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7 things all school leaders need to know

7 things all school leaders need to know

4 min read
  • Leadership & teamwork

A great leader can inspire others, motivate them, and encourage them to achieve great things. But being a leader is also a challenging task, because there is a big responsibility to get it right. At InnerDrive, we believe that fostering the right skills to become a great leader is vital, particularly for school staff.

A large study from The National College for School Leadership has identified seven things that all school leaders should know. So, let’s take a look at the research to find out what great leaders do differently…

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What does the research say?

Researchers conducted a review of the research (which was later revised in 2019) to figure out what successful school leadership looks like. The key findings of the research have been summarised into seven claims…

1. School leadership affects the quality of Teaching & Learning

Research found that leadership is vital to the success of most school improvement efforts.

series of studies by Hallinger and Heck found that while classroom factors account for a third of the variation in student achievement, school leadership accounts for a quarter of that same variation. To give your students the best chance at success, this suggests you should focus your school’s efforts on leadership as well as classroom teaching.

Another study identified 21 leadership qualities and found that demonstrating all of them could improve students’ test scores by around 10%. Overall, good leadership seems to have a very significant effect on students’ achievement by encouraging them to demonstrate their ability in the classroom.

2. Successful school leaders draw on basic leadership practices

Leadership may look different in day-to-day life in school compared to a business, but it still relies on the same base principles. A leader’s goal is to improve their team’s performance, even if that performance is measured through learning.

This performance is influenced by different factors:

  • Beliefs and values – Address this by building a vision and setting goals and directions. This will all help establish a shared purpose within your school.
  • Motivation – This happens through your own actions, but also creating an environment that is both challenging and supportive.
  • Skills and knowledge – Take the time to understand your staff, support them when needed and recognise and reward their efforts.
  • Working environment – Develop a positive school environment, where support and continuing professional development are easy for staff to access.

3. Context matters, but that’s not all

Paying attention to context is important, but this doesn’t mean you should use different strategies in every different context. Instead, use your leadership qualities to varying degrees and at different times.

Essentially, this is about adapting to the context – not letting it dictate your actions. The strategies you use can have a significant impact on your staff and students, so making appropriate and timely decisions is key to being a good leader.

4. School leadership affects students through their teachers, parents and guardians

The most powerful way in which school leadership affects student learning is through improving teaching conditions and influencing parent-child interactions that are more effective for school success.

One study found that the impact of leadership on teachers’ knowledge, skills, working conditions, motivation and commitment influence classroom practices in turn. As a result, this improves student learning and achievement.

Good leadership skills also allow you to build productive relationships with your students’ parents and guardians and let them know how to best support their child. This can make a world of difference to their learning.

5. Aim for “total leadership” 

“Total leadership” is the collective leadership that comes from many different sources.

In one study, total leadership accounted for ~27% of variation in student achievement across schools – between two and three times more effective than leadership from a singular source.

This suggests that creating a great, committed leadership team and working with those outside of it (subject teachers, parents…) rather than placing it all on one or a few members of staff can have many benefits for your school.

6. Distribute leadership based on expertise

Head Teachers tend to have the most influence in schools – for better or for worse. Research suggests that low-influence leadership is linked to low levels of student achievement. Distributed leadership may help guard against this.

So, how do we do that? More research is still needed in that area, but some suggests thatencouraging staff to lead based on their expertise rather than their position in the school hierarchy creates more opportunity for distributed leadership.

7. The personal traits of leaders influence leadership effectiveness

There is a large body of research that looks at the qualities of a great leader outside of school. One such study suggests that there are three categories of “Personal Leadership Resources” which significantly influence leadership behaviour. These are:

  • Cognitive resources – Problem-solving, domain-specific knowledge, and systems thinking.
  • Social resources – Perceiving emotions, managing emotions, and acting in ways that are emotionally appropriate.
  • Psychological resources – Optimism, self-efficacy, resilience, and proactivity.

Final thoughts

Being a good leader is difficult. But the good news is there are many things that you can do to improve your own leadership skills and the wider context of leadership at your school.

Understanding the impact that good leadership can have on learning at your school is the first step. Setting strong goals and vision, creating a great team to support those and developing your own qualities will go a long way.