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School Leadership & Management
Formerly School Organisation
ISSN: 1363-2434 (Print) 1364-2626 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cslm20
Seven strong claims about successful school
Kenneth Leithwood, Alma Harris & David Hopkins
To cite this article: Kenneth Leithwood, Alma Harris & David Hopkins (2019): Seven strong
claims about successful school leadership revisited, School Leadership & Management, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/13632434.2019.1596077
Published online: 19 Apr 2019.
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Seven strong claims about successful school leadership
, Alma Harris
and David Hopkins
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada;
Education, University of Bath, Bath, UK;
University of Bolton, Bolton, UK;
Institute of Education,
University College London and the University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
ARTICLE HISTORY Received 20 January 2019; Accepted 10 March 2019
KEYWORDS Leadership; management; educational change; school improvement
In 2008 we published an article in this journal entitled Seven Strong Claims about
Successful School Leadership (Leithwood, Harris, and Hopkins 2008). The article was
based on a major literature review that was summarised in a paper published by
the National College for School Leadership in England.
Both the National College
paper and our subsequent article proved to be far more popular than we antici-
pated and both have been extensively cited over the past 10 years. This article
revisits each of the seven claims, summarising what was said about each in the
, weighing each of the claims considering recent empirical
evidence, and proposing revisions or reﬁnements as warranted.
At the outset, the 7 claims were introduced with the following caveat:
These claims are not all strong in quite the same way, as we shall explain, but they all ﬁnd support
in varying amounts of quite robust empirical evidence, the ﬁrst two having attracted the largest
amount of such evidence. Those in leadership roles have a tremendous responsibility to get it
right. Fortunately, we know a great deal about what getting it right means. The purpose of
this article is to provide a synopsis of this knowledge. (Leithwood, Harris, and Hopkins 2008, 27)
The sections that follow therefore revisit each claim in turn offering new insights,
perspectives and analyses based on the more recent empirical literature. Our
purpose is not to produce a new literature review but rather to test the validity
of the 2008 claims in the face of more recent empirical evidence. Claim 1 is the
most widely cited and it is where this article commences the review.
1. Claim 1: School leadership is second only to classroom teaching as
an inﬂuence on pupil learning
We considered this claim controversial at the time but have been surprised by its
wide acceptance and endorsement within the leadership ﬁeld. Indeed, this is one
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Kenneth Leithwood Kenneth.email@example.com
SCHOOL LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT
of the most frequently quoted claims we have made in our respective careers
(e.g. Khalifa, Gooden, and Davis 2016). To justify this original claim, we drew
on four sources of evidence: qualitative case studies of successful leaders;
large-scale quantitative evidence of overall leader eﬀects, as well as speciﬁc lea-
dership practices; research on leaders’signiﬁcant contributions to student
engagement in school (a strong predictor of achievement); and, ﬁnally; results
of research demonstrating the negative eﬀects on pupil achievement of
(especially frequent) school leader succession.
Three features of the evidence relevant to this claim reported over the past
ten years warrants revising this claim:
(1). The original claim implicitly limited inﬂuences on pupil learning to factors
within the school’s walls. Indeed, the evidence continues to accumulate to
demonstrate the positive eﬀect of speciﬁc, high quality teacher behaviours
on student achievement (Hattie 2008). Clearly however, pupils’cognitive,
social and emotional growth is inﬂuenced quite substantially by other
factors as well, including, for example, socio-economic factors (Domina
et al. 2018), features of the home and relationships between the home
and school (Jeynes 2011; Goodall 2018).
