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











The power of using Professional Learning Protocols as a driver for co-learning:

It is vital important that we integrate deep learning strategies that keep the focus on analyzing student work and the impact of our teaching while using the time we have for co-learning in flexible ways.   In our book, Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence (Corwin Press, 2016), we describe methodologies which allow us to be involved in co-learning in the classroom as well as in more flexible ways outside the classroom setting.  Here are some details regarding one of the book’s protocols that does not require release time and we invite you to consider our book for more co-learning strategies:

Sharing work as a driver for co-learning for up to three or four participants:

The sample protocol below is designed to look at a variety of student responses to a collaboratively planned lesson to deepen our understanding. It works well for members of a teaching division or grade partners:

Prior collaborative planning to teaching

  • It is helpful if some norms of collaborative engagement have been established (see Appendix B in our book).
  • Establish an area of common teaching interest or concern (What does student data reveal as an area of focus?)
  • Choose a specific curriculum Learning Goal or Intention as a focus within a commonly agreed upon subject area.
  • Plan a lesson collaboratively and determine the Success Criteria that need to be co-constructed with students.
  • Determine together how prior student knowledge will be determined as a part of the planning process.
  • As a part of the planning, develop a rich performance task that directly relates to the learning goal and success criteria as a culminating event .
  • Determine how the student work will be assessed.

Individual teaching and choosing pieces of student work to share –

  • Within no more than two days of teaching the lesson, each member of the collaborative chooses three pieces of student work from the rich performance task to bring to share and discuss.
  • Choose pieces of student work that represent different levels of thinking and understanding.

Collaborative discussion – time needed 1.5 hours

  • Each participant debriefs their teaching experience and shares one piece of student work at a time.  Collaborators listen to each other and ask questions for clarification or offer suggestions for next steps in teaching and what feedback would be helpful for the student involved.
  • Collaborative debriefing ends with a reflection on the process of professional co-learning.

Learning, using protocols, is deepened with effective questions and facilitation of the discussion.  Here are some questions we might consider:

  • How do the pieces of student work relate to the Success Criteria that we felt were important?
  • What do we see as evidence of student thinking?
  • What are the next steps for learning for our students based on the evidence we see in their work?
  • What specific feedback will we give the students?
  • Who can be grouped together for guided practice and mini-lessons in responding to our data?

Reflection is a very important part of co-learning and questions on the process of co-learning are also valuable, such as the following:

  1. What did we learn from listening to our colleagues as we shared student work?
  2. What new perspectives did we gain from the experience of co-learning?
  3. What will we take back to our classrooms to try, amend or refine?
  4. How will we build on the learning?
  5. What would we change about the process and what we would we keep?
  6. When will we meet again and what kind of student work will we bring back to our learning table?

In summary, collaborative learning is a powerful learning tool for staff as well as students when we are specific and focussed in our planning, teaching, debriefing and is driven by on-going assessment.  The leadership needed to steer this focussed work is also specific and skills-based.   We call that leadership “Collabor-ability”(p. 107)!

Sharratt, L. & Planche, B. (2016) Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence. Corwin Press – see Appendices on pages 237-243 for further details on protocols for co-learning.

What are the Keys to Effective Student Learning Collaboration?

Leaders create the conditions for effective learning.  In the classroom, the teacher is the leader supported by school leadership. Teachers effectively become the stewards of collaborative learning once the right conditions are in place.  They play a vital role as instructors, guides and facilitators of collaborative learning as well as modelling a co-learning stance.

Project-based learning or other inquiry processes are increasingly used as the frame for collaborative learning.  What follows are many of the vital steps to consider in the inquiry journey.

Attend to the learning culture – Collaboration needs an underpinning of safety, trust and strong relationships.  We also believe strongly in what we call “Parameter No. 1” (Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012) which reinforces that all students can learn given the right time and support.   Such a positive belief also students to build a growth mindset.    Teachers as co-learners model a curious nature and the assurance it is important to risk-take in learning.  It is also important to avoid difficulties by being proactive.  Developing working norms for collaborative learning is an important part of the preparation as well as plans to support students who have focusing, learning or behavioral challenges.

