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Balanced Leadership for Student LearningTM

What makes a principal or school leader effective? What’s the best leadership style to improve student success? McREL’s analysis of effective principals and schools revealed a set of specific actions that leaders should take to help their students learn more and help their teachers increase their collective efficacy.

Using this evidence base, McREL created Balanced Leadership for Student Learning, a professional learning and coaching program for principals, school administrators, leadership teams, and aspiring leaders. We help school leaders learn what these key actions and responsibilities are—and, more importantly, how, when, and why to enact them in their schools to increase student learning and school success.

We’ve helped more than 20,000 principals across the U.S. and around the world gain this knowledge and improve their leadership skills. Contact us today to learn how we can support your leadership team’s professional growth goals and success.

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Professional learning, coaching, and resources for principals, assistant principals,

leadership teams, and principal supervisors/administrators

  • Focus your leadership efforts on the right work at your school that will have the biggest impact on student success.

  • Inspire your teachers, support staff, students, parents, and community with a shared vision and purpose for your school.

  • Develop your school’s positive, engaging learning culture and collective efficacy.

  • Engage and empower your leadership team to define and drive success together.

What superintendents and principals say about
Balanced Leadership for Student Learning

“I highly recommend Balanced Leadership to any district.” 


          “Our achievement scores show that McREL’s research-based practices lead to improvement.” 


“Balanced Leadership has become our culture. If I were to hire a new principal, I would send them to the training before they ever worked a day.” 


               “A tremendous learning opportunity for principals and district leaders.” 


“I learned how to have a purposeful community at school and it made my life easier,
as everyone agreed on what we needed to do and accomplish.” 

Balanced Leadership session overviews

Learn more

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

Balanced Leadership is most often delivered through the four one-day learning sessions shown below, spread out during a semester or a school year. We know that every school is different, so we can contextualize our sessions to meet your specific needs and goals, and we’ll create a scope of work that matches your schedule and budget. In addition to onsite professional learning sessions, our experts can also deliver online learning and coaching to sustain your team’s momentum and continued growth.

Session 1: Leadership for better school performance

In this initial session, you’ll gain in-depth understanding of the vital functions of effective school leadership, including 21 specific research-based responsibilities that drive higher levels of student learning.

You’ll also learn the importance of—and a process for—helping everyone at your school define and embrace a shared moral purpose for their work as individuals and a team, including equitable outcomes for all students.

You’ll leave with knowledge and skills to lead better decision-making processes using goal-oriented analysis and collaboration focused on your students’ needs.

Session 2: Focusing on what matters most for student learning

During this session, you’ll explore our What Matters Most® pathways and insights from research on effective schools and continuous improvement cycles.

Using school data and the high-leverage area(s) of need you’ve identified, we’ll help you identify what matters most right now for your school to improve student outcomes and begin to develop real action steps aligned to your school’s specific contexts.

You’ll also learn about a powerful new brain-based model for student learning that can drive your teachers’ professional learning and lesson planning to better engage students and deepen their learning.

Session 3: Inspiring and leading change

Any change worth making at your school will require your staff to alter behaviors, routines, and habits. Even the best school improvement plans can go awry if leaders don’t inspire people to change, support their understanding and adoption of new practices, and sustain the initiative long-term.

In this session, you’ll learn the vital differences between 1st and 2nd order implications of change, and you’ll practice using specific leadership responsibilities related to successful change implementation.

You’ll leave this session with a better understanding of the phases of change and how to develop action plans for monitoring implementation and proactively supporting stakeholders through the change process.

Session 4: Cultivating a purposeful school community

When school communities coalesce around shared vision, mission, and values, great things happen for student learning. Researchers have found strong links between student outcomes and the levels of collegiality, professionalism, self-efficacy, and collective efficacy that exist among teachers, support staff, and school leaders.

In this session, you’ll discover how to engage staff, families, and community to create a shared moral purpose and empower their voices in important decision-making processes.

You’ll develop plans for creating a positive, continuous-improvement culture at your school, using the power of asset-based thinking and community engagement.

Learn more about Balanced Leadership for Student Learning.

Contact us today and start a conversation with our team about your school or district goals,

and how our leadership development services can support your journey.

Balanced Leadership related resources

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: 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.