(2). The original claim is limited, in our view, because it restricts the inﬂuence of
classroom teaching on pupil achievement to the day-to-day, moment-to-
moment interactions that occur between teachers and pupils. While this
claim is empirically correct, as a within school factor (Good and Lavigne
2017), the evidence would also suggest that factors outside the school
also account for signiﬁcant variations in pupils’academic progress and
attainment (Chapman et al. 2015). As we describe in relation to Claim 5,
there is now signiﬁcant evidence about the eﬀects of a number of external,
school-wide factors and classroom factors making at least comparable con-
tributions to pupil learning and progress than ‘classroom teaching’as, for
example, Academic Optimism (Hoy, Tarter, and Wolfolk-Hoy 2006) Academic
Culture (Leithwood and Sun 2018), Collective Teacher Eﬃcacy (Berebitsky
and Salloum 2017) and Disciplinary Climate (Sortkaer and Reimer 2018).
(3). As compared with 2008, there is now a much larger corpus of high-quality quan-
titative evidence available which demonstrates the modest but consistently sig-
niﬁcant indirect contributions of school leadership to pupil learning, as well as
the catalytic eﬀects of such leadership on other consequential features of the
school and its community (e.g. Grissom, Loeb, and Master 2013).
To more accurately reﬂect this new evidence, the original claim has been
revised as follows:
Revised Claim 1. School leadership has a signiﬁcant eﬀect on features of the school organ-
ization which positively inﬂuences the quality of teaching and learning. While moderate in
size, this leadership eﬀect is vital to the success of most school improvement eﬀorts.
2K. LEITHWOOD ET AL.
As this claim underscores, the function of leadership at all levels, or distributed
leadership, is to build the organisational conditions that foster high quality
teaching and generate improvements in learner outcomes. Performing this func-
tion depends on opportunities for discretionary decision making by those enact-
2. Almost all successful leaders draw on the same repertoire of basic
Our 2008 article oﬀered a justiﬁcation of this next claim (page 29) with the
…the central task for leadership is to help improve employee performance; and that such
performance is a function of employees’beliefs, values, motivations, skills and knowledge
and the conditions in which they work. Successful school leadership, therefore, will include
practices helpful in addressing each of these inner and observable dimensions of perform-
ance –particularly in relation to teachers, whose performance is central to what pupils
The article then described four sets of effective leadership practices emerging
from several syntheses of research conducted in both school and non-school
contexts. Since 2008, evidence in support of this original claim has continued
to accumulate and strengthen. For example, relevant evidence generated up
to 2012 was reviewed in order to craft a leadership framework for the Canadian
province of Ontario (Leithwood 2012).
At the same time, two very large-scale multi-year studies reported data
conﬁrming the eﬀects on student achievement of these categories of practice
(Leithwood and Louis 2012; Day et al. 2011). More recent evidence is avail-
able from a systematic review and synthesis of ﬁve comprehensive leadership
frameworks (Hitt and Tucker 2016), a series of meta-analytic reviews (Leith-
wood and Sun 2012; Sun and Leithwood 2015; Sun and Leithwood 2017)
and several quantitative empirical studies that test parts or all of this
conception of leadership (Leithwood, Sun, and Schumacker 2017; Liu and
Collectively, this evidence continues to endorse the four domains of leader-
ship practice identiﬁed in the 2008 article and identiﬁes 21 speciﬁc practices
within those domains. Table 1 outlines the four domains of practice including:
Setting Directions, Building Relationships and Developing People, Redesigning the
Organization to Support Desired Practices, and Improving the Instructional
Program. While our original Claim 2 needs no revision, Table 1 indicates that
the number of eﬀective leadership practices, grounded in the available evidence,
has grown from 14 to 22 over the past decade; the last of these practices (Par-
ticipate with teachers in their professional learning activities) has been added
to acknowledge a key ﬁnding from a widely cited review of leadership research
reported by Robinson, Lloyd, and Rowe (2008).
SCHOOL LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT 3
The dependent variable in most of the research justifying the leadership prac-
tices in Table 1 was primarily school-level student achievement results on
national, state or provincial tests. Such school-level achievement measures do
not, of course, reﬂect the full range of outcomes for which schools are now
held responsible. Equity is arguably the most prominent of these outcomes.
Our 2008 article had little to say explicitly about equity, so we revisited the
four sets of leadership practices through the lens of recent research about
forms of leadership which contribute to equitable outcomes for all students.
