School Principal Competencies
School Principal Competencies PDF
Donley, J., Detrich, R., States, J., & Keyworth, (2020). Principal Competencies. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute. https://www.winginstitute.org/principal-competencies-research
Principals exert a strong influence on student learning and achievement through their ability to impact the types of organizational school features necessary for high-quality teaching and learning (Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Leithwood, Harris, & Hopkins, 2019; Leithwood, Harris, & Strauss, 2010; Robinson, Lloyd, & Rowe, 2008; Supovitz, Sirinides, & May, 2010). While principals do not directly impact student achievement (Day, Gu, & Sammons, 2016), and leadership effects on student learning are mediated by other conditions that more directly impact achievement (Hallinger & Heck, 2010; Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstrom, & Anderson, 2010), principals do exert influence over factors such as school climate and teacher working conditions, and make human capital (i.e., teacher hiring) and professional development decisions that indirectly influence student learning outcomes (Cannata et al., 2017; Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012).
The quality of a school’s leadership is highly predictive of teachers’ perceptions of their working environment and their decision to remain in the school from year to year (Boyd et al., 2011; Burkhauser, 2017; Grissom, 2011; Kraft, Marinell, & Yee, 2016; Ladd, 2011; Redding, Booker, Smith, & Desimone, 2019). Principals play a key role in teachers’ capacity to implement and sustain the evidence-based practices needed for school improvement, for example, by removing barriers to new curriculum and instruction (Yoon, 2016). A recent meta-analysis of 51 studies found moderate to large effect sizes for the impact of principal behaviors and competencies on student achievement, teacher well-being, instructional practices, and school organizational health (Liebowitz & Porter, 2019). The principal also plays an integral role in ensuring teacher quality and in creating a school culture focused on learning and high expectations for students (Fusarelli & Militello, 2012). Understanding the competencies that are needed for effective school leadership is paramount to ensure high-quality instruction and positive and equitable student outcomes. This report highlights the key research literature that addresses the principal competencies important for positive student and school outcomes.
Historical Overview and Theoretical Background
Effective principals are effective leaders. Leadership has been referred to as the process of influencing an organization’s stakeholders and members to identify and achieve the organization’s vision and goals, in part by developing and fostering relationships between and among the organization’s members (teachers, students, parents, community partners) (Leithwood, 2012). Effective school leaders are thought to have a set of competencies, or “constructs manifested by behavior that relates to effective or outstanding performance in a specific job or role” (Hitt, Meyers, Woodruff, & Zhu, 2019, p. 190). Principals’ practices represent their competencies in various leadership areas, and research has attempted to investigate the relationship between these behaviors/practices and student, teacher, and school outcomes.
In the 1980s, the educational standard for principals was considered to be instructional leadership; that is, a focus primarily on instructional supervision activities (e.g., teacher observation, facilitating curriculum and instruction-related professional development, and monitoring student progress) rather than on managerial or other administrative tasks (Blase & Blase, 2004; Hallinger, 1992). As the notion of the need for a strict bureaucratic hierarchy in schools eroded because of the democratic and participative school restructuring movement that called for empowering teachers as professional educators (Marks & Louis, 1997), the concept of instructional leadership evolved into shared instructional leadership, in which the principal and teachers work together to determine the best instructional practices for the school rather than the principal serving as the primary authority on effective practice (Marks & Printy, 2003). Also referred to as distributed or collaborative leadership, this leadership style has been associated with positive outcomes such as teacher satisfaction, skills, and professional efficacy (Hallinger & Heck, 2010; Heck & Hallinger, 2009), and indeed the effectiveness of distributed leadership in terms of student achievement continues to be documented in the recent literature (Leithwood et al., 2019).
Murphy and Hallinger (1988) were among researchers who took a broader view of instructional leadership to argue for the inclusion of the principals’ skill in organizational management, which includes managing budgets, providing a safe learning environment, acquiring and allocating resources strategically, and building collaborative decision-making processes. The importance of organizational management has been validated in research conducted more recently, and has been shown to have a strong influence on student achievement (Grissom & Loeb, 2011; Liebowitz & Porter, 2019). Strong organizational management skills allow principals to align support systems so that teachers can maximize instructional best practices and enhance student achievement.
