With over 30 years of meta-analysis of schools and education and people like Robert Marzano and other researchers, more and more information about school leadership is available. School leadership impacts a school in nearly every area there is to impact, however, until recently the concept of school leadership was poorly defined. Many leaders had their own ideas and theories about what true school leadership is and what is best, but these were not based on any kind of quantifiable data.
Now, with the collection of quantitative data (like teacher perception, student achievement, published works and experience), school leadership can be much more clearly defined and outlined. Research today included very specific data about what effective school leadership is and is not. As Waters, Marzano, and McNulty state, “effective leadership means more than simply knowing what to do-it’s knowing when, how, and why to do it” (Waters, Marzano, McNulty). In their words,
“Effective leaders understand how to balance pushing for change while at the same time protecting aspects of culture, values and norms worth preserving. They know which policies, practices, resources, and incentives to align and how to align them with organizational priorities. They know how to gauge the magnitude of change they are calling for and how to tailor their leadership strategies accordingly. Finally, they understand and value the people in the organization. They know when, how, and why to
create learning environments that support people, connect
them with one another, and provide the knowledge, skills,
and resources they need to succeed. This combination of
knowledge and skills is the essence of balanced leadership”
(Waters, Marzano, McNulty 2003).
All of this certainly sounds like a tall order. However, much of effective school leadership is interrelated or linked to other parts, so that it may not be as daunting as initially thought. School leadership has been qualified as the most important aspect of student achievement. And now, more than any other time in history, there is research. There are articles and toolkits and books published to help.
So, how does an educational leader impact student achievement and what does he/she need to do it? Waters, Marzano, and McNulty outline this as well. According to all the research they have studied and conducted, there are whole lists of qualities that match up with effective school leadership and student achievement. These will be outlined and defined (if need be) as follows.
- Culture: a sense of community with shared beliefs
- Order: a set of rules
- Discipline: Protecting teachers from outside distractions
- Resources: Making sure teachers have materials and professional development to support what they do
- Curriculum, instruction, assessment: Must be directly involved in curriculum, instruction and assessment
- Focus: Establishes goals and is able to oversee and maintain them
- Knowledge of curriculum, instruction, assessment:
- Visibility: Has quality contact with both students and teachers
- Contingent Rewards:
- Outreach: Is a school advocate to all stakeholders
- Input: Gets input from all stakeholders in decisions
- Affirmations: Celebrates successes and acknowledges failures of school
- Relationship: Demonstrates personal awareness of faculty and staff
- Change Agent: Actively challenges the status quo
- Optimizer: Inspires and leads new innovations
- Ideals/Beliefs: Operates from strong beliefs
- Monitors/evaluates: Monitors effectiveness of school programs and their impact on student learning
- Situational Awareness: Uses knowledge to address potential problems
- Intellectual Stimulation: Makes sure that staff is aware of current theories and practices and makes sure they are engaged in discussions
(Waters, Marzano, McNulty 2003 )
This is only one list, but the items on this one really make sense. As one can see, many of these areas overlap into others. In order to have challenging curriculum leaders must be knowledgeable and have a deep understanding of what is already occurring. They must also have a grasp on the data about student learning. They must also make sure that their teachers have the professional development and resources (including technology) to carry out their goals. In order to maintain a spirit of collegiality a principal must provide a safe atmosphere where potential problems are addressed. A principal must develop and maintain a relationship with his employees. In order to maintain a safe environment a principal must develop and maintain a relationship, make sure that rules are enforced, and have strong ideals/beliefs and carry them through.
In the days of school reform, a school leader will be the primary facilitator of change in a district or building. A school leader must make changes, but they have to be the right ones. According to recent research, he/she must also understand that not all change is of the same magnitude. According to Marzano, there are first order and second order changes. These labels are determined by the implications of that change for the stakeholders.
“Changes that are consistent with existing values and norms, create advantages for individuals or stakeholder groups with similar interests, can be implemented with existing knowledge and resources, and where agreement exists on what changes are needed and how the changes should be implemented can be considered first order” (Waters, Marzano, McNulty 2003).