This also, of course, reﬂects the recent PISA emphasis on excellence and
equity within education systems (OECD 2016).
Especially useful for this purpose was a comprehensive review of literature
by Ishimaru and Galloway (2014) identifying, among other things, ten
leadership practices for equity. Each of these practices may vary from
making little or no, to considerable contributions to equitable outcomes
for students depending on how it is enacted (more on this in the section
about Claim 4).
The practices in Table 1 with asterisks beside them (**) are close approxi-
mations to the labels awarded the ten equity leadership practices by Ishimaru
and Galloway (2014); Table 1 includes all of the equity practices, as well as con-
siderably more, although the fuller account of each of the ten equity practices by
Ishimura and Galloway also touches on the many of the remaining 11 practices
outlined in Table 1. The relevance of the four categories of successful leadership
practices to both achievement and equity goals provides additional justiﬁcation
for retaining the original version of Claim 2.
Table 1. What successful school leaders do.
Domains of practice Speciﬁc leadership practices
Set Directions .Build a shared vision**
.Identify speciﬁc, shared, short-term goals
.Create high-performance expectations
.Communicate the vision and goals**
Build Relationships and Develop People .Stimulate growth in the professional capacities of staﬀ
.Provide support and demonstrate consideration for individual
.Model the school’s values and practices**
.Build trusting relationships with and among staﬀ, students and
.Establish productive working relationships with teacher
Develop the Organization to Support
.Build collaborative culture and distribute leadership**
.Structure the organization to facilitate collaboration**
.Build productive relationships with families and communities**
.Connect the school to its wider environment**
.Maintain a safe and healthy school environment
.Allocate resources in support of the school’s vision and goals**
Improve the Instructional Program .Staﬀthe instructional program**
.Provide instructional support
.Monitor student learning and school improvement progress**
.Buﬀer staﬀfrom distractions to their instructional work
4K. LEITHWOOD ET AL.
3. The ways in which leaders apply these basic leadership practices –
not the practices themselves –demonstrate responsiveness to, rather
than dictation by, the contexts in which they work
The 2008 version of our article argued in claim 3 that successful leaders are sen-
sitive to the contexts in which they ﬁnd themselves but do not enact signiﬁcantly
diﬀerent leadership practices as contexts change. Rather, they ‘apply contex-
tually sensitive combinations of the basic leadership practices described
above’. Evidence about the successful leadership of ‘turnaround schools’was
used to illustrate and consolidate this claim.
Recent research has highlighted the importance of leaders being responsive
to context and highlighted how eﬀective school leaders understand and
respond appropriately to the diﬀerent contextual demands that they face. The
evidence base about contextual inﬂuences on school leadership practices has
expanded signiﬁcantly since our 2008 paper. For example, Hallinger (2016) has
identiﬁed several types of school contexts (institutional, community, socio-cul-
tural, political, economic, school improvement) that shape leadership practice.
A growing body of research now highlights how cultural, economic and contex-
tual factors directly inﬂuence, and to some extent restrict leaders’actions, prac-
tices and behaviours (e.g. Lee and Hallinger 2012; Walker and Hallinger 2015;
Harris and Jones 2018). In addition, recent research on school leadership has
encapsulated more studies in contexts outside the Western world, with a
growing range of international perspectives on school leadership practices
(e.g. Waite and Bogotch 2017; Barber, Whelan, and Clark 2010) and reviews of
the literature from various countries (Hallinger 2018; Harris, Jones, and
Huﬀman 2017; Walker and Hallinger 2016).
Research about leadership for equity, as described in Claim 2, provides another
illustration of how the enactment of core leadership practices needs to be respon-
sive to the context in which leaders ﬁnd themselves. ‘Building a shared vision’,the
ﬁrst practice in Table 1, is a leadership practice generally useful and eﬀective in
most contexts. Enacting this practice in schools serving mostly low income,
diverse families and students, for example, may require greater communication
and engagement with parents (Goodall 2017,2018). In contrast, building a
shared vision in schools serving largely middle and upper –income families typi-
cally may not have the exact same communication and engagement challenges.
