Leadership Roles and Their Impact on Schools

School leadership can have a considerable impact on students; and this impact can carry over to improved student performance even in college and beyond (Rouse, 2012). Two recent articles presented different vantage points about the role of leadership and its impact on schools: Roby (2011) investigated the impact that teacher leaders can have in school culture, while Myung, Loeb, and Horng (2011) researched the practice of tapping teachers for the role of principal. These two articles contain valuable lessons for leadership practice.

Teacher Leaders Impacting School Culture

Roby (2011) investigated the role of teacher leaders and their impact on school culture; according to the researcher, teacher leaders have a considerable role in impacting school culture. He first briefly introduced the concept of school culture and the importance of the involvement of teacher leaders in changing the culture, citing Beachum and Dentith (2004) and others in support of his contention that teacher leaders are vital in promoting positive changes in school culture. A brief literature review framed the researcher’s contention that teacher leaders were key to promoting culture change at school; the researcher drew heavily on Brown’s (2004) ideas for promoting a positive school culture, advancing that schools should have “an inspiring vision and challenging mission; a curriculum and modes of learning clearly linked to the vision and mission; sufficient time for teachers and students to do their work well; close, supportive relationships; leadership that encourages and protects trust; data-driven decision-making” (p. 783).

Using a quantitative approach, Roby (2011) surveyed nearly 200 Pre K-12 teachers in Ohio, who worked full time while pursuing graduate teacher leadership degrees. Using the School Culture Review with 40 statements to be rated in a Likert-type scale, the researcher collected data from teachers with varying degrees of experience and located in urban, suburban, and rural schools. The researcher chose to focus his research on the key elements of “trust and respect, relationships, workplace contribution, collegiality, motivation, leadership, sense of purpose, accountability, workplace goals, meaningful work, cooperation, student achievement, and support” (p. 784).

Upon analysis, the researcher found that teacher experience did not have a significant impact on school climate. This would seem to indicate that the length of a teacher leader’s service did not influence his or her perceptions about the school and its culture. Some other findings were worthy of discussion, such as the fact that about one in every four teacher leaders believed that progress toward reducing teacher isolation has been low; also, the second highest concern was with trust between administrators and teachers.

This article was very short and could have expanded on a few of the topics it touched on briefly and succinctly. For instance, the researcher could have expanded his discussion about school culture: he could have explained what school culture is and presented a more solid argument why school culture deserves to be studied. Also, it seemed that the researcher decided not to develop an in-depth analysis upon failing to find statistically significant differences among teachers of different levels of experience. There were 40 statements that could have been further analyzed based on gender, geographical location, and other factors—just to name a few.

Tapping the Principal Pipeline

Myung, Loeb and Horng (2011) investigated the practice of tapping teachers for the role of principal in the Miami-Dade County public schools. The researchers believed that principals were able to identify teachers who have leadership capability and could encourage those teachers to become principals or assistant principals. They also believed that schools in this district would benefit from plans for succession management so that factors other than leadership competencies wouldn’t play a substantial role in leader selection.

The researchers presented a short literature review that demonstrated the vital role that school leadership can play in improving student performance. They focused on the role of principals and the fact that school districts historically have had difficulty in hiring highly skilled principals, as demonstrated by Roza (2003). This shortage of skilled professionals has led schools to practice tapping; that is, principals, assistant principals, or other teachers approach teachers who are perceived to be leaders—or who may possess leadership qualities—to consider taking on a formal leadership role in the future as principal or assistant principal.

In their review of school leadership, Myung et al. (2011) discussed contest mobility and sponsored mobility. Under contest mobility, “every candidate has an equal chance to attain a position through fair and open procedures and each candidate’s success depends on his or her merits” (p. 698). On the other hand, under sponsored mobility, current leaders recruit specific teachers for leadership roles based on what they wish future leaders to look like. The researchers pointed out that contest mobility is more compatible with traditional school culture because it is seen as fostering equality among teachers, whereas sponsored mobility can be seen as detrimental to equality and may run counter to the traditional understanding that teachers are all equal. This cultural resistance may be one of the reasons why systematic school leadership development programs exist only in a few school districts (Grunow, Horng, & Loeb, 2010).

Using a quantitative approach, Myung et al. (2011) proposed four research questions and proceeded to gather data utilizing an online survey distributed to all teachers, principals and assistant principals. The response rates were excellent (above 80% in all cases), and the data gathered were then compiled and tabulated. The researchers then presented a short descriptive analysis to answer the first research question, “To what extent are principals tapping teachers for school leadership?” (p. 708). The results indicated that about a third of current school district teachers have been approached to become a principal. Also, about nine in every 10 principals or assistant principals indicated that they had been encouraged by someone to become a principal. This would seem to support the notion that tapping is widespread in this district and that it has effective in the recruitment of new principals.

The second research question was, “Which teachers are most likely to be tapped?” (p. 709). The researchers investigated this question using logistic regression, and found that principals were much more likely to tap male teachers than female teachers to become principals. Also, Black and Hispanic teachers were significantly more likely than White teachers to be tapped to become principals. The authors also found that teachers who self-identified as having strong leadership skills were tapped to be principals at a significantly higher rate than their colleagues who had self-identified as having lower leadership skills.