In the 1990s, researchers began to highlight a shift away from an exclusive focus on the importance of the instructional core toward transformational leadership (Leithwood, 1994), in which principals and other school leaders are change agents who inspire and motivate staff to improve organizational performance collaboratively (Hallinger, 1992). Transformative school leaders connect leaders and teachers within continual improvement processes so that combined efforts result in a collective efficacy and a positive school trajectory, with teachers motivated to look past their individual interests and invest in the success of the school as a whole (Leithwood, 2012). However, a meta-analysis of research addressing the impact of leadership styles showed that transformative leadership had less of an impact on student outcomes than instructional leadership (Robinson et al, 2008).
A series of subsequent meta-analyses further showed a modest correlation between transformational leadership and student achievement, but showed stronger relationships to teacher and school process outcomes (Leithwood & Sun, 2012; Sun & Leithwood, 2012, 2015); individual direction-setting leadership practices such as “developing a shared vision” and “holding high performance expectations” were strongly related to these outcomes. Marks and Printy (2003) found that integrated leadership, which stresses the importance of both instructional and transformational principal competencies, was found in schools with higher teaching quality and achievement. Integrated leadership “acknowledges that a solid, results-focused management approach must be in place before, or at least simultaneously to, expecting teachers to engage in transcendental and transformative work” (Hitt & Tucker, 2016, p. 535[C1] ).
Principal Leadership Competencies Important to School Outcomes
Several recent syntheses and meta-analyses have sought to update and organize the research on principal leadership to identify key practices and behaviors that reflect the competencies necessary to influence positive student and school outcomes (Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Leithwood, 2012; Liebowitz & Porter, 2019; Osborne-Lampkin, Folsum Sidler, & Herrington, 2015; Robinson et al., 2008). In a meta-analysis, Robinson et al. calculated effect sizes for 27 studies of the relationship between principal leadership and student outcomes. They identified five dimensions of leadership: (1) establishing goals and expectations; (2) resourcing strategically; (3) planning, coordinating, and evaluating teaching and the curriculum; (4) promoting and participating in teacher learning and development; and (5) ensuring an orderly and supportive environment. They reported strong effect sizes for principal competency in promoting teacher professional learning, and moderate effect sizes for goal setting and planning, and coordinating and evaluating curriculum and instruction[C2] .
Leithwood (2012) reviewed the literature and derived a set of 21 leadership competencies within five domains organized in a leadership framework (the Ontario Leadership Framework, or OLF): (1) setting directions, (2) building relationships and developing people, (3) developing the organization to support desired practices, (4) improving the instructional program, and (5) securing accountability. The importance of these categories of practice for student achievement has been confirmed through several large-scale multiyear investigations (Day et al., 2011; Leithwood & Louis, 2012).
Osborne-Lampkin et al (2015) reviewed qualitative and quantitative research published from 2001 to 2012, and organized 52 studies into five broad domains of principal behaviors defined in 2011 by Grissom and Loeb’s research: (1) instructional management (addressing classroom instruction and curricula); (2) internal relations (developing interpersonal relationships with students, staff, and parents); (3) organizational management (budget management, resources, facilities, school environments); (4) administrative duties (paperwork, schedules, discipline); and (5) external relations (working with stakeholders outside the school). The review found significant evidence that competency in instructional management, organizational management, internal relations, and external relations impacted student achievement, but failed to find consistent evidence for the importance of administrative duties. The researchers noted, however, that only one study provided causal evidence of principal impact; all other research classified evidence as correlational, so these conclusions must be interpreted with caution.
