Principal’s Time Use and School Effectiveness

Center for Education Policy Analysis – Stanford

Author/s: Susanna Loeb, Eileen Horng, Daniel Klasik

“Strong instructional leadership is essential for a school to be successful. However, defined narrowly only in terms of curriculum and classroom instruction, instructional leadership is unlikely to result in increased student learning or other desirable outcomes.” (Horng and Loeb, 2010)

As we begin a new school year, it may be time to consider our role as a school leader and how we contribute to overall student achievement–instructional leadership. Studies indicate that our contribution to the overall effectiveness of our school may run counter to our intuition and current thinking on what is the difference that makes the difference in raising student achievement. In Principal’s Time Use and School Effectiveness, researchers Susannah Loeb and Eileen Horng offer important considerations for school leaders as they seek to improve the quality of instruction and increase student achievement.

Principal “time spent on Organization Management activities is associated with positive school outcomes, such as student test score gains and positive teacher and parent assessments of the instructional climate; whereas Day-to-Day Instruction activities are marginally or not at all related to improvements in student performance and often have a negative relationship with teacher and parent assessments.”

Furthermore, “schools demonstrating growth in student achievement are more likely to have principals who are strong organizational managers. These principals do not fit the conventional definition of instructional leaders, but they do fit the new, expanded definition of instructional leadership that includes organizational management.”

“Organizational management for instructional improvement means staffing a school with high-quality teachers and providing them the appropriate supports and resources to be successful in the classroom.” (Horng and Loeb, 2010)

This study supports research from the Chicago Center for School Research (CCSR), which found that instructional quality (IQ) is a function of Teacher Skill, Student Readiness, and Context. The results emphasize the importance of school leaders creating a context where teaching and learning can take place. An organized, safe, orderly, and inviting school environment is absolutely essential for quality instruction. Principals who successfully created such an environment saw higher student achievement.

School Leaders must create the conditions in which teaching and learning can take place before we seek to enact qualitative improvements in teaching. “A six-year study of school leadership commissioned by the Wallace Foundation concludes that school leaders primarily affect student learning by influencing teachers’ motivations and working conditions. By comparison, a leader’s influence on teachers’ knowledge and skills has far less effect on student learning. Thus, the authors caution against conceptions of instructional leadership with a narrow focus on classroom instruction (Louis et al. 2010).”

“Strong organizational managers consequently are able to support classroom instruction without providing that support directly to individual teachers. Instead, they develop a working environment in which teachers have access to the support they need.” (Horng and Loeb, 2010)

Finally, keep in mind that teaching and learning take place in a context, a context that includes new teacher evaluation systems, new state accountability systems, and new college and career-ready standards and that a supportive context/environment demands that school leaders successfully:

  1. Create a safe, orderly, and inviting school environment that supports learning, encourages attendance, and promotes positive student behavior
  2. Fashion a personalized school climate that values relationships and connects students to meaningful, real-world learning
  3. Foster of collaborative culture of accountability based on mutual trust and shared responsibility
  4. Effectively implement long-term systemic change initiatives
  5. Raise achievement of diverse students by improving classroom instruction and enhancing teacher capacity
The Bottom Line: “Strong managers develop the organizational structures for improved instruction more than they spend time in classrooms or coach teachers.” For years I have referred to this as the difference between “playing school” and actually “doing school.”Unfortunately, researchers found that, on average, only one-fifth of the principals’ time is dedicated to organizational management activities. In comparison, almost a third of their time is spent on administrative tasks — such as managing student discipline and fulfilling compliance paperwork — that do not appear to be related to improved school outcomes (Horng, Klasik, and Loeb 2010).

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