Contexts such as these reﬂect the ‘situated contexts’included in a relatively recent,
comprehensive classiﬁcation of contexts (Braun et al. 2011) demanding acknowl-
edgement by leaders if they are to be successful.
These categories include:
1. Situated contexts (such as locale, school histories, intakes and settings);
2. Professional contexts (such as values, teacher commitments and experiences, and
policy management’in schools);
SCHOOL LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT 5
3. Material contexts (e.g. staﬃng, budget, buildings, technology and infrastructure);
4. External contexts (e.g. degree and quality of local authority support, pressures and
expectations from broader policy context, such as Ofsted ratings, league table
5. Legal requirements and responsibilities (p. 588).
Variations within each of these sets of contexts, including different cultural con-
texts, have signiﬁcant consequences for how those engaged in leadership work
in schools select and enact their practices if they are to be successful.
The number of contextual factors that potentially could inﬂuence leadership
work and the complexity of determining how they interact means, however, that
some general and generalisable features of successful leadership remain impor-
tant. A school leader’s main question should always be ‘Under these conditions,
what should I do?’Indeed, there is credible case to be made that the role of
research is to identify forms of leadership that will be helpful across many
diﬀerent contexts and that the prime role of school leaders is to ﬁgure out
how best to use that information as they craft their responses to their own
unique contexts. In other words, the focus should be on the precision with
which school leaders adapt pedagogic strategies and curriculum considering
their diagnosis of the learning needs and challenges of their students, in their
context, in order to create evermore more powerful learning experiences for
them (Hopkins and Craig 2015)
Of importance here is how leadership adapts to the ‘growth state’or ‘devel-
opment phase’of the school (e.g. declining school performance, stabilising the
decline, beginning to improve performance). There is a signiﬁcant literature
that focuses on the diﬀerent leadership strategies necessary at each diﬀerent
phase of development (Gray et al. 1999; Day et al. 2011; Hopkins 2013). This
approach has also been adopted for analyses at the system level (Barber and
Mourshed 2007). Furthermore, there is practical guidance available for school
leaders that builds on this empirical evidence, such as the ‘School Improvement
Pathway’(Hopkins and Craig 2015). This brief synopsis of recent evidence related
to context illustrates why we think that Claim 3, in its original form, is still justiﬁed
and is likely to remain so into the distant future.
4. School leaders improve teaching and learning indirectly and most
powerfully through their inﬂuence on staﬀmotivation, ability and
This next claim is built on the widely endorsed premise that most school leader-
ship eﬀects on students are indirect (Bossert et al. 1982; Hallinger and Heck 1996)
and draws upon three sets of variables that mediate those eﬀects. In our 2008
article, the results of several large-scale studies carried out in both England
and the U.S. were invoked as evidence to justify this claim.
6K. LEITHWOOD ET AL.
Although not cited in the original article, earlier work on creating the school,
classroom and student conditions for school improvement supported this argu-
ment and ampliﬁed its practical applications (Hopkins 2002). Since 2008,
additional work aimed at identifying the most promising mediators for the atten-
tion of school leaders (e.g. Hallinger and Heck 2010; Bryk, Harding, and Green-
burg 2012; Heck and Hallinger 2014; Sebastion, Huang, and Allensworth 2017)
has aimed to be more speciﬁc about the nature and impact of such mediators.
Although not speciﬁcally addressing the work of school leaders, Pink’s(2009)
articulation of the leadership and organisational determinants of intrinsic motiv-
ation provides additional support for the argument here. In addition, we refer to
our own recent work to illustrate the direction of such research (Leithwood, Sun,
and Pollock 2017; Leithwood, Sun, and Schumacker 2017; Leithwood, Patten, and
The central outcome of this body of empirical work is the identiﬁcation of
eleven speciﬁc mediators which satisfy two main criteria: they have signiﬁcant,
typically direct eﬀects on students and they are relatively malleable by school
leaders. Largely for heuristic reasons, these eleven mediators (or conditions)
have been grouped into four categories –Rational, Emotions, Organizational
and Family conditions –and conceptualised as ‘Paths’along which the
inﬂuence of leadership ‘ﬂows’to exercise inﬂuence on student learning.
