Decades of education research have shown: leadership matters to student learning. For many years, the idea of instructional leadership was focused at the school level. An effective principal has always been considered critical to school turnaround, an idea supported by considerable research on schools that were “beating the odds.” What is more recent is the recognition of the critical nature of district leadership. While district leadership doesn’t supplant the need for school leadership, researchers have recognized that creating dramatic, continuous and sustained improvements in student learning, particularly in low-performing schools, requires both.

School and district leaders need a repetoir of strategies, skills and tools to successfully lead rapid improvements in a more effective school and higher student achievement. They need to be able to rally the staff, students, parents and other stakeholders around the mission of improved student learning grounded in the belief that all students can learn. They need to be able to create a culture of respect, caring,and inclusiveness on one hand, and of responsibility, rigor and high expectations for student success on the other. They need to not only lead, but foster leadership in their staffs and students.

This category explores the various aspects of and approaches to educational leadership.

Over the past few years, the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan State University Office of K-12 Outreach, the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, and other partners worked to create the MI Excel Statewide System of Support (SSoS). In their role with MI Excel, MSU brought together a cadre of experienced and highly trained educators to mentor and guide Priority and Focus school and district personnel in their pursuit of higher achievement. The work was grounded in the research of nationally known scholars, including Joseph Murphy, William Parrett and Kathleen Budge, Franklin Campbell Jones, Lynn Sharrat, Rick Hess, Brett Lane and Bruce Wellman, all of whom were brought in by MSU to train the specialists and work with school and leadership teams from MI Excel schools and districts.

Dufour marzanoBook Authors: Richard DuFour and Robert Marzano (2011)

"Effective leaders can't accomplish things alone," say Richard DuFour and Robert J. Marzano say in their book Leaders of Learning discuss collective PLCs with the mindset that "effective leaders can't accomplish things alone." Every educator is a leader, authors say, whether they are teachers leading classrooms, principals leading buildings or superintendents leading districts.

The book is filled with realistic concerns from the field, followed by authors' advice and tips that are readily applicable to practice. The book excels at addressing ideas to combat building-level concerns—such as teacher isolation—to district-level ideas—such as Common Core State Standards implementation.

FullanBook Author: Michael Fullan (2014)

When posed with the question, "What type of school would you most like to teach in?" most teachers will cite two criteria at the top of their lists: the quality of their colleagues and the quality of their leadership. Although colleagues are crucial in establishing a working environment that a teacher wants to enter every day, it is the qualities and practices of the leadership that shape the progress and success of any given building. Principals are often called the second most crucial in-school influencer of student learning because they determine what practices to implement in order to maximize student achievement. The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, by Michael Fullan, explains how the role of the principal needs to be repositioned to maximize the learning of all teachers and, ultimately, all students (pg. 6).

As summer continues, school leaders are making their final preparations for the new school year in the fall. Summer is often the time where classrooms are scrubbed down, lockers are cleaned, and the hallways are stripped and waxed, but summer is also the time where leaders examine school efforts for the fall and map out their resources and supports for new and continuing initiatives. Hallinger and Heck (2010) suggests that along with strengthening leadership, school leaders must also improve the school's capacity for educational improvement in order to ensure that change interventions are successful.

The bottom line is ALL of us are committed to the success of ALL students, and ALL of us are willing to do things differently to achieve this.” (Comment from a Superintendent at the 2013 Focus Schools Summer Institutes.)

When a district leader makes this statement, it represents a marker in school improvement. It also reflects multiple levels of leadership from superintendent to principal to teacher levels and more. It implies a collaborative commitment across all general and special education staff, signaling a readiness to function systemically and holistically. It implies a willingness to take risks and step away from the old way of working. And it signals that all central office roles and functions are ready to support the improvement efforts. In short, it has the potential to create foundations for a culture of high expectations, shared leadership and real improvement in learning for each and every student.

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