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Growing as a Leader: Five Key Actions for Great School Leadership

Updated: May 9


If students are to grow and learn, their teachers must grow and learn, too…If teachers are to grow and learn, principals also must continually grow and learn. In fact, the title principal emanates from the concept of the person in such a role serving as the principal teacher…their core focus must, therefore, be on learning, including the learning not only of students in their schools but also the adults – starting with themselves. ~ Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas


While it is difficult to predict who will ultimately become a “great” leader (and I have made plenty of mistakes in this area), it is my strong belief that good leadership, in any organization, can be cultivated, practiced and improved.

~ Dr. Robert Thornell


Searching for the “IT” Factor in Principals: Is it Talent or Skill?



The need for effective school leadership has never been greater. Dr. Robert Thornell, co-author of Inside the Principal’s Office: A Leadership Guide to Inspire Reflection and Growth, tells us that great school leaders, both principals and teacher leaders, are grown, not born.


Learning to be an Effective School Leader


According to Thornell, the qualities of a great school leader have been widely researched and documented. This research, however, suggests that effective school leadership cannot be boiled down to a simple list of characteristics. Thornell states, “The role of a principal is one of the most important and most difficult positions in all of education. It takes a wide array of skills and there is no recipe for guaranteed success, however there are some key actions that we believe will pave the way to helping any principal make a huge impact.”

  • Instructional Leadership

  • Servant Leadership

  • What Am I Learning?

  • Tell Your Story

  • Celebrations/Reflections (Inside the Principal’s Office, p. 2-5)


Five Key Actions for Effective School Leadership


Thornell says that all five aspects of school leadership are essential and that principals and teacher leaders can find their leadership voice, increase their leadership effectiveness, and strengthen the health of their learning organizations by strategically building their skills in these five areas.


Principals and teacher leaders can find their leadership voice, increase their leadership effectiveness, and strengthen the health of the learning organizations by strategically building their skills in five areas. Click to Tweet

Leadership and Learning are indispensable to each other. ~ John F. Kennedy

In their book, Thornell and his co-authors, Charles Williams and Michael McWilliams, challenge school leaders to reflect on their current leadership practices and take small, strategic steps toward strengthening their leadership skills.

From Inside the Principal’s Office: A Leadership Guide to Inspire Reflection and Growth


Dramatic, impactful change rarely happens suddenly. Effective and sustainable growth generally evolves over time, with small and incremental steps.

As the lead learner in the building, you should constantly be the first to seek and learn about your school and ways to improve yourself as a leader. It does not matter where you are right now or where you have been, all of us can get better and that is exactly our goal: continuous improvement.


Instructional Leadership: In what areas do you believe you have improved in the past school year?


Servant Leadership: Do you believe your staff sees you as a servant leader? Why or why not?


What Am I Learning? What are your next steps as a school leader? What do you need to know or be able to do that will improve your skills?


Tell Your Story: What are some words of wisdom you would share with a brand-new principal about the importance of the role?


Reflections/Celebrations: What are three amazing things that happened at your school in the past year? How can you recognize and celebrate these accomplishments with others?

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What are three amazing things that happened at your school in the past year? How can you recognize and celebrate these accomplishments with others?

Click to Tweet


In addition to his work as Chief Executive Director of Learning & Teaching in Lewisville ISD in Texas, Dr. Robert Thornell is the Director of Organizational and School Leadership for SchoolRubric, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to create an interconnected community of globally-minded educators in order to share best practices, stories, and trends in education” (p. xi).


Connect with Dr. Robert Thornell on Twitter.


You can learn more about the Key Actions for Effective School Leadership in Dr. Robert Thornell’s sessions this summer at the Learning Forward Texas Annual Conference:

  • Instructional Leadership: The Three Questions They Need to Ask

  • Teacher Leadership: Who are They and Why are They Important?



Reference:

Thornell, R., Williams, C., & McWilliams, M. (2021). Inside the principal’s office: A leadership guide to inspire reflection and growth. Orlando, FL: SchoolRubric Publishing.



Sue Chapman is a professional learning consultant and author of MathVentures: 33 Teacher-Coach Investigations to Grow Students as Mathematicians. Learn more about her at SueChapmanLearning.com and connect with her on Twitter at @SueChapmanLearn.



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