Leadership Influences on Student Learning
The Indirect Effects of Collective Leadership on Student Achievement
Relationships Between Sources of Collective Leadership Influence and Student Achievement
Race/Ethnicity, Poverty, Focused Instruction, and Achievement in 138 Schools
Leadership and Focused Instruction in 138 Schools
Professional Community, Focused Instruction, and Student Learning in 138 Schools
Effects of Principals’ Leadership Behavior on Teachers and Student Achievement
Relationship Between District Support for Community Involvement and School-Level Engagement, as Measured by Principal’s Perceptions of Parent Influence
Shared Leadership and Student Achievement
Principals’ Views of District Actions to Support Professional Growth
Testing the Mediated Effects of Principal Turnover on Student Achievement
How District Approaches to Data Use Influence Student Achievement
Principal Perceptions of District Actions Related to Improved Teaching and Learning
Source of Ideas About Integrative Leadership in Education


Sources of Influence on School Decisions Ranked from Weakest to Strongest
Correlations Between Sources of Leadership, Mediating Variables, and Achievement
Relationship Between Survey Variables and Student Achievement: Correlation Coefficients
Sample School Characteristics
Core Leadership Practices and Practices Deemed Helpful by Teachers and Principals
Top vs. Bottom 20% Mean Teacher Ratings per Building on Factor 1
Top vs. Bottom 20% Mean Teacher Ratings per Building on Factor 2
Teachers’ Ratings of Principals in the Top 20% vs. Bottom 20% by Building Level
Relationships Between Instructional Leadership, School Level, and Student Achievement
District Antecedents of School Leader Efficacy: Correlation Coefficients
Leader Efficacy Relationships with School Leader Practices and School and Classroom Conditions
Leader Efficacy Relationships with Mean Achievement Gain and Percentage of Students at State Proficiency Level
District Conditions Associated with Principal Efficacy
Summary of Survey Results
Relationships Among the Variables
Relationship Between Principal and District Data Use
Extent of Principal Data Use
Principals’ Attention to Conditions Affecting Data Use
Characteristics of a Sample of Smaller and Medium-Size Districts
Factors Associated with Diversity of Membership on School-Site Councils
Factors Associated with Principals’ Openness to Community Involvement
Principal Survey: Factors Associated with 2005–2006 Student Achievement Scores in Math at the Building Level
Teacher Survey: Factors Associated with 2005–2006 Student Achievement Scores at the Building Level


This book is based on the evidence collected as part of a large, Wallace Foundation–funded research project. Without the careful reviews and long-standing support for that research provided by our Wallace Foundation project officers, Dr. Mary Mattis and Dr. Edward Pauly, this book would not be the thorough and comprehensive document that we believe has been produced. We value, in particular, all of the feedback that Mary gave us as we moved into our analysis phase, and her skill at creating consensus about what was needed, both from the perspective of the Wallace Foundation and from the members of our research team.

This book would still be hidden somewhere in our computers if it were not for Gabrielle de Montmollin, whose editorial assistance and general ability to keep things rolling in a large and complex project have been valuable assets since this project began in 2003. A number of people who are not primary chapter authors made substantial contributions to the research in a number of ways. At the University of Minnesota, a very special thanks goes to Dr. Michael Michlin and Judy Meath, who assisted in the development of our sample and of state and local databases, coordinated all survey data collection activities, and provided support for data analysis, and also served as team leaders for site visits. Dr. Beverly Dretzke provided excellent and thoughtful work in conducting path analysis of our data. Additional support has been provided by Dr. Judy Hornbacher and Diane Cirksena, whose expertise in on-site data collection was invaluable. Graduate research assistants at the University of Minnesota have been essential partners as well in the data collection and analysis activities; they include Sarah Berman-Young, Chad Schmidt, Monica Jacob, and Sarah Frederickson. Andrea Peterson provided excellent administrative and technical support for a myriad of clerical and computer-related tasks throughout the entire project. At the University of Toronto, Dr. Suzanne Stiegelbauer played a substantial role in site-visit data collection and analysis in Texas and New Mexico. Doris Jantzi, Robin Sacks, and Jing Ping Sun contributed significantly to the analysis of our survey results. We are also grateful to professor Stephen Jacobson (SUNY) for his help with first-round site visits in New York. Finally, successful execution of the site visits would not have possible without the assistance of several research assistants from the University of Toronto, including Leanne Foster, Carol Brayman, Carol Slater, and Joelle Rodway Macri. In the end, we produced a long and scholarly document, which was ably edited by Dr. Richard Western.

