What makes a great school leader?

By Greg Whitby, 12 September 2018


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Here’s a question for a reader’s poll: say the CEO of NRMA decided to embark on a career change and ended up as principal of a large school. Do you think she or he could do the job effectively?

When parents think about makes a great school principal, it is often the visible personal qualities that they focus on – things like being a good ‘people person’, a good communicator and someone passionate and committed to education. These are essential qualities but as we all know, just being a nice person doesn’t always guarantee that the person will be an effective school leader or even CEO.

Leadership, like teaching, is highly relational. While these personal qualities are important an equally important aspect of the role of principal is the ability to lead the learning and instruction in schools.

Good leaders must be able to ensure that teachers are working collaboratively, reflecting on practice and using data to inform their conversations about improving student learning. While the principal is not at the coalface of teaching all every day (many still teach classes regularly), their leadership does impact on the outcomes of students through what happens in classrooms, staff rooms and through their engagement with the broader community.

Good school leaders have a deep understanding of what it is to be a learner and a teacher in today’s world. Smart leaders see themselves as lifelong learners as well as the school’s lead teacher.

Good leaders set clear goals and high expectations of teachers and students. These goals are made clear to everyone in the school community so everyone knows what students and teachers are working towards.

Good school leaders are like good sports coaches: they inspire, motivate and encourage to ensure that everyone on the team is performing at his or her personal best in order to achieve common goals.

For school leaders, the common goal is making sure that all learners continue to improve. This means keeping the playing field clear of distractions and minimising the background noise that so often pulls teachers away from their core work.

Good leaders create a climate of trust, transparency and collaboration.

While I would love to know how readers would respond to the poll question, bear in mind that like a good CEO who can increase the value and reputation of the company, and deliver benefits to both customers and shareholders, a good school leader is one who raises the value of schooling and delivers improved outcomes to all students.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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