Education Opinion

Five Functions of Effective School Leaders

By Learning Forward — January 23, 2012 2 min read
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Over the past decade, amazing research has been conducted in the area of school leadership. With the wealth of information out there, I often wish someone would take the best of it and put it into simple terms, describing exactly what it is that great principals do to significantly improve teaching and learning. The Wallace Foundation’s recent Perspective, The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning, is a huge step forward in granting my wish.

The report tells us that the most successful principals perform five key functions well:

1. Shaping a vision of academic success for all students
2. Creating a climate hospitable to education
3. Cultivating leadership in others
4. Improving instruction
5. Managing people, data, and processes to foster school improvement

What makes the Wallace Perspective so significant is the fact that it’s informed by both research and practice. The foundation’s more than 70 research reports and other publications covering school leadership provide the research based for the report’s key ideas. Heavy hitters like The University of Toronto’s and University of Minnesota’s 2010 report Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning and Rand’s 2009 report Improving School Leadership: The Promise of Cohesive Leadership Systems were culled and the ideas repurposed for this Perspective. The Wallace Foundation’s 10+ years of active engagement with states and school districts across the country enabled the authors to have access to the very practical forces that impact school leadership. The bottom line: We all have a lot to learn from this commentary.

After breaking the five key functions down into very practitioner-friendly language, the authors did something Learning Forward members have come to expect from our publications: provide real-world examples. We are introduced to Dewey Hensley, principal of the J. B. Atkinson Academy for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Louisville, Kentucky. During Hensley first week at Atkinson Academy, he drew a picture of a school on poster board and asked his faculty to annotate it. He asked his school team to create a perfect vision of a school, and then they all worked together to get there. Hensley was living the first key function: shaping a vision of academic success for all students. His story is woven throughout the remaining four functions outlined in the report.

The professional learning implications of this Wallace Perspective are many. For those whose work in any way involves developing school leaders, this resource will prove extremely useful. The Perspective is also an excellent resource for those already “sitting in the chair,” giving those school leaders a handy tool to inform potential target areas for professional growth. The same is true for assistant principals and teacher leaders who aspire to be principals and are looking to practice their leadership skills.

Truth be told, I wish someone had handed this Perspective to me as I considered the principalship.

Frederick Brown
Director of Strategy and Development, Learning Forward

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.