Hitt and Tucker (2016) reviewed 56 studies and three major leadership frameworks in an attempt to synthesize the major findings and frameworks in the field into a unified model of effective leader practices (see Table 1). The three frameworks reviewed were Ontario Leadership Framework, or OLF, cited previously (Leithwood, 2012); Learning-Centered Leadership framework[C3] (Murphy, Elliot, Goldring, & Porter, 2006); and Essential Supports Framework (Sebring, Allensworth, Bryk, Easton, & Luppescu, 2006). While a discussion of each of these frameworks is beyond the scope of this report, Hitt and Tucker’s analysis provides a useful organizational structure that highlights five key principal competency areas supported by substantial research to positively, though indirectly, impact student achievement. These competencies also are generally consistent with those observed in the other meta-analytic reviews cited previously (Osborne-Lampkin et al., 2015; Robinson et al., 2008). Hitt and Tucker’s Unified Framework is used to organize the discussion of research supporting key principal competencies that follows.
Establishing and Conveying Vision, Goals, and Expectations. Robinson et al. (2008) found a moderate effect size for the impact of the principal’s role in establishing a vision and setting goals, which serve to provide community members with common purpose and a sense of clarity (Latham & Locke, 2006). These competencies are also important components of organizational management, which has been shown to contribute positively to student achievement (Grissom & Loeb, 2011; Liebowitz & Porter, 2019). Hitt and Tucker (2016) confirmed the importance of this principal competency and identified critical practices within this domain, including developing, guiding, and implementing the school’s shared vision, and setting goals and performance expectations.
Research has shown that high expectations contribute to the closing of the achievement gap (Leithwood, 2012; Marks & Printy, 2003; Murphy et al., 2006; Porter et al., 2008), and effective leaders make these expectations public and transparent to ensure that all staff adopt them within the school’s vision (Knapp, Copland, Honig, Plecki, & Portin, 2010). They also help educators view the vision as personally compelling for their professional growth, and help them see that they have a stake in elevating the growth of their colleagues, with all staff sharing collective responsibility to improve student learning (Hallinger & Murphy, 2013; Lambert, 2002). Leaders in higher performing schools are more likely to communicate the school’s goals and expectations so that they are part of regular, everyday conversations among school staff, and to recognize and inform the entire school community of academic success (Leithwood, 2012; Leithwood et al., 2019; Robinson et al., 2008).
Additionally, effective principals demonstrate the school’s vision and expectations for all students’ success in their own behavior[C5] (Lucas & Valentine, 2002; Marks & Printy, 2003; Murphy, 2007). Modeling expected behaviors clarifies how teachers and students should act, and can also empower teachers in their practice and informal leadership roles (Lucas & Valentine, 2002). Principals can model behaviors that contribute to a positive school culture and academic success, for example, by personally enforcing discipline with students; this leads to a true sense of shared responsibility and a genuine feeling of support for teachers (Murphy, 2007).
Effective principals engage staff in using multiple data sources to diagnose and illustrate problems and progress toward goals, as well as to understand the underlying causes of identified problems or failure to make progress (Louis et al., 2010; Murphy et al., 2006). These leaders further link formative and summative assessments to goals, to both monitor progress and hold stakeholders accountable (Leithwood, 2012)[C6] . Competent principals monitor and provide regular formative feedback to teachers to help them move toward fulfilling goals, signaling to teachers where they are excelling and what they may need to improve while simultaneously providing the necessary supports to help them get there. In addition, principals expect and encourage teachers to examine data within many contexts, such as departmental meetings, instructional teams, and individual interactions (Murphy et al., 2006). Principals also strive to translate the external pressures and expectations confronting teachers into goals for organizational improvement that everyone working to improve student learning can internalize (Robinson, Hohepa, & Lloyd, 2009). They take care to monitor teachers’ motivational levels and cynicism about accountability pressures, and find ways to keep everyone engaged in achieving the school’s vision and goals (Leithwood, Steinbach, & Jantzi, 2002).
