Seven Strong Claims About Successful School Leadership

by Kenneth Leithwood, Christopher Day, Pam Sammons, Alma Harris, and David Hopkins

Overview

This is a summary of the key findings of a review of literature around what the authors call 'strong claims' about successful school leadership. They list seven claims that are not all strong in the same way, but all do find support in varying amounts of strong empirical research evidence. The first two attracted the largest amount of evidence.

The seven claims are:

  • School leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning.
  • Almost all successful leaders draw on the same repertoire of basic leadership practices.
  • The ways in which leaders apply these basic leadership practices – not the practices themselves – demonstrate responsiveness to, rather than dictation by, the contexts in which they work.
  • School leaders improve teaching and learning indirectly and most powerfully through their influence on staff motivation, commitment, and working conditions.
  • School leadership has a greater influence on schools and students when it is widely distributed.
  • Some patterns of distribution are more effective than others.
  • A small handful of personal traits explains a high proportion of the variation in leadership effectiveness.

The article provides a summary of very recent research on school leadership. It links in with discussions in New Zealand through the leadership Think Tanks about effective leadership. It is useful reading for aspiring leaders, and may also be a useful reference for boards of trustees when they are appointing senior leaders to their school.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • Several of the 'strong claims' have implications for relationship management. What are the relationship characteristics of effective leaders with whom you have worked?
  • Claims 5 and 6 mention 'distributed leadership'. What does this term mean to you, and which of the patterns of distribution seem to be the most effective? How do they work in your school and what do they achieve?

Further reading

This article has an excellent set of references to follow up.

References

Leithwood, K., Day, C., Sammons, P., Harris, A., & Hopkins, D. (2006). Seven strong claims about successful school leadership. England: NCSL.

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