School leaders can have significant positive effects on student learning but since these effects are indirect, it is especially difficult to understand how this influence works.
A new study in Educational Administration Quarterly has proposed a Four Paths model to understand the effects of school leadership on student outcomes.
The 4 paths through which leadership might impact learning under this model are:
- The Rational Path is rooted in the knowledge and skills of staff about curriculum, teaching and learning.
- The Emotions Path includes the feelings, dispositions, or affective states of staff members, individually and collectively, about school matters (i.e. human resources). One concept in this range of emotions is collective teacher efficacy (CTE), the level of confidence a group of teachers feel about its ability to organize and implement educational initiatives.
- The Organizational Path comprises the structures that schools put in place such as policies, procedures and cultures that frame relationships and interactions.
- The Family Path includes the ways in which a principal interacts with family members or contributes to a sense of community shared by parents and staff. A leader can contribute to the sense of community by creating a good deal of structure and making good decisions or by making parents feel welcome in the school.
The path that leadership has the most influence on(organizational) has little impact on student learning, the study found, and the path that leadership has the least influence on has the greatest impact on student learning.
“The task for leaders is to identify, in both a contextually sensitive and research-informed way, the variables on each Path most likely to improve their students’ learning if the status or condition of those variables in improved and then to engage in that improvement work over time,” the researchers report.
“Testing a Conception of How School Leadership Influences Student Learning,” by Kenneth Leithwood et al., Educational Administration Quarterly, Volume 46, Number 5, pps. 671-706.