Building Professional Capacity by Leading Teacher Learning and Development. A well-established empirical base has confirmed the importance of quality teaching for student learning (Chetty, Friedman, & Rockoff, 2014; Hanushek & Rivken, 2006; Lee, 2018); by extension, principals’ capacity to provide appropriate and targeted professional development is crucial for student achievement (Odden, 2011). A recent meta-analysis of the empirical literature documented a strong relationship between principals’ focus on instruction-specific support (including behaviors related to planning and providing professional development) and teaching effectiveness, student achievement, and school organizational health (Liebowitz & Porter, 2019).
Effective principals also engage in side-by-side professional learning with their faculty as they learn about curricular and instructional improvements (Robinson et al., 2008); this action strengthens principals’ knowledge and capacity to be a resource and support to teachers, and enhances their credibility and legitimacy as instructional leaders in schools (Murphy et al., 2006). Competent principals are capable of identifying the professional learning needed to develop the skills and knowledge of the entire faculty, as well as opportunities targeted to smaller groups of teachers such as grade-level or subject-level groups (Leithwood, 2012). They approach professional development at the individual teacher level as well, to address each teachers’ needs and strengths; for example, arranging for mentoring relationships can provide an individualized experience for both mentor and mentee (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011).
Principals demonstrate their respect for faculty’s competence and expertise, and signal that they care about individual teachers and their lives beyond the school (Murphy et al., 2006). The degree to which the principal creates trusting relationships with teachers influences their willingness to improve their practice, and, in fact, trust in the principal is related to both teacher professionalism (Tschannen-Moran, 2009; Tschannen-Moran & Gareis, 2015) and effective instructional behaviors (Wahlstrom & Louis, 2008). Principals can also demonstrate this trust by supporting and buffering individual teachers from the competing expectations that external accountability processes present, and by protecting teachers’ time and energy from any distractions that may derail the school’s vision and goals (Hitt & Tucker, 2016).
A competent principal recognizes and celebrates highly effective teaching and improvements, and links these events to incentives and rewards (Leithwood, 2012; Murphy et al., 2006). Research shows that these positive outcomes are more likely when principals develop communities of practice to structure professional learning, and ensure that the schedule allows for regular job-embedded learning (Murphy et al., 2006; Robinson et al., 2008). Finally, principals also improve teaching by recruiting and selecting effective educators who will fit in the school context, and by counseling out those who perform poorly and fail to respond to professional development (Grissom & Loeb, 2011).
Creating a Supportive Organization for Learning. Just as principals play a key role in building educators’ professional capacity, they also cultivate the well-being of educators by ensuring they have the resources to be successful and by addressing their emotional needs; these are ingredients of both individual and collective professional efficacy (Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Leithwood et al., 2019). A supportive organization for learning exists “when people sense that they are recognized and supported as valuable individuals by leaders” (Hitt & Tucker, 2016, p. 552). To this end, effective school leaders exert a dual focus, demonstrating simultaneously a focus on the task at hand and their relationships with staff; these two areas are mutually reinforcing as work accomplishments strengthen relationships and relationship building strengthens the quality of work accomplished (Robinson et al., 2008). In their meta-analysis, Liebowitz and Porter (2019) found that principal behaviors involving “organizational management” and “internal relations,” which reflect this dual focus, are significantly and positively related to student achievement, organizational health, and teacher well-being.
Supportive learning organizations usually involve collaborative shared leadership structures. Research suggests that strong principals cultivate leadership in others in part by building inclusive and collaborative decision-making processes so that multiple perspectives inform the school’s work to optimize student learning (Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Easton, & Luppescu, 2010; Leithwood et al., 2019; Louis et al., 2010; Simon & Johnson, 2015; Supovitz et al., 2010). For example, distributive leadership, in which principals enable leaders and teachers[C7] to make collaborative decisions focused on educational improvement, and emphasize empowerment of staff and students within school governance, has been shown to enhance schools’ academic capacity and student achievement overall (Leithwood & Mascall, 2008; Sun & Leithwood, 2012) as well as achievement in math (Heck & Hallinger, 2009) and reading (Hallinger & Heck, 2010).
