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Learning from Leadership
Learning from Leadership:
Research Findings
Karen Seashore Louis
Kyla Wahlstrom
University of Minnesota
AASA Webinar September 28, 2010
Eight Critical Findings
1. We now have even more compelling
empirical evidence that school leadership
has significant effects on student learning.
2. Leadership must focus on the entire school
for real change to occur.
3. Leadership that links principals and teachers
creates professional community; teachers
who are part of professional communities
assume leadership for school improvement.
Eight Critical Findings
4. Shared leadership increases principal
influence over improvement efforts.
5. Principals’ leadership effects on student
learning are greater in elementary schools.
6. Districts improve student learning by
building confidence in their principals.
Eight Critical Findings
7. Principals’ tenure in schools is typically
very brief, with turnover having strongly
negative effects on school improvement
8. States have a critical leadership role to
play, but have limited direct effects at the
school level.
1. Leadership Matters
• In general, leadership effects on students are
indirect, by creating the best possible
conditions for teaching and learning.
• Leadership matters most when and where it is
most needed - and then it has large effects.
• Effective leadership combines attention to
vision and goals, the capacities of staffs, and
attention to the details of good classroom
2. A Whole-School Focus
• Effective leaders…
– Involve parents and community, as well
as teachers;
– Prioritize instructional improvements and
achievement goals for all students and all
– Engage all (or most) teachers in
conversations and plans for improvement.
3. Principal Leadership for
Professional Community
• Leadership is most effective when it strengthens
“professional community”—which is teachers
working together to improve their practice and
improve student learning.
• Professional community, in turn, is a strong
predictor of instructional practices that are
associated with improved student achievement.
• Professional community also creates a school
climate that supports student engagement in and
out of classrooms.
4. Leadership Needs to Have an
Instructional Focus and Be Shared
We found…
• Leadership targeted at improving instruction
affects working relationships and, indirectly,
student achievement. (Instructional
• When principals and teachers share
leadership, teachers’ working relationships
are stronger and student achievement is
higher. (Shared Leadership)
5. Leadership Effects Vary
by Building Level
• Principal leadership that “matters” occurs
less often in secondary schools, with fewer
professional communities among teachers,
and less instructional leadership.
• Effective secondary school leaders create
strong networks of instructional supports,
with teacher leaders having real
responsibility for improvements.
Leadership and Student
Achievement in Elementary
6. District Leadership and
Principal Efficacy
• District leadership focused on building confidence
or efficacy of principals to accomplish the districts’
goals have positive effects on school conditions
and student learning.
• Principals’ confidence grows when they believe
they are working collaboratively with district
personnel, other principals, and teachers in their
• Larger districts generally have less influence on
principal efficacy.
• Districts have more influence on the confidence of
elementary than secondary school principals.
7. Principal Turnover
Affects Student Achievement
• The typical school has a new principal every 3.2 years.
• Most districts approach the issue of principal quality as
a “hiring problem” and only two districts in the study had
any planned approach to managing principal turnover.
• Principal turnover has significantly negative effects on
student achievement.
• District leaders are able to blunt the negative effects of
rapid principal turnover, but often do not.
• Teachers in strong professional communities are better
able to withstand the negative effects of rapid principal
District Professional
Development for Leaders is
Mostly Insufficient
• Few districts have a coherent professional
development system for principals.
• Over 50% of the principals reported that they
met once a month or less frequently with a
regular contact in the district office.
• Only 52% of principals agree that the district
leaders assist them to be better instructional
leaders in their schools.
Districts, Leadership PD, and
Student Learning
• Leaders in higher-performing districts…
– Communicated explicit expectations for principal
leadership and provided learning experiences in line
with these expectations.
– Monitored principal follow-through and intervened
with further support where needed, having
discussions with them about school performance
and improvement plans, and through informal
advising and coaching interventions.
– Modeled effective data use.
Four Key, Mutually Reinforcing
Strategies for Districts
1. Make instructional improvement the #1 priority.
2. Invest in the knowledge development of instructional
leaders and their leadership skills.
3. Emphasize teamwork and professional community.
4. Ensure high quality professional development aimed at
strengthening capacities to achieve articulated shared
District effects depend on utilizing all four of
these strategies; misaligned or scattered
improvement strategies may have negative
8. State Leadership is Important,
but Limited in Direct Impact
State effects are not uniform across US and are
limited by locally weak levers for change.
• State leadership (legislation) varies among states
and is affected by deep political culture.
• District responses are affected by size and state
political culture; School responses to states are
affected by district responses.
• NCLB resulted in small “adjustments,” rather than
major changes in state policy.
Project Publications
Final Report and Executive Summary
are available free of charge at the
following web sites:

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