Student performance is often a reflection of the school curriculum and school management. Many factors influence the educational experience of everyone involved in education, but the driving force is leadership. Leadership is the generator that provides the push to all those that need it, especially at-risk students. Research demonstrates a link between the quality of leadership and student achievement (Branch & Hanusheck, 2012). Let’s look at three main aspects of leadership and how it influences the educational experience of students:
- Leaders are tasked to establish a school climate to provide an environment that is conducive to learning.
- Leaders need to articulate a shared vision so that all members can work towards a common goal and establish coherence.
- Leaders delegate, hold people accountable, and support and empower both teachers and students.
Proactive leaders tend to have a greater impact on the school community (Cotton, 2003). Studies have shown that when leaders are approachable, there is good communication, and teachers and students can be open, share ideas, and be part of the decision-making process (Quinn, 2002). For a leader, being organized is key as it sets systems and interventions in place. Research shows that the impact of leadership is mediated by teacher collaboration and collective efficacy. The leader is mindful of curriculum development and changes, and makes wise decisions to meet the school goals (Waters & Marzano, 2004).
Go outdoors and you may see a sunny or rainy day. Under which conditions do people usually work best—a sunny day or a rainy day with mud, thunder, and other obstacles? Likewise, at school, leaders need to establish a climate that is welcoming to students and teachers (Brown, Corrigan, & Higgins-D’Alessandro, 2012). Moreover, school climate reform is a process that necessarily focuses on and supports students, parents/guardians, and educators in considering how effective current prosocial educational efforts are and how we can strengthen these instructional and intervention efforts.
When there is a healthy school climate, school personnel know what the tasks are and can achieve them without mixed messages. All stakeholders are engaged in the decision-making process and become agents of change. Parents can follow established systems in place, students know routines, and teachers are well informed and can be confident and assertive in their duties.
Influential school leaders are reflective practitioners
As a principal, not everything will go the way you expect; however, school leaders have the responsibility to make the right decisions and adapt to obstacles. School leaders will make plenty of mistakes, and at times may fail, but giving support to teachers throughout is essential. There may be times when school leaders won’t be able to isolate the cause of a problem. In these times, you must rely on your skills as a reflective practitioner. Matthew Lynch (2019) suggests that being a reflective practitioner means that when problems arise and you feel confounded or unsure of yourself, you take some time to reflect. Reflecting on a situation or issue allows you to think critically about it, thus allowing you to formulate a series of appropriate responses. Afterwards, you implement your series of actions and feel relieved when you see results.
Building on the school vision
As leaders in the classroom, we know that academic leaders need to focus their efforts on different dimensions of leadership for their schools to be successful. Leithwood and Day (2007) stated that out of all the leadership dimensions, building a vision and setting school directions is the dimension that accounts for the largest proportion of leadership impact on student outcomes (as cited in Cruickshank, 2017), while Robinson (2007) observed that higher-performing schools contained leaders who deliberately focused more of their time on communicating clear academic and learning goals (as cited in Cruickshank, 2017). Reading Rockets (2008) expresses that a more productive strategy, they contend, is to examine the following three sets of practices that make up the basic core of successful leadership: setting direction, developing people, and redesigning the organization.
To be effective in building a school vision, school leaders must communicate their school vision in a way that engages other key stakeholders (Mulford & Edmunds, 2009, as cited in Cruickshank, 2017). They can work towards establishing a staff consensus of school goals and visions, and then effectively communicate these goals to relevant stakeholders to give a sense of overall purpose. We have seen principals encourage their staff to align both personal goals and the school’s goals. If the principal is unable to do this, then school goals will have little motivational value. Principals can therefore justify placing their time and focus in the area of building a relationship on the school’s vision. Cruickshank (2017) suggests that having a transformational leadership style is suited for providing such motivation because it best aligns with teachers being more involved in the creation of a common school vision, and consequently, becoming more intrinsically motivated to achieve it. Additionally, we know that if teachers are motivated, they are more likely to display behaviors such as independence, engagement, and positivity which is vital to achieving organizational success.
Real heroes exist among us, and they don’t even wear capes! We often overlook the importance and complexity of the role of school leaders. Truth is, it has a ripple effect starting from school leaders and impacting all stakeholders. School leaders have a multifaced role to play. They are expected to uphold high educational standards in schools, develop communication and interpersonal skills among teachers and students, maintain a positive classroom climate, and ensure a positive classroom situation in terms of modern infrastructure (Sindhi, 2013). When school leaders can create welcoming environments allowing both teachers and students to feel a sense of belongingness and value, it promotes academic achievement and social-emotional development.
The authors of this article are teachers enrolled at the University of Belize pursuing master’s degrees in educational leadership.
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