School Leadership Models
Leadership Models PDF
Donley, J., Detrich, R., States, J., & Keyworth, (2020). Leadership Models. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute. https://www.winginstitute.org/quality-leadership-leadership-models
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, 2020; Leithwood, Harris, & Strauss, 2010; Robinson, Lloyd, & Rowe, 2008; Supovitz, Sirinides, & May, 2010). While 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).
Researchers in educational leadership have proposed theoretical models of school leadership that identify and organize the types of competencies and characteristics desired in school leaders. This review highlights major models that have been influential in the field and discusses evidence for their efficacy in explaining school leaders’ influence.
Historical Overview and Background
Effective principals are effective leaders. While no single definition has been identified in the research literature (Bush, 2008), school leadership has generally been referred to as “the work of mobilizing and influencing others to articulate and achieve the school’s shared intentions and goals” (Leithwood & Riehl, 2005, p. 14). The scholarship on leadership prior to 1950 focused on the personality traits that distinguished leaders from followers, arguing that traits such as charisma and diligence were essential and often found in “great men” serving as leaders (Gümüş, Bellibaş, Esen, & Gümüş, 2018; Krüger & Scheerens, 2012). Attention then shifted to the behaviors that were thought to be indicative of effective school leaders (Krüger & Scheerens, 2012). Other prominent models during this time period included one positing the importance of contingency/situational leadership, which argued that effective leadership was highly dependent on leaders’ school context (Gümüş et al., 2018).
The “effective schools” research of the 1980s followed, providing qualitative evidence for schools that were able to help all students thrive no matter their socioeconomic background (Clark, Lotto, & Astuto, 1984). This body of research determined that strong leaders led these effective schools (Purkey & Smith, 1983) and served as the cornerstone of the development of school leadership models that are well studied today, such as instructional leadership (Gümüş et al., 2018; Hallinger, Gümüş, & Bellibaş, 2020). The transition into the 21st century brought an increased emphasis on accountability in the United States and globally, with the metric of student achievement seen as the basis for assessing educational effectiveness and, in turn, the effectiveness of principals (Hallinger et al., 2020).
Effective school leaders today are thought to have” a set of competencies 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. Leadership models have helped researchers clarify the definition and practices of effective leadership and how principals influence schools from varying perspectives.
While school leadership has been the object of a great deal of discussion and research in the past few decades, most systematic research reviews have incorporated all types of educational leadership studies without isolating and studying leadership models per se (Gümüş et al., 2018). This overview examines contemporary prevalent school leadership models along with supporting research for their efficacy in explaining principals’ effectiveness.
Defined as “school leadership intended to influence school and classroom teaching and learning processes with the goal of improving learning for all students” (Hallinger et al., 2020, p. 1632), instructional leadership emerged from studies on the characteristics of effective principals to become one of the most intensely studied leadership models (Gümüş et al., 2018; Tian & Huber, 2019). Instructional leadership dominated the field from 1980 to 1995 (Gümüş et al., 2018; Hallinger et al., 2020). After that, scholars focused on other leadership models, for example, distributed or shared leadership, because of policy shifts such as teacher professionalization (Hallinger et al., 2020). However, interest in instructional leadership grew again after 2010 (Gümüş et al., 2018).
The first conceptual model to address instructional leadership grew out of a research synthesis on the topic, proposing how principals’ instructional leadership impacted student learning outcomes, and how this impact depended on variables such as instructional climate and community context (Bossert, Dwyer, Rowan, & Lee, 1982). Hallinger’s Principal Instructional Management Rating Scale (PIMRS) concurrently provided a key research tool and framework that produced abundant lines of research addressing instructional leadership (Hallinger & Heck, 1996, 1998; Hallinger & Murphy, 1985). This framework suggested that instructional leaders must balance three key functions: (1) developing the school’s mission by framing and communicating school goals; (2) managing the instructional program by coordinating curriculum, assessing instructional effectiveness, and monitoring learning; and (3) instilling a positive school climate by maintaining high visibility, enforcing academic standards, and providing professional development coupled with protected teacher instructional time (Hallinger, 2005; Hallinger & Murphy, 1985).
A variety of quantitative research reviews have affirmed positive, though mediated, relationships between principal’s instructional leadership and student learning and other school outcomes (Bossert et al., 1982; Hallinger & Heck, 1996; Leithwood et al., 2020; Liebowiz & Porter, 2019; Louis et al., 2010; Robinson et al., 2008; Scheerens, 2012; Witziers, Bosker, & Krüger, 2003). A recent meta-analysis of the empirical literature, for example, 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). In their review of qualitative and quantitative research published from 2001 to 2012, Osborne-Lampkin, Folsom, and Herrington (2015) identified instructional management behaviors that addressed classroom instruction and curricula as one of four principal competencies that significantly influenced student achievement.
