What Kind of Leader You Are and Why It Matters

This blog will bring to a close highlighting the most recent issue of Educational Leadership (February 2015).  The theme is Improving Schools: What Works? and my previous blogs have focused on practices that correlate with improved student achievement (If the research is so clear, shouldn't school improvement be simple?) and the importance of collaboration (What Works - Collaboration Works!) . 

This week’s blog will focus on the article by John Hattie entitled High Impact Leadership, which nicely links the two previous blogs together. Hattie, a well-know researcher often cited in Wise Ways research, makes the distinction between transformational and instructional leadership. 

 Hattie defines transformational leadership as those leaders focused on teachers.  They accomplish their goals by setting a clear vision, providing a buffer between outside forces and the teaching staff, inspiring teachers, and providing a large degree of autonomy. He cites surveys that indicate more than 80% of educational leaders view themselves as transformational leaders.

 He contrasts this style of leadership with instructional leadership.  These leaders focus on students and student learning.  They use classroom observations and other sources of data to determine the effectiveness of teaching, including techniques and programs, and when they find ineffective practices (based on student learning) they provide professional development to improve and/or modify those practices. They work to ensure that everything is conducive to teaching and learning. 

 Hattie’s bottom line is the effect size of every practice on student learning (not just test scores).  He cites a meta analysis that found that the overall effect size from transformational leaders was .11 (a low effect size), while the effect size from instructional leaders was a moderate .42.

 So which type of leader are you?  To help you make that self-assessment, I’ll provide a bit more of what’s in the article. He lists seven “mind frames” of high-impact instructional leaders:

  1. Focus on the impact of teaching on learning
  2. Evaluate the effect of everyone on learning (Does this sound like the evidence required through Indistar?)
  3. Believe success is a matter of what the adults do or do not do (This is what it says on every school's Main Menu if you click on the Theory of Action button in the center of the Assess - Create – Monitor graphic – “Theory of Action: When the professional practice of adults improves, student learning outcomes improve.”
  4. See assessment as feedback on what they do
  5. Believe in dialogue (does that sound like collaboration?) and listening to teachers and students
  6. Establish high expectations for leaders and teachers (note the emphasis on the adults – this refers back to # 3)
  7. Welcome errors as a way to learn and create an environment where everyone learns from errors (This is Carol Dweck’s Open Mindset)

 There’s more in this article worth reading and discussing among the staff, students, parents, and community members with whom you are building a more successful learning environment.  Hattie presents ideas about collaboratively defining learning impacts, other approaches that work, the need for a team (remember Stephanie Benedict's words during initial Indistar training, “Principal, you cannot do it alone!”), and the importance of evidence.

 For further reading, you might look at Qualities of Effective Principals by James H. Stronge, Holly B. Richard and Nancy Catano, a 2008 ASCD book.

You can read Chapter 1: Instructional Leadership: Supporting Best Practice here for free by clicking on the ASCD page below.


As Indistar instructional leaders around the nation are working to improve their schools, they could use your best thinking (or maybe you can use their's).  Please click here to Share Your Stuff about one or more of the seven mind frames listed above.  

  • Which mind frame are you writing about?
  • What specifically are you doing that addresses this mind frame or what question do you have?
  • What has been successful?
  • What challenges have or are you dealing with? 

 Thank you for sharing your insights and your questions.  Both are incredibly valuable!

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href="http://www.paulaxtell.com">www.paulaxtell.com</a> and via email at paulaxtell@mac.com.
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