Examples might be instructional practices or methods or curricular programs. Some characteristics of first order change would be that it is instituted by experts, fits within the existing structures, and linear. Second order change would be a break with the past that is nonlinear. It will be complex, disturbing to the system, and implemented by stakeholders. (Waters, Marzano, McNulty 2003) This research gives an excellent example of the idea that depending on the type of change to be instituted; much more or very little may be expected of the principal. Take the first characteristic on the list, which is Culture. According to Waters, Marzano, and McNulty, the following five things are included in Culture.
1. Promotes cooperation among staff,
2. Promotes a sense of well being,
3. Promotes cohesion among staff,
4. Develops shared understanding of purpose,
5. Develops a shared vision of what the school could be like.
According to Marzano,
“For first order changes, the first three practices –
promoting cooperation, a sense of well being, and
cohesion among staff – may be all that is needed
from leadership for successful implementation.
However, for second order changes, these first three
practices will be insufficient to fulfill this responsibility.
Second order changes require leaders to work far more
deeply with staff and the community. It is possible
that second order changes will disrupt cooperation, a
sense of well being, and cohesion. Second order changes
may confront group identities, change working
relationships, challenge expertise and competencies,
and throw people into stages of “conscious incompetence,”
none of which is conducive to cooperation, cohesion,
and a sense of well-being. In these cases, establishing
agreement on the purposes of schooling and the proposed
changes, along with a truly shared vision of possibilities,
will be essential if cooperation among staff, a sense of
well being, and cohesion are to be maintained, or
reestablished, as the change is being implemented
(Waters, Marzano, McNulty 2003).
It makes complete sense that the more difficult the change is to make, the more a principal needs to be proactive in anticipating the problems of all his stakeholders. He/she should be prepared for some major upheaval and must do a lot of work to ensure that these distractions or issues do not detract from the positive change that is taking place. It seems important to know whether a change falls under the category of first order or second order change. In fact, change is so important in an organization that Michael Fullan no longer calls instructional leaders principals. He refers to them as Cultural Change Principals. He maintains that good leaders today must be big picture thinkers who transform organizations through people (Fullan 2008). This would be the concept of change combined with vision and utilizing/hiring the best people in an organization.
Change is at the heart of school reform. For as long as school has been around, Americans have been arguing about what school needs to be. However, there is no one way that works for every school and every kid. As an administrator, one should involve his/her staff in research, looking at all kinds of models out there. Then, stakeholders should visit places of interest and figure out how programs are successfully initiated and sustained. A process should be in place to then make some decisions based on data and research. As long as stakeholders are invested and research has been done, there are a plethora of options that can work for one particular district. There are no schoolwide reform efforts that take place without good leaders, but there are many that improve student achievement with good leadership. School leaders spend entirely too much of their day focused on administrative functions, which is part of the reason why a “great” school leader is so hard to come by. That person may be fantastic, but half the time, he/she is shut in his/her office completing paperwork. Nothing about school reform or good leadership is easy.
Leaders are so much more than they used to be. Fullan’s ideas compare well to Marzano’s meta-analyses. According to Fullan, “Cultural Change Principals display palpable energy, enthusiasm, and hope. In addition, five essential components characterize leaders in the knowledge society: moral purpose, an understanding of the change process, the ability to improve relationships, knowledge creation and sharing, and coherence making” (Fullan 2008). It is all about creating a community of learners where everyone is listened to and valued. Leadership today is about relationships and about change.
One way to create shared trust in a school environment is to create the atmosphere of professional learning communities. One critical idea essential to a professional learning community is to create activities centered around the idea that every student learns. Previously in education, the idea was that every student was taught. However, ensuring that every student learns is very different. The essential questions for ensuring this relate well to Wiggin’s idea of backward design in curriculum. First, the leader must ask, “What do we want students to learn?” After delineating this with teachers, the next question is “How will we know when they have learned it?” And lastly, “What will we do if they haven’t learned it?” (DuFour). One can see the important components of backward design in these questions as well as the newer RTI or Response to Intervention. School leaders today must ensure that every child learns. In today’s world, when students haven’t learned the material, interventions need to be in place in a timely manner. These are not the “remedial courses” of the past. They are also not open to invitations. Students must participate in intervention strategies to ensure their success. These interventions are typically engaging and productive. Once again, in many schools, technology will play a huge role.