Attend to learning processes – Teachers need to be skilled in both understanding collaborative learning processes and in assessing the impact of their teaching on student learning.  Attending to learning processes means that teachers have considered the scaffolds and supports students will need to be successful. The need for personalization and differentiation are realities to be integrated.  Teachers who understand the importance of creating deeper learning conditions prepare students to work together so that they can:

  • engage in research or inquiry about topics that interest them;      
  • involve student voice and choice in decision making about learning;                                                 
  • zero in on a specific question of inquiry with a clear focus and co-constructed criteria of success;
  • engage in frequent dialogue as a part of investigating authentic, real-world problems;
  • think critically about what they are learning and why;
  • consider different perspectives in what they are reading, researching and discussing;
  • engage in peer- and self-feedback and assessment as a part of collaborative work; and,
  • present their work to an authentic audience.

Attend to learning skills – Teachers need to be attentive to and keen observers of the need for large group instruction and “just in time” teaching for individuals as needed. As students work through the collaborative inquiry process, they will need to learn the specific skills in conducting a collaborative inquiry, such as: 

  • distinguishing between credible and non-credible research sources;
  • recognizing bias and separating fact from opinions;
  • selecting relevant source materials; (and delete) 
  • learning particular skills, such as analyzing, paraphrasing, inferring and summarizing; 
  • learning how to represent their learning using a variety of approaches and in a variety of ways; and,
  • learning how to demonstrate their learning to an authentic audience, such as: other peers, parents or community members.

Attend to on-going assessment – Assessment is an ongoing process in collaborative learning – from deciding how students will work together and how evidence of learning will be gathered.   Effective group work will involve opportunities to assess learning products as well as learning processes such as organization, self-regulation and initiative.  Most assessment evidence will be on-going formative information which can impact teaching and learning today and tomorrow.  Data today is instruction tomorrow, what we call “assessment-in-action” (Sharratt & Planche, 2016). At defined times, summative information based on the most consistent performance can be evaluated.  Student led-conferencing is a very valuable assessment tool in classrooms where collaborative learning is well embedded as students take ownership of their own progress and assess it against co-constructed Success Criteria.

For further information on collaborative learning for students and staff, consider –

“Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence” by Lyn Sharratt & Beate Planche

(Corwin Press, 2016).

Blog for Larry Ferlazzo by Beate Planche and Lyn Sharratt, Corwin Authors.

Recent Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL) Conference

Dr. Lyn Sharratt, Feb. 25, 2017 (updated June, 2017)

How does a district move from pockets of improvement in some schools to improvement in most schools and most classrooms, then importantly to improvement in every school, in every classroom? In other words, how does a system or district move to ALL students showing growth and achievement? There is much hard work involved as you build your learning culture and develop staff capacity over time. It must be our common goal to enhance learning outcomes for students wherever they happen to be learning. That is why we have taken our collaborative process to an international audience.

As I have worked “Putting Faces on the Data” in Australia, educators in many other locations have also become involved. It has been exciting to work with colleagues in Australia, Chile, Spain, the USA, and across Canada. We have learned many things together, such as: the importance of using Protocols when developing cultures of learning; the specificity needed in deconstructing Learning Intentions and co-constructing Success Criteria; creating Data Walls and collaboratively taking students’ FACES to Case Management Meetings to know every student; and how to use assessment data to inform instructional practices the very next minute.

On May 3, 2017, I was in Perth, Scotland along with my colleagues Beate Planche and Maggie Ogram to participate in the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL) conference where we focused on Collaboration Networks for Learning. At our session, participants learned about the practices that help schools move forward on their collaborative learning journey individually and as networks. The latest international work we have each undertaken continues to inform the work we are doing together to find the most successful collaborative approaches.

If you were unable to attend, please get in touch so we can determine how to get these effective practices into your school district.

Stay tuned to this blog for further updates on upcoming international sessions.





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