From start to finish, the project on which this book is based was about teamwork. As a team, we have shared our wisdom, skills, and voices, with each person stepping forward when such leadership was most needed. We have grown in knowledge of ourselves and within our discipline. In the end, our deepest thanks goes to the Wallace Foundation for supporting us in this work, which we hope will be valuable to many others.

Ken Leithwood and Karen Seashore Louis


Kenneth Leithwood is Professor Emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. His research and writing are about school leadership, educational policy, and organizational change, and he has published many dozens of articles and books on these topics. His most recent books, with colleagues, include Leading School Turnaround (2010), Distributed Leadership: The State of the Evidence (2009), and Leading with Teacher Emotions in Mind (2008). Professor Leithwood is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Karen Seashore Louis is Regents Professor of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, and Robert H. Beck Chair in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. Her recent books include Aligning Student Support with Achievement Goals: the Secondary School Principal’s Guide (with Molly Gordon, 2006), Professional Learning Communities: Divergence, Depth, and Dilemmas (with Louise Stoll, 2007), Building Strong School Cultures: A Guide to Leading Change (with Sharon Kruse, 2009), and Educational Policy: Political Culture and Its Effects (forthcoming). She is a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, where she also served as the president of Division A (Educational Administration). In 2007 she received the lifetime Contributions to Staff Development award from the National Staff Development Association, and was the recipient of the Campbell Lifetime Achievement Award from the University Council for Educational Administration in 2009.


Stephen E. Anderson is an associate professor in the Department of Theory and Policy Studies in Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. His research and publications focus on school district and school leadership and strategies to improve teaching and learning in North America, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.

Kyla Wahlstrom is the director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on educational leadership, professional development of teachers, the politics of school change, and the role of standards in school reform. Dr. Wahlstrom is an experienced school administrator and teacher, and she is the recipient of the Minnesota Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (MASCD) National Research Award for her ground-breaking study of the effects of later starting times for high schools. Publications include one book, several book chapters, and numerous journal articles and technical monographs used by educational leaders to shape policy decisions across the United States.

Blair Mascall is an associate professor and associate chair in the Department of Theory and Policy Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. His research examines the processes one can use to help guide and monitor the implementation of a variety of educational changes, and the work that leaders can do to help develop people and their organizations during a time of change. Most recently, his research has focused on building evidence about the outcomes associated with distributed leadership in Ontario schools.

Molly F. Gordon is a research associate at the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota. Her recent research has focused on educational leadership, parent and community engagement in education, and how educational policies are interpreted and enacted in practice.

Emanda Thomas is a research associate in WestEd’s Evaluation Research Program. Dr. Thomas’s work involves education research, policy analysis, and program evaluation predominantly within the state context. Recent works with colleagues include How Do States Influence Leadership in Small Districts (Educational Policy and Leadership, 2010) and State Leadership for Learning: An Analysis of Three States (Educational Administration Quarterly, 2008).

Doris Jantzi is a senior research officer emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include school leadership, educational reform, and the effects of accountability policies on elementary and secondary schools. Recent research activities include participation in external evaluations of various programs developed within accountability contexts; for example, an intervention aimed at improving educational potential for disadvantaged students and a professional development program for principals intended to help their students meet local achievement standards.


Leadership and learning. The two terms have been in close proximity within educational discourse and national conversations about educational reform for a decade or more now. Rolling off the lips of a number of educators and scholars, the two have been juxtaposed in ways that presume a connection. And long before any scholars tried their hand at demonstrating any such links, the field has long felt intuitively that they belonged together. Why wouldn’t the way a school was led have something very basic to do with how much—and what—its students learned? Why wouldn’t “good” leadership (whatever that means) be essential for “good” outcomes from schooling, once the nonschool contributors had been stripped away?

The assumed answer has long been: of course it would. But therein lies the challenge to scholars or reformers who would base their ideas and actions on more than hopes, intuitions, and dreams. The flurry of demonstration projects and scholarly activity they have undertaken to meet this challenge seek answers to the next logical questions: how—and how much—does leadership contribute to teaching practices and the outcomes of schooling, especially those that reside in student learning? Under what conditions might these contributions be enhanced or diminished? And what forms of leadership are we talking about, exercised at what levels of the system?

