Scholars from diverse research fields have long concluded that leadership is central in organizational performance. This is especially true in the world of education. As the authors of a recent study on the subject write, “the literature on school development emphasizes the impact of leadership on the success and the effectiveness of schools” (all quotes are from the original article referenced below.)
But what are the key characteristics of effective leadership in an educational setting? Based on an extensive literature review, the researchers found evidence for the following best practices:
1. Effective schools have leaders whose main and constant focus is high-quality teaching and learning. This seems quite obvious, but implies that all other dimensions of schooling (administration, organization, finance, etc.) serve the overarching goal of improving student learning.
2. Going beyond mere management and authoritarian leadership, effective leaders implement their learning-centered vision by fostering positive school climate and culture. Climate and culture both give an organization its unique identity and shape the behavior of its members. The difference between them is that climate is a “relatively enduring quality of the school environment that is based on collective perceptions”, while culture is “the whole of norms, values, and rituals that hold the organization together.” More specifically, successful school leaders foster climates and cultures of trust between all stakeholders that facilitate both commitment and collaboration.
3. An important ingredient of positive school cultures and climates is the maintenance by school leaders of good internal and external relations, not only in the form of excellent communication, but also through appropriate involvement of stakeholders in policy and decision-making.
4. Another important ingredient is the ability of school leaders to motivate students and teachers by holding them to high expectations all while being fully aware of their needs.
5. School success is a process and requires that school leaders provide feedback frequently and recognize accomplishments regularly.
6. Finally, effective schools have leaders who invest in personnel by employing and retaining qualified teachers. Both objectives (qualification and retention), require that proper resources be allocated to recruitment and professional development.
Interestingly, these six best practices point to Leadership for Learning (LfL) as the best model for school success. LfL “integrates features of instructional leadership, transformational leadership, distributed leadership, and situational leadership”:
1. In line with instructional leadership, LfL is very much focused on high quality teaching and learning. What makes it unique, however, is that “LfL is designed to create learning at all levels within a school system: student learning, teacher learning, organizational learning, and leadership learning.”
2. More generally, LfL is also in line with distributed leadership in that it is highly decentralized and collaborative. As a matter of fact, it refers to the capacity of school leaders to promote schoolwide leadership by those in formal management roles as well as by those in less formal management roles. In that sense, LfL is less a characteristic or even a behavior of the school leader than it is a “process in which the whole school community actively engages in purposeful interactions that nurture relationships focused on improving learning.”
3. In line with transformational leadership, LfL relies on inspiration and capacity building to achieve its learning-centered vision through high collective efficacy.
4. Finally, in line with situational leadership, LfL involved a flexible approach sensitive to organizational and environmental contexts.
Reference: Daniëls, Hondeghem, and Dochy (2019), “A review on leadership and leadership development in educational settings”, Educational Research Review, 27, pp. 110-125