Mediators or conditions on the Rational Path reﬂect the knowledge and skills
of school staﬀmembers about curriculum, teaching, and learning –the technical
core of schooling –along with features of the school culture which directly
support the technical core. Four individual conditions populate this path includ-
ing Classroom Instruction, Teachers’Use of Instructional Time, Academic Press
and Disciplinary Climate. The Emotions Path encompasses those feelings, dispo-
sitions, or aﬀective states of staﬀmembers (both individual and collective)
shaping the nature of their work including Collective Teacher Eﬃcacy, Teacher
Commitment and Teacher Trust in Others.
Conditions on the Organizational Path include features of schools that struc-
ture the relationships and interactions among organisational members. Among
the most signiﬁcant of these conditions are Safe and Orderly Environments, Col-
laborative Cultures and Structures, as well as the Organization of Planning and
Instructional Time. The Family Path is populated by three conditions which,
taken together, represent educational cultures in the home that contribute
most to students’success at school. Fostering development of the knowledge
and dispositions families need to productively work with schools in the interests
of their children’s success, these conditions include Parent Expectations for Chil-
dren’s Success at School, Forms of Communication among Parents and Children
in the Home and Parents Social and Intellectual Capital about Schooling.
This further speciﬁcation of variables or conditions mediating school leader-
ship eﬀects on students is a considerable expansion on the three mediators dis-
cussed in our 2008 article and the addition of three family-related variables
SCHOOL LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT 7
warrants a modiﬁcation to the original claim. This modiﬁcation to claim 4 also
reﬂects the considerable research literature on the contribution of parental
engagement to improved learner outcomes (Goodall 2017,2018).
Revised Claim 4: School leadership improves teaching and learning, indirectly and most
powerfully, by improving the status of signiﬁcant key classroom and school conditions
and by encouraging parent/child interactions in the home that further enhance student
success at school.
5. School leadership has a greater inﬂuence on schools and students
when it is widely distributed
Claims 5 and 6 are about the nature and importance of distributed forms of
school leadership. A considerable body of relevant evidence has been reported
since 2008 signiﬁcantly increasing certainty about the validity of these claims.
Contemporary research about distributed leadership now explores, in far
greater depth, than research prior to 2008, the relationship between distributed
leadership and speciﬁc organisational and student outcomes (Harris 2008,2013a,
2013b; Spillane 2004).
There are critics of distributed leadership (e.g. Hartley 2010; Hall 2013; Lumby
2018) who highlight some of important limitations and reservations associated
with this form of leadership. Ironically, much of this analysis highlights the poten-
tial shortcomings of distributed leadership as normative and not soundly based
on evidence, yet many of these critiques tend toward the ideological rather than
the empirical.. A recent critical review of the literature by Tian, Risku, and Collin
(2015) concluded, that the positive impact of distributed leadership on organis-
ational change and learner outcomes remains questionable. This review,
however, omitted important contemporary empirical pieces about the eﬀects
and impact of distributed leadership (DeFlaminis 2009,2011,2013; Louis et al.
2013; Hairon and Goh 2015; Woods and Roberts 2016) thus calling into question
the legitimacy of this conclusion.
A great deal of contemporary research has, in fact, inquired about the eﬀects of
distributed leadership on a wide range of organisational conditions, as well as
student outcomes. For example: Camburn and Han (2009) explored the relationship
between distributed leadership and instructional change, highlighting positive out-
comes; Hallinger and Heck (2009) and Heck and Hallinger (2010) corroborated the
positive inﬂuence of distributed leadership on school and student improvement, as
has Leithwood and Mascall (2008); Leithwood, Mascall, and Strauss (2009a,
2009b); Leithwood et al.(2009c);Cole (2008); DeFlaminis (2009,2011,2013);
DeFlaminis (2013,2016) Giombetti (2009) and Gravin (2013).