A program like Read 180 is one intervention strategy to students struggling in Reading. Read 180 is a concentrated effort with at least half of it being technology-based. It incorporates whole group instruction, small group instruction, computer work, and independent reading. It is costly but effective. The educational leader must play a huge role in making this happen with everything from securing the computers, to working with variant scheduling, to finding the right team of teachers, etc. The leaders must also publicize and promote a program like this in the schools and communities. These are the days of budget cuts, not add ons in the minds of most people. The benefits and the very need for a program like this must be clearly communicated.
Another facet essential to the creation of learning communities is collaboration. All major stakeholders must feel like part of the process in solving school issues. Richard Dufour and Janet Weast are strong proponents of this model. According to Richard Dufour,
“For teachers to participate in such a powerful process, the
school must ensure that everyone belongs to a team that
focuses on student learning. Each team must have time to
meet during the workday and throughout the school year.
Teams must focus their efforts on crucial questions related
to learning and generate products that reflect that focus,
such as lists of essential outcomes, different kinds of
assessment, analyses of student achievement, and strategies
for improving results. Teams must develop norms or protocols
to clarify expectations regarding roles, responsibilities, and
relationships among team members. Teams must adopt
student achievement goals linked with school and district
goals” (DuFour 2004).
This ensures that every teacher becomes “part of the process.” In some cases, traditional class time must be re-thought in order to include planning and collaboration time. The very essence of the structure of the school may have to be changed. No school will function well without collaboration among its teachers. Collaboration is part of what energizes people about curriculum; it is also what gives teachers a little breathing room to keep their heads above water.
Lastly, for a learning community to succeed the focus must be on results. In addition to providing time, school leaders must provide training in order to help teachers use data to truly inform and reform instruction. According to DuFour, “
Schools and teachers typically suffer from the DRIP
syndrome–Data Rich/Information Poor. The results-
oriented professional learning community not only
welcomes data but also turns data into useful and
relevant information for staff. Teachers have never
suffered from a lack of data. Even a teacher who works
in isolation can easily establish the mean, mode,
median, standard deviation, and percentage of
students who demonstrated proficiency every time
he or she administers a test. However, data will
become a catalyst for improved teacher practice
only if the teacher has a basis of comparison” (DuFour 2004).
Teachers do not know how to use data. They are not trained for it, and may see it as another intrusion in their already full school day. Again, it is the school leader’s responsibility to lead this charge and become the expert in order to provide instructional leadership. Making data become that catalyst is the tricky part. However, once teachers see the point of analyzing the data to improve instruction, it will become another part of their routine. They must be provided the time and training to do so. Otherwise learning communities can become just reading and talking about theories. While this is certainly not a bad thing to do, it does not necessarily lead to an increase in student achievement, which is of course, the end goal.
This is all really the opposite of the old model where the principal/school leader is “in charge.” According to Richard Sorenson, “Effective school leaders use coercive power minimally. They realize it is the complete opposite of reward, referent, legitimate and expert power. Coercive power is the potential to influence others through the administration of negative sanctions” (Sorenson 2007). True school leaders who can develop vision collaboratively have little need for power or negative sanctions. Leaders create their own type of power by understanding their constituents and being knowledgeable about schools and curriculum.
Instead they create the climate that is collaborative, building relationships with teachers and staff. They manage these environments with integrity and become a model for others to see. They enjoy what they are doing and model this every day. D. Schroer even suggests doing seemingly small things like sending birthday cards, thank you notes and other such items to one’s staff. Scheduling one day a week or even month to do nothing but walk around visiting and checking in with people lets them see the presence and understand the commitment. In an interview with Michael Fullan, Dennis Sparks posed the following question.
“Before we turn to what you said, I’d like you to respond to
something Roland Barth said in that same issue: ‘Probably
the most important–and the most difficult–job of an instructional
leader is to change the prevailing culture of a school. … A school’s
culture has far more influence on life and learning in the schoolhouse
than the president of the country, the state department of education,
the superintendent, the school board, or even the principal, teachers,
and parents can ever have.’ Of course, while the principal, teachers,
and parents can have a large effect on a school’s culture, Barth is
writing about the power of a school’s culture to shape professional learning and student achievement” (Sparks 2003).
