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  • Writer's pictureAndy Hind

A leader's impact on pupil outcomes

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

School leaders have the biggest impact on pupil outcomes by creating and developing a professional culture that shapes the high-performance professional behaviours needed for success.

The most effective school leaders aim to create a school culture that enables all staff to grow and develop, professionally, whilst experiencing a deep sense of psychological safety, where there is an appropriate balance between challenge and support and where all individuals are highly engaged in deep professional thinking and learning.

A school's professional culture refers to the values, behaviours, attitudes, routines and rituals that are shared amongst all staff. It is the collective personality of a workplace and it influences the way individuals think and interact with each other. The professional culture is 'the way we do things around here'. If individuals rely on CPD and/or training as their 'go to' for professional growth or wait for lesson observations or other forms of accountability to be done to them, then that's 'how we do things around here'.

Take some time to consider these questions:

  1. As leaders, how clear are you as to your 'ideal self' with regard to the professional culture of your school...Your 'True North'?

  2. If you had achieved this 'true north' with regard to the professional culture of your school, which professional behaviours and attitudes would you see all staff demonstrating? How would staff be behaving...professionally?

  3. If you had achieved your 'true north' with regard to the professional culture of your school, what would you see staff doing with regard to professional growth and development? How would they be spending their time when not teaching?

  4. If you had achieved your 'true north' with regard to the professional culture of the school, how would staff be communicating with each other, especially around their professional learning and thinking?

  5. Where are you now with regard to your 'true north' and the school's professional culture?

  6. Where are you falling short with regard to your 'true north'?

  7. What is your next single, specific priority for moving your professional culture nearer to your 'true north'?

A strong professional culture can help create a positive work environment, increase productivity and performance, enhance communication, and promote teamwork. A positive professional culture typically includes essential characteristics of organisational effectiveness such as respect, transparency, accountability, and a commitment to ongoing learning and development. It can be developed and sustained through shared experiences, open dialogue, consistent leadership and processes that have been intentionally designed to increase social capital through professional inquiry, storytelling and rigorous reflection.

It's all about your systems and processes.

School leaders are not directly responsible for the outcomes that are being achieved by the pupils in each classroom across their school, but rather for the teachers and teaching assistants who are responsible for the outcomes that are being achieved by the pupils in each classroom. Leaders must focus time and energy on intentionally designing a professional culture that is conducive to the development of the high-performance behaviours required to achieve professional mastery.

With this in mind, 2 questions must be considered by all leaders:

  1. What are the high-performance professional behaviours and attitudes needed for success...the professional behaviours and attitudes demonstrated by a teacher who has achieved professional mastery?

  2. What are the cultural conditions needed to ensure these professional behaviours and attitudes are nurtured and developed in all staff?

The leaders are the gardeners; the professional culture is the soil and weather conditions; the staff are the flowers.

When considering these professional behaviours and attitudes, leaders might want to consider a deliberate focus on practitioner inquiry and what is needed for an individual to take an inquiry stance into their own classroom practice. Which specific behaviours, which skills, which attitudes are essential if someone is to engage in a rigorous professional inquiry? Teachers should treat teaching as being 'problematic' and be prepared to identify their own 'problems' that need solving. However, this type of stance requires a certain type of mindset and leaders should consider how the professional culture of the school is intentionally developing an organisational growth mindset.

5 things we know about the professional culture of any school:

  1. It is the one thing that has the biggest impact on the success of the school and, therefore, pupil outcomes

  2. All members of a school community have an impact on the professional culture of a school, but it is the leaders who have the biggest impact

  3. Culture shapes behaviours

  4. It's all about designed and implemented systems and processes

  5. The professional culture that exists in any school is a result of historical events

Leaders must allocate time to continuously monitor and improve the professional culture of the school. There is a need to rigorously analyse and assess the school's professional culture, to look at the culture through as many different lenses, to gain varied perceptions and to face the brutal truths when it comes to specific areas that need improvement. Leaders should carefully design and thoroughly carry out a 'deep-dive' into the professional culture of the school if they are to have real clarity around strengths and weaknesses. Much of a school's professional culture is below the surface and more difficult to judge and this is why an intentionally designed deep-dive is essential. It is far easier to carry out a deep-dive into the teaching of maths than it is to engage in a deep-dive around the professional culture of a school but leaders must not shy away from this challenge. Continuously monitoring and improving the professional culture of any school can help to ensure that it remains strong and vibrant and, therefore, should be seen as one of the most essential roles of any leader.

As mentioned earlier, the professional culture that exists in any school is a result of historical events, so what need to be your future events that will shape your professional culture and help move it nearer to your 'true north'?

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