Now, moving into the second decade of the twenty-first century, with a significant investment by The Wallace Foundation and others, we have a wide range of writings that have begun to answer these questions in one or another way. Dozens of reports have probed these matters, and as many or more journal articles. Numerous books, some with titles barely distinguishable from one another—such as Leading Learning, Leading for Learning, Learner-Centered Leadership, Leadership for Learning: How to Help Teachers Succeed, Connecting Leadership and Learning: Principles for Practice, and Connecting Leadership with Learning: A Framework for Reflection, Planning, and Action—purport to explore the territory (though not always with the goal of demonstrating empirically how what leaders do influences what learners learn). A similarly named non-profit group—The Leadership and Learning Center—regularly beams its messages and services toward schools and districts wishing to work on improving the impacts of leadership on learning. And a flood of international scholarship, now crystallized in a soon-to-be-released International Handbook on Leadership for Learning, assembles current understandings on many aspects of this wide ranging territory in sixty-six chapters from scholars around the world, in ways that sensitize us to the different meanings of “leadership,” “learning,” and their interaction, across national contexts.

In all this talk, it is easy to lose meaning (prompting some to wonder: How many more books do we need with titles such as these?). And it is even easier to lose sight of the hard conceptual and empirical bridge-building that will always attend efforts to convincingly link organizational-level activity, which is one or more steps removed from the actual encounter between teacher and learner, to the demonstrated outcomes of that encounter. Anyone who has spent significant time trying to demonstrate these connections knows that compelling “hard” evidence—or even “soft” evidence—connecting the two is exceedingly difficult to come by.

But this book comes closer to meeting that elusive goal than any others to date, and as such it represents a major new landmark in the open space between leadership and learning, one that fully deserves the two terms in its title. In a more comprehensive and rigorous way than any other scholarly work in this line of inquiry, this book explores the “critical connection” between leadership, exercised collectively by formally anointed administrators, teacher leaders, and others, and the teaching and learning that takes place in classrooms. It does so with particular attention to the distribution of leadership that recent scholarship has so aptly underscored as central to the exercise of leadership in complex organizations like schools. Then, to situate these connections in the larger context of reform activity and concern, the study charts various ways that districts and states seek to energize the connection, enhance leaders’ sense that they can affect student learning, and develop systems of support for leaders’ work.

A scan of the chapter topics in this book and a deeper dig into their contents will reveal the broad scope of contemporary issues related to instructional improvement and educational reform that these analyses touch. In addition to questions of leadership distribution, and the possibility of constructive district and state roles in educational reform, noted earlier, consider this short list of contemporary issues that this study informs:

These matters and more are explored through judicious combinations of quantitative data and comparative case-based examples that help the reader see the leadership dynamics and its consequences at work. The scope of these analyses is strikingly comprehensive.

The study addresses these matters in a well-constructed, representative sample and with sufficient data, both quantitative and qualitative, collected across a long enough period of time, to represent leadership-learning links in a wide range of contexts in which leaders seek to shape the learning environment and outcomes. Not many scholarly teams have the resources and time horizon to attempt such an effort. The authors of this volume have done so.

As we go forward from here, continuing to explore what will always be a rich and elusive domain and trying to translate our understandings of it into terms that actually improve teaching and learning, this volume will occupy a prominent place in educators’ and scholars’ thinking, no less in their bibliographies, frameworks, and new attempts to lead education toward more powerful forms of schooling. It will not answer all the questions we have or will continue to devise. But it will answer some of the most fundamental questions and will provoke new thinking by educators for many years to come.

Michael S. Knapp

Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy

University of Washington


Schlechty (2009); Danzig, Borman, Jones, and Wright (2007); Glickman (2002); Copland and Knapp (2006).

Townsend and MacBeath (Eds.) (2011).


This book is an outgrowth of what was, at the time it was conducted, one of the most ambitious studies of educational leadership and its contributions to student learning ever undertaken anywhere in the English-speaking world. Situated in the United States and generously sponsored by the Wallace Foundation, the study was conducted in a large number of states, districts, and schools and collected many different types of evidence. The starting points for the study have been described in Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, and Wahlstrom (2004). A technical report of results can be found in Louis et al. (2010), and a non-technical summary of those results can be found in Wahlstrom, Louis, Leithwood, and Anderson (2010). Some of our results also have been published, by now, in academic journals, and these articles are cited in relevant chapters of the book.

