What Does Truly Effective School Leadership Look Like?

Dr. Rick N. Bolling
Dr. Rick N. Bolling
Division Superintendent of Schools; Ed.D. in Leadership
A group of professionals sit together in a meeting; the word “leadership” is drawn on a chalkboard behind them.

Effective school leadership in all of America’s schools is more crucial now than ever. Effective leadership is one of the most important components of successful schools. The vital role of school leaders is more essential than ever as problems are becoming more complex within schools and the world in general.

School leaders assume more roles and must be prepared to solve complex problems while leading teams of diverse individuals who bring varying viewpoints to the table. Effective school leaders embrace a more global view of education and must move beyond day-to-day managerial roles.

Characteristics of Effective School Leadership


Effective and timely communication is essential for any organization to succeed. Schools bring together many groups of individuals with varying roles within the learning community. Everyone needs to be informed for the school to continue working in alignment with its mission and in pursuit of its vision.

The importance of effective communication is mainly noticed in its absence. Without sound communication practices, schools’ default to chaos with individuals working on islands. Practices are inconsistent, important initiatives fall through the cracks, and frustrations grow in ineffective communication.

In contrast, effective and timely communication builds bridges that unite various stakeholders in pursuit of common goals. Colleagues feel valued and want to contribute to the greater good. Communication must be consistent, relevant, and authentic.

Further, active listening is as essential as written and spoken communication. Leaders listen and consider others’ viewpoints. No one leader will have all solutions instantly. It is important to be honest and share that they will work toward a sound solution.

High Expectations

High expectations are essential for the success of a school. The leader must model and have high expectations for their success and the school’s overall success. Effective school leaders model the way for all practices within the building. High expectations are essential for a productive learning academy. Student achievement is closely linked to high expectations.

Faculty work harder and smarter when expectations are in place. In addition, employee satisfaction can increase in an environment of high expectations. People appreciate knowing that colleagues are held accountable, and all persons contribute to the school’s success.


Schools are a relationship business. Effective school leadership individuals have strong people skills and consider the needs of others daily. Schools are complex communities that are made of numerous relationship structures.

Students, colleagues, parents/guardians, school board members, and the community are just some of the stakeholders that have essential roles within a school. Leaders embrace these individuals and enjoy building strong relationships with these people. When these stakeholder relationships are productive, students will be benefit academically and emotionally.

School culture, climate, and general positive morale are vital to successful schools. Leaders should take a servant approach and treat colleagues with kindness and empathy. When seeking to understand others, leaders grow. Teacher retention and recruitment are sustained at higher levels in positive environments.

Strong leaders get to know their people and leverage their talents and strengths. By getting to know the individual, leaders can use strengths as assets to move the organization forward while providing support to overcome obstacles. Getting to know students is one of the most important pieces of this effort. Students learn differently. As such, leaders need to be prepared to be the instructional leader providing quality advice and feedback on instructional strategies that will help each child succeed.

Knowing that a person values them is one of the most crucial elements necessary for students to be diligent in efforts to learn academic skills. The relationship forms a social-emotional foundation for future academic endeavors. Building strong relationships among all is an investment that pays off with higher levels of academic achievement and maturity.

Data-Driven Decision-Making

While easily sounding like the most impersonal trait of effective school leaders, data-driven decision-making is essential. School leaders cannot make decisions that affect so many individuals based on what they believe or want. Rather, school leaders must consider reliable data about the effectiveness of each practice in combination with stakeholder feedback as they make decisions about how the school will run.

Schools cannot be ran based on a “we have always done it this way” approach. As the world continues to evolve, schools need to prepare graduates for fields that may not even exist today. Innovation and problem-solving skills should be emphasized in instructional practices. Educators wear too many hats and have a finite amount of time so there is no time to continue practices that are not producing the desired results. Initiatives that need to be fixed either need to be abandoned or refined.

A Collaborative Approach

Skilled leaders bring expertise to the decision-making team. No one individual can have strength in all arenas. As such, school leaders must hire the best and value the advice these individuals provide. By listening to the viewpoints of various stakeholders, school leaders can arrive at the decisions that are best for all students. Schools are active learning communities that must embrace a team approach to decision making.

Why Effective School Leadership is Essential in Schools Today

Effective leadership in schools is more essential in today’s schools than ever. Problems are becoming more complex, and schools need innovative leaders who make decisions that position schools to succeed. Servant leaders place the community’s needs first and work to arrive at decisions that benefit all stakeholders.

Instructional leadership has become a more crucial role of school leaders in recent years. As the world and its technologies change at rapid rates, schools must provide instruction that prepares graduates for the world of tomorrow. School leaders need an in-depth understanding of effective instructional methodologies and an ability to interpret data to make sound decisions about future instructional practices within the school.

Schools’ leaders must be prepared to make difficult decisions. When making these difficult decisions, compassion, integrity, and ethics must guide the process. Strong school leaders simply do what is right and that effort pays off. These dedicated public servants know that doing what is right leads to heightened academic achievement and emotional intelligence.

Educators can have a positive impact well beyond the classroom. Check out our available graduate degrees in administration and leadership to prepare yourself to lead as a principal, superintendent or other school administrator and help shape the future for generations of students!

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