Recent content analyses of instructional leadership research suggest that these studies have largely shifted toward exploring models that consider how the influence of instructional leadership is moderated by other factors, and the relationship between leadership and student learning and other school and teacher variables (Boyce & Bowers, 2018; Hallinger, 201l). In a review of 109 studies published between 1988 and 2013 that used Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data, Boyce and Bowers (2018) noted themes found in the instructional leadership research and confirmed a trend in the field from a narrow focus on instructional leadership toward broader notions of “leadership for learning” (Leithwood, Harris, & Hopkins, 2008; Murphy, Elliott, Goldring, & Porter, 2007)
This broader concept of instructional leaders is reflected in the research on the behaviors of effective principals. Effective school leaders 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). Instructional leadership also 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, and observation of and feedback on classroom teaching (Murphy et al., 2006; Robinson et al., 2008).
School leaders exerting instructional leadership protect instructional time during the school day, limit disruptions, and encourage teacher and student attendance (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). Instructional leaders ensure that students’ backgrounds are incorporated into the instructional program and create personalized and culturally responsive learning environments (Hitt & Tucker, 2008; Leithwood, 2012; Murphy et al., 2006; Sebring, Allensworth, Bryk, Easton, & Luppescu, 2006).
Murphy and Hallinger (1988) were among researchers who took a broader view of instructional leadership to argue for the inclusion of a principal’s 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; Horng, Klasik, & Loeb, 2010; 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 (Grissom & Loeb, 2011; Horng et al., 2010). In fact, instructional leadership and organizational management are both likely components of the broader construct of leadership effectiveness (Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, & Easton, 2010; Sebastian, Allensworth, Wiedermann, Hochbein, & Cunningham, 2019).
Distributed or Shared Leadership
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 as a principal-centered practice evolved into shared instructional leadership, in which the principal and teachers work together to determine the best instructional practices for the school (Marks & Printy, 2003). Also referred to as distributed (Spillane, Halverson, & Diamond, 2001, 2004) or collective leadership (Browne-Ferrigno, 2016), this model points out that principals generally are unable to enact instructional leadership alone (Hallinger, 2005) and, in fact, inflexible hierarchies can produce low staff morale and performance (Tian, Risku, & Collin, 2016). Principals need teachers to fulfill leadership roles and perform leadership tasks; teachers are the elements of instructional leadership that form a collaborative school culture (Spillane et al., 2001, 2004).
Distributed leadership is effective when informal responsibilities are shared among educators based on patterns of expertise, such as teams created to solve problems of practice (DeFlaminis, 2013; Hulpia & Devos, 2010). The notion of distributed leadership was operationalized in the Annenberg Foundation’s Distributed Leadership Project (DLP), which sought to build leadership capacity in urban schools with highly diverse student populations and in need of substantial school improvement (DeFlaminis, 2013). The DLP provided principal preparation to establish a distributed leadership mindset, and assisted with the development of distributed leadership teams to build leadership capacity in Philadelphia schools. Positive results in the form of multiple leadership team outcomes (e.g., effective team functioning and trust and efficacy levels among team members) led to the program being replicated in New York in 2015 (Harris & DeFlaminis, 2016).
Distributed leadership has also received an extensive amount of research attention, particularly in the past decade (Gümüş et al., 2018), and the body of research has generally confirmed the leadership potential of teachers (Tian & Huber, 2019). This leadership style has been associated with positive outcomes such as improved student performance in math and reading, teacher satisfaction, enhanced teacher skills, and individual and collective teacher efficacy (Hallinger & Heck, 2010; Heck & Hallinger, 2009; Leithwood & Mascall, 2008; Mascall, Leithwood, Strauss, & Sacks, 2008; Supovitz & Riggan, 2012), as well as teacher retention (Booker & Glazerman, 2009; Cowan & Goldhaber, 2016).
The effectiveness of distributed leadership on school outcomes and student achievement continues to be documented in the recent literature (Leithwood et al., 2020). However, how leadership is distributed produces diverse outcomes and results, and its effectiveness depends on the way in which leadership roles and responsibilities are distributed to optimally address the organization’s needs through staff expertise, which varies from school to school (Eckert, 2019; Heck & Hallinger, 2009; Leithwood & Mascall, 2008; Leithwood et al., 2020). As Harris and DeFlaminis (2016) noted, “distributed leadership is not a panacea, it depends on how it is shared, received and enacted” (p. 143).