We, of course, are not alone in trying to examine the way in which leaders and leadership affect schools, and we have been explicit in how we draw on the work of those who went before us—and also those who were carrying out investigations during the same period during which our study was conducted (2004–2010). In addition to its scope, we believe that we have also made some important theoretical contributions. The tradition in leadership studies tends to fall into two camps. The first examines leaders, paying some attention to their context but emphasizing investigations of what they do and who they are. The second starts by examining the context or the organizational setting and then explores the ways in which leadership may be intertwined with either the processes or the outcomes of the many events and behaviors that can be observed. This study was explicit in its efforts to do both. A second contribution is our explicit attention to integrating perspectives derived from studies carried out in noneducational contexts. We draw on research carried out in for-profit settings, non-profit and government contexts, and in countries other than the United States in order to frame our questions and interpret our findings. Finally, our contribution is important because of our efforts to consistently examine the multiple outcomes of leadership—both on the “bottom line” of student learning and development and also on the adults who work in schools and the communities in which they are located.

For many of our readers, this information will provide sufficient assurance that the claims, recommendations, and guidelines provided within the chapters are well founded. If you are one of them, jump to Chapter One. If you are more curious about how we did our work, read on.

Noteworthy Features of the Research

As compared with most previous studies of educational leadership, particularly noteworthy features of our study include the size of the database, the use of multiple theoretical and methodological approaches to the research, and the comprehensive sources of leadership examined.

Size of the Database

We collected data from a wide range of respondents in 9 states, 43 school districts, and 180 elementary, middle, and secondary schools. Although not a focus of this book, at the state level we conducted interviews with legislators, stakeholders, and members of state education agencies. In districts, we interviewed senior district leaders, elected board members, representatives of the media, and other informants. We used survey instruments and interviews with teachers and administrators, and we conducted classroom observations with most of the teachers we interviewed. Survey data were collected in the first and fourth years of the study, and interviews in districts and schools took place in three cycles over the five years of the project. These efforts yielded, by the end of the project, survey data from a total of 8,391 teachers and 471 school administrators; interview data from 581 teachers and administrators, 304 district level informants, and 124 state personnel; and classroom observation data from 312 classrooms. Finally, we obtained student achievement data for literacy and mathematics in elementary and secondary grades, using scores on states’ tests for measuring Adequate Yearly Progress as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Multiple Methodological Approaches

We used qualitative and quantitative methods to gain certain advantages associated with multiple-methods research. The advantages typically include “rich opportunities for cross-validating and cross-fertilizing . . . procedures, findings, and theories” (Brewer & Hunter, 1989, p. 13). Our particular use of multiple methods offered opportunities that we had not fully appreciated in the early stages of our work. These included the discovery of significant patterns and relationships in our quantitative evidence, which we then were able to pursue in greater depth, thanks to our qualitative evidence.

For example, from the analysis of our first-round survey data we found that one of the most powerful sources of districts’ influence on schools and students was through the development of school leaders’ collective sense of efficacy or confidence about their jobs. With this connection well established quantitatively, we then mined principal-interview data to learn in greater detail what districts actually did to develop a sense of efficacy among principals.

Multiple Theoretical Perspectives

In collecting data and working to make sense of our results, we drew on conceptual tools from sociology, sociopsychology, political science, and organizational theory. Sociological concepts informed our understanding of shared leadership, contexts for leadership, and community engagement. Sociopsychological perspectives helped us analyze leader efficacy and (along with organizational theory) the nature of successful leadership practices, as well as the use of evidence in districts and schools, and leader succession. Political science concepts framed our research about state leadership.

Our goal with this seemingly eclectic approach was to draw on the theoretical perspectives best suited to the question at hand—an approach especially useful for a project like ours with multiple principal investigators who had studied and used each strand of theory in their prior work. We shared the view that using multiple methods and theoretical perspectives can provide a powerful antidote to the unintended self-deceptions or oversights that sometimes arise from the use of more unitary approaches. Our approach, however, also challenged us to develop a valid and coherent story line from the data. In that effort, inevitably, we have sacrificed some measure of coherence in order to present a rich account of our findings.

Comprehensiveness of Leadership Sources

Many leadership studies in education focus on a single institutional role. The bulk of it focuses on the principals’ role, with a growing but still modest body of attention to district-level leadership. Over the past decade, researchers have also begun to study leadership provided by teachers.

