As school leaders, you can’t be expected to do everything. So you have to figure out where your time, effort, and influence will count the most—enhancing learning and achievement! Decide where your leadership practice can make the biggest difference, have the greatest impact, and then deliberately set your course in that direction.
Producing the greatest leadership impact is a sacrificial act. To pull it off, you have to steal from other areas of your professional life. That is, something has to give over here in order for you to make an impact over there. We’re talking about significant tradeoffs. Serious compromises. What is required is a strong will and a steadfast rationing of personal resources, such as your time, energy, and influence.
So, how should principals spend their time? The answer is to leverage your big winner leadership practices. To help describe the concept of leveraging your big winner leadership practices, we will draw on a principle taken from the field of total quality management—the Pareto Principle. Let’s apply the Pareto Principle—what’s known as the “80/20 rule”—to your everyday life and then to your leadership practices.
The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule argument goes something like this: Roughly 80 percent of your leadership impact will come from 20 percent of your leadership practices. Another way of saying this is that a significant few leadership practices will account for most of your leadership impact. The biggest part of your leadership practices—say approximately 80 percent—will be so much less impactful that they will produce only 20 percent of your effect on learning and student achievement.
As school principals, we experienced this phenomenon with student discipline. Over the many years, as we dealt with student behavior problems, we came to realize that as much as (if not more than) 80 percent of our disciplinary problems came from a significant few of our students—20 percent or fewer of our student population. In other words, critical to reducing the number of disciplinary problems in our school then became a matter of identifying the 20 percent of our students who were producing 80 percent of our disciplinary problems and developing intervention strategies to address that specific population of students.
At a micro level, just by looking at your daily habits, you can find plenty of examples where the 80/20 rule applies. You probably make most of your phone calls to a very small number of the people for which you have contact information. You likely spend a large chunk of your money on few things (perhaps rent, mortgage payments, or food). There is a good chance that you spend most of your time with only a few people from the entire pool of people you know—minority creating majority.
A Disproportionate Investment
We encounter many school leaders who attempt to spread her or his leadership time and energies around, investing in a variety of activities that seem worthwhile. But the reality is, a school leaders’ impact varies dramatically from one set of leadership practices to another. A few leadership practices, aimed at a limited number of goals, say 2-3, end up making the major contributions to your total leadership impact.
Just think how much you can improve your leadership impact by allocating your professional leadership time and resources more strategically. Spend your time, energy, and influence in the high-payoff, big winner leadership areas—instructional leadership practices (Robinson, Hohepa, & Lloyd, 2009), and you could easily double or triple your impact!
Focus on the Significant Few, Not the Trivial Many
Think significant few. Figure out what to ignore. Concentrate on the power leadership strategies, your big winner leadership practices. These deserve the lion’s share of your productive hours and energy, because they’ll bring you the most significant results. If you want maximum impact, don’t make the mistake of seeking “balance” in your workday or workweek routine. Rather, rely heavily on the big winner leadership practices to leverage your impact on learning and student achievement.
What are these high-leverage leadership practices? According to the research of Robinson, Hohepa, & Lloyd (2009), “the more leaders focus their influence, their learning, and their relationships with teachers on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater their influence on student outcomes” (p. 40). Essentially, the research has identified five instructional leadership practices that have the greatest impact on student achievement (which are not listed in a ranked order):
- Establishing a shared vision/mission, goals, and expectations. School leaders’ impact student achievement through their emphasis on shared values and clear academic and learning expectations.
- Strategic resourcing. The use of the word strategic indicates that this leadership element is about the deliberate practice of securing and allocating time, money, and people.
- Ensuring teacher and staff effectiveness. This leadership element makes a strong impact on student achievement and involves the orchestration of four leadership actions: (a) engaging faculty members in an ongoing dialogue about instructional practices and the effect that these practices are having on student learning; (b) collaborating with faculty members to coordinate and review the school’s curriculum (i.e., develop clearly articulated learning progressions in the teaching of reading across all grade levels); (c) providing feedback to and securing feedback from teachers as a result of frequent classroom observations that help them answer the question “Where to next?” in relation to identified learning intentions; and (d) monitoring student progress numerous times throughout the year for the purpose of classroom, grade-level, and/or department improvement.
- Leading and participating in teacher/leader learning and development. This instructional leadership element requires school leaders to devote time and energy in two synchronized roles—both promoting as well as participating in teacher and leader development. The professional development in which teachers and leaders engage includes both formal (i.e., scheduled staff development throughout the year) and informal (i.e., planning period dialogue) learning opportunities. And,
- Providing an orderly, safe, and supportive environment. Leadership of high-achieving schools is characterized by its emphasis on and success in establishing an orderly and safe school environment through clear and consistently enforced behavioral expectations and discipline codes.
Conduct a Time Audit
So, how do you spend your precious time? What percent of your day or week are spent directly engaged in these five instructional leadership practices? If you don’t know, we suggest that school leaders do a time audit. Maintain a log of your time for one week. Examples of categories you might include are: responding to emails, planning, time spent on voice mail responses, preparing reports, engaged in professional reading, observing classes, counseling direct reports, activating parent, staff, community, and leadership team meetings, unavailable for personal time, or family time, travel, or community service, etc. After collecting at least one full week of daily records, construct a pie chart that reflects your actual time allocation for each category. Compare this to the five leadership practices. Evaluate what changes you need to make to more effectively allocate your time to your five big winner leadership practices.