WHAT STRONG LEADERS DO TO INCREASE ALL STUDENTS’ GROWTH AND ACHIEVEMENT

Introduction:

The research is clear: there are specific actions that leaders at every level must take to increase all students’ learning growth and achievement – the core business of all education systems.  These include: co-constructing and clearly articulating a vision with shared beliefs and understandings at the centre; intentionally creating structures that enable the improvement work to progress; launching communication and Professional Learning structures to foster the growth of a system-wide collaborative culture of inquiry and, progressing to involve everyone in networked communities of practice that ‘own the work’ in schools, between schools, and beyond schools at the system level. While Ontario’s leadership research has been out in front in many ways, educators there have also integrated significant research from across the globe. What follows reviews those evidence-proven areas that must be woven together to increase all students’ learning growth and achievement.

14 Parameters:

The original Sharratt and Fullan research which produced the ‘14 Parameters’ was first published in “Realization”, and subsequently discussed in Sharratt et al, Corwin 2012, 2015, 2016, 2019 (in Press). Resulting from an analysis of ‘what worked’ to drive and sustain significantly increased student achievement in schools in challenging circumstances, the findings were first extended to the entire original school district with the seemingly impossible outcome of it becoming one of the perennially top performing school districts in Ontario. More incredibly, the underlying concepts were adopted by the state as its’ ‘modus operandi’ leading to the “School Effectiveness Framework” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013), with Ontario’s results becoming and remaining strong among the world leaders. Over the past decade, I have worked in many jurisdictions across the globe and across contexts to introduce the 14 Parameters and supporting high-impact strategies with very tangible success.

The 14 Parameters

(adapted from Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012, 2013)

  1. Shared Beliefs and Understandings
  2. Embedded Knowledgeable Others
  3. Quality Assessment Informs Instruction
  4. Principal as Lead Learner
  5. Early and Ongoing Intervention
  6. Case Management Approach
  7. Focused Professional Learning at Staff Meetings
  8. In-School Meetings – Collaborative Assessment of Student Work
  9. Book Rooms of Levelled Books and Multi-Modal Resources
  10. Allocation of System and School Budgets For Learning
  11. Collaborative Inquiry (CI) – a Whole System Approach
  12. Parental and Community Involvement
  13. Cross-Curricular Literacy Connections
  14. Shared Responsibility and Accountability

 

Parameter # 1, displayed below, the vision with four key shared beliefs and understandings is Parameter #1for a reason. It is the most important to deliver, it sets a common groundwork, and it is the hardest to implement fully. Without it, all other actions taken by leadership at any level will fail.

Parameter #1: Shared beliefs and understandings among all staff that:

  • Each student can achieve high standards given the right time and the right support.
  • Each teacher can teach to high standards given the right assistance.
  • High expectations and early and ongoing intervention are essential.
  • Leaders, teachers and students need to be able to articulate what they do and why they lead/teach/learn the way they do.

Adapted from Hill & Crevola, 1999

Using the shared beliefs and understandings as the foundation and building a culture in which everyone is a learner and contributor, develops and sustains productive working relationships with and between staff and all stakeholders. This collaborative success both enables and results from Parameter #14 – all stakeholders own all the students and their progress, and as student progress and achievement grows, so does that commitment to every student and school. Relationships matter most with none more important than another – they must all be generated and maintained – those within the central office, between the central office and the schools, and between the system, its schools, teachers, parents, local community groups, and the department of education. In short, all relationships matter greatly. Simple first order structures such as ensuring collaborative planning time and PLC time, embedded in every school’s weekly schedule, facilitate and nurture relationships and communicate the system’s expectations of achieving the vision. Continuing to support and extend these structures as the system experiences student growth and increased achievement further builds and strengthens the many levels of communication that enable Parameter 14’s efficacious power. It is a virtuous cycle.

8 Characteristics of Strong Systems:

From subsequent research in Ontario (Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012, 2013; Leithwood et al, 2013-2018), and from work done elsewhere, the focus has been broadened to include all levels of leadership: system, school and classroom. From our papers such as “The district that did the right things right” (Sharratt & Fullan, 2005), to papers from Dr. Ken Leithwood, a well-known and respected colleague who has written several papers about Strong Systems, there is a commonality to the message. In what follows I show how Leithwood’s characteristics are mirrored in the 14 Parameters.

As Leithwood (2003) says, leaders are second-only to teachers’ direct impact on increasing students’ achievement.  Strong Systems have leaders who:

  1. Articulate a clear and compelling shared vision – Parameter #1;
  2. Focus on what creates and sustains quality classroom practice through their collaborative inquiries with staff: Parameters #3 and #13;
  3. Use data to build teacher and leader capacity, to establish the Professional Learning focus, and to determine human and material resources needed: Parameters #5 and #6;
  4. Use time for staff Professional Learning, encouraging and facilitating PLC’s: Parameter #7 and #8;
  5. Establish Job-embedded Professional Learning with Knowledgeable Others: Parameter #2;
  6. Spend budget on learning and centralized resources, re-allocating and differentiated as data shows that is required: Parameters #9 and #10;
  7. Are continuous learners while being leaders: Parameter #4; and,
  8. Model and monitor shared responsibility and accountability for all learners – students, teachers, leaders, parents and broader community: Parameter #12 and #14.

Sharratt, June 2018; adapted from Leithwood (2013, pp. 13–29)

 

A question I ask of everyone within systems: ‘How do you rate your leadership as a system leader?’ That’s not a rhetorical question. In fact, a system self- assessment tool against the elements of the 14 Parameters has been created and refined that system leaders use prior to embarking and continuing the 14 Parameter implementation work (Sharratt, 2019, in press).

