The short answer is yes. Yet, not all principals do.
The reality is there are certain actions that a school principal can do that have a significant effect on student achievement, while other actions have little, if any, impact at all.
After reviewing the research, here are 7 proven things you can do to improve student results.
Focus your leadership: Principals have so many demands on their time that it is crucial for you to prioritize how you spend it. Specifically, an effective school principal focuses their leadership on teaching and learning. Research shows that principals who do this have far more impact than those who don’t.
While an effective school principal may embrace aspects of generic leadership models, such as transformational leadership, they apply them in ways that reflect the importance of teaching and learning:
- Challenging the status quo of current levels of student performance
- Espouse a noble cause by setting ambitious academic goals
- Provide intellectual stimulation through discussing evidence based teaching
Transformational leadership that is not focused on teaching and learning has far less impact.
Promote and participate in professional development for teachers: Research shows that quality professional development for teachers has a substantial impact on student results. The most effective professional development includes modelling, practice and feedback; and they occur over an extended period of time.
The professional development you offer must be focused on teaching and learning.
- Promote evidence based approaches to teaching
- Explore the science of how students really learn
- Monitor the impact of professional development on student results
Evaluating Teaching & Learning
Evaluating teaching and learning: Gone are the days where monitoring students involved nothing more than skimming through their planning. An effective school principal is fundamentally concerned with monitoring the impact that their teachers are having on students, and then helping teachers to have an even greater impact. In this way, teaching is primarily evaluated in terms of its impact on learning.
Yet, this is not about finding underperforming classes and blaming the teacher. Rather, it involves monitoring students’ progress from where they were to where you want them to be. Then, if you find the progress is not what you desire, you problem-solve with the teacher as they continue refining their efforts until the desired progress is being made.
Traditional evaluation techniques, such as looking at planning and observing teachers in their classroom still have their place. These techniques can help you ensure that:
- Teachers are clear about what students must master in order to succeed
- Planned assessment tasks actually measure the right things
- Teachers are using evidence based teaching strategies
However, these are all inputs that are designed to improve student results. They are not a result in themselves, so your evaluation must focus on student progress.
Accelerate more students: Acceleration involves allowing students to make their way through the curriculum at a faster rate than normal – typically through allowing them to skip a grade.
When you accelerate bright students, they progress a lot further than when you try to cater for them through within-class enrichment. They actually end up achieving just as well as the bright students in their new year level.
At present, acceleration is not common, largely due to people worrying about it causing interpersonal problems. However, research shows that accelerated students have less social issues than similar students who remain in their own year level. Furthermore, the potential stigma associated with being accelerated becomes far less potent when acceleration becomes a common practice.
Protect your teachers from extraneous demands: Teachers have more impact on student results than other factors, but only when they are focusing their time and energy on teaching.
An effective school principal will actively seek to protect their teachers from ‘additional tasks’, allowing them to spend their time on their core business – teaching the children in their care. Students deserve to have their teachers’ energies focused on them.
Research shows that buffering teachers from extraneous demands improves student results, while failing to protect your teachers has a negative impact.
For more information check out the article How To Protect Your Teachers From Extraneous Demands.
Align resource allocation with the strategic goals of the school: As Robert Marzano says, principals need to provide teachers with the materials that they need to do their job. However, no matter how many resources we have, caring teachers always want more; not for any selfish reason – but so they can do even more for their students.
An effective school principal realises that resources are limited and works with teachers to prioritise what they can buy. They focus their decisions on those things that will have the biggest impact on student’s results. Rather than giving teachers and department heads free reign, they discuss resources as part of the evaluation process at both individual and collective levels – i.e. what can we buy to help you get the results we desire?
Reducing the impact of disruptive students: The presence of a single disruptive student has a negative effect on students’ results – i.e. the results of the student himself, and the results of other students in the class.
Much of this can be addressed through helping teachers to become better at managing students’ behaviour. However, no matter how good a teacher is, there will still be some students who continue to rock the apple cart.
An astute school principal recognises this, and organises structured support programs to help these students change their behaviour. Research shows that the most effective support programs include behavioural interventions (e.g. Bill Roger’s Behaviour Recovery) and pressing students to achieve more academically. Such programs succeed for 78% of disruptive students.
One Thing Not To Do
Repeating students: While it is not an everyday practice, most principals have made the decision to repeat a student. This may be because they have fallen behind in the work, or because the teacher believes they are not ‘developmentally ready’ to go up a grade.
However, repeating students doesn’t work. In fact, it does more harm than good, with research showing that it actually has a negative effect on academic outcomes.