What we know about successful school leadership

by Kenneth Leithwood and Carolyn Riehl


This summary paper from the American Educational Research Association (AERA), January 2003, brings together thinking on school leadership into one document. It synthesises major findings from recent research into the following five principles:

  • Leadership has significant effects on student learning, second only to the effects of the quality of curriculum and teachers’ instructions.
  • Currently, administrators and teacher leaders provide most of the leadership in schools, but other potential sources of leadership exist.
  • A core set of leadership practices form the basics of successful leadership and are valuable in almost all educational contexts.
  • Successful school leaders respond productively to challenges and opportunities created by the accountability-oriented policy context in which they work.
  • Successful school leaders respond productively to the opportunities and challenges of educating diverse groups of students.

Reflective questions

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

  • The broad categories described as important for leadership success are: setting directions, developing people, and developing the organisation. How closely do these relate to the structure of your school development plan?
  • Meeting student learning needs and ensuring the delivery of quality educational outcomes underpin education planning. How might these goals apply to these three leadership categories?


Leithwood, K. A., & Riehl, C. (2003). What we know about successful school leadership. Philadelphia, PA: Laboratory for Student Success, Temple University.

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