The recent flurry of attention to a broader spectrum or distribution of leadership sensitized us to the remarkable array of people who exercise formal or informal leadership in schools and districts. Research of this sort also shows that the influence of leadership on organizational outcomes arises from the behaviors of these various people acting as leaders in either an “additive” or a “holistic” manner. We could not push our understanding of leadership influence much further without considering the many sources of leadership in the education system and also the web of interactions created by these sources. At the time, our study was one of only a few to have examined leadership at each organizational level in the school system as a whole—state, district, school, classroom, and community.

This comprehensive approach acknowledges an important reality for all leaders: no matter one’s hierarchical “level,” every leader is at the same time constrained and enabled in some measure by the actions of others, including other leaders, and by the consequences of those actions. Without a better understanding of such antecedents and consequences, we are left with an impoverished appreciation of why leaders behave as they do. Invoking social theory, this more comprehensive perspective has the potential to shift the field of educational leadership research from a dominant preoccupation with “agency” (explaining leaders’ behaviors as a function of individual capacities, motivations, and traits) toward a more balanced understanding of how the structures within which leaders work also shape what they do.

Framework Guiding the Study

The framework guiding our study emerged from a review of evidence that Leithwood et al. (2004) completed prior to our data collection and summarized in . As this figure indicates, features of state and district policies, practices, and other characteristics interact with one another and exert an influence on what school leaders do. These features also influence conditions in schools, classrooms, and the professional community of teachers (for the sake of simplicity, we do not connect these variables in ). Other stakeholder groups—including the media, unions, professional associations, and community and business groups—also influence school leadership practices. And of course leaders are influenced by their own professional learning experiences and by student and family backgrounds.



School leadership, from formal and informal sources, helps to shape school conditions (including, for example, goals, culture, and structures) and classroom conditions (including the content of instruction, the size of classrooms, and the pedagogy used by teachers). Many factors within and outside schools and classrooms help to shape teachers’ sense of professional community. School and classroom conditions, teachers’ professional communities, and student/family background conditions are directly responsible for the learning of students.

Three Important Features of the Book

How, you might well ask, is this book any different from the final reports and journal articles already published from the study? First, we have “stripped away” much of the technical information demanded of a research study while preserving our basic results. Second, the book includes only results from our study that have significant implications for policy and practice, leaving most of the implications for future theory and research to our other publications. Finally, we have written the book in a form that we think would make it appropriate not only for individual readers but also for use in continuing education and graduate course contexts.

We hope you will find the fruits of our considerable labor helpful.


See, for example, Robinson et al. (2008).

Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2005).

York-Barr and Duke (2004).

Gronn (2009).

Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, and Wahlstrom (2004).



The Critical Connection

Education is widely held to be crucial for the survival and success of individuals and countries in the emerging global environment. U.S. politicians of all stripes have placed education at the center of their political platforms, and education has been at the center of many European and Asian policy agendas. Comparable agreement is also evident about the contributions of leadership to the implementation of virtually all initiatives aimed at improving student learning and the quality of schools. It is therefore difficult to imagine a focus for research with greater social justification than research about successful educational leadership. That was the broad focus for the five-year study on which this book is based, a study generously funded by the Wallace Foundation. We aimed to identify the nature of successful educational leadership and to better understand how such leadership can improve educational practices and student learning.

More specifically, we sought to do the following:

The Educational Leadership Effect

Although leadership is widely thought to be a powerful force for school effectiveness, this popular belief needs to be justified by empirical evidence. There are five types of such evidence, each offering its own estimate of the size of leader effects.

One type is evidence from qualitative case studies. Studies providing this type of evidence typically are conducted in exceptional school settings, selected as exemplars of effectiveness. Some studies report large leadership effects—on student learning and on an array of school conditions. Other qualitative studies focus on “typical” schools rather than outliers; these studies often produce complex pictures of how leadership operates in different settings. Many educators and scholars find the descriptions provided by case studies to be interesting and informative. But descriptions of a small number of cases do not yield explanations of leadership effects for a more general population of schools.

The second type of evidence has been derived from large-scale quantitative studies of leadership effects on schools and students. Evidence of this type, as reported and reviewed since about 1980, suggests that the direct and indirect effects of school leadership on student learning are small but significant. Leadership explains 5 to 7 percent of the variation in student learning across schools (not to be confused with the very large within-school effects that are likely). Five to 7 percent, however, represents about one quarter of the total across-school variation (12 to 20 percent) explained by all school-level variables, after controlling for student intake or background factors. Classroom factors explain more than a third of the variation. To date, research of this sort has done little to clarify how leaders achieve the effects in question, and the implications for leadership practice are therefore limited.