These leaders[C8] reconceptualize leadership away from bureaucratic and hierarchical decision making toward collective processes that meet both the personal and professional needs of teachers and encourage their commitment to fulfill the organization’s goals. For example, by creating formal shared leadership structures, such as a leadership team, staff members will grow and develop in their roles, and the principal will be able to share leadership tasks with them (Hallinger & Murphy, 2013). Effective principals share or distribute leadership to those teachers with content area expertise which they may lack, and partner with the leadership team to oversee their work (Hallinger & Murphy, 2013).
Leaders[C9] who improve student achievement also create supportive organizations for learning by understanding the school’s context to maximize organizational functioning (Hitt & Tucker, 2016). Flexibility to consider the school’s context or situation allows leaders[C10] to not only understand an issue, but also adapt solutions accordingly to optimize outcomes (Daly, 2009; Leithwood, 2012; Marks & Printy, 2003; Murphy et al., 2006; Sebring et al., 2006). Strengthening and optimizing the school culture also occur through processes such as demonstrating an understanding of and commitment to the benefits of diversity, and communicating and collaborating with diverse stakeholder groups to achieve the school’s mission and vision (Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Murphy et al., 2006; Sebring et al., 2006).
Effective principals encourage open and transparent communication, successfully resolve conflicts, and build trust with and among staff (Tschannen-Moran, 2009)[C11] , all of which serve to address teachers’ affective[C12] needs and help them maintain organizational commitment. The school culture is further optimized by leaders who hold high teacher performance expectations and standards (Leithwood, 2012; Leithwood et al., 2019; Marks & Printy, 2003; Murphy et al., 2006). These leaders[C13] incorporate formative and summative assessments that measure progress in constructive ways to support instructional improvement while also holding teachers accountable for improvement. Consistent and clearly defined performance standards and expectations are necessary so that performance monitoring does not demoralize teachers and reduce motivation (Leithwood, 2012).
Principals influence how school resources are acquired, managed, and aligned to ensure optimal program delivery (Li, Hallinger, & Ko, 2016; Hitt & Tucker, 2016). Effective principals strategically acquire and allocate resources to support the school’s vision, goals, and instructional purpose (Leithwood et al., 2019); the impact of principal decision-making on student outcomes in this area is small and indirect (Robinson et al., 2008). Research has established clear relationships between setting academically specific and rigorous goals, while matching resources to attain these goals, and positive student outcomes (Murphy et al., 2006; Timperley, 2011). This competency of principals includes managing human resources by hiring teachers who fit with and complement existing faculty and who are capable of fulfilling the school’s goals, while strategically targeting remaining resources to further address the school’s goals (e.g., professional development, student support programs) (Leithwood, 2012; Murphy et al., 2006).
Facilitating a High-Quality Learning Experience for Students. A principal’s competency in providing a quality learning environment is critical to a variety of student and teacher outcomes, including student achievement and teacher retention (Burkhauser, 2017; Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Johnson, Kraft, & Papay, 2012; Ladd, 2011). Effective school leaders[C14] maintain a clear focus and commitment to the curriculum, instruction, and assessment, or technical core, of the school, and provide organizational conditions, such as a safe and orderly learning environment, that enable student learning (Hitt & Tucker, 2016). Instructional leadership involves a principal’s active involvement in planning, coordinating, and assessing curriculum and teaching through activities such as discussions about and influence over vertical/horizontal curriculum alignment[C15] , and observation of and feedback on classroom teaching (Murphy et al., 2006; Robinson et al., 2008). Instructional leadership has been shown to have moderate to large effect sizes on student achievement (Liebowitz & Porter, 2019; Robinson et al., 2008), as well as on teacher well-being, teaching practices, and school organizational health (Liebowitz & Porter, 2019)[C16] . While some have suggested that more principal time be allocated to instructional leadership, given the research that suggests principals devote relatively little time to these practices (Grissom, Loeb, & Master, 2013), in their meta-analysis Liebowitz and Porter (2019) found that other types of leadership behaviors (e.g., organizational management) were as important as instructional leadership. They and others (Grissom & Loeb, 2011; Leithwood, 2012; Robinson et al., 2008) have argued that principals must be capable of balancing organizational leadership and instructional leadership in mutually supportive ways.
