Balanced Leadership®

What makes an effective school leader? McREL’s research and analysis, first reported in our groundbreaking book School Leadership That Works, identified a set of 21 specific behaviors and actions that great principals and other school leaders enact that have positive effects on student achievement—behaviors and actions that all school leaders can learn and put into practice.

Using this research and evidence base, McREL developed Balanced Leadership, a professional learning and coaching program for current and aspiring leaders that goes beyond simply explaining what to do and how to do it. Balanced Leadership helps leaders understand why these 21 specific leadership actions and responsibilities are essential and when to fulfill them for maximum effect.

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McREL also gives leaders strategies and tools for using these responsibilities to achieve three overarching goals:

  • Establish a clear focus for school improvement—keeping the work and the conversations at your school targeted on the issues that matter most for student success.
  • Manage change well—understanding how to create demand for change and skillfully steer through the challenges associated with making improvements.
  • Develop a purposeful school community—creating a sense of collective efficacy among your teachers and staff, a shared belief that, together, they can make a difference for students.

In addition, Balanced Leadership shows school leaders why, when, and how they need to share leadership at certain times and be a directive leader at other times. And, when combined with our What Matters Most® framework and Curiosity Works™ approach to school improvement, Balanced Leadership can be a powerful tool for systemic improvement that builds on your school’s existing assets and bright spots, and leverages your staff’s professional curiosity to explore new practices for collaboration and innovation.

More than 20,000 school leaders across the U.S. and around the world have used Balanced Leadership to better manage their improvement initiatives and build school cultures that promote staff and student success. Are you and your school ready to be next?

Client Testimonials

All of my administrators said that McREL’s Balanced Leadership professional development was extremely meaningful to their practice and allowed them to be reflective learners.

Debra Kaplan, Superintendent, California

Balanced Leadership has become our culture. Now, if I were to hire a new principal, I would send him or her to the training before they ever worked a day.

Jay Harnack, Superintendent, Wyoming

I learned how to share my responsibilities with my leadership team. I learned that having a purposeful community at school made my life easier, as we had everyone agree upon what we needed to do and what we needed to accomplish.

Sharlene Manglona, Principal, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Professional Learning with Balanced Leadership

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Contact us today to bring Balanced Leadership to your leadership team.

Through comprehensive consulting, professional development, and coaching, we help school- and district-level leaders find the delicate balance between specific leadership actions—when to emphasize which actions and why—to become strong instructional leaders and raise the performance of all students and staff.

Following are just a few examples of the resources and PD workshops we offer. Knowing that every school is different, we’ll contextualize our sessions to meet your specific needs and goals, and we’ll create a scope of work that matches your team’s availability and budget. In addition to on-site professional learning sessions, our experts can also deliver online check-ins and coaching to sustain momentum and ensure quality implementation that supports your team’s continued growth.

School Level On-site Training

Balanced Leadership for School-Level Leaders—Year One

1–4 days of on-site professional learning at your school or district for principals, assistant principals, teacher leaders, central office school directors

What makes a great school leader? Contrary to what many believe, the answer is not tied to a certain kind of personality, but to 21 specific behaviors and actions that McREL’s research and analysis found have positive effects on students and teachers—behaviors and actions that any school leader can learn and put into practice.

Our Balanced Leadership PD shows school leaders how to apply the 21 responsibilities to their professional practices, and, in doing so, choose the right focus for school improvement efforts; effectively lead change initiatives; share leadership; and create a positive, purposeful school culture and community. We go beyond simply explaining what to do and how to do it—we also help participants understand why particular leadership responsibilities are essential and when to use them.

We also offer a Year One consortium training model for groups of school leadership teams across a state, region, or district, and we offer Training-of-Trainer sessions for local staff developers to sustain momentum and results in their area schools.

Session 1: Balanced Leadership Overview

Learn the 21 key responsibilities and behaviors that research shows have the strongest connection to student and staff success, and see how McREL’s Balanced Leadership framework turns the research and vision into action and results.

Session 2: Managing Change

Some school staff are receptive to change, while others are resistant. School leaders must understand why staff members view change differently and what they can do to help each individual with the change process. Learn how to initiate, monitor, and lead change effectively, and receive practical guidance for leading straightforward “first-order” changes as well as more challenging “second-order” changes.

Session 3: The Focus of Leadership

Every leader is faced with the challenge of managing an overflowing list of school improvement initiatives. As a result, even strong leaders can sometimes focus on the wrong things, or too many things. During this session, we’ll help you focus your leadership on what matters most—the best leverage points for improving student achievement, staff success, and school performance.

Session 4: Developing a Purposeful School Community

Research shows that a strong school culture is an even more powerful predictor of student success than socioeconomic status. Engage in hands-on learning activities that will help you develop a positive school culture and collective efficacy that reflects a clear vision for success, high expectations for behavior and learning, and a shared belief among staff that together they can make a difference for students.

Balanced Leadership for School-Level Leaders—Year Two

2–6 days of on-site professional learning at your school or district for principals, assistant principals, teacher leaders, central office school directors

After a successful first year of using Balanced Leadership principles, our Year Two sessions are focused on extending and refining school leaders’ knowledge through case studies, group discussion, and action planning to more deeply connect Balanced Leadership to their school improvement efforts.

We also offer a Year Two consortium training model for groups of school leadership teams across a state, region, or district, and we offer Training-of-Trainer sessions for local staff developers to sustain momentum and results in their area schools.

