Schools need sustainable reform to meet the challenges of rapid and constant change and higher community expectations. This sort of reform does not come about through external education authorities imposing requirements on schools (Alexander 2009; Bishop and Mulford 1999; Coffield et al. 2008; Hyman 2005; Mulford 2008; Pring et al. 2009). Instead, teachers and school leaders need to make sure that what happens in their schools is what they and their communities want to happen (Day et al. 2009).

A great deal of a school’s success depends on which areas of school life teachers and school leaders (school principals and all those who undertake official leadership positions in schools) focus their time and attention. Because a single action by a teacher or leader can have more than one outcome, an effective leader needs to see and act on the whole, as well as on the individual elements in a school and its community over time. Sustainable school reform is best achieved when teachers and school leaders:

  • understand what is happening in the broader community and the implications this has for schools (being contextually literate)
  • run their schools in ways that respond positively to their community (being organisationally savvy)
  • act with others, pursue a consistent vision over time, focus on areas they can influence, use evidence to support change and use a range of leadership styles (being leadership smart).

A summary of these elements and their relationships is described in Appendix 1.

Educational initiatives that consider context, its implications for the organisation of schools, and the implications of both for teachers and school leaders are critical. Failure to link all three of these elements can mean that initiatives are not implemented or, if implemented, do not meet the original intent (for example, Mulford & Edmunds 2010). Other negative consequences can include feelings of confusion, overload, stress and low morale on the part of school staff (Bishop & Mulford 1999; Mulford & Edmunds 2010).

This resource sheet examines the evidence on what works for teachers and school leaders, using the three elements of success, being: contextually literate; organisationally savvy; and leadership smart. There is little quality data on effective school leadership, particularly in an Indigenous Australian context, and what evidence is available is rarely acted upon.