Summary 2: A review on leadership and leadership development in educational settings

Day 2, Reading 4 (May 22nd, 2021), Summary of: Daniëls, E., Hondeghem, A., & Dochy, F. (2019). A review on leadership and leadership development in educational settings. Educational Research Review,27,110-125. doi: 10.1016/j.edurev.2019.02.003. Online highlights here: Kami Export – Day-2-reading-4-Daniel-et-al-2019 (1)

This article aims to address these three research questions:

  1. Definitions: What are the main educational leadership theories?
    1. instructional leadership, 1970s
    2. situational leadership, 1970s
    3. transformational leadership, 1980s
    4. distributed leadership and
    5. Leadership for Learning. (most recent. US first, now more international)
    6. (Note, in the lecture, Stephen Dinham refered to “Instructional Leadership Phase 2”…)
  2. Effective Leadership: What are the key characteristics of effective leadership in an educational setting?
  3. Professional Development: How can school principals effectively develop their leadership?

Definitions of educational leadership in general:

  • Leadership can be understood as a process of influence based on clear values and beliefs and leading to a ‘vision’ for the school. The vision is articulated by leaders who seek to gain the commitment of staff and stakeholders to the dream of a better future for the school, its students and stakeholders. (Bush & Glover, 2003, p. 31, p. 31) They propose three dimensions of leadership:
    • leadership is a process of influence to structure and organise the processes in the organisation,
    • leadership is related to organisational values and committing people to these values
    • vision is an essential feature of effective leadership.
  • Grissom and Loeb (2011, p. 1119) describe effective school leaders as leaders who manage to combine and understand the instructional needs of the school, have the ability to allocate resources where they are needed, hire and manage qualitative personnel and keep the school running.
  • This article chose the following definition: Leadership in education is a process of influencing teachers and other stakeholders and is not necessarily limited to a single person. The process of influence ideally leads to an effective learning climate which all stakeholders (such as pupils, teachers, parents, society) experience as an added value and keeps all the organisational processes in the school (among others, monitoring the instructional process, managing personnel and allocating resources) running smoothly.

Definitions of leadership theories

Instructional leadership is defined as centred around the school principal (Aas & Brandmo, 2016; Nedelcu, 2013). It can be characterised as a top-down approach to school leadership because it mainly focuses on the principal and their tasks in coordinating and controlling instruction.

The concept of instructional leadership originates from the effective school studies in the 70s and 80s (Hallinger, 2005). Instructional leadership emphasizes the improvement of teaching and learning and focuses on the behaviour of teachers as they engage in activities directly

influencing student achievement (Hallinger, 2003).

One dimension of IL is developing the school learning climate, Hallinger defines it as:

  • protecting the instructional time,
  • providing incentives for teachers, providing
  • incentives for learning,
  • promoting professional development and
  • maintaining high visibility

Situational leadership: focus on behaviour and attitude of the employee and on characteristics of the organisation e.g. the staff characteristics, task structure, hierarchy and power relations. After a period of declined attention to situational leadership, the relationship between the school context and leadership has recently raised again

Transformational leadership arose in the 80’s and emphasizes that leaders should motivate followers to work towards transcended goals and towards achievement and self-actualisation This model consisted out of seven components: individualised support, shared goals, vision, intellectual stimulation, culture building, rewards, high expectations and modelling.

These leadership dimensions include: building school vision and goals, providing intellectual stimulation, offering individualised support, symbolising professional practices and values, demonstrating high performance expectations and developing structures to foster participation in school decisions

Transformational leadership: create change through bottom-up actions through collaboration. Instructional leadership: focusses on how to manage and control staff in the direction of the defined goals and thereby characterises instructional leadership as a top-down approach.

Distributed leadership, no agreed definition of distributed leadership exists. Distributed leadership recognises that leadership can be distributed along all school members. It’s about shared leadership, team leadership and democratic leadership. This implies that different individuals can be in charge at different times depending on the specific challenge and the specific context

Leadership for Learning (LfL) arose as a reaction to the perceived limitations of instructional leadership (Bush, 2013). LfL mainly appears in research in education. There is no solid definition of LfL.  Leadership for Learning as conceptualised by Murphy et al. (2007), integrates features of instructional leadership, transformational leadership, distributed leadership and situational leadership.

LfL is often understood as the process in which the whole school community actively participates in the improvement of learning. They further capture leadership for learning under eight major dimensions:

  1. vision for learning,
  2. instructional programme,
  3. curricular programme,
  4. assessment programme,
  5. communities of learning,
  6. resource acquisition and use,
  7. organisational culture and
  8. advocacy (Murphy et al., 2007)

Marks and Printy (2003) state that when instructional leadership, transformational leadership and shared leadership are integrated, the influence on school performance and student achievement is meaningful.

Effective Leadership: What are the key characteristics of effective leadership in an educational setting?

Effective leadership in education is often approached from the perspective of pupils’ achievement. Though, principals have often an indirect effect on pupils’ achievement through for example their influence on teachers.

  • Effective school leaders focus on the schools’ core process: curricula and instruction. An additional characteristic is effective communication and maintaining good relations.
  • Effective communication contributes to two other characteristics: shaping climate and culture, and defining and sustaining the school mission.
  • Lastly, human resource management in terms of recognising and awarding successes and investing in personnel by hiring and retaining qualified teachers were noted in the literature

Professional Development: How can school principals effectively develop their leadership?

Tynjälä (2013) identified three modes of workplace learning: incidental and informal learning, intentional but non-formal learning and formal training. Incidental and informal learning are side effects of work.

Three considerations for effective leadership professional development:

  1. First, professional development curricula should be carefully designed and sequenced with attention to prior learning and must consider the individual development needs of the principal
  2. Second, professional development for school principals should be contextual and experiential
  3. Third, to obtain an effect of leadership development activities, the transfer of knowledge, skills and attitudes to practice is crucial
  4. Lastly, Effective professional development is spread over time. MacBeath (2011) stresses the added value from ongoing support because it helps to extend and redefine their daily experiences

“The concept of school leaders’ professional development remains fairly vague.”


Based on our review, we noticed strong similarities between the Leadership for Learning theory and the characteristics of effective school principals. It is noticeable that instructional leadership strongly focuses on the core process of education i.e. teaching and learning. Meanwhile, transformational leadership focuses on how to motivate staff in the direction of the school goals. The emergence of distributed leadership emphasizes that leadership is no longer only the responsibility of one formal leader. Scholars therefore recommend to integrate several theories such as instructional leadership, transformational leadership and distributed leadership or propose a theory that integrates multiple theories such as LfL.