The knowledge base on school leadership has also broadened to include con-
siderations of shared leadership and team performance (D’Innocenzo, Mathieu,
and Kukenberger 2016); the leadership of school-based networks (Leith-
wood and Azah 2016) and the well-being of those responsible for leading, at
8K. LEITHWOOD ET AL.
all levels, in the school (Hopkins 2009). There is also the emerging ﬁeld of system
leadership that originated in England, where school leaders were encouraged to
take greater responsibility for neighbouring schools, particularly those that are
failing and underperforming (Hopkins 2009; Higham, Hopkins, and Matthews
2009). This wide range of recent evidence provides considerable support for
the original Claim 5 which has been revised only slightly, as follows:
Revised Claim 5: -School Leadership can have an especially positive inﬂuence on school
and student outcomes when it is distributed.
The next claim focuses on patterns of leadership distribution. It states:
6. Some patterns of distribution are more eﬀective than others
Recent evidence provides further justiﬁcation for this claim. Both the patterns of
leadership distribution and how leadership practices are enacted, when distrib-
uted, inﬂuences organisational performance (Yoak 2013; Hargreaves, Boyle and
Harris,). Evidence indicates that the most productive patterns of distribution
inevitably diﬀers from school to school, as contexts vary (Claim 3) but that it is
the enactment of distributed leadership in practice that, evidence would
suggest, makes a positive diﬀerence to organisational performance (Spillane
and Orlina 2005; Harris and Spillane 2008; Supovitz 2009; Supovitz and Riggan
Hulpia and Devos (2010) found that distributed leadership eﬀects on teachers’
organisational commitment were inﬂuenced by the quality and distribution of
leadership functions, social interactions, cooperation of the leadership team,
and participative decision-making. Teachers reported being more strongly com-
mitted to the school if informal leadership responsibilities were distributed or
shared by patterns of expertise.
DeFlaminis (2013) similarly found that open patterns of leadership distribution
were established by ﬂattening the hierarchy and creating new opportunities for
those at school and district levels to lead based on their expertise rather than
their position. The creation of new teams to solve speciﬁc problems was part
of the structural re-organisation and a critical component of distributed leader-
ship in action. Results of research by Spillane, Halverson, and Diamond (2001)
and Harris (2013b) consistently show that patterns of leadership distribution
tend to be based on patterns of expertise within an organisation and that
new roles and responsibilities will inevitably emerge from an authentic distribu-
ted leadership model.
Distributed leadership is premised on interactions rather than actions along
with the establishment of new teams, groupings and connections for speciﬁc
purposes. Consequently, the eﬀectiveness of distributed leadership, research
shows, depends upon the particular pattern of distribution and this pattern
will depend upon organisational need(s) and levels of expertise within the
SCHOOL LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT 9
organisation, which will vary from school to school context (Claim 3). Hence, we
propose that the original claim 6 remains valid and important. Finally, moving to
the last of our 7 claims.
7. A small handful of personal traits explains a high proportion of the
variation in leadership eﬀectiveness
The deep background to this claim is the oﬀ-again, on-again interest in leader-
ship traits by the broader leadership research community. After decades of
eﬀort to identify important leadership traits, a review of evidence in the late
1940s by an inﬂuential leadership scholar (Stogdill 1948) declared the eﬀort to
be largely a waste of time; excessive numbers of potentially promising traits
were a large part of the reason for this judgement. However, the eventual emer-
gence of a personality theory that addressed this problem, the ﬁve-factor model
Digman (1990), breathed new interest into research about leadership traits.
