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What Makes a School Effective? (page 2)

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Updated on Nov 21, 2013

Have a Relatable Leader

In an effective school, the principal is a “leader of leaders.” He or she is not just an authority figure, but also a “coach, partner, and cheerleader,” says Lezotte. A leader of leaders does not operate in a top-down authority structure, but realizes that the best solutions come from a collaborative effort.

According to Lezotte, to show the kind of leadership that inspires and creates an enriching community in the school, the principal must be visible. She must be accessible not only to teachers but also to the student body—walking the halls, cheering at games, and supporting extra-curricular events. It is also the principal’s responsibility to assess data about school effectiveness and implement strategies to address areas that need improvement.

Principal Robert Mastruzzi from John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx, New York, was an example of a principal who motivated staff and students to achieve their potential, writes Sara Lawrence in her 1983 book The Good High School. While teachers praised his contagious energy and students were comfortable around him because of his warm personality, these weren’t the only reasons he was a great leader. Mastruzzi’s greatest strength was his vision for the school. His passionate belief that the students “are all winners” fueled his educational philosophy. “Each year I tell the faculty to increase their expectations of students. You ask for more and you get more,” Mastruzzi says. Lawrence writes that his willingness to innovate was moderated by a sense for what wasn’t working, and he met challenges by listening to his colleagues’ perspectives before making changes.

State a Clear Mission

“Vision animates, inspires, transforms purpose into action,” says Warren Bennis, a pioneer in the field of leadership studies. An effective principal must uphold a vision for the school and clearly articulate it to so teachers, administration, and parents can be united in striving for higher achievement.

In What Effective Schools Do, Lezotte points to principals' vague goals or interest in maintaining the status quo as common pitfalls of less effective schools. He says administrations are often unwilling to dedicate the resources and effort it takes to follow through on vision-driven change.

An effective mission emphasizes innovation and improvement in providing learning for all—students and educators of all backgrounds. The principal can make a mission effective by being persistent and energetic in sharing her vision with faculty, students, and parents to unite their goals. All of these members of the community must commit to this mission and take responsibility for its impact on the curriculum and learning environment. 

Teachers especially should translate this mission so that it’s pertinent to how they teach their classes, Lezotte writes. When the curriculum is designed with the mission in mind, it becomes easier to identify gaps in students’ education and address the deficiencies. The school begins operating as one effective organism instead of a loose network of individuals with their own agendas. The mission becomes an ideal that guides everyone’s efforts on a daily basis.

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