Newsletter 31 School Leadership

Seven strong claims about successful school leadership by Kenneth Leithwood, Christopher Day, Pam Sammons, Alma Harris and David Hopkins

This is a summary of the key findings of a review of literature undertaken by the authors as a point of departure for a large-scale empirical study organised around what we refer to as ‘strong claims’ about successful school leadership.

1. School leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning.

  • Leadership acts as a catalyst without which other good things are quite unlikely to happen.

2. Almost all successful leaders draw on the same repertoire of basic leadership practices.

  • The basic assumptions underlying the claim are that (a) the central task for leadership is to help improve employee performance; and (b) such performance is a function of employees’ beliefs, values, motivations, skills and knowledge and the conditions in which they work. Successful school leadership, therefore, will include practices helpful in addressing each of these inner and observable dimensions of performance – particularly in relation to teachers, whose performance is central to what pupils learn.
  • Four sets of leadership qualities and practices in different contexts;
    • Building vision and setting directions
    • Understanding and developing people.
    • Redesigning the organisation.
    • Managing the teaching and learning programme.

3. The ways in which leaders apply these basic leadership practices – not the practices themselves – demonstrate responsiveness to, rather than dictation by, the contexts in which they work.

4. School leaders improve teaching and learning indirectly and most powerfully through their influence on staff motivation, commitment and working conditions.

  • Our review suggested that, while school leaders made modest direct contributions to staff capacities, they had quite strong and positive influences on staff members’ motivations, commitments and beliefs about the supportiveness of their working conditions

5. School leadership has a greater influence on schools and students when it is widely distributed.

6. Some patterns of distribution are more effective than others.

  • A recent report on evidence from private sector organisations begins to support the sensible assertion that more co-ordinated patterns of leadership practice are associated with more beneficial organisational outcomes. No comparable evidence has
  • yet been reported in schools.

7. A small handful of personal traits explains a high proportion of the variation in leadership effectiveness.

  • The most successful school leaders are open-minded and ready to learn from others. They are also flexible rather than dogmatic in their thinking within a system of core values, persistent (eg in pursuit of high expectations of staff motivation, commitment, learning and achievement for all), resilient and optimistic.

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