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Insights on How Principals Can Affect Teachers, Students and Schools

New report seeks to clarify role of school leaders and highlight the value of investing in leadership capacity
October 16, 2019 2 Min Read

​There’s no doubt that principals are important, but it can be difficult to measure just how their actions affect schools, teachers and students. A new report seeks to shed light on that. 

The report synthesizes 51 studies and suggests evidence of the relationship between principals’ behavior and student achievement, teacher well-being, teacher instructional practices and school organizational health.

“We argue that our findings highlight the critical importance of expanding the knowledge base about strategies principals can take to improve learning in schools, and the value of investing in school leadership capacity,” write the study’s authors, the University of Oregon’s David D. Liebowitz and Lorna Porter.

Liebowitz and Porter conducted the meta-analysis by examining the empirical literature on five aspects of principals’ jobs—instructional management, internal relations, organizational management, administration and external relations—and the potential effects on student outcomes, (such as grades and behavior), teacher outcomes (well-being, retention rates and instructional practices) and school outcomes (school organizational health and principal retention).

While the field has emphasized principals’ roles as instructional leaders, Liebowitz and Porter write that they “find evidence that principal behaviors other than instructional management may be equally important mechanisms to improve student outcomes.”

The findings suggest that investing in principals may improve learning. A recent study from the RAND Corporation found that in districts with a principal pipeline—a districtwide effort to better prepare, support and evaluate school leaders—schools with new “pipeline” principals outperformed comparison schools in reading and in math.

Wallace continues to work to expand the evidence base on school leadership and recently commissioned a research synthesis on how leadership affects student learning. The report will build on a 2004 landmark study finding that school leadership is second only to teaching among school-related influences on student success.

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