How to become an effective education leader


Once you’ve created a set of clear goals based on aspirational targets for students, you need to make sure other staff can share in them. But how?

You’ve just started a position at a new school, where the course delivery methods are seriously out-dated. You can see students disengaging, so you want to introduce new ideas… but how?

Like every hero in every fable ever written, this is your call to action. If no one else is doing anything to improve education for the kids, then it’s time to step up.

You’re going to have to learn how to become an education leader fast, and you’re going to have to do it well.

What has leadership got to do with improving education, anyway?

In an important 2011 study, authors and educators Kenneth Leithwood and Karen Seashore-Louis discovered that second only to actual instruction, leadership is the single most important influence on student achievement.

They spent several years looking at the role of teachers, principals and administrators in changing their schools for the better.


They could not find a single documented case of a school that had managed to turn around student achievement in the absence of talented leadership.

Education leaders are the ones who drive change despite all obstacles, who inspire other staff to try better ways of doing things, who maintain their integrity and their commitment to their students despite the often harsh realities that teachers face.

Just remember, as you embark on your leadership journey – those pushing for change are always going to encounter resistance.

Schools are full of politics. As a leader, you will find allies and you’ll make enemies.

Remember to stay true to your mission, and follow these steps to become the education leader that your school needs.

1. Know yourself.

We all know stories of deluded leaders who fail because they’re incapable of seeing their own failings. You can’t be an effective leader unless you know your own strengths and weaknesses, and you have the ability to self-correct.

Check out this Forbes magazine breakdown of leadership traits, to make sure you know what kind of person you’re going to have to be, as a school leader. Remember, self-awareness isn’t a personality trait; it’s a skill that you practise. Make sure before you start your project for change that you are clear in your intentions. Set clear goals, seek input, lead by example, and be open to feedback along the way.

2. Create an aspirational, clear vision and communicate it well

Effectively communicating a positive vision for the future is an essential part of the change-making process. Once you’ve created a set of clear, inspiring goals based on aspirational targets for students, you need to make sure other staff can share in them. Where do you collectively want to take your school, and what do you want for your students?

Make a presentation using persuasive visuals and figures, so that people understand that change is possible as well as desirable. Communicate it regularly. Once most people (in particular administrators) are on board, you can get on with the business of making it happen.

3. Develop a strategy based on real-world information

There is no point starting out a project for change if you’re not sure of your existing institutional capacity, or what’s actually worked in the past. Learn from other projects that have succeeded, and focus on evidence. Be realistic about your schools budget and capacity, but be resourceful and creative when developing tactics to stretch it even further.

4. Build relationships and empower others

You can’t make change without getting everyone on board – teachers, community, administration and the kids themselves. You have to genuinely believe in your staff and students.

You’re going to have to listen to others a lot, invite participation, and encourage staff to take ownership of their own development. Consider positive ways of doing so, such inviting teachers to come up with their own projects or paying for school-wide professional development training.

5. Ask the tough questions and challenge staff

Part of being a change-maker is pointing out all the things that aren’t working. Sometimes it’s classroom practices or systems, and sometimes it’s teachers themselves. You’re not doing anyone any favours by ignoring bad practises. Schools that implement successful reform on average change the teaching practises of 30-50% of staff, through training or replacement.

6. Long-term planning

Nothing can be achieved with a short timeline. If you’re going to lead your school into successful change, make sure you can commit to an absolute minimum of five years working in your school and your community. The best results occur when a teacher can work with a child all the way from ages 5 to 18!



Start your future as an educational leader with the best possible chances of success. Find out more about our Graduate Certificate of Education (Innovation and Change).

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