To facilitate a high-quality learning experience, competent principals develop and continuously monitor curriculum, instruction, and assessment, while requiring rigor and holding high expectations for all students, including those with special programs status and English language learners (Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Leithwood, 2012; Murphy et al., 2006; Robinson et al., 2008). Principals are instructional leaders who protect instructional time during the school day, limit disruptions, and encourage teacher and student attendance[C17] (Hitt & Tucker, 2016). They view assessment as pivotal to evaluating student progress and making adjustments based on regularly collected formative and summative data; they also ensure that this data is disaggregated by indicators important for tracking progress toward school improvement goals, such as by ethnicity, special education status, and socioeconomic status (Murphy et al., 2006). Assessment data further inform the vision and mission-building process, with effective principals skillfully using these data to define future improvement efforts, such as the collective and individual teacher professional learning needed to meet goals (Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Robinson et al., 2008).
Principals who positively influence student achievement also incorporate students’ backgrounds into the instructional program and create personalized and culturally responsive learning environments (Hitt & Tucker, 2008; Leithwood, 2012; Murphy et al., 2006; Sebring et al., 2006). These leaders “ensure instructional practice that is intellectually challenging, authentic to student experiences, recognizes student strengths, and is differentiated and personalized” (National Policy Board for Educational Administration, 2015, p. 12). Activities may include implementing mentoring and advisory programs, and providing opportunities for students to develop leadership and personal responsibility (Murphy et al., 2006).
Safety and security are fundamental needs that must be in place for optimization of higher level needs, such as learning (Maslow, 1943); orderly and safe environments allow teachers to focus on instruction and students to focus on learning (Robinson et al., 2008; Steinberg, Allensworth, & Johnson, 2011). In their study of Chicago schools, Bryk et al. (2010) found that the schools in which students made substantial learning gains were more than twice as likely to have safe and orderly environments than schools unable to produce these gains; similar results were obtained in a study of New York City middle schools (Kraft et al., 2016). School leaders[C18] are charged with ensuring a hospitable learning environment for students and staff (Wallace Foundation, 2013), and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (2015) identifies “maintaining a safe and healthy school environment” as a key competency within its professional standards for school leaders. Effective school leaders[C19] consistently maintain and enforce fair and racially equitable codes of conduct (Khalifa, Gooden, & Davis, 2016), which are agreed to by all school community members[C20] (Robinson et al., 2008; Sebring et al., 2006), setting the tone for how these members interact with one another. Psychological and physical safety is coupled with ensuring that the campus facilities are attractive and well maintained (Leithwood, 2012; Murphy et al., 2006).
Connecting with External Partners. Competent principals engage with school stakeholders by establishing connections to encourage broad participation of parents, families, and others beyond the school building who can contribute to a positive student learning experience (Grissom & Loeb, 2011; Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Liebowitz & Porter, 2019). Sebring et al. (2006) concluded from their research that leaders who are able to maximize the contributions of families and community partners are more likely to make gains in student achievement. Effective principals build these connections by developing productive and collaborative relationships and partnerships with families and communities, and connecting the school to its wider environment (Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Leithwood et al., 2019).
Research has demonstrated that schools can improve student learning by engaging parents in ways that directly relate to their children’s academic progress, maintaining a consistent message of what is expected of parents, and reaching parents directly, personally, and with a trusting approach (Epstein, 1995; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Patrikakou, Weissberg, Redding, & Walberg, 2005; Redding, 2000; Redding, Langdon, Meyer, & Sheley, 2004). Effective leaders[C21] work to create a school environment that is welcoming and inclusive, and ensure that faculty both understand and commit to active parent and community involvement, and appreciate[C22] their students’ cultural backgrounds (Leithwood, 2012; Sebring et al., 2006). These leaders[C23] also view families as partners who have a voice in school affairs, including decisions about budgets, school programs and personnel, changes in curriculum and instruction, and student behavior (Henderson, Mapp, Johnson, & Davies, 2007; Sebring et al., 2006).
