Decades of education research have shown: leadership matters to student learning. For many years, the idea of instructional leadership was focused at the school level. An effective principal has always been considered critical to school turnaround, an idea supported by considerable research on schools that were “beating the odds.” What is more recent is the recognition of the critical nature of district leadership. While district leadership doesn’t supplant the need for school leadership, researchers have recognized that creating dramatic, continuous and sustained improvements in student learning, particularly in low-performing schools, requires both.
School and district leaders need a repetoir of strategies, skills and tools to successfully lead rapid improvements in a more effective school and higher student achievement. They need to be able to rally the staff, students, parents and other stakeholders around the mission of improved student learning grounded in the belief that all students can learn. They need to be able to create a culture of respect, caring,and inclusiveness on one hand, and of responsibility, rigor and high expectations for student success on the other. They need to not only lead, but foster leadership in their staffs and students.
This category explores the various aspects of and approaches to educational leadership.
As a high school math teacher at a charter school in Boston, I struggled to teach algebra to students with varying levels of math skills. Some entered my classroom still needing to master changing fractions to decimals and percentages, while others were ready to grapple with the quadratic equation, point-slope form and writing linear equations. At this school I was one of two ninth-grade algebra teachers among a team of four math teachers in the building. Through regular dialogue with my colleague Jeff, I learned that he faced similar challenges in his algebra classroom. Together we decided at the end of the first term of the school year to engage in a discussion with the math staff around how to better meet the mathematical learning needs of all of our ninth-grade students. We believed something could be done to correct the teaching and learning challenges in our classrooms before the end of the school year. It was evident to Jeff and me that heterogeneous grouping in the algebra classroom was not working. The inability to provide curricular challenge for higher performers was affecting student engagement and motivation, and the inability to adequately support struggling students (due to lack of time and resources) was impacting students’ self-efficacy in math and overall academic self-confidence.
The Office of K-12 Outreach of Michigan State University’s College of Education is enjoying the seventh year of the successful Fellowship of Instructional Leaders program. The Fellowship provides educators tools they need to foster systemic improvement in their schools. Through the Fellowship, instructional leaders build their capacity to develop and focus substantive initiatives that improve student achievement.
- Written by Lyn Sharratt
- Category: Building Capacity
Ontario’s education system is world-renowned for its focus on student achievement and strategic leadership. Evidence of their student success can be taken from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores. Canada ranks among the top 5 countries in the world and Ontario, being the largest province in Canada, accounts for much of those prestigious results.
Among the highest achieving districts in Ontario is the York Region District School Board which the CEO Bill Hogarth and Lyn Sharratt, then Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, led. Its improvement went from below-average scores to the top performing district in Ontario (using a standards-based measure, EQAO). “Align – Focus – Feedback” are 3 powerful words that they used to drive their district’s singular priority of literacy—that is, increased language and mathematical literacy achievement for all students, Kindergarten to grade 12.
Subsequently, Sharratt and Michael Fullan researched and wrote about this phenomenal improvement. What they discovered in their research became known as the 14 Parameters for System and School Improvement as captured in Realization: The Change Imperative for District-Wide Reform. (Corwin Press, 2009). The 14 Parameters are listed here:
- Shared beliefs and understandings
- All students can learn
- All teachers can teach
- High expectations and early intervention are critical
- All teachers and leaders can clearly articulate why they do what they do
- Embedded literacy coaches
- Time-tabled instructional blocks of time
- Principal leadership
- Early and ongoing intervention
- Case Management approach
- Literacy professional development at school staff meetings
- In-school grade/subject meetings for collaborative marking of student work
- Book rooms with leveled books and resources
- Allocation of district and school budgets for literacy learning and resources
- Action Research/Collaborative Inquiry focused on literacy
- Parent involvement
- Cross-curricular literacy connections in every subject area
- Shared responsibility and accountability for ALL learners
When all 14 areas are woven together – and implemented intentionally, they become the secret to increasing all students’ achievement and the “sandbox” for designing powerful, explicit professional learning, as discussed in their second book, “Putting FACES on the Data: What Great Leaders Do!” (Corwin Press, 2012).
What leadership dimensions does it take to do this work? In asking over 500 research participants, they discuss 3 things that Principals and district staff need:
- Knowledge-ability: what excellent classroom practice looks like and how to eliminate the obstacles to make it happen
- Mobilize-ability: how to create a “we-we” culture of learning as a lead learner
- Sustain-ability: how to leave great leaders in place to continue to do the work, long after they’re gone
A focus on student FACES is our work – every day, in every school, in every way. It IS possible!
Lyn Sharratt, Ph.D., is an Associate at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at University of Toronto (OISE/UT), where she coordinates the Ed.D. cohort in Theory and Policy Studies. She had worked as a teacher, curriculum consultant, teacher-trainer, public education policy analyst and superintendent of schools in the Ontario school district.