Culture is difficult to change and difficult to maintain. It is a never-ending battle for the school leaders. Fullan responds that reform and sustainability must be studied in order to create schools with positive climates. And this is such a monumental task even for the most effective school leaders. However, it involves many ideas already discussed such as a collaborative environment, constant effort, and developing and maintaining relationships. In one school in Austin, Texas wonderful school climate is maintained, which allowed them to climb to the top of the heap in technology before technology was even that important. Both teachers and principals worked together to increase achievement in their students through technology, according to Raymond Allen. The importance of school culture cannot be overlooked, and this area also overlaps into every other area. For example, if school culture is poor, probably the school leader is not visible or not forging relationships. If school culture is poor, student achievement is down due to lack of high expectations or teachers doing the same old thing because administrators do not have a handle on curriculum and instruction, and so forth.
Another essential component of creating true professional learning communities is creating engaging professional development that ties to teachers’ needs and is practical. Schools seem to do better at one-shot deals that have little impact on student learning. Quality professional development needs to increase knowledge about learners and learning. It needs to practical and aligned with the standards those teachers use. It needs to be engaging and carried out to mastery. Mastery takes time, and schools must be willing to put the money behind whatever initiative is being introduced. Professional development should also be provided in a variety of formats. Technology has really brought this field alive again. Rather than sending teachers off to a conference to get trained, school districts can provide webcasts or online classes. Teachers don’t have to drive anywhere or lug materials. They can sit with their colleagues and learn. In any case, it should involve more than sitting and passively listening to someone talk. It should also increase their knowledge or stimulate thinking in their own content area. Many times, there are content areas left out, which means people who believe professional development does not apply to them. Activities should be sequential and eventually lead to a larger outcome. They should be planned with the end in mind. In other words, there should be some kind of anticipated outcome with training leading to something. Otherwise nobody is accountable for learning anything. They should have technology use embedded into them. Lastly, it should be evaluated for effectiveness. Too often these programs are not evaluated because they are planned by “school leaders.” However, if they do not lead to an increase in student achievement, another topic should be tackled.
Professional development today should be different from that of the past when someone came in to talk about copyright law or sexual harassment in the workplace. A professional development plan should be in place with a goal of study for the year. The events planned should teach teachers something and lead to something in the end. Mastery or even use cannot be expected after only one short training. This takes work and planning on the part of the school administrator. Because to be truly successful it must be designed by school officials by inside forces rather than outside ones like state mandates or standards. It must be generated from the people who lives and careers are in that district. It must be generated from the school vision of which all major stakeholders were a part. As stated earlier, districts are good at one shot deals or a series of random, one-shot in-services. All that seems to accomplish is to make teachers feel overwhelmed by never mastering anything but having all kinds of information thrown at them. The in-services must be conducted during school time. This gives them status as important. After school in-services are maybe nice for people trying to make $20, but they rarely have the impact of a three-hour or all day in-service. Having them during the day also reinforces that they are a priority to all district personnel and to all major stakeholders.
Today’s school administrator must be on the cusp of many things and well read in many subject areas. J. Johnson explains the “old style” principal very well in Principals No. 1. Priority. “In the movie Grease, the principal of Rydell High School does what many people think principals do – she spends most of her time rounding up students who goof off, sorting out class schedules, and chaperoning school dances. No doubt, principals still do a lot of these things, but expectations have changed. Today, the principal’s to-do list is different, and instructional leadership is right at the top of it” (Johnson 2008). For example, many today advocate the introduction of 21st century skills, such as collaboration, critical thinking, leadership, flexibility, effective communication, imagination, and being able to access and analyze information To institute these kinds of changes in a school a school leader must first be extremely knowledgeable about what goes on in the school, in each individual class. He/she must know how to gain professional development for teachers that is meaningful and to generate enthusiasm for changing methodology. Then, he/she must be the spearhead fro leading this kind of change in a school. According to Tony Wagner, the Coordinator of the Change Leadership group at Harvard, “To teach and test the skills that our students need, we must first redefine excellent instruction. It is not a checklist of teacher behaviors and a model lesson that covers content standards. It is working with colleagues to ensure that all students master the skills they need to succeed as lifelong learners, workers, and citizens” (Wagner 2008). In order to do this, the school leader must provide teachers with resources and encourage dialogues that might lead to this. “Principals need to initiate dialogue about what’s most important to pass on to students. Granted, students need to perform well on standardized tests, but let’s not stop there. Let’s provide teachers many opportunities-and at times a push-to discuss what qualities students will need to succeed throughout life” (Wagner 2008). Let’s look at how we can teach in ways that foster those skills-how we can teach for the whole child. Again, to make this kind of change and see it succeed in a school, a principal must combine various strategies and be knowledgeable about many areas. Twenty-first century learning skills are a designation that is only beginning to becoming important in education. The concept is nothing new, but a new name is given to a reshuffled list of characteristics after much discussion about schools not preparing students for life.