As instructional and distributed leadership models grew in prominence, another important line of research addressed the leadership required to turn around poorly performing schools. These researchers suggested that transformational leadership in which principals and other school leaders serve as change agents who inspire and motivate staff to improve organizational performance collaboratively, was required for this Herculean task (Hallinger, 1992; Leithwood, 1994). Transformational leadership stresses the following factors: “building school vision and goals, providing intellectual stimulation, offering individualized support, modeling professional practices and values, demonstrating high performance expectations, and developing structures to foster participation in school decisions” (Urick & Bowers, 2014, p. 100). Transformative school leadership connects leaders to 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).
A series of meta-analyses showed a modest correlation between transformational leadership and student achievement. However, they 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. Robinson et al.’s (2008) meta-analysis of research addressing the impact of leadership styles showed that instructional leadership had 3 to 4 times the effects on student achievement as transformative leadership, although others subsequently argued that the distinctions drawn in the study between instructional and transformational leadership may have been overly rigid (Day, Gu, & Sammons, 2016).
In fact, a study of highly improved schools in England revealed that principals exerted both instructional and transformational leadership strategies to build teachers’ commitment to, and capacity for, improvement by introducing, implementing, and sustaining standards of high-quality teaching and learning (Day et al., 2011). This integrated model was echoed in research by Marks and Printy (2003), who noted 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).
Several lines of research have attempted to unify the results from research on instructional, transformational, and distributed leadership into an integrated model of school leadership while further considering how school context influences principals’ enactment of leadership behaviors. Marks and Printy (2003) found that transformational leadership was a necessary, but not sufficient, component of shared instructional leadership. The investigators suggested that this form of integrated leadership created a synergy among principals and teachers around instructional innovation and improvement. Researchers have extended the work of Marks and Printy, finding that principals’ leadership styles vary depending on their background and school context and needs, and that principals may simultaneously practice different leadership behaviors accordingly to address these factors (Boberg & Bourgeois, 2016; Bruggencate, Luyten, Scheerens, & Sleegers, 2012; Day et al., 2016; Urick & Bowers, 2014). For example, Hallinger (2018) identified several types of contexts that shape leadership practice, including cultural, economic, community, political, and school improvement contexts. Flexibility to consider the school’s context or situation allows leaders 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).
In an analysis of instructional leadership research, Boyce and Bowers (2018) developed an integrated leadership model that attempted to depict the relationship among key factors that emerged from research findings. They noted four instructional leadership themes (principal leadership and influence, teacher autonomy and influence, adult development, and school climate), and described their relationship with three other factors emerging from the literature (teacher satisfaction, commitment, and retention), developing an integrated model that included both shared instructional leadership and human resource management. They found, for example, that teacher autonomy and perceptions of influence combine to form a reciprocal relationship with principal leadership, together forming the foundation for instructional leadership.
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 the Ontario Leadership Framework, or OLF (Leithwood, 2012); Learning-Centered Leadership Framework (Murphy et al., 2006); and Essential Supports Framework (Sebring et al., 2006). While a discussion of each of these frameworks is beyond the scope of this paper, Hitt and Tucker’s Unified Framework provides an example of how elements of instructional, distributed or shared, and transformational leadership are integrated into a contemporary leadership framework.
Adapted from Hitt and Tucker (2016)
Leadership for Equity
While the cited leadership frameworks and accompanying leadership behaviors have been shown to positively influence school-level achievement measures, schools and school leaders are increasingly held responsible for other outcomes, most prominently equity (Leithwood et al., 2020). Equity has been referred to as “attention to the fairness of outcomes within the context of an unequal playing field” (Ishimaru & Galloway, 2014, p. 94). Leadership for equity has become an emergent focus of research over the past decade, as scholars have attempted to build upon and extend what is known about effective school leadership to include how leaders enact behavior that promotes equitable outcomes for all students (Oplatka, 2014; Tian & Huber, 2019).
Researchers have noted that principals who positively influence student achievement also incorporate students’ backgrounds into the instructional program and create personalized and culturally responsive learning environments (Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Leithwood, 2012; Murphy et al., 2006; Sebring et al., 2006); however, little attention and guidance have been given to how school leaders can most effectively address the frequent disparate academic outcomes observed for marginalized student groups and students of color resulting from persistent and pervasive opportunity gaps in educational systems (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Theoharis, 2007). The topics of culturally responsive school leadership (Khalifa, Gooden, & Davis, 2016) and leadership for social justice (Brayboy, Castagno, & Maughan, 2007; Ryan, 2006; Theoharis, 2007) have emerged as prevalent lines of inquiry addressed by school leadership researchers. For example, Khalifa et al. (2016) reviewed the literature on culturally responsive school leadership, concluding that culturally responsive leaders (1) develop critical awareness of their own values, beliefs and dispositions; (2) ensure that teacher use culturally responsive curricula and instruction; (3) create culturally responsive and welcoming school environments; and (4) engage student and families in community contexts by accepting and embracing students’ home cultures.
