If there’s one thing that anyone in any position of authority must be willing to provide in order to inspire action and achievement, it’s leadership. So what about our schools and the teachers and admins who guide their policies? What could we consider to be the most crucial school leadership best practices to follow for making any school successful?
Of course it would help to first define what a “successful” school looks like. Likely it would mean different things to different educators, but here’s one vision for you to consider. To me, a successful school places a priority on future-focused learning, and seeks to guide its staff and students toward having a passion for learning, and for growing creatively and collaboratively. Additionally, a successful school seeks to model and encourage school leadership best practices as something that doesn’t just fall to administrators to handle. In other words, a successful school realizes that true leadership is the business of everyone under its roof—teachers, admins, and students alike working together to make their school exceptional.
Nevertheless, it is more often than not a school’s administrators who lead the way, and the truth is students and teachers perform better when directed by high-quality leaders. Part of being a good leader is being visible. Principals and other leaders shouldn’t be visible only to students or teachers who have done something wrong. They must inspire as many students and teachers as they can. Leaders should also demonstrate their concern for student and teacher achievement in many ways. They can’t expect students and teachers to care about their performance if they don’t show that they care.
How important are school leadership best practices to performance? Very, according to many studies of leadership and education. “Leadership is second only to classroom instruction among school-related factors that affect student learning in school,” reports “The School Principal As Leader: Guiding Schools To Better Teaching And Learning,” a 28-page report by the Wallace Foundation, a philanthropic educational organization.
“Today, improving school leadership ranks high on the list of priorities for school reform,” the report added. “In a detailed 2010 survey, school and district administrators, policymakers and others declared principal leadership among the most pressing matters on a list of issues in public school education. Teacher quality stood above everything else, but principal leadership came next, outstripping matters including dropout rates, STEM education, student testing, and preparation for college and careers.”
10 School Leadership Best Practices
So now that you know some of the data on how school leadership affects school performance, you might want some tips on school leadership best practices that make a difference. Here are 10 of what we feel are the most crucial ones to consider, and to model for staff and students.
1. Attend Activities
Leaders should attend sports events, of course, but they must also attend events with sparse attendance. They need to show members of academic clubs like the debate and Mathletes teams, band members, theatre groups, and even students in extracurricular activities that aren’t audience- or competition-oriented that they’re interested in what all of the students do. If leaders have school pride, the students and teachers might too. “You don’t have to MC everything; just be there,” suggests the article “Principal Helpline: What are the 7 Habits of Successful Principals?”
2. Be Accessible
Leaders, whether they’re principals or department chairs, should always be willing and able to meet with teachers. People should be prioritized over paperwork. That might mean delegating financial and other matters to resident managers who aren’t responsible for teacher and student achievement. Leaders should be so personable that teachers are comfortable approaching them with their concerns. They should also introduce themselves to students and remember their names so students regard them as people, not just enforcers of discipline.
3. Be Poised
Angry parents make children angrier, just like angry coaches make their players angrier. Leaders must do everything they can to make sure that teachers and students don’t let negative emotions impair their performance. That means they must be poised both in public and private even when there is bad news to be heard or a difficult decision to be made. “In (difficult) situations, always stay calm and confident to maintain morale and confidence in the school community,” advises the article “Top 10 Characteristics Of Awesome 21st Century School Leaders.”
4. Be Positive
Constructive school leadership best practices include making people feel like they’re making a positive contribution to the school while simultaneously advising them how they can improve their performance. Leaders meeting with teachers and/or students should first tell them what they’re doing right. They should be able to say three positive things about someone’s performance before getting into constructive criticism. The goal is to get people to want to improve, and bad morale can cause adults to quit jobs and students to quit studying.
5. Formulate a Vision
Everyone in school leadership wants to improve the learners’ academic performance, but it takes a strong leader to formulate an achievable vision to accomplish that. “Shaping a vision of academic success for all students, one based on high standards,” is the first of the five practices listed in “The Effective Principal: Five Pivotal Practices that Shape Instructional Leadership.” In addition, the vision must be accompanied by a list of actionable steps needed to achieve the vision. The steps might include meetings with students and their parents to point toward the right courses, using more tutors, and training teachers in new instructional methods.
6. Communicate Effectively
Formulating a vision is inadequate if it’s not communicated well. The vision statement of a principal (or superintendent or school board) must be communicated to everyone impacted by the vision, including teachers, students, and parents. That means updating teachers, students, and parents regularly on the progress of the vision statement and the steps needed to achieve it. In addition, effective leaders prioritize returning emails, phone calls, and texts as soon as possible over paperwork and other administrative responsibilities that don’t have a pressing deadline.
7. Never Stop Learning
Leaders should attend conferences that are the most likely to improve their skills and knowledge. That might mean forsaking the traditional conferences and seeking out new ones. Leaders should apply the same logic to teachers. The article “Motivate Teachers by Becoming a More Effective Leader” stresses the importance of employee growth and being open to new ideas. “You want your employees to continually learn and grow,” the article says. “Show your employees that you’re also willing to learn, take input and change directions, if necessary.”
8. Be Forthright
Forthright and candid are better words than honest because, of course, you never want to be dishonest. We’re talking about always telling teachers, parents, and school district residents the truth about the school. If you need more money to achieve your vision, tell the community the options you have. You might need to cut part of the budget substantially or raise taxes. If student performance regressed, be candid about this and seek a solution. If a previous decision was wrong, admit your mistake. Great leaders take responsibility for mistakes and bad news.
9. Train Future Leaders
Great leaders will inspire people who work under them if they give those who have grown professionally more responsibility and leadership roles. The school is better off if it has two great leaders instead of one, 10 instead of five. Great leaders also look for people who can fill future leadership positions. Great principals, for example, look for talented faculty who have the ability to head the department they’re in. Of course, leaders need to communicate what they’re doing so, for example, an older department head will buy in on training a younger future department head.
Innumerable studies have shown that listening is one of the most important qualities of a great leader. The “Principal Helpline” article says this about listening: “If a teacher comes to you with a problem, listen and then ask the teacher what they think should be done.” The “Top 10 Characteristics” article says this about listening: “Listen to your teachers and students. Learn their talents, interests and passions and then delegate accordingly.”