The integration of technology into school leadership is not a new phenomenon. Technology in schools has always existed from the chalkboard to dry erase boards, television, radio, etc. However, with the advent of the internet, the role of instructional leaders is greater than ever before. As Fishman, Gomez, and Solloway state the issues relating to the internet,
“Unlike previous computer technology, such as early
integrated learning systems (ILSs) (Newman, 1992) or
drill and practice software which are self-contained
and controlled entirely from within the school or
within the classroom, the Internet is a classroom
technology that requires coordination between the
classroom and the outside world in order to work.
There is potential for difficulty at all levels: the teache
r and students using the Internet as a learning tool;
school-level administration arranging for teachers
and students to have access to the Internet during
instructional periods; the maintenance and support
of the Internet both at the school level and at the
district level; and the provisioning of the Internet
at the district level” (Fishman, Gomez, and Solloway 2008).
Now school leaders must also provide professional development time so that teachers get comfortable with this new technology. And there are so many other areas to manage when it comes to technology. One such issue is when our technology does not work. So, a teacher has planned a lesson based solely on an internet web quest and the server goes down. This teacher must now scramble in order to find an alternate lesson plan, and the educational leader must have the necessary personnel to not only figure out what the problem is but fix it. The leader must also understand the various uses of technology and make sure that the technology teachers are using actually improve student learning. If, instead of teaching math, we rely on internet math games, is that teaching? There are certainly some great web sites out there, but leaders must educate teachers in how to find those web sites so that teachers themselves become analytical. And that is to say nothing of strategic planning for technology or security issues that inevitably will arise. These, by themselves, are incredibly complex and time-consuming. School administrators must be on top of all these things or hire someone competent who is on top of them.
Technology ties into this area and many others. For example, many feel that schools may essentially inhibit learning that could take place from technology. Teachers and school leaders seem to be interested in technology and the way it is used, but many schools are simply not using it the way they could. This includes everything from gaming to Smart Boards to online classes. However, principals must be the ones to lead this change. They must educate their staff about the benefits of technology in the classroom, secure grants in order to be able to purchase these tools, and be the model of technology use in their building. In addition, they must show teachers the way to use technology to affect their teaching. For example, in today’s data-driven world, the purchase of a piece of software can mean that all students testing information is just a click away. Teachers can search lexile scores or any other criteria to tailor their class to particular students. Teachers need to be trained extensively in this as it alone is changing the face of education. A school leader must also lead the charge when it comes to a curriculum map for technology. For example, one doesn’t want PowerPoint taught in every grade because it is fun and Excel never being taught. One doesn’t want iPods used in classrooms for podcasts when iPods are against school rules. The principal must get teachers involved in clearly delineating what is taught when. This process is important to ensure success. A clearly delineated technology plan for now as well as the future is a big part of this. An administrator must always have an eye to the future when it comes to technology. Twenty years ago, we didn’t know the internet would make such a huge impact. Nor did we know that cell phones would be so popular and have educational use as well. We didn’t anticipate Smart Boards or many other kinds of technology. Rather than being opposed to new technologies, the school leader must always be looking to how various technologies can be used to increase student achievement.
According to the The Collaborative for Technology Standards for School Administrators (2001, pp. 6-7) suggests the following technology responsibilities for school administrators:
- “Inspire a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology and foster an environment and culture conducive to the realization of that vision.”
