4 Behaviors of Highly Effective School Leaders

August 20, 2021  |  by Amanda Bhardwaj

4 Behaviors of

It’s not up for debate: school leaders are essential to student learning and achievement. But because the impact of great school leaders is indirect, it’s often understated... until now. New research out of the Wallace Foundation suggests that the magnitude and scope of a school leader’s impact may not have been stated strongly enough in previous research and collective understanding. This comprehensive research report identifies four behaviors that effective principals consistently practice to be indispensable to their schools:

1. Engaging with teachers on instruction
2. Building a productive school climate
3. Fostering collaboration
4. Managing resources strategically


Before we get into the behaviors and what they look like on a daily basis, it’s important to note three overlapping areas of expertise that emerged from the research: people skills including the ability to build strong relationships and communicate effectively, organizational skills like strategic thinking and extracting insights from data, and instructional skills. These areas of expertise are prerequisites for school leaders to be successful because the skills combine, support, and manifest as the four leadership behaviors that create exceptional school and student outcomes.


Teachers are our most important assets. They interact directly with students everyday, and in turn, have an unmistakable impact on student learning. This is why authentic and meaningful teacher support systems are the key to transforming instruction and improving student outcomes. But how do we go about providing support to teachers that is authentic, meaningful, and actually helpful?


What makes a good instructional leader is the ability to work shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers to improve the quality of teaching across the school. Effective instructional leaders focus on instruction, emphasize the use of data to indicate student progress, and have high-expectations of both teachers and students. Classroom visits, coaching, and school-wide instructional programs are some examples of high-leverage practices school leaders can adopt to create authentic, instruction-focused engagement with teachers.


Habits stick through repetition, and one way to make this leadership behavior a habit is to communicate directly and frequently with teachers about what’s happening in classrooms. Simply making a conscious effort to positively interact with each teacher about their lessons on a daily/weekly basis can make a world of difference. You can also make an effort to follow up classroom visits with specific feedback in a timely manner, rather than waiting to provide feedback at a routine coaching session or for when it’s most convenient to you.


While instructional leadership is important, building trust and relationships are foundational. Students learn best when they feel safe, accepted, challenged, and supported. It’s no surprise that teachers perform best in the same conditions. That’s why a positive and productive school environment built on trust, teamwork, efficacy, and continuous improvement must come before a high-functioning instructional program.


If you’re already interacting with your teachers often and providing timely and supportive feedback, you are well on your way to a positive school climate. Other actions you can take on a day-to-day basis are to include teachers in planning and decision making, participate in professional development and data reflection discussions, and solicit feedback and input. Most importantly, don’t forget that your words and actions are powerful. In fact, they set the tone for the entire school culture. Are you modeling the behaviors you expect from the team you lead? Every interaction you have with your students, staff, and your community-at-large is reflected in your culture. Make these interactions inspiring, supportive, and geared towards academic excellence.


Effective school leaders create the structure to support focused, effective, and authentic collaboration among teachers so that, together, they believe that they can improve their practice and have a positive impact on student learning. This notion is at the very heart of collective teacher efficacy. When collaboration is structured though a systematic protocol and is focused on improving instruction, collaborative meetings encourage professional responsibility, foster positive relationships, and become a powerful vehicle for collective teacher efficacy.


As a school leader, you can support collaboration by earmarking time for it, creating clarity through norms or rules of engagement, and setting expectations to promote accountability. While your presence in collaborative meetings and data discussions can be beneficial and supportive, you need to know when it’s time to take a step back. It’s important that your teacher team has a sense of autonomy and ownership over collaborative time so they can freely support each other and share best teaching practices.


The positive impact school leaders have on student achievement is indirect, yet powerful, as it’s experienced across the school. This impact is realized through teachers, which underscores the importance of providing support in the form of resources needed for both student and personal learning. Essentially, you will retain your teachers and motivate them to perform when they have the resources they need to carry out the job. There’s nothing less motivating than feeling overworked and under-resourced.

Given the magnitude of impact that school leaders have on student learning, the study suggests that investing in instructional leadership will undoubtedly pay off in a big way. One approach is to make sure your instructional support system facilitates and encourages these leadership behaviors daily, even when there are other demands on your time. When we remove the obstacles to providing quality support to teachers, students ultimately win.

We’re always happy to help and provide input where we can. If you have questions about your instructional support system, we’d love to talk to you. Schedule a complimentary strategy session with a Bullseye expert!


Download Your Instructional Support Checklist now!

We know back-to-school planning as an instructional leader can be overwhelming. Download our top tips to make sure your instructional support plan for this upcoming school year is manageable, effective, and leaves teachers feeling valued, heard, and empowered to take charge of their professional learning journey. Get your free instructional support checklist below!

Download Your Instructional Support Checklist Below


We know back-to-school planning as an instructional leader can be overwhelming. Download our top tips to make sure your instructional support plan for this upcoming school year is manageable, effective, and leaves teachers feeling valued, heard, and empowered to take charge of their professional learning journey.

Find A Time To See How Bullseye Can Be Customized For Your School/ District

Grissom, Jason A., Anna J. Egalite, and Constance A. Lindsay. 2021. “How Principals Affect Students and Schools: A Systematic Synthesis of Two Decades of Research.” New York: The Wallace Foundation. Available at http://www.wallacefoundation.org/principalsynthesis.