Principalship and student learning

Having spent over 40 years in the field of academics with 18 years as a Principal, there were a few questions that were unanswered in my mind. After retirement, I started looking for those answers. Here is what I found.

Does the Principal’s leadership influence student learning?

A teacher’s influence on a student is more visible, tangible and noticeable. But the influence of a principal cannot be undermined. It was Wallace foundation’s board of directors who decided to take up a study on Principalship as a leader in 1999. In practically every aspect of society – from business to the armed forces, leadership was found to be critical. Since then, it has been getting more attention than it ever did.

In 2004, ‘How leadership influences student learning’ was published by Wallace Foundation. In 2019, it commissioned a new review, and the findings are striking. With quantitative and qualitative studies combined, the research put forth 4 practices linked to effective outcomes and 3 foundational skills.

Effective outcomes

3 Skills to possess

Leaders do not create value directly. Their contribution is rather indirect because, they enable others to perform. So, at times, promoting a good teacher to be a principal could lead to loss of a good teacher and beget a poor principal.

The Wallace Foundation report concluded that ‘Leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school”. Although the teacher influence is higher for an individual student, a strong leadership is paramount for a progressive school. This deals with factor of influence and its effects on learning.

Kenneth Leithwood etal, mention 4 paths along which the influence of leadership flows.

The Emotional path

I have always stressed the fact that a teacher should deal with Maslow’s hierarchy first before Bloom’s taxonomy. This research article corroborates my belief to a large

extent. It talks about CTE – collective teacher efficacy which is the level of confidence that a group of teachers have in getting their students to achieve higher levels of performance. This need not be academic. Accepting the level of responsibility is a factor of CTE.  

A few more Characteristics of Principals that emerged are:

  1. Facing challenges, reaching out to students
  2. Engage students in Activity based learning
  3. Try out new instructional techniques
  4. Use scaffolding to help the laggards
  5. Exhibit resilience and persistence
  6. Create space for parents in the school
  7. Be empathetic and approachable

The Rational Path

The variables involved in this path are Knowledge and skills of the school staff about curriculum, teaching and learning. To deal with these variables firmly the principal needs to have the knowledge of leadership practices and problem-solving capacities.

A few characteristics of effective principals that emerged are:

  1. Open, supportive and friendly
  2. Not burdening the teachers with bureaucratic tasks
  3. Helping to clarify shared goals. About academic achievement
  4. Providing an orderly, safe environment
  5. Laying down the policies and SOPs

The Organizational Path

Learning occurs in school at the individual level. It is the vision and mission of the leader that weaves the individual learning into a collective advantage. The variables included under this head are:

  1. The total amount of time potentially available for learning – this has an effect which is weekly significant to quite strong.
  2. Time devoted to instruction – Moderate effect on learning.
  3. Opportunity to learn which has strong connections to the mode of teaching – Has a strong effect on learning
  4. Academically engaged time of the student – distractions will be minimized. – This has a strong correlation with learning.

The principal has to ensure that the performance of the school is at its best by looking into these variables.

The Family Path

This appears simple but is the most critical of them all since the leader has no control over the variables. 

Some of the variables were

  1. home environment
  2. Parental involvement at school
  3. TV watching time
  4. Home visits

An effective principal would ensure that specific, positive feedback is given to the parents about their wards at regular intervals.

Communicate effectively with parents, hold regular PTMs.

One of most common problems associated home environment at the primary is Reading. The school could have a training on techniques of reading for the parents, it would not only help in the reading process but also develop confidence among the students. The higher SES parents might be able to deal with the reading problems, but the others would welcome this initiative.

A Summary of Findings

  1. Effective principals are important for student achievement
  2. Principal’s effect extends beyond student achievement.
  3. Effective principals focus on the 4 practices and the skills and outcomes.
  4. Principals must develop an equity lens.
  5. They must learn the technique of delegation
  6. They must follow the 4 paths

From all this it appears that the principal is perhaps an important person in the school to stimulate improvements to enhance student learning.

At the end of this, I breathe a sigh of relief. I think I have touched many a heart,  enabled a few more to learn and learnt along with them.

Finally a quote: “ A great Principal builds character, inspires dreams, Encourages creativity, builds confidence, Instils a love for learning, touches our hearts and changes our lives forever”. Anonymous


  1. School leaders’ influences on Student learning: The Fur paths, Kenneth Lethwood, Stephen E.Anderson, Blair Mascall and Tiiu Strauss.

Published by Dr. Pramila Kudva

I am a teacher educator currently worrking as a Principal of a reputed school in North Mumbai, have more than 30 years of experience, with several publications to my credit and have authored a book -"From chalk to Talk The Art of Teaching.

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