District Level On-site Training

District Leadership That Works

1–4 days of onsite professional learning at your district for superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors, and department leads

Our district-level professional learning and coaching sessions help central office leaders in districts large and small focus on specific research-based practices that have the biggest effects on student outcomes. Customizable for your district’s specific contexts, needs, and goals, our sessions will help your team:

  • Set non-negotiable district-defined goals for achievement and instruction through a collaborative process with stakeholders, align district resources to support those goals, and monitor progress.
  • Overcome performance plateaus by moving from compliance-oriented improvement to inside-out innovation, empowering schools with the defined autonomy they need to craft strategies and solutions to help their students succeed.
  • Establish district-level supports that help principals enact our powerful Balanced Leadership guidance and protocols for effective school leadership.
  • Guide staff through necessary second-order change processes, pushing past the status quo.
  • Apply characteristics of high-reliability organizations (HROs) into your district, and assess the operation of your district as a high-performing school system.

Ongoing Support, Coaching & Consulting Services

Building Shared Leadership

1–4 days of on-site professional learning at your school or district for principals, assistant principals, superintendents, assistant superintendents, central office PD leaders

It takes a team to create and maintain a high-performance school, but some teams may need help getting started. Our workshops and consulting guide your leadership teams in establishing the structures and processes needed to be productive, work together well, and gain the confidence and support of your entire staff.


Maintaining Momentum with Coaching & Ongoing Support

In addition to on-site professional learning sessions, our experts can also deliver online check-ins, multi-day onsite visits, and coaching to sustain momentum and ensure quality implementation that supports your team’s continued growth.

Woman with tablet

Power Walkthrough®

McREL’s Power Walkthrough software helps educators from the classroom to the central office maximize their potential to improve professional practices and make a difference in student achievement. Power Walkthrough helps an entire school or district build a shared language and focus to deepen professional growth, expand skills, and improve instruction.

Power Walkthrough contains templates and frameworks based on McREL’s decades-long research and analysis of effective teaching and leading, including Classroom Instruction That WorksClassroom Instruction that Works with English Language Learners, and The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching.

McREL partners with Harris School Solutions, which provides the technology platform.

School educators

Research & Program Evaluation

Are you awash in too much data? Accumulating loads of data might feel like progress, but if you don’t know what to do with it all or where to focus, your improvement efforts can stall. Starting with a clear theory of action and logic model, we can help you see the story your data is telling and use it to better inform your decisions and next steps. Together, we’ll sort through the complexity to determine appropriate, measurable goals and identify data-collection frameworks and strategies, analyses, and reporting that scaffold capacity-building, development, implementation, and continuous improvement of your strategic plans and programs and measure progress—on a short-term, long-term, or ongoing basis.


Balanced Leadership for Powerful Learning: Tools for Achieving Success in Your School

Thousands of school leaders worldwide have improved their leadership skills and their students’ achievement with our research-based Balanced Leadership® program. This book shares the lessons we’ve learned, the stories we’ve heard, and the guidance that has made the biggest difference in student achievement and staff success. You’ll learn how a balanced approach enables more effective implementation of the fundamental components of leadership: establishing a clear focus on what matters most for the entire school; managing the challenges associated with change to sustain improvement efforts; and creating a committed, purposeful, and positive community of teachers and staff.

Curiosity Works: A Guidebook for Moving Your School from Improvement to Innovation

Take charge of your school’s learning environment and culture and push past performance plateaus by rekindling the power of curiosity across your school. Curiosity Works guides school leadership teams through a six-phase journey toward powerful, continuous improvement and innovation, with 17 tools you can use to reflect on where you are as a school and where you want to go, and implement the action steps needed to get there. Curiosity Works incorporates key elements of McREL’s What Matters Most framework and Balanced Leadership program that tens of thousands of teachers and leaders globally are already using to gain actionable insight into their profession, and layers on improvement pathways and phases of development to guide you and your team.

Simply better

Simply Better: Doing What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success

We all want—and strive for—student success. But increasing student success isn’t as much about doing more or working harder as it is about doing the right things—especially when resources available are limited. Bryan Goodwin presents research findings and real-life examples to show how “less is more” in education reform. Understand why five specific principles—instruction, curriculum, student support, high-performance school cultures, and data-driven districts—are key to helping all students succeed. Learn how strategic “touchstones” can challenge and nurture students, standardize yet personalize curriculum, counteract negative out-of-school factors, and reduce variance in teacher quality.

School Leadership That Works: From Research to Results

What does research tell us about the effects of school leadership on student achievement? What specific leadership practices make a real difference in school effectiveness? How should school leaders use these practices in their day-to-day management of schools and during the stressful times that accompany major change initiatives? School Leadership That Works provides answers to these and other questions. Based on an analysis of 69 studies conducted since 1970 that met rigorous selection criteria and a survey of more than 650 building principals, the authors developed a list of 21 leadership responsibilities that have a significant effect on student achievement.

Free White Paper | The Road Less Traveled: Changing Schools from the Inside Out (2015)

In this white paper, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin urges education leaders and policymakers to rethink the way we’ve been approaching reform for the past three decades and consider what might happen if we improved schools not from the top down but instead from the inside out—putting curiosity at the center of learning and unleashing a powerful, more engaging system of schooling. Goodwin shows how schools can flip the top-down paradigm by taking a few key, consistent actions that put student engagement, motivation, and true problem-solving at the heart of teaching and learning to create new, more powerful outcomes that set students up for lifelong success.

Report | School District Leadership That Works: The Effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement (2006)

This report analyzes the influence of district superintendents on student achievement and the characteristics of effective superintendents. Through a meta-analysis of research findings, the paper identifies five district-level leadership responsibilities that have statistically significant correlations with average student academic achievement. All five of these responsibilities relate to setting and keeping districts focused on teaching and learning goals.