Leadership frameworks for educational equity are emerging as efforts to integrate the accumulating body of school leadership research with research addressing leadership for equity. For example, Ishimaru and Galloway (2014), in collaboration with researchers, practitioners, and community leaders with expertise in educational equity, developed a research-based organizational leadership conceptual framework for educational equity; it argues for a central emphasis on leadership practices that foster or inhibit equitable educational systems. This framework proposes 10 high-leverage equitable school leadership practices adapted from and aligned to national standards developed by the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC):
- Construct and enact an equity vision that explicitly recognizes existing systemic inequities, and demonstrate high expectations for educator practice and student outcomes.
- Supervise for improvement of equitable teaching and learning, to include instructional practices such as culturally responsive teaching and differentiated instruction.
- Develop organizational leadership for equity in others, such as parents, students, and community members, by building their capacity for self-reflection regarding biases and assumptions, and collaborating to move instructional practices to become more equitable.
- Foster an equitable school culture by intentionally deepening the voices of students, families, and staff who have been traditionally marginalized and building relationships across the school community.
- Allocate resources (financial, material, time, human resources) to address the needs of students who traditionally have not been well served because of their ethnicity, language, or economic class.
- Hire, place, and retain personnel of color who also possess strong equity commitments, understanding, and skills.
- Collaborate with families and communities by establishing and maintaining meaningful and sustained relationships, engaging these stakeholders in school improvement for equity, and ensuring plenty of two-way communication.
- Engage in self-reflection and growth by examining one’s own identity, values, biases, and privileges, and developing and understanding how they operate in school and society both historically and currently.
- Model integrity, advocacy, conviction, and tenacity in pursuing equity.
- Influence the sociopolitical context by collaborating with stakeholders to address the roots of systemic inequities and publicly working toward socially just policy and implementation.
These leadership practices are “designed to support the professional growth and practice of leadership teams in creating more equitable education environments” (Ishimaru & Galloway, 2014, p. 120), rather than being entirely focused on the school principal. The framework also has implications for designing principal preparation programs, selecting and developing faculty for these preparation programs, implementing assessment licensure programs, evaluating principal effectiveness, and providing K–12 professional development programs (Galloway & Ishimaru, 2015).
Summary and Conclusions
School leadership has been the subject of extensive research, and several models have been framed to synthesize and organize what is known about how principals and other school leaders influence student, teacher, and school outcomes.
The instructional leadership model, in which principals are thought to exert a highly influential, though mediated, effect on teaching and learning, has received strong support in the research literature. Strong instructional leaders actively plan and participate in professional learning with teachers, involve themselves substantively in curriculum and teaching, and use data to monitor progress toward goals. Research shows that instructional leadership also broadly includes organizational management duties, such as resource acquisition and allocation, and providing safe learning environments.
The distributed or shared leadership model emerged as research accumulated regarding the benefits of teacher leadership and the need to spread the responsibility for school improvement beyond the building principal. Shared leadership has received extensive research support, suggesting that these collaborative leadership cultures are associated with positive teacher and student outcomes; however, leadership roles and responsibilities must be tailored to the needs of the school’s context by appropriately using staff’s areas of expertise.
The transformational leadership model, in which principals or other school leaders act as change agents to inspire and motivate staff to work toward school, rather than individual, success, has become another prominent line of inquiry. Research has consistently documented relationships between key direction-setting leadership practices and teacher and school outcomes; however, it is likely that solid instructional and organizational leadership must form the basis for principals to be able to successfully exert transformative leadership strategies.
The integrated leadership model represents recent efforts to synthesize, organize, and unify the research on effective school leadership that has been addressed in instructional, distributed or shared, and transformational leadership models, as well as incorporate the school context in which leadership takes place. For example, the integrated model has suggested that instructional leadership likely is a result of the degree of teacher autonomy and influence and a principal’s human resource management strategies. Principals likely use elements of all three types of leadership styles or strategies, and recent leadership frameworks clearly reflect this integrated approach. Use of a broad array of leadership strategies is often crucial, particularly for principals leading schools in high-poverty communities.
Increasing attention in the field has been devoted to studying the leadership needed for advancing toward equitable outcomes for all students. Research on culturally responsive school leadership has described, for example, how leaders build bridges with families by embracing students’ home cultures, and develop teachers’ capacity to use culturally responsive instruction. Culturally responsive school leadership is reflected in a recent leadership framework that integrates national school leadership standards with this research, and proposes high-leverage school practices to support leadership teams as they seek to create more equitable school environments.
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