- “Ensure that curricular design, instructional strategies, and learning environments integrate appropriate technologies to maximize learning and teaching.”
- “Apply technology to enhance their professional practice and to increase their own productivity and that of others.”
- “Ensure the integration of technology to support productive systems for learning and administration.”
- “Use technology to plan and implement comprehensive systems of effective assessment and evaluation.”
- “Understand the social, legal, and ethical issues related to technology and model responsible decision-making related to these issues.”
Additional technology leadership responsibilities may include the following:
- Indicate support for technology use by word and deed; value and model technology use.
- Understand and acknowledge that teachers need time and support to learn effective uses of technology.
- Provide sufficient technology to make the use of technology viable; provide the technical support necessary to keep the technology operational.
- Pay attention to inequalities in technology access and use that exist in the local communities, and compensate to the extent possible.
(North Central 2001)
And there are some common pitfalls with regards to technology. One has already been mentioned and that is professional development. Teachers need to be given time and training in order to fully utilize technology. Appropriate infrastructure needs to be in place, otherwise technology just becomes frustrating. And lastly, technology use cannot be isolated. It needs to be instituted systematically with a technology plan in place. So, how do administrators make positive changes happen with regard to technology and manage all of the variables? Too many schools spend all their money on the equipment and networking. They do not put nearly enough into professional development, curricular programming, and technical support. They doom themselves to failure. Forming that collaborative environment where teachers are part of the process is key. Teachers have seen many innovations come and go in the world of education. Teachers want to see proof of how these new technologies can affect student achievemtn. In other words, before investing heavily in a new technology, let teachers attend conferences and find other ways to get them enthused about the idea. Involve teachers in seemingly minor decisions too, like the placement of a computer lab. Making them part of the process will increase their usage of new technology. Providing time for teachers to develop units collaboratively is also key. If teachers go about their daily teaching without that time, who has the time to invent new units? However, if release time is given to all teachers of 9th grade math, for example, to sit down and incorporate the internet or the smart board into their lessons, administrators can be guaranteed that they will use those lessons. That is the goal. If teachers don’t actually use the technology, it has no chance of increasing student achievement.
A part of great leadership that can never be mentioned enough is visibility. It is so important for instructional leaders to be out in their buildings and visible every single day. Too many principals think they have a grasp on what happens in the classroom from a once a year observation. However, they don’t really know. Being visible to kids is important as well. This also goes a long way in developing relationships. Leaders that just simply get out and talk to people will learn all kinds of things about their employees. Theses facts can then help to develop a personal relationship. Everyone will feel more invested with a little personal attention.
Leaders must also always be very conscious of the idea of social justice in leadership. This includes gender, ethnicity, race and class. With so much discussion happening about the inequalities of schools, the administrator is the model for equity. This is true when it comes to students in the classroom or parents or even teachers hired within the school. Reform efforts need to be centered around closing the achievement gap and leveling the playing field for children of all races, etc. A good school administrator believes that any gap can be at least partially fixed with a quality education. He/she must speak for the underrepresented population, particularly in urban districts. However, even in schools with little diversity, creating equity must always be in one’s mind.
Leadership today is clearly and succinctly defined by the Southwest Leadership Laboratory.
“Nevertheless, the data on leaders of educational change and the emerging information on teacher leadership indicate that the characteristics of these individuals mirror those of leaders who have changed other organizations. Leaders of educational change have vision, foster a shared vision, and value human resources. They are proactive and take risks. In addition, they strongly believe that the purpose of schools is to meet the academic needs of students and are effective communicators and listeners. Leaders of educational change have vision, foster a shared vision, and value human resources. They are proactive and take risks” (Southwest).
Again, this is a tall order. However, in today’s world, a truly great school leader will incorporate all of these to some extent. The days are over where principals could simply be managers and succeed. Schools today are looking less and less for managers and more and more for true instructional leaders. The fortunate thing is that the research doesn’t seem to contradict each other. People like Fullan and Marzano seem to complement each other. Because they complement each other, the research provides only positive guidelines to follow, not arguments about what constitutes a good leader. When it comes down to it, many programs can work in a district and many different styles of leadership. However, every district should have a true instructional leader. They are definitely hard to come by.
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