Trusting school–community partnerships contribute to improved student learning, achievement, behavior, and attendance (Bryan & Henry, 2012; Durlak, Weissburg, & Pachan, 2010; Epstein, 2011; Henderson & Mapp, 2002); educator efficacy (Haines, McCart, & Turnbull, 2013; Lawson, 2003); and enhanced connections among community members (Hill & Taylor, 2004). Principals can serve as connectors for families and students by linking their needs to appropriate and helpful community agencies (Leithwood, 2012). Many schools alone cannot provide all the educational and developmental experiences their students need; they frequently require organized support systems within their community to help students graduate and succeed in life (Blank & Villarreal, 2015). A meta-analysis revealed that community schools providing integrated support systems had increased attendance, math achievement, and GPAs, and reduced grade retention and dropout rates (Moore, 2014). While educational researchers have long described the benefits of these partnerships (e.g., Auerbach, 2010), increasingly principals are expected to build these partnerships as part of their instructional leadership portfolio (Hauseman, Pollock, & Wang, 2017).
Summary and Conclusions
The research cited in this report suggests that principals must possess competencies and expertise within multiple domains if they are to foster high-quality teaching and learning experiences. While earlier research emphasized the importance of a knowledge base of effective instruction and instructional leadership, it is clear that principals also need skills in organizational management to “unleash the potential of… teachers… through the removal of barriers and creation and refinement of conditions that influence school culture” (Hitt & Tucker, 2016, p. 561). Effective principals develop and convey the school’s vision and goals, hold expectations for student success and model these expectations in their own behavior, and use data to monitor performance for continual improvement. They build teachers’ professional capacity by identifying and targeting job-embedded professional development while also protecting their instructional time, build trusting relationships, and select the right teachers to fit the school’s context and needs.
These principals create a supportive learning organization by simultaneously focusing on organizational tasks and strengthening relationships. They strategically acquire and allocate resources while also sharing and distributing leadership among staff, consider the school context to optimize outcomes, and understand and build on the concept of diversity as a strength within the school. In addition, they are capable of developing and monitoring curriculum, instruction, and assessment while also encouraging personalized, safe, and orderly learning environments so that all students receive a high-quality learning experience.
Finally, principals are expected to demonstrate competence in building productive and collaborative relationships with families, and connecting the school to supportive community partners who can help meet the wide variety of student needs at the school. As noted by Liebowitz and Porter (2019), principals must be capable of effectively engaging in all these behaviors “with little opportunity for relative efficiencies gained by focusing on only some” (p. 814). As principals typically report average work weeks of almost 60 hours (U.S. Department of Education, 2017), allocating these behaviors across more educators is likely[C24] desirable (Liebowitz & Porter, 2019).
Finally, a further note about the importance of context for determining the principal competencies needed to be an effective leader. In their meta-analysis, Liebowitz and Porter (2019) found substantial variability in the direction and magnitude of relationships between principal behaviors and student, school, and organizational outcomes, and suggest that “principals’ actions [likely] matter in different ways in different contexts” (p. 815). Hallinger (2018) highlighted the institutional, community, sociocultural, political, economic, and school improvement contexts that shape the practice of school leadership. Although the key principal competencies that have been identified apply across a broad variety of contexts, the way in which these competencies are enacted will likely need to be adjusted to optimize outcomes. For example, “building a shared school vision” is a principal action that is useful and effective in most contexts, but enacting this practice in schools serving mostly economically disadvantaged and diverse families and students may necessitate greater parent communication and engagement (Leithwood et al., 2019).
As Leithwood and colleagues (2019) noted, “the role of research is to identify forms of leadership that will be helpful across many different contexts and…the prime role of school leaders is to figure out how best to use that information as they craft their responses to their own unique contexts” (p. 6). While a full discussion of the contextual variables that influence principal leadership is beyond the scope of this report, these variables are important considerations in interpreting the literature cited here.
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