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Directive vs. collaborative leadership: Which is more effective for improving schools?

By February 4, 2015June 13th, 20163 Comments

6a010536aec25c970b01b8d0cec9d8970cWhen a school needs to improve, school leaders can approach it one of two ways—tell your staff what to do and how to do it, or work together to figure out what to do and how to do it. Because the direction you take will shape the success of your improvement efforts, it’s crucial to choose the approach that’s best for your school’s needs and will help reach your long-term achievement goals.

Bryan Goodwin, McREL President and CEO, takes a look at the case for direction and the case for empowerment in his latest Research Says column for ASCD’s Educational Leadership, “To Go Fast, Direct. To Go Far, Empower.” The choice, he finds, depends on whether your school needs quick results or to “break through performance ceilings.”

Studies on successful turnaround efforts, Goodwin writes, show that their leaders tend to have a “take-charge attitude” and have very clear expectations of staff, often establishing new instructional routines with off-the-shelf programs like America’s Choice, Success for All, etc. This directive approach works well when a school needs to execute teaching routines more effectively and implement curriculum more consistently.

However, research also shows that the resulting quick gains also tend to plateau, Goodwin notes, and many turnaround schools eventually begin to adapt their curriculum, working together to better align it with the needs of their students.

Read the entire column here.

Posted by McREL International

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Well, here I would like to go with working as team i.e., collaborative leadership. Schools are educational institutions and can be best run by effective collaboration. Because when directorate approach takes place an overall decision comes after listening to the staffs. In this many students’ issues though small gets ignored and the decision is taken referred to staffs hearings and not students.
    Whereas working together and solving problems is a far better and powerful tool to eradicate the troubles from grass-root level. In this students can tell their problems and difficulties faced during the working hours. This will help in maintaining healthy relationship with each of the members as well as will create a peaceful environment for learning. But one can be both collaborating and directive though it is troublesome but manageable. A very innovative and unique article discussing meaningful strategies to improve our educational leadership. Great blog!!

  • Trevor,
    Without a doubt, student input is crucial to school improvement success. Moreover, a directive approach to leadership is bound to fail if it’s pushing the wrong agenda, one that doesn’t respond to student needs.
    Thanks for your comments!
    Bryan Goodwin

  • I believe that if the school has a strong leader the staff knows the vision and together they can work to create a better school. The teachers know the students and what can help them to be successful so I feel it is very important that they are a part of the process.

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