Leading the Way to Effective Schools

By Sue Land, M.Ed.

May/June 2011 Link Lines

As the school year winds down, building administrators are encouraged to evaluate the year in light of the work of Kouzes and Posner. What were our successes? What were our struggles? What did we learn from an initiative? What can we do better? In this issue of Link Lines, “inspiring a shared vision” and “challenging the process” is explored. An example is given for improving inclusive practices through the lens of the five practices of exemplary leadership.

 Kouzes and Posner (2007) have identified five practices of highly effective leaders. They found that exemplary leaders:  

  • model the way,
  • inspire a shared vision,
  • challenge the process,
  • enable others to act, and
  • encourage the heart. (p. 14)

The November/December 2010 issue of Link Lines explored how “modeling the way” and “encouraging the heart” (Kouzes & Posner, 2007) can help make your school a positive place in which to work and learn. In the February/March 2011 issue, we continued to explore the five practices of highly effective leaders by examining “enabling others to act” (p. 20).

Kouzes and Posner (2007) noted that “leaders make it possible for others to do good work … Leaders work to make people feel strong, capable, and committed. Leaders enable others to act not by hoarding the power they have but by giving it away” (p. 21).

To read the previous TTAC Link Lines articles visit http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/resources/articles/consultcollaborate/unleashleadership/index.php

This article addresses two more of Kouzes and Posner’s leadership practices—inspiring a shared vision and challenging the process. 

Inspiring a Shared Vision

How does a principal inspire a shared vision? Kouzes and Posner (2007) suggest “imagining the possibilities and finding a common purpose” (p. 129) to create a vision. When imagining the possibilities, “reflect on your past to find the recurring themes in your work” (p. 108).  Answering a series of questions can help you get to the heart of your school’s vision. 

  • Think back to a time when your work was exciting, energizing, and positive. What were you doing? What were you trying to accomplish? What went well?  What made it a positive experience?
  • How did this experience support your vision or core values for promoting the success of all children?
  • What essential qualities of your vision were present?
  • What positive qualities would you like to see more of?
  • What are your wishes for your school?

It is important for leaders to clarify the vision so that they can enlist others to share in and contribute to it. To that end, Kouzes and Posner (2007) suggest three action steps:

  • Record the shared vision by drawing it, adding pictures or symbols, and creating a short slogan. (p. 153)
  • Breathe life into the vision by imaging various forms of expression that illustrate the vision such as a particular movie sound track, a poem, a short story, a memorable quotation, or metaphors. (p. 155)
  • Expand your communication and expressiveness skills so you can articulate the shared vision. (p. 155)

Some may view visioning activities as “fluff” and inconsequential, but effective leaders spend time exploring a shared vision and then moving toward planning and implementation.

Challenging the Process

Jim Knight, in Unmistakable Impact (2011), reports that “numerous extensive and comprehensive studies of the U.S. school system make it clear that our schools are not preparing our students to graduate and succeed” (p. 4). Where do leaders begin when it comes to tackling school improvement efforts? Effective principals and their school leadership teams examine student data and take inventory of current teaching practices on a regular basis.

Kouzes and Posner suggest starting out by questioning the status quo. By making a list of all the practices that are carried out just because “we’ve always done it that way” (p. 185) and by examining outcome data, teams can decide if a given practices promotes student learning. If not, decisions can be made to improve or discard the practice.

Another way to “challenge the process” is to complete an Innovation Inventory (see below). Using this tool, school teams can reflect on the innovation’s purpose, benefits, and effectiveness before making a decision on continuing or improving the practice. For a comprehensive view of school leadership teams, leaders are encouraged to access the new Considerations Packet, Strategies for Creating Effective School Leadership Teams at http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/resources/considerations/index.php.

 Innovation Inventory

What is it?

Teaching practice (T) or paperwork (P)?


Is it accomplishing its purpose? How do we know?


Can the practice be integrated with …? If not, can it be discarded?


Kouzes and Posner believe that the work of leaders is change and that change requires leaders to actively seek ways to make things better, to grow, innovate, and improve. Leaders can do this by articulating a clear vision, seizing the initiative, and looking outside the organization for new ideas (p. 164). For an in-depth illustration of Kouzes and Posner’s 5 practices and 10 commitments of leadership, refer to the table “Improving Inclusive Practices Using 5 Practices and 10 Commitments of Leadership.” Also, explore the What Works Clearinghouse (http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/) for best practices in education and Doing What Works (http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/methods/whatworks/edpicks.jhtml) for school applications of effective practices.



Knight, J. (2011). Unmistakable impact: A partnership approach for dramatically improving instruction. Thousands Oak, CA: Corwin Press.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


For more information on leadership, visit Kouzes and Posner’s website, http://www.leadershipchallenge.com/WileyCDA/, and the School Leadership Institute at the College of William and Mary School of Education, http://education.wm.edu/centers/sli/index.php.

To access Considerations Packets, visit http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/resources/considerations/index.php.

Improving Inclusive Practices Using 5 Practices and 10 Commitments of Leadership



Improving Inclusive Practices

Model the Way

Clarify values by finding your voice and affirming shared ideals.

Belief Activity

Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.

If you believe this …, what would it look like?

Inspire a Shared Vision

Envision the future by imagining exciting possibilities.

See visioning activities in this article and in the Considerations Packets Strategies for Creating Effective School Leadership Teams and Strategies for Creating Inclusive Schools

Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.

Challenge the


Search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve.

Take inventory of current practices and examine student data. Visit schools that are inclusive and adopt some of their strategies or successful practices. Read current research on effective practices. Start a pilot program before implementing school-wide.

Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience.

Develop an action plan with manageable goals and with activities stepped out. Refer back to the plan on a regular basis to document progress.

Enable Others to Act

Foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships.

Create a leadership team made up of key stakeholders, to include administrators, general and special education teachers, other support faculty and staff, parents, students.

Strengthen others by helping them increase self-determination and develop competence.

Provide job-embedded staff development and coaching based on teacher and student needs. Explore the new definition of Learning Forward (formally NSDC) at http://www.learningforward.org/standfor/definition.cfm#DefinitionResources.

Encourage the Heart

Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.

Start team meetings and faculty meetings with celebrations.

Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.

Adapted from Kouzes and Posner, 2007, Table 1.1, p. 26.