is actually in place. Kingdon’s work, when applied to educational settings (Wahlstrom and Louis, 1993; Stout and Stevens, 2000), focuses on the intersection of three separate “streams” that converge to affect decision makers and leaders: a problem/issues stream, a solutions stream, and an actors stream. This framework seems helpful in guiding research aimed at identifying the issues that are most pressing to school leaders, and the various actors at both the state and local level who play a part in defining the nature of the school leaders’ work in managing their environment. Such a framework focuses future research on such questions as:

  • How do leaders engage those outside the formal institutional structure (parents, community groups, businesses, media and others) in effectively supporting improved teaching and learning? What opportunities for engagement or agenda-setting are overlooked or mismanaged?
  • What barriers or opportunities do these stakeholders present? In particular, how do external stakeholders affect the opportunities for school leaders to define broader and more compelling visions for public education and to generate new solutions?
  • How can their role be leveraged to improve students’ learning? What strategies do superintendents and principals use to increase democratic participation in the educational enterprise?

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