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Teachers have a huge effect on their students. Great teachers inspire students to do more than they thought they could do, they help students make up lost ground, and they put students on the path to success.
But teachers aren’t born knowing how to do this. They need help to become great. The help teachers need can be as simple as ensuring their supplies arrive on time and that master schedules allow them to collaborate with colleagues, as well as more complex elements, such as clear standards and high-quality professional development. This kind of help comes from great school leaders who understand how to organize schools that support instruction and help every teacher improve.
Over the last decade, considerable research has documented just how important school leaders are. As the authors of Learning from Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning concluded, after studying more than 1,000 schools, “To date, we have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership.”
Mary Haynes-Smith, principal, Mary McLeod Bethune
Elementary School, New Orleans, La.
Which raises the question: What is “talented leadership” and what do talented leaders actually do?
To find answers, Karin Chenoweth, Ed Trust’s writer-in-residence, and Christina Theokas, director of research, teamed up to systemically study the leaders of successful and rapidly improving schools serving high-poverty communities and where students of color form the majority. Their resulting book, Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools, was published by Harvard Education Press in 2011.
Although the job of a school leader is demanding and complex, Chenoweth and Theokas found that successful leaders focus on setting a vision and performance standard, and then establishing the systems that help teachers work together, grow as professionals, and track student outcomes to ensure that every student learns and achieves. In a recent Ed Trust webinar series on school leadership, some of the principals portrayed in Getting it Done talked frankly about how they accomplished these changes in their schools.
The conclusions of Getting It Done corroborate the findings of other recent research on the topic of school leadership. Much of that literature is housed at The Wallace Knowledge Center and was distilled into The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning, which not only summarizes the key research but also explores the question of what stake teachers have in the issue of school leadership. In another report, The Making of the Principal: Five Lessons in Leadership Training, the Wallace Foundation addresses the question of how to get more principals ready for the job.
Ricardo LeBlanc-Esparza, principal, with a student
at Granger High School, Granger, Wash.
Individually, principals have the power to improve schools dramatically. School leadership is a crucial lever of change in every successful attempt to improve the education of children.
At Right: Valarie Lewis (left), principal, and staff at P.S. 124
Queens, N.Y. Photo credit: Molly Roberts
Ed Trust articles on school leadership:
- How High-Poverty Schools Are Getting It Done, Karin Chenoweth and Christina Theokas, Educational Leadership
- Leading for Learning, Karin Chenoweth and Christina Theokas, The American Educator
- Principals Matter: School Leaders Can Drive Student Learning, Karin Chenoweth, The Huffington Post
- What Does It Mean to Be a Good School Leader? Karin Chenoweth and Christina Theokas, Education Week
- Sounding the Charge for Change, Brooke Haycock, Phi Delta Kappan (see pg. 14)
Ed Trust books on school leadership and improvement:
And check out our leadership webinar series to hear directly from great principals on issues that matter:
- 2013 Series: Building a Profession: Helping Principals Become the Lever of Change
- 2011-12 Series: Great Principals Talk about Getting it Done
- 2010-11 Series: Principals on School Improvement, Collaboration, and Student Achievement