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How Do Leaders Have an Impact on Student Outcomes?

Dr Viviane Robinson (University of Auckland) research found five leadership domains that had significant effect sizes (shown in parentheses) on student achievement:

  • Establishing goals and expectations (0.42)
  • Resourcing strategically (0.31)
  • Ensuring quality teaching (0.42)
  • Leading teacher learning and development (0.84)
  • Ensuring an orderly and safe environment (0.27)
Interestingly, the effect size of leading teacher learning and development is double that of establishing goals and expectations and ensuring teacher quality.

Rather than focusing on teacher appraisal to raise standards and hold teachers accountable, leaders should work WITH teachers to enhance the approaches that have a positive impact on student learning and eliminate the practices that don’t. This is aligned with Fullan’s emphasis on Principals “participating as a learner” with teachers in helping move their school forward.

However, it is dangerous for Principals to position themselves as an Instructional Guru. “Leading teacher learning means being proactively involved with teachers such that principal and teachers alike are learning. So the principal’s role is to lead the school’s teachers in a process of learning to improve their teaching, while learning alongside them about what works and what doesn’t.” (Fullan, 2014)

Robinson’s colleague at the University of Auckland, Helen Timperley comes up with the wonderful question for principals: “Who is my class?”

Depending on the size of your school and your leadership team, “Your class” can be vastly different.

In larger schools, team leaders need to be the focus of the work of Principals as they, in turn, can leverage the learning of other teachers in their group, thereby generating greater learning across the school.

For the professional agenda to flourish, the principal must ensure that good management prevails in the school. Effective leaders maintain focus. They make sure that the basics—budget, timetable, health and safety—are addressed effectively. Lead learners are very good managers because they know that establishing basic routines is essential for improvement goals to succeed.

It is vital that leaders address and contend with “distractors”—events and issues that take the school away from focusing on the core learning priorities.

“Principals who had the greatest impact on student learning in the school focused on instruction—including teacher knowledge, skills, motivation—and on ensuring supportive working conditions (such as time for collaboration). Putting it in a nutshell, they say that “leadership affects student learning when it is targeted at working relationships, improving instruction and, indirectly, student achievement” (Fullan, 2014)

According to Robinson, highly effective leaders should focus on four interrelated forces:
the professional capacity of teachers (individually and collectively),
school climate (ensuring safety and orderliness in the aid of learning), parent and community ties,
and what the researchers call the “instructional guidance system” (instructional practices that engage students in relation to key learning goals) as these affected each and every classroom.