Leadership in Elementary Education: When it comes to effective schools, what are we doing well?

By Paul S. Haughey, Ed.D.

Students need effective schools. While our Massachusetts school systems continue to receive much criticism and ridicule that they are falling behind in meeting international, national and state standards, there are still some schools in our local areas that stand out, especially at the elementary level.

“Sure, the context of schooling will impact attributes that contribute to effectiveness in specific schools,” states Dr. Matthew Lynch in his recent Education Week article titled, The Five Attributes of Successful Schools.  “But at the same time, there are attributes that contribute to effectiveness across schooling contexts. If we understand the attributes of effectiveness, we can observe which attributes exist at successful schools,” (Education Week; June 29, 2016).

According to Lynch, there are five common attributes that make up an effective school: 1. Leadership; 2. High Expectations; 3. Ongoing Evaluation; 4. Goals and Direction; and 5. Secure and Organized: The fifth and final attribute of a successful school is the extent to which the school is secure and organized.  “For maximum learning to occur, students need to feel secure. Respect is a quality that is promoted and is a fundamental aspect of an effective and safe school. Successful schools also have a number of trained staff and programs, such as social workers, who work with difficult or troubled students before situations get out of hand,” (Education Week; June 29, 2016).

Apart from the five attributes of a successful school already mentioned, a number of school districts view preschool education as an attribute that will influence overall effectiveness across all schools located within the district. According to Dr. Lynch, “evidence suggests that children with preschool experiences fare better academically and socially as they enter kindergarten and beyond. Experiences in literacy and numeracy among early learners not only prepare preschoolers for a kindergarten curriculum that has heightened expectations of prior knowledge, but also help identify early learners who need additional support to ensure they have positive learning experiences later,” (Education Week; June 29, 2016).

In my own professional experiences spanning more than 26 years in the field of education, additional attributes that influence effective schools include: time to learn, teacher quality and parental trust. Research supports the view that the more time a student spends learning, and the more efficiently that time is used, the higher their achievement. Schools that find creative ways to extend learning time are more likely be more effective.

And when it comes to effective schools, Dr. Lynch asserts, that trust and parental/family participation are also very important features. Trust between all parties of the school community is vital for enhancing the school’s effectiveness because it supports the prospect that parents and teachers believe in each other’s motives and actions. Parental participation is also important because it sends the message to
students that the adults in their lives–both teachers and parents/families–believe
in the importance of education and are willing to make time to support
students’ educational experiences and efforts.  Furthermore, schools with high-quality teachers also tend to be more effective.

However, the one attribute I continue to come back to “year after year” as vital continues to be – providing leadership during the hiring of high-quality faculty and staff.  Schools that are able to enter the candidate pool in early spring and hire teachers from high-quality teacher education programs are more likely to be effective. And after the recruitment and hiring processes have been completed, it always turns to retaining said faculty and staff with meaningful professional development as the next most important attribute that follows suit.

As a result of Dr. Lynch’s Education Week article, it got me thinking, what else is happening in our field of elementary education – that stands out to us as Massachusetts school principals, assistant principals and/or department heads – that is truly making a difference in our ability to not only lead teaching and learning but have it be meaningful for our students and their families?  In brief, what else are we doing well?  This is the question I’d like us to discuss within this month’s blog.


Lynch, M. The Five Attributes of Successful Schools, Education Week. (June 29th, 2016).

PaulHaugheyPaul currently works as a PreK-5 Principal for the Millville Elementary School which is part of the Blackstone-Millville Regional School District.  To learn more about Millville Elementary School, visit his website or connect with him on Twitter @MillvElem_Prin. You can also contact him through Voxer @pshaughey or email at pshaughey@msn.com or on Twitter @pshaughey.

Are you interested in sharing your ideas, insights and questions? If so, click here to sign up for a post. Julie Vincentsen, Principal of Ruggles Lane School, will reach out with specifics. Are you interested but nervous because you’ve never blogged before and don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry – as long as you know how to use Microsoft Word you will be up to this challenge. We write for our communities all the time – this just changes your audience. You probably could even take a current newsletter you’ve written and repurpose it for your colleagues.

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