Leadership practices that contribute to the development of the school learning environment and effective teaching

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Copyright: Symons, Alistair
It is generally accepted that school leaders are critical to improving schools. However, the School Effectiveness and School Improvement literature is largely inconclusive about how school leaders work to develop the conditions that enhance teaching to improve student outcomes. This thesis responds directly to calls in the research for more theory-driven and evidence-based models of leadership and its relationship to school improvement. Its purpose is to investigate the differential leadership practices that develop the school learning environment and effective teaching, within a self-improving school paradigm. A conceptual framework to guide the study was derived from the literature to design an integrated, multi-level model, well suited to conducting research of this type. The addition of a faculty level in the framework facilitates an examination of the contribution of middle leaders to improving school conditions to enhance teaching. This thesis employs a qualitative approach to achieve its research aims, including close analysis of its main underlying theoretical assumptions. It comprises a multi-site case study of four independent, secondary schools in NSW. The research methods include semi-structured interviews as well as observation of teachers and students in their daily in school activities, along with relevant document analysis. The findings and analysis emphasise the significance of strategic, context-specific and multi-level leadership practices implemented to make a positive difference to the school learning environment and develop effective teaching. The analysis also demonstrates how leadership is mediated through people and processes at various levels of a school, a factor still largely absent from much of the research that seeks to explain the relationship between leadership and student outcomes. These tiered leadership practices and their underlying processes form a four-factor model of school improvement – a significant contribution of this thesis. This model reveals a number of right drivers for school improvement. It offers insights for the benefit of practitioners and researchers, as they seek to further their knowledge of how school leaders improve the learning environment and teaching in a secondary school context. This theory-driven, evidence-based model represents an important contribution of this thesis to a gap in the School Effectiveness and School Improvement research base.
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PhD Doctorate