Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How Do You Lead to Improve the Quality of Student Learning?

Contributed by : Nancy A. Clarke and Shirley B. Stow
October 2009 Charter School Monthly

“In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt

Leadership is the application of principles and practices that direct the resources toward the learning results as defined in the curriculum. Leadership has always been intrinsically linked to the effective functioning of complex organizations, including schools. As Roosevelt stated in the quote, doing nothing is so wrong; this is a call for leaders to take action now!


Do you have a passion for excellence? Your leadership makes a difference in whether you can achieve excellence! In challenging times school leadership is more important than ever; you are required to direct human and financial resources for the highest return on the investment, despite what is happening outside your school.
Are you leading the way? It is well established in the literature that effective leadership makes a considerable improvement in student learning. Leaders must be bold and willing to lead significant changes that have enough magnitude to make a meaningful difference.

Well-designed leadership development is essential when schools desire high-quality teaching and learning in every classroom. This development needs to include a focus on curriculum, instruction, and assessment. According to Dennis Sparks (Winter 2009), improvements in these elements of a school begin with changing leaders’ behaviors, building relationships, pursuing goals that stretch capacities, equipping leaders with knowledge and skills that can be used on a continuous basis, and turning ideas into a stream of actions. He concludes with the idea that what leaders understand, say, and do each day makes a tremendous difference.

Leading a school has become complex in today’s world because there are numerous factors entering into decisions that need to be made. In the literature distinct dimensions of leadership have been found to be considered when defining what it means to be a leader in the 21st century. These dimensions include, but are not limited to

1.   taking an assertive instructional role,
2.   being goal and task-oriented,
3.   being well-organized,
4.   holding high expectations for students and staff,
5.   conducting frequent classroom observations plus giving feedback to the teachers, and
6.   being highly visible and available to students and staff.
When school officials possess and practice these six dimensions of leadership, students will be more successful and they will be more effective leaders. Such leadership is an essential element in excelling schools.
As the school’s vision is shared at the beginning a new school year, the leader should be
specific about the knowledge, attitudes, skills, aspirations, and behaviors that are necessary for everyone to achieve it. Once these are in place, you can spend the rest of the year going for deep implementation of the vision.

The Six Dimensions of Leadership

When carrying out an assertive instructional role, the leader must (1) have a vision along with goals that are in line with the curricular and instructional programs, giving students the best possible educational opportunity; 
(2) assess the educational program, coordinating the curricular/instructional activities as appropriate; 
(3) select staff members according to the needs of the school; and (4) provide professional development that helps people perform their jobs better.

The leader must never lose sight of the direction a school is going; thus he or she must be goal and task-oriented. This means that the person is action-oriented, creatively brings the resources together, and is the facilitator not only for his or her ideas, but for processing those ideas for change.

Leaders must be well-organized regarding time, a precious commodity in our schools. They must prioritize, develop an educational plan, and implement the plan. Delegating to others needs to become a part of the routine. By delegating responsibility to staff, the effective leader not only maintains a leadership role but maximizes autonomy while creating ownership among the staff.
Just holding high expectations is not good enough; the leader must communicate them to staff and students. He or she must be positive, enthusiastic, and see obstacles as challenges.

The leader emphasizes the hard work, dedication, greater professionalism, and initiatives that should be undertaken by the staff.
Leaders who are effective have the instructional programs as their number one priority. It is imperative that a significant amount of time be spent in classrooms every day to conduct classroom observations. This is not to say that the time needs to be formal; walking daily through each classroom helps because it allows leaders to assess the needs of the curriculum, instruction, and assessment elements. School leaders have a major responsibility to supervise and evaluate teachers. Those leaders who are well trained, conscientious, and spend time in the classrooms regularly can make better judgments about how effective the teacher is when working with students.

It is extremely important for a leader to be highly visible and available to students and staff. In this way the leaders are able to be in touch with what is happening in the school environment.
Visibility must be accompanied by availability so that students and staff can participate in the communication that needs to take place.
Giving consideration to these dimensions is essential to becoming an effective school leader; one where students are successful in learning those skills and concepts that have been defined in the standards-based curriculum. Being a leader in the 21st century is based on these dimensions. Your role as a leader is to direct, encourage, support, and develop the people in your school organization. Their successes are yours, and their failures are yours as well.You know you are a leader when you remember to (1) use the language of leadership; (2) give staff members the tools they need to teach; (3) include an explanation as to why things should be done; (4) demonstrate flexibility and zero tolerance (i.e., be flexible whenever you can and firm when you must); and (5) hire people who are smarter than you, knowing that doing so proves you are smarter than those you hired.


“The most important thing in life is to decide what’s most important” (Blanchard, 2007). When you can apply this quote to your leadership style, you will be on your way to becoming an effective leader. Think about questions such as these:
1.   What are my beliefs about leading a school?
2.   What can people expect from me?
3.   How will I set an example for them?

Schools need leaders who are leading at a higher level. Let’s think about how to accomplish this in our lives so that we are all leading at a higher level than we are at the moment. You can be a leader who makes a positive difference in our schools, so go out and do it! Look at all of the people who are counting on you.
As you reflect on this article, discuss school leadership with your colleagues. You should be able to answer the question: “How Do You Lead to Improve the Quality of Student Learning?

Blanchard, Ken. (2007). Leading at a Higher Level. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, pp. 276-295.
Sparks, Dennis. (Winter 2009). Reach for the Heart as Well as the Mind, The Journal of the National Staff Development Council, pp. 48-54.
Nancy A. Clarke is an educational consultant who facilitates this process. After 25 years as a classroom teacher, elementary principal, and director of curriculum in Arizona schools, she has spent the past 10 years as a professional development trainer for curriculum/assessment development and educational leadership. In this capacity she has worked in public, private, and charter schools nationwide. She is willing to discuss the contents of this article with you;
contact her at rnclarke37@andiamo-tel.com.
Shirley B. Stow is an educational consultant working with schools to improve the
teaching/learning environment in public, private, and charter schools nationwide. After working as a classroom teacher, elementary principal, and curriculum director, she was the director of a research-based school improvement model center at Iowa State University for 25 years. In that capacity she served as a professional development trainer for curriculum/assessment and educational leadership in schools across the United States, in Canada, in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, in Western Europe, and in the Taipei American School in Taiwan. She is willing to discuss the contents of this article with you; contact her at sbstow@q.com.

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