Among the personality traits in the ﬁve- factor model, signiﬁcant eﬀects on
both leadership emergence and eﬀectiveness have been consistently reported
for four of the ﬁve traits –extraversion, conscientiousness, emotional stability
and openness –but not neuroticism (Colbert et al. 2012). The speciﬁc contri-
bution of Miles and Huberman (1984) in relation to the leadership of school
improvement and more generally Collins’s(2001) speciﬁcation of Level Five Lea-
dership and Covey and Merrill’s(2006) discussion of Trust add texture and ballast
to our original contention.
Our 2008 article acknowledged that there had been only modest amounts of
research about the traits of school leaders. Partly reﬂecting conclusions from
research on the ﬁve-factor theory, however, our article concluded that at least
under challenging conditions, there was evidence to suggest that:
the most successful school leaders are open-minded and ready to learn from others. They
are also ﬂexible rather than dogmatic in their thinking within a system of core values, per-
sistent (e.g. in pursuit of high expectations of staﬀmotivation, commitment, learning and
achievement for all), resilient and optimistic.
A 2012 review of evidence, undertaken in support of a set of provincial leader-
ship standards (Leithwood 2012), introduced the concept of ‘personal leadership
resources’(PLRs). This concept was intended to include the non-behavioral, non-
practice-related components of leadership, (including traits) which signiﬁcantly
inﬂuence the nature of leaders’behaviours or practices. Table 2 lists the three
categories of PLRs identiﬁed by the review. The Cognitive category of PLRs
includes domain-speciﬁc knowledge (e.g. knowledge about how to diagnose
and improve the status of leadership mediators such as those discussed as
part of Claim 4 (above)), expert problem solving and systems thinking, none of
which ﬁt common deﬁnitions of traits. Similarly, the Social category of PLRs,
including perceiving and managing emotions, as well as acting in emotionally
10 K. LEITHWOOD ET AL.
appropriate ways, captures much of what has been learned about ‘social apprai-
sal skills’or ‘emotional intelligence’not typically viewed as traits. The Psychologi-
cal category of PLRS, however, does include qualities normally considered to be
traits –optimism, self-efﬁcacy, resilience and proactivity.
Our original Claim 7 referred to ‘traits’, as they are typically deﬁned, whereas
PLRs encompass a much larger proportion of the covert qualities giving rise to
especially eﬀective leadership practice. While traits of the sort identiﬁed in
Table 2 are alterable, as compared with domain-speciﬁc knowledge or expert
problem solving, for example, the challenge for their further development is
of another order of diﬃculty. For such practical purposes as leadership selection,
evaluation and development, therefore, we argue that the results of research
about leadership traits by themselves has quite limited value and that the
results of research about the full range of non-behavioral, non-practice qualities
underlying eﬀective leadership practices (PLRs) is likely to be much more useful.
Indeed, explaining the roots of eﬀective leadership practice will entail much
more research about how PLRs interact with one another.
So, what are the implications of this line of argument for our original Claim 7?
Consistent with evidence about associations between leader eﬀectiveness and
traits included in the ﬁve-factor personality model (Colbert et al. 2012), the
claim that personal leadership traits, by themselves, explain a high proportion
of variation in school leadership eﬀectiveness cannot be justiﬁed: however.
the full range of PLRs outlined in Table 2 may well do so. But further research
will be needed to fully justify this claim. So our revised claim is as follows:
Revised Claim 7: While further research is required, a well-deﬁned set of cognitive, social
and psychological ‘personal leadership resources’show promise of explaining a high
proportion of variation in the practices enacted by school leaders.
The conclusion to our 2008 paper began by noting that:
A recent publication sponsored by Division A of the American Educational Research
Association (the largest association of its kind in the world, with many international
members) claimed that research on school leadership has generated few robust
claims. The main reason cited for this gap in our knowledge was a lack of programmatic
Table 2. Personal leadership resources.
Cognitive Resources .Problem-solving expertise
Social Resources .Perceiving emotions
.Acting in emotionally appropriate ways
Psychological Resources .Optimism
SCHOOL LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT 11
research; a paucity of accumulated evidence from both small- and large-scale studies,
[failure to use] a variety of research designs, and failure to provide evidence in
suﬃcient amounts and of suﬃcient quality to serve as powerful guides to policy and
practice. (Firestone and Riehl 2005)
The main conclusion to be drawn from revisiting the original 7 Strong Claims is
that Division A’s earlier depiction of the ﬁeld is no longer accurate or appropriate.
