I n a recent New York Times piece, columnist David Brooks highlights a key to school improvement— “a special emphasis on principals.”
His piece carries the headline Good Leaders Make Good Schools, and, boy, did it ever resonate with us here at Wallace. School leadership is a field we’ve plowed for close to two decades, through numerous initiatives and related research. Some of that work found its way into Brooks’ column. He cites, among other sources, a major Wallace-commissioned research report, Learning From Leadership, whose authors write that “we have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership.”
Brooks puts a human face on research when he takes note of a Wallace account (look for p. 12) of the efforts by Kentucky educator Dewey Hensley to turn around a low-performing Louisville elementary school in the mid-2000s. “In his first week,” Brooks writes of Hensley, “he drew a picture of a school on a poster board and asked the faculty members to annotate it together. ‘Let’s create a vision of a school that’s perfect. When we get there we’ll rest.’”
To be capable of improving schools, Brooks says, the job of principal has to change from a focus on administrative tasks such as budgeting and scheduling. Effective principals today, he says, are busy “greeting parents and students outside the front door in the morning” and then “constantly circulating through the building, offering feedback, setting standards, applying social glue.”
You can find out the details of this changing role and what it takes to bring it about by checking out the school leadership section of our website. Search through our 100+ reports, videos, and other resources, including—newly!—a podcast series on principal pipelines.
And here’s a note for the research-minded. Learning From Leadership is an extensive follow-up to the landmark Wallace-supported study, How Leadership Influences Student Learning. Published in 2004, this literature review found that leadership is second only to teaching among school-related influences on student success. It’s our most downloaded report.