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Leaders of school improvement share the journey

ACER's evaluation of ‘turnaround’ schools has revealed that strong school leaders do not undertake leadership alone, but build leadership capacity around them. Sharon Clerke reports.

The evaluation of ‘turnaround’ schools with principals who are driving school improvement to build the capacity of their school and assist other school leaders has found that effective school leaders share many of the same qualities. They develop a clear educational vision and goals; implement quality teaching and learning; encourage and reward effort; monitor performance and progress through the collection and analysis of data; and keep abreast of what is happening in classrooms.

The evaluation by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) for Social Ventures Australia (SVA) focused on the Bright Spots Schools Connection, an initiative developed by SVA to support schools in disadvantaged communities to improve educational outcomes for all learners.

A turnaround school is one that was previously recognised as underperforming and has managed to reverse its results to meet, or sometimes exceed, performance expectations. SVA, partnered with turnaround schools in Victoria and New South Wales, commissioned ACER to conduct the evaluation to:

  • identify the unique competencies and capabilities of effective school leaders in the schools, and
  • measure the impact of the Bright Spots Schools Connection program itself on the participating turnaround schools.

The 2015 report indicates that while principals who successfully drive school improvement have different personalities and leadership styles, and take different approaches to teaching and learning, they share a common passion for education, a focus on success for every student, high but achievable expectations and a belief that every student can learn, regardless of postcode.

According to the 2015 report, principals in the ACER evaluation identify several common characteristics of effective leaders, including: perseverance; openness to new ideas and innovations; creativity; vision; resilience; humour; interpersonal skills; educational understanding; a predisposition for action; and a moral purpose.

The report also reveals that strong principals in the Bright Spots Schools Connection initiative do not undertake leadership responsibilities alone. They each have a strong and effective leadership team around them in the school. They encourage their staff to develop leadership skills and take on leadership roles by supporting in-house and external training and professional development. They run leadership programs in conjunction with other schools.

With funds provided by SVA, some of the schools in the Bright Spots Schools Connection initiative have recruited external experts to observe, mentor and coach teachers to become leaders; and encouraged and equipped teachers to take on more leadership responsibility.

While it is not possible at this point in the evaluation to assess the full impact of the Bright Spots Schools Connection initiative on participating schools, principals and teachers are reporting that their participation is having a positive effect on leadership capacity and resourcing. ■

Further information:
Visit Social Ventures Australia for more information on the Bright Spots Schools Connection initiative.

RD

About the author

Sharon Clerke is a former Senior Project Director in ACER's Policy Analyis and Program Evaluation research program.

More [rd] articles by Sharon Clerke

View selected works of Sharon Clerke

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