• by Bradley Scott, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • August 2014 •Dr. Bradley Scott

We are in an era of great reform in public schools. We are all called to do more, to be more, and to reach for more to create great schools for every learner, whoever he or she may be and regardless of their defining characteristics.

We need great leaders in schools who understand the demands of the day for education that prepares all diverse learners for higher and higher levels of schooling, for college going and completion, and for life success. We need great teachers and we need powerful principals who know how to lead a school to academic excellence and high student performance.

This article speaks briefly to the need for dynamic principals who can exercise powerful leadership on school campuses to move all students to high academic outcomes, college completion and successful lives.

What kind of leadership is required to do this?

Jody Spiro of the Wallace Foundation (2013) offers five lessons about what makes for effective principals. Effective principals…

  • Shape a vision of academic success for all students;
  • Create a climate hospitable to education;
  • Cultivate leadership in others;
  • Elevate and improve instruction; and
  • Manage people, data and processes to foster school improvement.

Similarly, Jackson & McDermott (2012) assert that leadership must be fearless rather than fearful to transform schools to high performance.

Robyn Jackson (2013) is unequivocal in her view that almost any teacher can become a master teacher under the right instructional leader, provided the leader can pass the real test, which is to get people to follow him or her as the leader works through other people to accomplish the vision and goals of the school.

Both the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (2013) note that good principals…

  • Attract, support and retain a high-quality teaching staff;
  • Manage their personal time and priorities to focus on the right “stuff”;
  • Spend considerable time and energy becoming instructional leaders; and
  • Provide a stable, predictable and supportive foundation for a high performing school.

For Douglas Reeves (2009), leaders must be willing to confront the myths about how change should be led in school, how commitment needs to be built and how real leaders get results. Reeves asserts that all of the right leadership qualities do not exist in one person – although that one person (the principal leader) is absolutely necessary – but rather in a team that exhibits the traits of leadership and exercises the leadership responsibility as part of a leadership community.

Ash & D’Auria (2013) similarly identify four drivers to build a blueprint for a learning system:

  • Build trust;
  • Collaborate in all directions to build teamwork;
  • Provide capacity-building for all educators; and
  • Create leaders at all levels.

The IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity has spent considerable time developing a set of qualities, characteristics and capacities identified in the literature to describe powerful leadership needed by effective principal leaders. These individuals should serve as models for other leaders to emulate and should inspire teachers and other stakeholders including students to aspire to excellence, high achievement, competence, and productivity in a college-going culture that leads to high school graduation, college going and completion, and successful engagement in professional work and community life in a globally-focused and competitive world.

These leaders are:

  • Ready
  • Agile
  • Tenacious
  • Deliberate
  • Persuasive
  • Competent
  • Current
  • Connected
  • Exemplary
  • Inclusive
  • Demanding
  • Deeply committed
  • Clear
  • Uncompromising
  • Of high integrity and principled
  • Change agents
  • Courageous
  • Focused
  • Culturally responsive
  • Disciplined
  • Affirming
  • Optimizing
  • Opportunistic
  • Visionary
  • Resourceful

They must reflect these characteristics in their leadership practice.

The SCCE has begun to document and share examples of such powerful leaders on the SCCE Equity Hub in the IDRA website. These principal leaders possess these leadership characteristics and capacities. Their leadership is making a difference for the students and families they serve. It is important to see powerful leadership in action and indifferent contexts.

The SCCE Principal Leadership portion of the SCCE Equity Hub provides actual examples of dynamic leadership that is making a difference in schools across the region. We hope that you will use these leaders as a resource to inspire you and to encourage you to exercise your own leadership as you continue to impact the lives of your students.

Visit the SCCE Equity Hub and see the power of leadership in action as we post dynamic examples of principals in action making a difference for students and families.


Ash, P.B., & J. D’Auria. “Blueprint for a Learning System: Create One Larger, More Flexible Team That Encourages Collaboration in All Directions,” JSD –The Learning Forward Journal (2013) 34, No. 3 42-46.

Jackson, Y., & V. McDermott. Aim High, Achieve More: How to Transform Urban Schools through Fearless Leadership (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2012). Vol. Pp. 13-102.

Jackson, R.R. Never Underestimate Your Teachers: Instructional Leadership for Excellence in Every Classroom (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2013).

National Association of Secondary School Principals, and National Association of Elementary School Principals. Leadership Matters – What Research Says About the Importance of Principal Leadership (Alexandria, Va.: NASSP & NAESP, 2013).

Reeves, D.B. Leading Change in Your School: How to Conquer Myths, Build Commitment, and Get Results (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2009). Vol. Pp. 41-84.

Spiro, J.D. “Effective Principals in Action,” Phi Delta Kappan (2013) 94., No. 8 27-31.

Bradley Scott, Ph.D., is a senior education associate in the Field Serves. He also serves as project director for the South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2014 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]