For example, new evidence has signiﬁcantly reinforced four of the original claims
(2, 3, 5, 6), prompted moderate revisions to two claims (1 & 7) and signiﬁcant
reﬁnements to another (4). These results are encouraging for several reasons.
First (in contrast to Division A’s claim) there was enough robust evidence avail-
able in 2008 about several problems central to the educational leadership ﬁeld to
provide a solid foundation for both practice and future research.
Second, a considerable proportion of educational leadership research since
2008 has been evolutionary; that is, researchers have continued to deepen our
understanding of key problems in the ﬁeld by continuing to accumulate
enough evidence to count as real progress. A common criticism of the edu-
cational leadership ﬁeld in the past, that novelty is valued much more than
strong evidence, may no longer be valid –the sign of a maturing ﬁeld of
study. During the past ten years, scholars also have improved the strength of
their research designs including more longitudinal designs, stronger mixed-
methods designs, stronger quantitative methods, and more large scale studies.
Revisiting the 7 Strong Claims is therefore important because a decade later,
much of our initial analysis of the literature in 2008 still stands. Our analysis,
based on scanning the available evidence, has consolidated a signiﬁcant pro-
portion of what we know about successful school leadership and conﬁrmed
that the original 7 claims remain with minor revisions in only a few cases. Our
initial analysis in 2008, and this analysis a decade later, suggests that the ﬁeld
is now strongly established from both an academic and a practical perspective.
A systematic review of various studies on leadership models from 1980 to
2014 by Gumus et al. (2018) concluded that distributed leadership, instructional
leadership, teacher leadership and transformational leadership continue to be
the most studied models of leadership. Empirical interest in these models has
signiﬁcantly increased over the past decade. This analysis found that distributed
leadership is the most studied model in educational research with all other
models also receiving considerable empirical attention. This review reinforces
how the research base on school leadership has expanded and strengthened
since the 2008 review.
Looking ahead, with such a ﬁrm empirical footing, the next stage of scholar-
ship on school leadership needs to extend what is known to explore in greater
depth how school leaders enact certain practices, what those practices are and
their resulting impact. The 7 strong claims, unequivocally, point to the fact
that school leadership matters greatly in securing better organisational and
learner outcomes. The evidence underlines the importance of certain leadership
12 K. LEITHWOOD ET AL.
practices, conditions and models of enactment and engagement that make a
signiﬁcant diﬀerence to outcomes. This has also led to the increasingly practical
speciﬁcations of evidenced based strategies and frameworks to enhance the
practice of school leaders (Hopkins and Craig 2015).
The future challenge for scholars in this ﬁeld is to design empirical enquires
that move away from describing ‘what successful leaders do’to illuminating
‘how they do it and measuring the resulting impact’? (Leithwood and Sun
2018). Inevitably, this will require more complex, sophisticated research
designs and larger-scale studies that are multi-method and potentially, interdis-
ciplinary in nature.
Re-visiting the 7 strong claims has provided an opportunity to take stock and
to re-evaluate what we know, categorically, about successful school leadership.
The conclusion from this analysis is that this ﬁeld is now in a much stronger
empirical position than in 2008. For those scholars entering the ﬁeld there is a
great deal of certainty about what is empirically known and huge potential for
future studies that venture deeper into the nature, enactment and outcomes
of successful school leadership.
2. For the evidence supporting the original claims see the 2008 paper. We do not repeat
those citations in this paper.
3. We use the term ‘leadership for equity’to mean much the same as social justice leader-
ship and culturally responsive leadership.
4. For extended discussions of this issue see, for example, Khalifa, Gooden, and Davis
(2016), Thrupp and Lupton (2006) and Hallinger and Kantamara (2001).
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the authors.
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