Not always earth-shattering in it’s revelations but it’s good to see an attempt to sum up some of the research based knowledge in the recent document from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership called, Teaching and Leading for Quality Australian Schools. The full document is 55 pages and contains findings like:
Quality teaching involves content that is rigorous, integrated and relevant. Content of high intellectual quality helps students develop stronger critical and creative thinking capabilities. Students in classes that regularly provided tasks of high intellectual quality showed marked improvement on standardised assessment tasks regardless of their previous achievement levels. Quality teachers integrate content, tasks and technologies across disciplines making explicit links among subjects and highlighting socially relevant connections. These connections are more powerful when they respect students’ diverse cultural identities. Activities based on intellectual and real-world problems were found to be effective in engaging students. Other effective strategies included integrating multiple tasks and knowledge; using pedagogical scaffolding and feedback; allowing appropriate time for student learning; linking pedagogies to curriculum goals and the needs of individual students; and minimising teaching disruptions.
Control over curriculum and its design
In light of current debate about curriculum and assessment across Australia, it is important to note both positive and negative outcomes from centralised curriculum. Some research suggests that centrally mandated curricula are less responsive to local needs and student diversity, offering fewer opportunities for teacher autonomy, creativity and professional engagement. Other studies found that decentralised curriculum can result in stress and work intensification for teachers.
Educational leader or manager?
In the past few decades principals have had to spend an increasing proportion of their time on managerial responsibilities and accountability. There is agreement in the research that management and administration are core responsibilities of successful school leaders, necessary to ensure the smooth operation of a school.
It is educational leadership that is central to the improvement of students’ social and academic outcomes. Effective school leaders are committed to improving the quality of teaching, encouraging and equipping staff to focus on student learning outcomes. The school principal does not necessarily have to be an exemplary teacher, but should ensure that the school’s main focus is an educative one.
Attributes and capabilities of effective leaders
Successful school leaders possess a range of personal, relational, organisational and professional attributes, plus the capacity to employ these effectively in complex and changing circumstances. It is not clear to what extent the practices, attributes and capabilities of quality school leaders can be learned, particularly given the strong value-base of many of these attributes, such as caring, innate goodness, fairness, consideration for others and honesty. On the other hand, qualities such as being a good communicator, having an inclusive style with high expectations, being hands-on and being a good decision-maker are skill-based attributes that might be more readily learned.
The personal attributes of effective school leaders include passion and commitment (particularly a desire for students’ success), and a capacity for personal reflection. Values of social justice and equity usually underpin the passion, enthusiasm, persistence and optimism of successful leaders