WHAT STRONG LEADERS DO TO INCREASE ALL STUDENTS’ GROWTH AND ACHIEVEMENT



Introduction:

The research is clear: there are specific actions that leaders at every level must take to increase all students’ learning growth and achievement – the core business of all education systems. These include: co-constructing and clearly articulating a vision with shared beliefs and understandings at the centre; intentionally creating structures that enable the improvement work to progress; launching communication and Professional Learning structures to foster the growth of a system-wide collaborative culture of inquiry and, progressing to involve everyone in networked communities of practice that ‘own the work’ in schools, between schools, and beyond schools at the system level. While Ontario’s leadership research has been out in front in many ways, educators there have also integrated significant research from across the globe. What follows reviews those evidence-proven areas that must be woven together to increase all students’ learning growth and achievement.


14 Parameters:

The original Sharratt and Fullan research which produced the ‘14 Parameters’ was first published in “Realization”, and subsequently discussed in Sharratt et al, Corwin 2012, 2015, 2016, 2019 (in Press). Resulting from an analysis of ‘what worked’ to drive and sustain significantly increased student achievement in schools in challenging circumstances, the findings were first extended to the entire original school district with the seemingly impossible outcome of it becoming one of the perennially top performing school districts in Ontario. More incredibly, the underlying concepts were adopted by the state as its’ ‘modus operandi’ leading to the “School Effectiveness Framework” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013), with Ontario’s results becoming and remaining strong among the world leaders. Over the past decade, I have worked in many jurisdictions across the globe and across contexts to introduce the 14 Parameters and supporting high-impact strategies with very tangible success.


The 14 Parameters

(adapted from Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012, 2013)

1. Shared Beliefs and Understandings

2. Embedded Knowledgeable Others

3. Quality Assessment Informs Instruction

4. Principal as Lead Learner

5. Early and Ongoing Intervention

6. Case Management Approach

7. Focused Professional Learning at Staff Meetings

8. In-School Meetings - Collaborative Assessment of Student Work

9. Book Rooms of Levelled Books and Multi-Modal Resources

10. Allocation of System and School Budgets For Learning

11. Collaborative Inquiry (CI) – a Whole System Approach

12. Parental and Community Involvement

13. Cross-Curricular Literacy Connections

14. Shared Responsibility and Accountability


Parameter # 1, displayed below, the vision with four key shared beliefs and understandings is Parameter #1 for a reason. It is the most important to deliver, it sets a common groundwork, and it is the hardest to implement fully. Without it, all other actions taken by leadership at any level will fail.


Parameter #1: Shared beliefs and understandings among all staff that:

• Each student can achieve high standards given the right time and the right support.

• Each teacher can teach to high standards given the right assistance.

• High expectations and early and ongoing intervention are essential.

• Leaders, teachers and students need to be able to articulate what they do and why they lead/teach/learn the way they do.

Adapted from Hill & Crevola, 1999


Using the shared beliefs and understandings as the foundation and building a culture in which everyone is a learner and contributor, develops and sustains productive working relationships with and between staff and all stakeholders. This collaborative success both enables and results from Parameter #14 – all stakeholders own all the students and their progress, and as student progress and achievement grows, so does that commitment to every student and school. Relationships matter most with none more important than another – they must all be generated and maintained - those within the central office, between the central office and the schools, and between the system, its schools, teachers, parents, local community groups, and the department of education. In short, all relationships matter greatly. Simple first order structures such as ensuring collaborative planning time and PLC time, embedded in every school’s weekly schedule, facilitate and nurture relationships and communicate the system’s expectations of achieving the vision. Continuing to support and extend these structures as the system experiences student growth and increased achievement further builds and strengthens the many levels of communication that enable Parameter 14’s efficacious power. It is a virtuous cycle.


8 Characteristics of Strong Systems:

From subsequent research in Ontario (Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012, 2013; Leithwood et al, 2013-2018), and from work done elsewhere, the focus has been broadened to include all levels of leadership: system, school and classroom. From our papers such as “The district that did the right things right” (Sharratt & Fullan, 2005), to papers from Dr. Ken Leithwood, a well-known and respected colleague who has written several papers about Strong Systems, there is a commonality to the message. In what follows I show how Leithwood’s characteristics are mirrored in the 14 Parameters.


As Leithwood (2003) says, leaders are second-only to teachers’ direct impact on increasing students’ achievement. Strong Systems have leaders who:

1. Articulate a clear and compelling shared vision - Parameter #1;

2. Focus on what creates and sustains quality classroom practice through their collaborative inquiries with staff: Parameters #3 and #13;

3. Use data to build teacher and leader capacity, to establish the Professional Learning focus, and to determine human and material resources needed: Parameters #5 and #6;

4. Use time for staff Professional Learning, encouraging and facilitating PLC’s: Parameter #7 and #8;

5. Establish Job-embedded Professional Learning with Knowledgeable Others: Parameter #2;

6. Spend budget on learning and centralized resources, re-allocating and differentiated as data shows that is required: Parameters #9 and #10;

7. Are continuous learners while being leaders: Parameter #4; and,