School leadership matters. In fact, school leadership can be responsible for as much as 25 per cent of the total effect of a school (versus socioeconomic status, family background, etc.) on student achievement.
The reality is there are lots of variables that affect student learning – the teachers, the resources, the school climate, the curriculum, the facilities, the technology, the supports, etc. Individually, they each have some effect, but relatively small on their own.
Typically, the ‘leaders’ in a school are often thought of as the principal, and of course s/he plays an incredible role as the quote above suggests. Today, though, school leadership must be defined more broadly to include the assistant principals, the student welfare staff, the curriculum leaders and the many teacher leaders who are helping create this synergy. Without them, principals would quit after a month!
High expectations for students and staff are necessary to change and excel as a school. Just as critical though, are the supports in place to ensure the school is successful in meeting those expectations.
Again, the principal could never meet all the needs of a school by her/himself, so school leadership must be distributed to include key players throughout a school. This team of committed and driven leaders pushes the school to learn more, achieve more, serve more while ensuring kids and adults have what they need to do more.
To most people, school leadership seems more vague and unclear than teaching – after all, most of us have had teachers in our lives, so we feel like we understand what that involves.
So what does a school’s principal class and its teacher leaders actually do? According to the Wallace Foundation, there are five core things the principal and other school leaders are responsible for (2013):
These responsibilities matter in any school, regardless of the socioeconomic level.
So what do we do to ensure more schools serving low socioeconomic communities have the leaders they deserve? In part, the same notion of pressure and support applies – though most school leaders will tell you they get much more pressure than they do support. Of course leaders need to be held to account – after all, children’s lives are in their hands. But they also need support – in the form of coaching, quality professional learning and opportunities to collaborate.
The reality is, however, there is a significant shortage of candidates for principal positions. In fact, it’s estimated that 70 per cent of Australia’s principals will retire within the next couple of years. To address this, we need to build a pipeline of school principals and assistant principals. That pipeline is created by preparing and empowering emerging leaders before they step into more senior roles.
Teach To Lead specifically focuses on equipping emerging leaders in disadvantaged communities with the skills to transition from classroom-level to school-level leadership. Programs like Teach To Lead help new leaders learn about one’s leadership style, how to best support others and lead the change process. It also provides one-on-one leadership coaching support, which is crucial while early leadership behaviours are being analysed, learned and developed.