Saturday, 21 January 2012

What it takes to be a school leader in Ontario

What it takes to be a school leader in Ontario……………….. by Dennis Jenkins

As part of the Ministry of Education’s Ontario Leadership Strategy, the Ontario Leadership Institute has developed a Principal and Vice-Principal Framework. Part of this framework focuses on five areas or domains of knowledge, competencies and practices that have been shown to be effective in improving student achievement: setting directions, building relationships and developing people, developing the organization, leading the instructional program and securing accountability.

The following is a succinct overview of the essence of each of these framework areas. In terms of setting directions, school leaders must be able to work with staff to forge an appropriate vision that supports improved student achievement. The leader must be able to clearly articulate this vision within the organization and to the greater school community and work with staff to develop strategies to turn the vision into actions. No one is capable of doing the work alone and a strong positive relationship between the leader and the rest of the staff, as well as amongst the staff, is crucial to effectively move a vision into practice. This includes maintaining high visibility in the school as well as quality interactions with students and staff. It means the school leader must have exceptional interpersonal skills, and a high level of integrity and resiliency. In developing the organization, the principal is the lead learner and must be an active participant in professional learning along side the staff. Being able to facilitate networks within the school as well as with staff at other schools requires some creative resource management. Fostering a culture of collaborative inquiry is a key requirement to leading change in the schools. This includes putting structures in place that enable change and mitigate against things that would act as barriers change. Setting high and realistic learning expectations, based on expert analysis of student achievement data, must be supported by high-yield instructional strategies that are constantly being refined based on an analysis of the student work.  Principals and vice-principals must use their knowledge of assessment and pedagogy to lead the process of aligning instructional strategies with student needs. Finally, school leaders are held accountable to their students, parents and supervisory officer for the student achievement and must also hold their staff accountable for student learning. Having the capacity and confidence to set up structures that result in providing evidence of being on track to meet student achievement targets is par for the course. School leaders who can fulfill all of these management and leadership functions while maintaining a healthy balance between the demands of this work and that of their private lives are in demand in Ontario as in other jurisdictions. Quality leadership is second only to quality teaching in predicting student success and the two feed off each other.

For a more detailed version of the Ontario Leadership Framework for Principals and Vice-Principals please see the original document at

Dennis Jenkins is the Superintendent of Employee Services at the Renfrew County District School Board and is responsible for Leadership Development and Succession Planning.