When it comes to school leadership, there is no lack of models to follow. Consider the following list — if you’re like us you’ve heard a lot of these buzzwords lately:

  • Instructional leadership
  • Democratic leadership
  • Change leadership
  • Transformative leadership
  • Participatory leadership
  • Collaborative leadership
  • Moral leadership
  • Strategic leadership

It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin. What do these things mean and how do we know what works?
A 2004 study by the Wallace Foundation warns us to beware all the “leadership by adjective” literature out there.  “Sometimes these adjectives have real meaning, but sometimes they mask the more important underlying themes common to successful leadership, regardless of the style being advocated,” say the authors.
What are the underlying themes that make leaders successful? According to the folks at the Wallace Foundation, there are two: Successful leaders help establish a clear direction for the organization and influence others to move in that direction.
It sounds so simple! And yet, research also suggests that many leaders do not enter the profession prepared to do these two things. This is especially true where leaders would have the highest impact on student achievement: underperforming schools.
Another study by the Wallace Foundation suggests that principal training programs have a long way to go. They call for a more selective process for choosing candidates to enter leadership programs; enhanced preservice training that prepares principals to lead for improved instruction and school change, not just manage buildings; and high-quality mentoring and professional development catered to the individual needs of early-career leaders.
New Leaders for New Schools, and American non-profit organization that trains leaders to work in high-needs urban schools, suggests that the best leaders are good at building effective teams, and thus need to develop strong abilities to do the following:

Programs like New Leaders are popping up across the United States to shift the way we train principals. Instead of using traditional university programs, many schools and leaders are opting for alternative programs that offer more hands-on training in real schools. It seems that some university programs are following suit as well. They are starting to learn from medical and military training programs, both of which provide and require work in the field under close supervision and mentorship before issuing credentials.
Whatever the “type” of leadership or training program, one thing is certain: there is a heightened focus on the role of principals and other non-teacher school leaders as drivers of student achievement. If principals account for 25% of a school’s achievement (as this study suggests) we cannot afford to not get this right.
What leadership trends have you noticed in your school, district, or country? What’s working? What’s not? Leave a comment to let us know.