What makes a good principal?

The Florida Department of Education and REL Southeast have reviewed research on the effect of principals’ (head teachers) characteristics on pupil achievement. Researchers categorised “principal characteristics” as relating to a principal’s experience, behaviours, or beliefs and leadership styles.

 
Reviewers examined more than 800 studies published between 2001 and 2012, of which only 52 met inclusion criteria. The review found mixed results for all categories. However, there were several principal behaviours associated with improved pupil achievement, all of which showed an indirect influence on pupils. These were:
  • Providing feedback to teachers about their classroom performance;
  • Protecting teaching time;
  • Promoting high standards for learning;
  • Supporting teacher professional development;
  • Using data to make decisions; and
  • Establishing positive, professional relationships within the school.
Only one study reviewed was a randomised control trial addressing the relationship between principal characteristics and pupil achievement. It found that eighth grade pupils (Year 9) randomly assigned to talk with their principals about upcoming state tests had higher state scores than the control group who didn’t have such conversations.
 
The authors discuss how this data may be used to determine why some principals are so effective. In particular, it can inform the structure of principal preparation programmes and help them understand which parts of their jobs influence pupil achievement.
 
Source: A Systematic Review of the Relationships Between Principal Characteristics and Student Achievement (2015), Institute of Education Sciences.

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