Modeling the longitudinal effects of school leadership on teaching and learning

Ronald H. Heck, Philip Hallinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

148 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to test a multilevel, cross-classified model that seeks to illuminate the dynamic nature of relationships among leadership, teaching quality, and student learning in school improvement. The study’s primary goal is to shed light on the paths through which leadership influences student learning. At the school level, the model examines the mediating effect of the school’s instructional environment on leadership and student learning. At the classroom level, it examines how instructionally focussed leadership can moderate teacher effects on student learning. Then these multiple paths are examined in a single model that seeks to test and highlight the means by which leadership contributes to school improvement. Design/methodology/approach – The current study employed a multilevel longitudinal data set drawn from 60 primary schools in one state in the USA. Using a cross-classification approach to quantitative modeling, the research analyzes the complex cross-level interactions that characterize school-level and classroom level practices that contribute to school improvement and student learning. Findings – The results illustrate the utility of specifying multilevel relationships when examining the “paths” that link school leadership to student learning. First, leadership effects on student learning were fully mediated by the quality of the school’s instructional environment. Second, the findings indicated that the classroom-related paths examined in this study directly influenced the measures of student math achievement. Third, the research found that instructionally focussed school leadership moderated the effect of individual teachers on student learning. Fourth, the results suggest that school leaders can enhance student outcomes by creating conditions that lead to greater consistency in levels of effectiveness across teachers. Practical implications – The study makes substantive contributions to the global knowledge base on school improvement by testing and elaborating on the “paths” that link school leadership and student learning. More specifically, the findings offer insights into strategic targets that instructional leaders can employ to enhance teacher effectiveness and school improvement. Thus, these results both support and extend findings from prior cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of leadership and school improvement. Originality/value – This is the first study that has tested a conceptualization of leadership for learning in a single “cross-classified longitudinal model” capable of capturing interactions among leadership, classroom teaching processes and growth in student learning. The research illustrates one “state-of-the-art” methodological approach for analyzing longitudinal data collected at both the school and classroom levels when studying school improvement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-681
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Educational Administration
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Effectiveness
  • Effects of leadership
  • Instructionally focussed leadership
  • Leadership
  • School change
  • School improvement
  • School leadership
  • Student learning
  • Teaching quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Public Administration


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