Newsletter 156 - NEEDU - Schools That Work II - School Leadership & Management


Very rarely have schools been turned around without the leadership from the Principal who has set clear priorities and goals that are followed through by the staff. Many other factors contribute to positive change in schools, but in high-performing schools in this study, leadership is the catalyst. Principals influence teaching in a number of ways, such as by establishing a climate conducive to learning, ensuring quality professional development for teachers, and providing ongoing feedback to help teachers improve their practice (Grissom et al, 2013; Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012).

The statement of best practices that follows expresses key study findings about the role of a school leadership in school improvement. These findings convey practices that are common to high performing schools:

Avoid offering too many subjects and then struggle to recruit qualified teachers in those subjects.

BEST PRACTICE 4.1—STRATEGIC AND SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT PLANNING: The School Improvement Plan is developed, implemented and reviewed regularly and includes priorities for action Strategic planning melds short-term and long-term planning models and considers outside variables and school resources. Strategic planning provides a structure for accountability in school change. As an integral part of strategic planning, a School Improvement Plan (SIP) is a “road map that sets out the changes a school needs to make to improve the level of student achievement, and shows how and when these changes will be made.” (North Carolina School Improvement Planning Implementation Guide, 2013).

A limited number of schools talked about using strategic planning to provide structure for accountability in school improvement endeavours. Equally, few schools mentioned having a SIP which sets out the changes a school needs to make to improve the level of learner achievement, and shows how and when these changes will be made. One school defined the planning process as follows:

The school improvement planning process involves defining a school’s performance problems. A comprehensive needs assessment—determining needs and examining their nature and causes—precedes the school improvement planning process. After that, we identify areas for improvement and prioritise these areas. The focus is always on teaching and learning—that’s our core business.

In order to do site-level strategic planning schools that work:

· Develop a mission statement, which defines where the school is and where it is headed:

The vision and the mission of the school are very important and that the learners must have certain knowledge and skills so that when they go out into the world they are responsible and capable citizens.

Guided by their mission statements, schools:

ü Reflect where the school is now and where the staff wants it to go.

ü Express common purposes, and identify the needs to which the school intends to address


ü Are results-oriented and use targets as a basis for measuring achievement of stated goals.

ü Judge decisions and actions resulting from strategic planning, i.e. whether decisions and actions are consistent with the mission statement.

ü Reflect values held by the school community.


· Initiate school improvement planning with a comprehensive needs assessment in order to determine high‐need areas systematically. In schools that work, a comprehensive needs assessment (sometimes referred to as self-evaluation) precedes school improvement planning process. These schools systematically determine needs or problems and examine their nature and causes. In doing this, they:

ü Incorporate both quantitative and qualitative data in the needs assessment. Schools use different primary types of data to evaluate school improvement. These include learning outcomes, demographics, and school environment.

ü Include analyses of both internal and external variables, and explicitly link results with learning.

ü Identify areas for improvement and select priority areas strategically because financial resources allocated to schools are never sufficient. Schools that work believe in the “less is best” principle. That is, they prioritise the many identified needs and findings into two to five high‐needs, high‐impact areas and then ensure that they stay focused on those identified areas

ü Use findings of school self-evaluation as a baseline against which to monitor improvement over time.


· Formulate broad goals and objectives. As a corollary to the identification of its most pressing needs, schools that work set clear and rigorous yet attainable goals to address areas of underperformance throughout the improvement planning process. These schools:

ü Set goals for each of its priority areas:

ü Ensure that goals are measurable, achievable and realistic to avoid frustration, a sense of futility, and a reluctance to try again when implementation does not live up to the promises. Schools that work first set goals for the school’s academic year but also divide and back‐map these goals by school term, month, and even week. This type of planning makes goals much more actionable, allowing schools to better identify reasonable steps needed to meet the end-of‐ the‐year targets. A statement of an objective has four parts: (a) something to be accomplished; (b) a level of proficiency to achieve; (c) means of measuring the level of proficiency; and (d) a time line for achieving the objective.


· Establish the means to achieve goals. Schools that work:

ü Include realistic and doable activities in the plan required to achieve the set objectives;

ü Designate people responsible for carrying out each activity;

ü Establish a time line or check points; and

ü Estimate the costs and specifies the source of funds required to complete activities successfully.


· Develop a SIP and implementing specific activities in the SIP to achieve the set goals. Schools that work:

ü Enlist the support of all relevant stakeholders whose buy-in is crucial if the SIP is to be implemented successfully:

ü Make sure that all parties are familiar with the plan prior to implementation.

ü Share the completed plan with every relevant stakeholder to make sure that each stakeholder knows the activities they are responsible for carrying out.

