The Future of School Leadership


Global School Leaders (GSL) works in a variety of nations connecting and supporting organizations that develop school leaders in order to improve student learning in under-served communities around the world. I recently caught up with Poorvaja Prakash the Director of Research and Evaluation at GSL at the ICSEI Conference in Morocco, and asked her to share some of her experiences with the readers of GlobalEd Leadership.

Poorvaja Prakash

I began 2020 with an intellectually stimulating week in Marrakesh at the 34th International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI). This gathering has a history of collaboration and bringing together academic, practitioners, policymakers, and students to discuss key issues regarding school effectiveness. This year was the first time that the conference was held in the African continent – an acknowledgement of the need to include more voices from the Global South in these important discussions. As someone who works on school leadership issues in the Global South, I found the conference to be a great opportunity to learn and share. For me, there were three main learnings which were of resonance and consequence to my work. 

  1. Leadership for learning and not instructional leadership alone

A consistent theme at the conference was for the world of educational leadership to move towards leadership for learning and not have a narrow focus on instructional leadership alone[1]. My understanding of leadership for learning is that it has a broader focus.[2] The central focus is still on students, but this framework allows principal to have a larger view of the student outcomes- both cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes including their well-being. This is not to say that instructional leadership, one which focusses on the school leaders’ ability to bring about better student achievement via improving instructional quality in schools is not important. 

I was particularly influenced by the growing research on the need for us to recognize that schools too are organizations and understand how school leaders motivate and bring their teachers together. Leadership for learning places a lot of emphasis on how school leaders and teachers communicate. How do school leaders bring about collaboration among teachers? How does a school leader build the middle-level leaders? How does a school leader or management organize the teams and departments to best serve the needs of the students of the school[3]

Dominque Klein, Senior Researcher at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany; Poorvaja Prakash, GSL; Jihad Hajjouji, Program Lead, Africa Leadership Academy, Ghana; Margerit De Wit, Managing Partner, International CBE-Group; Ntakamaze Nziyonvira, Executive Director, CIYOTA, Uganda, Dean Graduate School of Education, Touro College, USA; Paul Campbell, Co-Coordinator, Educational Leadership Network of ICSEI; JohannaFitzgerald, Head of Educational Psychology, Inclusive & Special Education, Mary Immaculate College Limerick, Ireland
  • Leadership also requires good management

There has been a move across multiple industries to draw a clear distinction between leadership and management. However, as discussed in a few sessions at ICSEI, this division leads to a “false dichotomy”[4]. According to Michael Schratz and Karen Seashore Louis, leadership and management are inexplicably tied. 

I found the concept of “creative management” and “creative leadership” to be extremely helpful. One needs to be creative in the way you manage the teams before you lead them, and this resonated with my experiences of working in schools in the Global South. Another implication of this concept is the realization that leading with vision does not necessarily have to be a top-down approach. Instead of school leaders entering a school with their own vision, why not first understand the hopes and dreams of the individuals who work in the school as well[5]

At Global School Leaders, we and our Partners are constantly asking ourselves, what skills does a school leader need to be effective, particularly in the Global South. I left the conference convinced that, yes, school leaders need to be strong instructional leaders, but they also need to be able build a strong culture and influence. They need to determine visions for schools that are effective because they motivate teachers and students. 

  • Teacher motivation and retention

I found presentations on retaining and motivating teachers in the 21st century to be really interesting, especially in light of the conversations around systemic leadership reform[6]. The idea that teachers are affected by how the public perceives the quality of schools or their work has implications for school leaders as well. It left me thinking about what motivates school leaders especially in the contexts of no further career growth in many developing countries. Further, the same presentation also highlighted that career trajectories or growth opportunities may not be enough. Does this mean that the seeds of motivation to be a good school leader are rooted much earlier in a principal’s career? 

Finally, another aspect of the conference which I enjoyed was the variety in the styles of presentations. I especially liked the ‘Extreme After Dinner Speakers’ Club’ session where eight leaders across the world shared their experiences through stories without any presentation or visuals. These stories were inspiring and an opportunity to root the conference in the real-life stories of school leaders, teachers, and students. While the conference was a giant step towards a more inclusive approach to the world of education, I found myself wanting to directly hear from more folks from the Global South. Here’s hoping that more conclaves and conferences will take this lead and be more deliberate about including representatives from developing countries.

Poorvaja Prakash is the Director of Research and Evaluation at Global School Leaders. At ICSEI 2020, she presented on “The Role of School Leaders in Low-Fee Private Schools in the Global South” and “Ed Leadership Around the World Focusing on Marginalized Communities.”

To learn more about GSL visit

Thanks for reading,

Paula and Maxie

[1] WISE-ALL-IN presentations, Beyond Instructional Practice: The Many Facets of Leadership for Learning: Part , 2.

[2] Instructional Leadership and Leadership for Learning in Schools: Understanding Theories of Leading

[3] Promoting student learning through subject-team routines, Talmor Rahel Farchi & Dorit Tubin

[4] The Foundations of Leadership for Learning, Karen Seashore Louis

[5] The Facets of Leadership Model, Markus Ammann, Niels Anderegg & Michael Schratz

[6] Securing the 21st Century Teacher Workforce: Global Perspectives on Teacher Motivation, Professionalism and Retention, Karen Edge

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