Leadership for School Improvement

Year: 2016

Author: Longmuir, Fiona, McCrohan, Kieran

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Beginning in 2001, the International Successful School Principalship Project (ISSPP) was developed to address the need to better understand how principals contribute to school success. The project now has active research groups in more than 20 countries and is acclaimed as ‘the most comprehensive and coherent international comparative study of the Principalship every undertaken’ (Caldwell, 2014). The core methodology of the ISSPP is multi-perspective case studies. Outcomes of more than 100 case studies completed to date have allowed for significant international comparisons and conceptualisations (see Day & Gurr, 2014; Day & Leithwood, 2007; Moos, Johansson & Day, 2011; and Ylimaki & Jacobson, 2011).This paper reports on research that forms the Australian contribution to the latest phase of the ISSPP where the focus is on principal leadership in schools that are on an improvement journey. Two of the cases are of schools re-opened, one from regeneration of three failing schools, the other re-opened after closure several years prior. The third case is of a school that looked like closing due to low enrolments and poor student outcomes. The case methods included interviews with the principal and other senior leaders, school council members, teachers, parents and students, and observation of the life of the school.In these cases, the principals demonstrate core characteristics and practices that have been identified in prior phases of the ISSPP in ways that are sensitive to the contexts of their schools.It is evident that principal leadership that is courageous and guided by a shared and understood vision is essential in these circumstances of improvement. The three principals were driven and determined to move their schools toward improvement in line with guiding values and philosophies.Growing the desired culture at each school has been achieved by these principals through: the development of key connections and relationships; successful communication with the broader community; and, opportunities to select and develop staff in ways that supported the direction for the school. Early stages of improvement and change were often principal-centric, but as the schools adapted and improved, leadership distribution increased as did ownership of the vision for each school. All three schools implemented research-backed strategies suited to their contexts and improvement goals. The change journeys in the two higher advantage schools have been identified as relatively radical and innovative and the lower advantage school used a collaborative approach to implement ‘best practice’ strategies.