A third type of evidence arises from studies (also large-scale and quantitative) focused on the effects of specific leadership practices. Some evidence of this sort can be found in the research just summarized. But a meta-analysis conducted by Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2003) extends our understanding of the explanatory potential of this type of research. Marzano et al. identify twenty-one leadership “responsibilities” (behaviors) and then calculate an average correlation between each responsibility and the measures of student learning used in the original studies. From these data they calculate estimated effects of the respective responsibilities on student test scores. For example: there would be a 10 percentile-point increase in student test scores resulting from the work of an average principal if she improved her “demonstrated abilities in all 21 responsibilities by one standard deviation” (p. 3). Extending this line of inquiry, Marzano and Waters (2007) provide a comparable analysis of research on district-level leadership, identifying five broad categories of superintendent leadership. Robinson, Lloyd, and Rowe (2008) have provided a more recent meta-analysis of evidence identifying specific school-level leadership practices along with estimates of their independent contributions to student learning. Robinson’s work may be distinguished from Marzano and colleagues in two ways: first, the quality screen used for inclusion in the analysis was more stringent; second, the purpose was to locate a smaller number of factors (five) that had the strongest evidence, across multiple studies, for achievement effects.

A fourth type of evidence has been provided by studies of leadership effects on student engagement, as distinct from effects on student learning; some evidence suggests that student engagement is a strong predictor of student learning. Recently, at least ten large-scale, quantitative studies, similar in design, have assessed the effects of leadership behavior on student engagement, and all have reported significant positive effects.

Finally, a different but quite compelling sort of evidence about leadership effects comes from research on leadership succession. Unplanned principal succession, for example, is a common source of adverse effects on school performance, regardless of what teachers might do. Studies by Macmillan (2000) and Fink and Brayman (2006) demonstrate the devastating effects of rapid principal succession, especially on initiatives intended to increase student learning. And rapid succession is very common. Clearly, leadership matters.

In developing a starting point for this five-year study, we claimed, based on a preliminary review of research, that leadership is second only to classroom instruction as an influence on student learning. After five additional years of research, we are even more confident about this claim. To date we have not found a single documented case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership. Why is leadership crucial? One explanation is that leaders have the potential to unleash latent capacities in organizations. Put somewhat differently: most school variables considered separately have only small effects on student learning. To obtain large effects, educators need to create synergy across the relevant variables. Among all the parents, teachers, and policy makers who work hard to improve education, educators in leadership positions are uniquely well positioned to ensure the necessary synergy.

Meanings of Leadership

Leadership can be described by reference to two core functions: providing direction and exercising influence. Whatever else leaders do, they provide direction and exercise influence. This does not imply oversimplification. Each of these two leadership functions can be carried out in different ways, and the various modes of practice linked to the functions distinguish many models of leadership.

In carrying out these two functions, leaders act in environments marked variously by stability and change. These conditions interact in complementary relationships, and while stability is often associated with resistance and maintenance of the status quo, it is in fact difficult for leaders and other educators to leap forward from a wobbly foundation. To be more precise, stability and improvement have a symbiotic relationship. Leaping forward from a wobbly foundation may well produce change, but not change of the sort that most of us value: falling flat on your face is the image that comes to mind. Wobbly foundations and unwise leaping may help to explain why the blizzard of changes adopted by our schools over the past half century has had little effect on the success of our students. School reform efforts have been most successful in schools that have needed them least. These have been schools with well-established processes and capacities in place, providing foundations on which to build—in contrast to the schools most often of concern to reformers, those that are short on essential infrastructure.

How do these concepts come together in a clarification of leadership? Leadership is all about organizational improvement. More specifically, it is about establishing agreed-upon and worthwhile directions for the organization in question and doing whatever it takes to prod and support people to move in those directions. Our general definition of leadership highlights these points. Leadership is about direction and influence. Stability is the goal of what is often called management. Improvement is the goal of leadership. But both are very important. One of the most serious threats to stability in a school district is frequent turnover in the ranks of superintendents, principals, and vice principals. Instability at the school level often reflects a failure of management at the district level.

