Qualities of Effective School Leaders

Why are some school leaders more successful than others? The team over at Creative Education have some suggestions

Why is it that some school leaders seem able to walk into almost any school and have a real, significant and lasting impact? There’s not just one reason, there are several – we’ve outlined them below.

They have high expectations
The best school leaders have consistently high expectations of themselves, of their team and of their students. It’s this ability to see the possibility of success in every situation that stops them from shying away from working with the most challenging students, staff or situations. Where other people see problems, effective leaders see challenges to be overcome.

They see students as individuals, rather than as a product of their pastwhat-makes-an-effective-leader
Effective school leaders believe that every student should be treated as an individual who is capable of succeeding. They do not busy themselves with labelling and excusing poor behaviour or performance due to difficult circumstances. This does not mean they disregard students’ additional needs in terms of providing support where it’s needed, it simply means that they do not lower their expectations as a result of these needs. They try to break down barriers and provide a level playing field free of judgement and get out clauses and consequently often even the most unexpected students fly.

They maximise professional development opportunities
CPD is never seen as a box ticking exercise by great leaders but rather as an opportunity to build on the existing strengths of staff and address any areas in need of input and support. Formal or informal skills and needs audits mean that development time is focused on the right areas and the time and money they invest into developing or commissioning relevant, practical, high quality INSET means that staff tend not to dread INSET days in the way that they might in other schools.

The professional development diet is varied and continuous with opportunities for development being constantly sought and found. Staff are encouraged to disseminate best practice and there is a keen awareness where strength and experience lay within the team. This is tapped into as a valuable resource for all colleagues.

They don’t limit staff potential
Effective school leaders see the big picture and will develop staff to the point where they outgrow their role – where feasible they provide progression within the school; where this is not possible they whole-heartedly and pro-actively support staff opportunities to progress elsewhere.

They focus on the nuts and bolts
Teaching and learning are absolutely key to any great leader. They do not distance themselves from the day to day, preferring to ‘get their hands dirty’. They really understand what is going on at the chalk face. They encourage innovation and are always happy to support new ideas that staff are confident will promote student achievement and engagement even where gains are not seen instantly.

They implement effective assessment and tracking strategies
Students are seen as individuals rather than a number and a potential grade. The progress of every student is carefully assessed and tracked and this data is understood and utilised by all staff to ensure that students’ learning needs are being met. Effective tracking strategies and good staff knowledge and understanding mean anomalies are picked up early – these are never seen as anyone’s ‘fault’ or a problem but instead, the needs of individual students are considered and addressed. Where appropriate, expectations are revised – effective leaders always have high, but not unrealistic, expectations.

They engage with parents
Great leaders make active efforts to truly engage with parents. They understand the importance of their inclusion as part of the school community and they also appreciate the many barriers to parental engagement. As ever, they see challenges rather than problems and focus on developing a true feeling of inclusion of parents as well as students. Parents feel involved in the school’s journey and as a result of their engagement with the school, they become increasingly skilled at supporting their children’s academic and pastoral progress.

They always believe there is more to do
Great leaders can be relentless in their determination and tend to see the school as something that is continuously evolving. Every day they are both tackling the challenges of today and also planning for the future and keeping half an eye on where they school should be headed next. They have clear strategies for improvement and innovation based on robust self-evaluation and data analysis and no voice goes lost when considering the future of the school. Staff, students, parents and the wider community are all heard by great leaders and their team.


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