Friday, November 12, 2010

School Leadership that Works - part 1

As I've been thinking quite a bit lately about excellent schools,  I dipped into this publication from ASCD about school leadership.  This book, by Robert Marzano, a leading force in educational reform, looks at the research into how school leadership behaviours and actions can raise student achievement.  Marzano and his colleagues found that there are 21 leadership responsibilities that lead to positive change in 21st century schools.

The subtitle of this book is From Research to Results.  It is based on quantitative research and meta-analysis of 69 studies over the last 35 years which reviewed teacher surveys of principal behaviours and student achievement.  The results of this analysis show that principals can have a profound effect on academic achievement, and the book then goes further to outline what it is specifically that effective principals are doing in their schools.

Marzano deals with 2 types of change in schools - what he calls first order changes which deal with the day-to-day management of the school, and second order changes which deal with innovation.  There are different factors that are important for each of these types of change.

Responsibilities for promoting first order change:

  • Monitoring and evaluating - continually working on the effectiveness of the school's curricular, instructional and assessment practices and being aware of the impact of these on student achievement.  What this means in practice is that the most effective way to increase the achievements of students is for teachers to use formative assessments and reteach the materials the students are struggling with.  Evaluating where the students are is the starting point for continuous improvement.  
  • Culture - this has been identified as the second most important factor in school improvement and it refers to the extent to which the principal fosters shared beliefs and a sense of community and cooperation among staff, as well as the extent to which the principal understands and appreciates the school's history and culture.  Developing a shared culture and vision of what the school could be like takes a great deal of time on the part of the principal, often over many years.  In my experience the best schools where I have worked definitely have this sense of cohesion among the staff and the leadership is seen as visible and active in promoting a sense of well-being among teachers.
  • Ideals and beliefs - these are the principal's vision for the school.  Of course for this to be an effective agent of change not only does the principal have to have well-defined beliefs about schools, teaching and learning, but s/he also has to share these beliefs with the teachers and demonstrate practices that are consistent with these beliefs.  In addition effort, time and money has to put into realising these beliefs and ensuring a culture of continuous learning.
  • Knowledge of and involvement in curriculum, assessment and instruction - this is seen as being of vital importance for both first order (management) changes and second order (innovation) changes.  Basically what Marzano found is that the principal needs to know what s/he is talking about and be clear about how changes in any one of these will impact teaching in the school.  It's important for the principal to be seen as a learning leader - though some studies have shown that teachers may resist active principal participation in these activities.
  • Focus - this refers to the extent to which the principal helps establish clear shared goals as part of a professional learning community.  This also involves establishing the expectation that all students will meet them.
  • Order - establishing routines for the smooth running of the school and principles that are equitable and productive.  There is a difference between a school that is running smoothly (people know the routines are are comfortable with them) and one that is orderly (efficient, fair and productive).
All the above behaviours and actions that lead to first order changes seem to me to be connected with management, rather than leadership.  I'm keen to read further and find out what behaviours and actions are really important for school leadership that works.

1 comment:

  1. Culture is something I have been thinking a lot about. There are so many schools that have fostered a culture of status quo and a constant belief that they are overwhelmed with what is already being asked. I find this an interesting phenomenon because there are some in the school who are "counter culture" they are asked to do all the same things, have the same responsibilities and yet manage to go above and beyond in every way. As if they haven't bought into the culture. I think leadership is the best place for culture to begin and be fostered but I also believe it is possible to change culture from within.