ü Update the plan each year and share it with the appropriate stakeholders. The annual update, in effect, becomes an accountability document


· Establish a monitoring system to ensure that the SIP achieves the set objectives. The schools that work:

ü Have a built-in monitoring system to identify problems, glitches, and other untoward events that might require modifications of the plan.

ü Use the timelines built into the plan to serve as checkpoints. As these dates approach on the calendar, the school checks to make sure that the plan is on track. If changes are called for, they are made in a timely manner.

ü Measure progress against set targets


BEST PRACTICE 4.2—INSTRUCTIONAL LEADERSHIP: The SMT monitors teachers’ and learners’ work to assess the progress that the school is making towards delivering the curriculum In each of the high-performing schools in this study, Principals and HODs provide instructional leadership in line with three broad indicators of instructional leadership reported in the literature:

· The amount of time Principals spend on educational matters compared to administrative and other tasks,

· Whether or not Principals appraise the performance of teachers, and

· The amount of time dedicated to instructional issues during staff meetings. Instructional leadership in schools that work focuses on teaching and learning. This entails monitoring teachers’ and learners’ work and holding teachers accountable for curriculum coverage. All schools in this study have a purpose of monitoring teachers’ and learners’ work, i.e. to assess the progress that the school is making towards delivering the curriculum. Monitoring involves the collection of evidence at first hand, checking data collected by the SMT and reviewing learners’ and teachers’ work. SMTs in high performing schools have effective monitoring systems, which enable them to:

· Follow a planned cycle for monitoring teaching and learning:

· Review teacher’s work regularly (on a weekly basis) with regard to the schemes of work or annual teaching plans (ATPs) and lesson plans. On a weekly basis, teachers submit their lesson plans to the HODs for scrutiny

· Observe lessons: SMT members in most schools could walk into teachers' classrooms to conduct informal classroom visits. In schools where team teaching is practiced, an open door policy allows other teachers to enter their colleagues’ classrooms at any time. In schools that work, the following observations take place:

ü Observations by the Principal: As the Principal, I do the class visits, classroom observation. These visits are unannounced—not to catch teachers out—but because we want to get to know what is actually happening in class and then provide support to educators. We do it on a weekly basis. This is above and beyond the requirements of IQMS.

ü Observations by the HODs

ü Observations by fellow teachers

· Ensure that progress in terms of content coverage is matched to the identified timeline (i.e. correct pacing)

· Scrutinise/monitor learners’ work.

· Collect and analyse assessment results

· Ensure that staff fulfil their responsibilities:

ü Principals monitor the work of HODs. Each HOD is expected to have a monitoring plan showing when he or she will collect various types of learners’ work—whether homework, tests, or projects to monitor curriculum coverage. In their planned cycle for monitoring teaching and learning, Principals in many schools also monitor learners’ work directly. They ask for a range of learners’ work: high-performers, mediocre, and low-performers to monitor both the quantity and the quality of the work done

ü Deputy Principals monitor HODs’ work: “Every second week, there is a one-on-one meeting with every HOD whereby, as the deputy, I review his or her work. I check how they control teachers’ and learners’ work, and how they support teachers.”

ü Teachers are held accountable for learner performance: Accountability and support are emphasized in each of the successful schools to determine where additional help is needed. Most schools reported that Principals held teachers, HODs, Deputy Principals, and, in some cases learners and parents, accountable for learner performance. Accounting sessions take place less than a week after learners write a test. Teachers’ view in the schools that work is that if they delay looking at test results, “you are defeating the purpose of assessment,”


BEST PRACTICE 4.3—FACILITATIVE LEADERSHIP: The Principal leads without controlling, while making it easier for all members of the school community to achieve agreed-upon goals While individual Principals sometimes have a direct influence on the quality of teaching, a growing strand of research suggests that successful Principals often cultivate the leadership of teachers to grow (Portin, 2009). Thus, although the Principal is in a critical position to lead change, he or she cannot do it alone. Empowering others throughout the school to develop and exercise leadership roles and to share in the

leadership of change is both desirable and achievable. The Principals in most highperforming schools encourage broad participation of teachers and parents in decision making, school improvements, and increased academic performance. These Principals employ a distributive leadership style. They have outstanding and well-distributed leadership. HODs have more control over their departments.





BEST PRACTICE 4.1. STRATEGIC/SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT PLANNING: The School Improvement Plan is developed, implemented and reviewed regularly and includes priorities for action

BEST PRACTICE 4.2. INSTRUCTIONAL LEADERSHIP: The SMT monitors teachers’ and learners’ work to assess the progress that the school is making towards delivering the curriculum

BEST PRACTICE 4.3. FACILITATIVE LEADERSHIP: The Principal leads without controlling, while making it easier for all members of the school community to achieve agreed-upon goals


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