Primary School Leadership in Context: Leading Small, Medium, and Large Sized Schools

By Geoff Southworth | Go to book overview

5

Learning-centred leadership: influencing what happens in classrooms

Having looked at leadership in small, medium-sized and large primary schools, I now turn to consider how the similarities and differences that exist between them affect certain key aspects of school leadership. In this chapter I shall focus on the most critical issue facing heads and school leaders, namely how they influence what happens inside classrooms. This issue is vital to the success of schools and their leaders, and here I will attempt to unpick how leaders do this, drawing on the research presented in the previous chapters, other related studies and my own reflections on them all.


The nature of leaders' influence and effects

The idea that heads and other school leaders make a difference is now widely accepted by researchers, policymakers and practitioners alike. Today the issue is not so much whether heads and other leaders make a difference as how they do so. Consequently researchers have turned their attention to tracing the pathways by which leaders exercise their influence in schools.

Leaders influence others in all kinds of ways. We tend to assume that leaders always have a beneficial effect, but this is not always true. Heads and other leaders can have negative as well as positive effects: rather than motivating colleagues, they can frustrate, antagonise and de-motivate others. Also, because schools are social organisations, and complex ones at that - even 'small' schools are socially complex organisations - the connections that exist among members of a school are many, subtle and dynamic. In other words, it can be overly simple to say that a head teacher always influences what others do; these 'others' may be influencing one another just as much, if not more than the other leaders. Thus it is sometimes difficult to know who is influencing whom, especially since influence is not always a function of organisational hierarchies and restricted to those occupying positions of responsibility. Heads, deputies and subject leaders certainly exercise influence, often because of their formal roles, but influence flows interpersonally and informally as well.

Notwithstanding these obvious difficulties in thinking about influence and effects, researchers have latterly begun to identify some of the ways in which school leaders influence others. Hallinger and Heck (1997, 1999) reviewed in

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