How Leadership Impacts Learning

Linking Leadership to Student Learning
By Kenneth Leithwood and Karen Seashore Louis
(Jossey-Bass, 2011 – Learn more)

holly procidaReviewed by Holly Procida

Will I still matter? That’s a career question much on my mind lately.

I am hoping to become a school administrator in the near future. I have raised two great kids who are off in college. I have been in the classroom for 25+ years. I’ve worked in a total of three districts, one urban and two affluent suburban. I’ve been a teacher in kindergarten and grades 2, 5 and 8, as well as a gifted and talented specialist. I’ve worked for all different types of administrators, and I can very easily answer the question: YES, administrators matter; to school climate particularly.

linking-ldrshp-cvrBut, will leaving the classroom mean I leave the opportunity to impact student achievement? I read the book Linking Leadership to Student Learning by Kenneth Leithwood and Karen Seashore Louis with the hope that their (research-based) answer would be YES, principals also matter to student achievement. I also looked forward to learning the HOW part of making sure that happens.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book is a friendlier version of a comprehensive, nationwide five-year study supported by the Wallace Foundation. It includes good data, several case studies and some very well summarized main findings, pointing to the conclusion that yes, school administration has an impact on student learning.

What’s inside

The book is divided into two parts, one addressing school leadership and students and the second on the role of districts, which also gets into the role of states. I wasn’t surprised to see a New Jersey school superintendent claiming that New Jersey’s interpretation of No Child Left Behind made school administration extra challenging. The study was conducted between 2004-2010 so little mention is made of the Common Core. But it is still valuable to examine the general principles of school leadership and the embracing of new initiatives in general, both of which this in-depth study has much to tell us about.

My takeaways from the book include valuable nuggets, like the need to prioritize in the face of endless principal responsibilities, and the need to learn from teachers what they require from administrators to support student achievement and make sure they have it. The researchers also found a significant correlation between collaborative leadership style and student achievement.

The book also stressed that “hands on” approaches to administration lead to greater results. It doesn’t seem to be enough to set up grade level collaboration opportunities among teachers. Leaders sitting in on the planning really increases teachers’ perception of the investment and consequently is correlated to greater student achievement.

Confidence from the district in its school leaders, meaningful leadership PD, and the efficacy of the leaders themselves were also key factors in linking school administration and student achievement. These five findings are worth remembering:

  • Collective leadership has a stronger influence on student achievement than individual leadership.
  • Almost all people associated with high-performing schools have greater influence on school decisions than is the case with people in low-performing schools.
  • Higher-performing schools award greater influence to teacher teams, parents, and students, in particular.
  • Principals and district leaders have the most influence on decisions in all schools; however, they do not lose influence as others gain influence.
  • Schools leaders have an impact on student achievement primarily through their influence on teachers‘ motivation and working conditions. (Wallace, 2010)

I am sure that a book looking at leadership and student achievement in 2013 would have a large focus on the impact of the new teacher evaluation efforts on student achievement. In the meantime, this book has a lot of value to offer people in school leadership positions who want research-based evidence of the best ways to support what works in helping your students achieve.

YES, administrators matter.

Holly Procida is presently a social studies teacher at Charles DeWolf Middle School in Old Tappan, New Jersey. With her recent Principal Certificate of Eligibility she hopes to soon “make the leap” into school administration. Holly is passionate about literacy, technology and geography. You can follow her blog at


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