Alternative Models of Leadership Reflected in the Literature

The broad literature on leadership includes an extensive set of models and approaches, many of which overlap. But this full array of models and approaches is only partly reflected in the educational leadership literature, and it has its own models and approaches purpose-built for leadership in school contexts.

Leadership in Nonschool Contexts

Research on leadership in nonschool contexts is frequently driven by theories described by one of our colleagues as “adjectival leadership models.” A recent review of such theories identified twenty-one leadership approaches that have been objects of considerable theoretical and empirical development. Seventeen have been especially attractive, and some of them have informed research in school contexts. Here are some examples.

Leadership in Education

Leadership research also has been informed by models developed specifically for use in school and district level settings. Of these, models of “instructional leadership” are perhaps the most well known. These models bear some resemblance to more general, task-oriented leadership theories. The instructional leadership concept implies a focus on classroom practice. Often, however, the specific leadership practices required to establish and maintain that focus are poorly defined. The main underlying assumption is that instruction will improve if leaders provide detailed feedback to teachers and include suggestions for change. It follows that leaders must have the time, the knowledge, and the consultative skills needed to provide teachers in all the relevant grade levels and subject areas with valid, useful advice about their instructional practices. Although these assumptions have an attractive ring to them, they rest on shaky ground at best. The evidence to date suggests that few principals have made the time and demonstrated the ability to provide high-quality instructional feedback to teachers. Importantly, the few well-developed models of instructional leadership posit a set of responsibilities for principals that goes well beyond observing and intervening in classrooms—responsibilities touching on vision, organizational culture, and the like.

In addition, studies of school leadership are replete with other adjectives purporting to capture something uniquely important about the object of inquiry; for example, learning leadership, constructivist leadership, and change leadership. Few of these conceptions, however, are the products of a sustained line of inquiry yielding the sort of evidence needed to justify their claims. This observation influenced our approach as we began our study. Eschewing any particular model of leadership, we examined the actual practices across models for which there was significant evidence of desirable effects.

Overview of the Book

Results of our five-year study reported in the two Parts of this book focus on leadership at the school and district levels. Our evidence about state-level leadership can be found in our final research reports. The five chapters in Part One are about school-level leadership in particular. Chapters Two, Three, and Four summarize our evidence about several forms of, and approaches to, shared school leadership and the effects of such leadership on teaching and student learning. Two Chapters (Five and Six) describe in some detail those individual leadership practices with the greatest influence on schools and students.

Part Two of the book is about district leadership and its relationship with school and state leadership. Chapter Seven describes ways in which districts engage parents and the community in their school-improvement efforts and explores the impact of such engagement on students. Chapters Eight and Nine are about leadership efficacy or confidence—its contribution to school improvement and what districts do to develop it. Evidence described in Chapter Ten clarifies the mostly negative effects of rapid principal succession and offers advice to districts about how to ameliorate such effects. Chapter Eleven is about data-use practices in schools and what districts do to help make those practices useful for instructional improvement. Chapter Twelve paints a broad and integrated picture of district approaches to improving leadership, teaching, and learning; Chapter Thirteen unpacks the relationship between district and state-level leadership. We conclude the book with a selected summary of key findings from our study and draw attention, in particular, to key features of successful school leadership.


See, for example, Gezi (1990); Reitzug and Patterson (1998).

Spillane, Diamond, Burch, Hallett, Jita, and Zolmmers (2002).

See, for example, Mortimore (1993); Scheurich (1998).

See, for example, Hallinger and Heck (1996b); Leithwood and Jantzi (2005); Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2005); Robinson, Lloyd, and Rowe (2008).

Creemers and Reetzig (1996); Townsend (1994).

See Fredricks, Blumenfeld, and Paris (2004) for a review, especially p. 70.

Leithwood and Jantzi (1999a, 1999b); Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, and Wahlstrom (2004); Silins and Mulford (2002b); Silins, Mulford, and Zarins (2002).

Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, and Wahlstrom (2004).

Creemers and Reetzig (1996).

Elmore (1995).

Yammarino, Dionne, Chun, and Dansereau (2005).

Leithwood and Duke (1999).

For example, Pearce and Conger (2003).

For example, York-Barr and Duke (2004).

For example, Leithwood and Jantzi (2006).

Dorfman and House (2004).

For example, Nelson and Sassi (2005).

Andrews and Soder (1987); Duke (1987); Hallinger (2003).

Reeves (2006).

Lambert et al. (1995).

For example, Wagner et al. (2006).