This week we’ve scoured the web to bring you case studies from around the globe that demonstrate skills, attributes, and behaviours that support school leaders to be effective and productive. From including others, to leaning into data-driven processes and self-care, we hope you find something that resonates with you.
We know you’re busy. Click here to see how School Stream helps a Principal in their role or keep reading for our overview of educational leadership from around the globe.
The importance of school leadership can’t be overstated
School leadership matters. School Principals are crucial to the success of a school and central to shaping school culture. In fact, research shows the role of School Principal to be one of the most significant influences on student wellbeing and success. It’s not the easiest job on the block, so to those of you who are doing the important work of school leadership, we applaud you.
A quick search online of the words “leadership skills” returns a mindboggling number of results. While many of these broad qualities are helpful across most business sectors, the realities of leadership in a school context are very different. But should we discard all business-centric advice?
1. Including others is a powerful act of leadership
Let’s look at a different perspective from Deborah Frances White, who is perhaps best known for hosting the wildly successful podcast The Guilty Feminist. When she’s not performing, Frances White’s bread and butter is teaching executives how to lead with confidence. She argues “great leadership comes down to two things: the ability to self-include and the ability to include others” and that this advice is relevant whether you are managing people at a supermarket, a school or Parliament House. She goes on to say “including others is the most powerful, confident thing a person can do” and making others feel like they belong is “the most powerful leadership and communication style there is”. So while this perspective may sound like it’s come straight out of leftfield, foregrounding inclusion is also the bedrock of other behaviours that are key to successful school leadership, such as building aligned teams that work together to achieve.
2. Leaning in: data, high expectations and showing commitment
Edutopia recently published a motivational case study looking at the strategies of Principal Sonya Mora in turning around the results, behaviour and low staff morale at a school in San Antonio, Texas. There have been some changes since Ms. Mora arrived at the school four years ago. Student progress is tracked weekly using a granular approach to data that enables a reflective and dynamic approach to teaching. All school leaders participate in “…the teachers’ professional learning communities, and work with teachers on lesson planning, strategising interventions for struggling students, and coming up with ideas on how to challenge students who are already excelling.” Feedback from the teaching staff is positive and they say that “Seeing her (Mora’s) commitment to student progress, even in the grades that don’t take state tests, “builds trust.” The results? Under Ms. Mora’s leadership, the staff attrition rate has completely stalled. For the student population, the school culture has shifted to one of higher expectations, improved academic results and fewer discipline issues. It’s inspiring stuff.
3. A hands-on approach to leadership and management
The Australian Council for Educational Research refers to the importance of a hands-on approach to leadership by acknowledging the important role Principals can play in developing school improvement programs, particularly in literacy and numeracy programs.
‘When school leaders have a hands-on leadership role, especially regarding literacy and numeracy programs, they build coherence and shared commitment to those programs as well as expanding teachers’ professional learning. In addition, they increase program effectiveness because they help to address the barriers that often arise in implementing a program, and this builds trust among the school staff.’
But this is a tough one. While Principals are well aware of the positive impact their involvement in teaching and learning has, the competing demands of the job means finding time to implement this can be challenging. The results of the 2018 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Work and Safety Survey reports one of the largest sources of stress for Principals to be a lack of time to focus on teaching and learning.
4. Highly effective leaders take ‘me time’
While we’re talking about stress… It’s been said many times before but bears repeating: Principals must find some time for self-care if they want to stay in school-leadership, or any education role in schools, for the long haul. Principals and school staff maintain a frantic pace every day to meet the competing demands of their roles. It is absolutely necessary to find time to regroup and recharge. A recent article in The Education Review cites the importance of school leaders taking time for self-care.
‘A great analogy when thinking about self-care is the ‘oxygen mask’… In it, the oxygen mask is to be placed on ‘you’ first before assisting anyone else. Teachers and school leaders often feel guilty about looking after themselves and prioritising activities that will maintain or build their own good mental health. However, using the oxygen mask analogy shows the reason that school staff must find time to ensure that they take care of themselves first. After all, a healthy, energised, and engaged teacher makes for a healthy, energised and engaged classroom.’