System Leadership

At the system level, senior leaders may have additional administrative or system responsibilities that are enormous and cannot be delegated, yet the fundamental goal remains student learningwith the data (evidence) available and drawn from a much larger source base and analyzed from the broad system perspective. The concept that system leaders must also continue to be instructional leaders is captured in at least five of the characteristics: (1) vision, mission, and goals; (2) a coherent internal instructional guidance system; (3) learning-oriented organization improvement processes; (4) job-embedded professional development for all staff; and (5) a comprehensive approach to leadership development.

The leadership literature shows the best system-wide practice approaches to building leadership capacity in a school, between schools, and across systems can work. While there are some strong systems, being strong is not the norm, as not every leader within most systems could be defined as “good,” let alone “great.” Good is, however, a baseline upon which teachers and school leaders need to build and scaffold to improve in their systems. While becoming innovative may be an eventual goal for some in leadership, first we must achieve a high level of baseline “good” leadership performance across systems. That takes a lot of work to develop and also to sustain.

Leithwood (2013) calls the balance between the capacity to lead and manage, “system thinking,” and the capacity to think about new concepts that are required to move the system and its related systems and governments ahead “proactive.” More specifically, “people who are proactive effect environmental change; they identify opportunities and act on them, show initiative, persevere, until they bring about meaningful change. They transform their organizations’ mission, find and solve problems, and take it upon themselves to have an impact on the world around them” (Leithwood, 2013, p. 46). Note, “they identify opportunities – that means they use data from the standardized system “numbers” or assessments and observation data gleaned from being in schools looking for evidence of adherence to plans that are coherent with the vision, the pedagogies, and the system goals.

As the strategic planning process is often long-term, this “system thinking” involves foresight, experience, and collaborative thought. For senior leaders, there are multiple opportunities to become innovative. There is abundant research concerning how to create innovation and the specific training required for students so they understand a structured inquiry process and how teachers can foster creativity—but for system leaders, the important skills and attitudes that define one as causing innovation to happen are related to

  • understanding the student learning and achievement data,
  • understanding the content and experiential needs of changing economic and employment conditions,
  • having strong interpersonal skills, and
  • developing strong community contacts with whom the leader is willing to share and question.

Instructional leaders, Hattie reports (2012), attend to the quality and impact on student learning of all in the school. These leaders ensure that

  • disruption to learning is minimized,
  • teachers have high expectations for their students,
  • daily visits are made to classrooms, and
  • there is concern about the quality and nature of learning in the school.

The critical difference is the overall impact each nugget above has on making a difference to student learning. The overall instructional leader impact on students’ achievement is significant with a positive effect size of.42 when leaders

  1. observe in classrooms (Parameters #1 and #14: Learning Walks and Talks),
  2. interpret test scores with teachers (Parameter #6: Data Walls and Case Management Meetings),
  3. focus on instructional issues (Parameter #3: Quality Teaching in Large blocks of Time),
  4. ensure a coordinated instructional program (Parameter #3: Assessment that Informs Instruction),
  5. are highly visible (Parameters #1 and #14: Learning Walks and Talks),
  6. communicate high academic standards (Parameter #1: Shared Beliefs and Understandings), and
  7. ensure class atmospheres are conducive to learning (Parameter #3 and #5: ‘The Third Teacher’).

Innovation leadership is about being willing to lead where no one has gone before—to take calculated risks informed by research about what works—trying alternative approaches to achieving student success when no one else believes there is a problem that requires a solution. Without innovation leadership, organizations are likely to struggle. This new call for innovation represents the shift from the 20th-century traditional view of organizational practices, which discouraged employee innovative behaviors, to the 21st-century view of valuing innovative thinking as a potentially powerful influence on organizational performance.

Recalculating the Route—Striking a New Leadership Balance

Traditional Leadership Attributes Innovation Leadership Attributes
Narrowly Defined Broadly Based
Teacher Centered Learner Centered
Knowledge Acquisition Knowledge Mobilization
Content Process
Theory Theory Into Practice
Time Slotted On Demand
One Size Fits All Personalized
School Multiple Stakeholders
Classroom Global Community
Learning for School Learning for Life
Problem Solving Innovative Approaches
Competitive Collaborative
Summative Formative
Mechanical Organic
Conformity Diversity

As the chart above illustrates, moving from traditional leadership attributes on the left to innovation leadership characteristics on the right will create leadership styles that enable innovation to occur within the classroom and outside school walls.

To create a shift, how do we move more of our thinking and actions to the right-hand side of our chart to create innovation? By the very definition, we

  • foster a learning institution that recognizes that taking something and making it better is a process;
  • take time to establish equitable inclusive processes that support opportunities for dialogue;
  • build trust and accountability to the expected outcomes;
  • embrace a culture of learning where exploring new work, in new ways, is welcomed and expected;
  • assume there might be missteps but anticipate the safety nets that need to be put in place;
  • strengthen the learning culture through collaborative peer-based accountability; and
  • remove structures that foster isolation in the classroom and throughout the learning process.

                                                                               Source:Adapted from Trilling & Fadel (2009).

 

I am convinced that consistent, persistent and insistent leadership at every level, focused on the FACES of teachers and students, drives system and school improvement.

 

 

Dr. Lyn Sharratt

June 28, 2018

 

Adapted Excerpt from “Good to Great to Innovate: Recalculating the Route”,Sharratt and Harild, CORWIN, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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