The third research question was stated as, “Which principals are most likely to tap teachers?” (p. 710) and was investigated using logistic regression while removing the school fixed effects. The results seemed to indicate that both males and females do not tap teachers at rates that are significantly different. Black and Hispanic principals seemed not to tap teachers to become principals as often as White principals did. Also, “principals who consider themselves effective in Organization Management are significantly more likely to tap teachers” (p. 712), which would indicate that confidence in one’s own leadership skills affected both the tapped and who was doing the tapping. One potential problem area was the likelihood of principals tapping teachers of the same race to become principals; the results indicated that if a teacher’s race matched that of the principal, he or she was up to a third more likely to be tapped to become a principal than his or her peers who were of a different race.

The fourth research question investigated by Myung et al. (2011) was, “Is tapping effective at motivating teachers to become school leaders?” (p. 716). Again using logistic regression, the researchers found that about one in every 10 teachers overall planned to become principals, whereas among teachers who had been tapped by their principals, about a third wished to become principals in the future. This would seem to indicate that tapping was a major motivating factor in a teacher’s decision to become a principal. The results also seemed to indicate that principals tapped teachers who had assumed additional responsibilities and who felt “more prepared to take on school leadership responsibilities” (p. 717). About three in every four principals in the Miami-Dade County district indicated that they had been tapped in the past, which would indicate that tapping was effective not only in getting teachers interested in becoming principals, but also in making that wish become a reality.

This article was very well written and presented the data in ways that facilitated their visualization and interpretation. It would have been helpful for readers if the authors had included a brief explanation of z-scores and how controlling for different factors impacted the findings. The discussion section was particularly helpful in summarizing the findings and applying them to the Miami-Dade County’s current struggle to hire skilled principals.

Important Lessons for Practice

Important lessons can be drawn from both articles discussed above. First, teachers who aspire leadership roles in schools are likely to hold similar views about the school’s culture independently of how long they have served at the school. This would seem to have a direct impact on how current leadership gathers feedback from teacher leaders and how it turns that feedback into actionable items. Maybe programs for leadership development based on experience are not as critical as programs that address specific issues regardless of school tenure. Roby’s (2011) findings suggest that there are a few themes that would warrant special attention by the leadership; for instance, if a significant teacher leaders feel that teacher isolation is an issue, it would seem likely that non-leader teachers might also feel isolated, maybe even in greater numbers. The author of this paper has seen this happen in higher education when his teacher leaders were somewhat concerned with isolation, while a greater number of non-leader teachers made their isolation worries known via satisfaction surveys and informal conversations. Leaders must be mindful of all parties, not only of those in leadership roles.

Roby (2011) also suggested that schools should conduct a leadership study in order to identify the issues that are relevant to culture and leadership development, and propose possible solutions to them. This may hold true for the author of this paper’s university as well—with over 20 teacher leaders, the author may have been inadvertently distanced from what is really happening with the non-leader teachers due to his more frequent interactions with teacher leaders.

Myung et al. (2011) provided valuable data and insights that are applicable in a variety of settings. For instance, the researchers found that “tapping by one’s principal appears to motivate teachers to consider becoming a principal” (p. 721). The author of this paper has seen the importance of tapping first-hand, as he tapped a few teachers in an attempt to inspire them to seek leadership roles at the university. Some of the tapped teachers indicated that they were not considering leadership roles and maybe even felt ill prepared for them. However, in most cases this tapping was successful and the teachers became interested in and subsequently sought leadership positions.

Myung et al. (2011) cited Williams’ (1992) findings that “men in female-dominated fields are likely to advance to positions of authority more rapidly than similarly qualified women” (Myung et al., 2011, p. 722). The author of this paper tapped four females and one male for leadership positions at the university where he works. This may have been the case because higher education is not dominated by female teachers, whereas K-12 in Miami-Dade County is (Myung et al., 2011). When tapping teachers for leadership positions, the author of this paper was very careful not to seek out teachers who were of the same personal attributes, such as race or gender. In fact, four of the five teachers tapped for leadership roles were of the opposite sex, and three of them were of a different race.

Another important lesson from Myung et al. (2011) was that principals who had leadership skills in Organization Management were much more likely than other principals to tap teachers to become principals. This would seem to indicate that Organization Management training is a vital ingredient in assuring that new, capable leaders are encouraged to grow and take on positions of leadership. Formal professional development programs at the university where the author of this paper works include classroom management lessons; however, these training opportunities rarely involve management skills at the organizational level. It would seem that by including this type of training in future professional development sessions, the author of this paper would be helping to equip future leaders with the skills necessary to encourage them to seek out new leaders among those who are led by them. This special training would need to include research-based suggestions of attributes for effective leadership to be used by current leaders when tapping prospective leaders (Myung et al., 2011); this research-based approach would help to reduce race- and gender-based bias and promote the recruitment of capable individuals who have proven leadership qualities, thus helping to solve the shortage of skilled leaders.

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References

Grunow, A., Horng, E. H., & Loeb, S. (2010). Succession management in schools (Working paper). Stanford, CA: Stanford University, Center for Education Policy Analysis.

Beachum, F., & Dentith, A. M. (2004). Teacher leaders creating cultures of school renewal and transformation. Educational Forum, 68(3), 276-286.

Myung, J., Loeb, S., & Horng, E. (2011). Tapping the principal pipeline: Identifying talent for future school leadership in the absence of formal succession management programs. Educational Administration Quarterly, 47(5), 695-727.

Roby, D. E. (2011). Teacher leaders impacting school culture. Education, 131(4), 782-790.

Rouse, K. The impact of high school leadership on subsequent educational attainment. Social Science Quarterly, 93(1), 110-129.

Roza, M. (2003). A matter of definition: Is there truly a shortage of school principals? Seattle: University of Washington, Center on Reinventing Public Education. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED477647.pdf

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