Top 5 Skills for Educational Leadership

Leadership skills enable educators to guide their learning communities at the school or district level. Effective educational leaders rally the community and create an environment that fosters execution of a clear vision. According to the National Math + Science Initiative, research indicates that school leadership, and perhaps even district leadership, can affect student learning. While it’s common to think some people are born leaders, everyone can cultivate, practice and improve leadership skills. “We are all leaders. You can’t be an educator if you’re not a leader,” Utah kindergarten teacher Marty Davis told the National Education Association’s National Leadership Summit: “Everybody has something to offer.”

Graduates of the Eastern Washington University (EWU) online Master of Education (M.Ed.) – Educational Leadership program gain the foundational skills necessary to be educational leaders and impact student learning. In fact, graduates learn to develop and enact a school vision, act ethically, implement culturally responsive practices, cultivate school community, manage school operations, oversee school budgets and finances, and serve as change agents.

What Skills Do School Leaders Need?

School leaders must develop and practice several skills, including strategic thinking, community building, data-driven decision-making, inclusivity and emotional intelligence. Here is a deeper look into the core characteristics and skills school leaders would do well to develop:

  • Strategic thinking: One of the core skill sets for school leaders is the ability to “set direction” or think strategically. This necessary competency is related to the establishment of purpose or vision. Working toward a purpose or vision may be a broad, long-term effort, but with strategic-thinking skills, leaders have the tools to translate that abstraction into concrete plans and measurable actions. A Forbes article notes that strategic thinking enables leaders to respond to unknown situations and “enables a leader to take stock of where their business is now, where it wants to be and what it needs to do to get there.”
  • Community building: No leader is an island — especially not an educational leader. Schools and districts have many constituencies with disparate perspectives: students, families, teachers, support staff, community members, neighbors, policymakers and more. A survey conducted by the National School Public Relations Association recognized 25 “superintendent of the year” recipients and found that much of their student performance success is thanks to the communication and community relations skills they fostered.
  • Data-driven decision-making: Data is not a new tool used to inform educational decisions. However, its use has gained credence in recent decades as a result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) assessments. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development defines data-driven educational decision-making as “the process by which educators examine assessment data to identify student strengths and deficiencies and apply those findings to their practice.” Academic leaders adept at data-driven decision-making take a systematic approach to information gathering and evaluation.
  • Inclusivity: According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the percentage of Hispanic students in the U.S. public school system increased from 23% to 28% between 2010 and 2021. The rate of White students decreased from 52% to 45% during the same period. This increasing diversification of the U.S. public school system shows no signs of stopping. Given the shifting racial and ethnic demographics of U.S. schools — to say nothing of gender, linguistic, religious, disability status and other components of students’ identities — leaders must create school communities that foster belonging, not just a sense of welcoming. That belonging extends to teachers, staff, families, community partners and students.
  • Emotional intelligence: This skill is the foundation of many other qualities and habits of good leaders. It is necessary for community building and inclusivity but also plays a critical role in developing students into strong citizens. Recent research shows that emotional intelligence plays a role in individual motivation and development in forms such as paying personal attention to employees, making the best use of their individual abilities, conveying common missions or goals and actively listening to others’ feedback and perspectives.

How an Advanced Degree Can Help

The National Math + Science Initiative notes that school leaders can impact student learning through various approaches, such as equipping teachers with appropriate tools, communicating a clear school vision, building community relationships, fostering professional development, promoting learning outside the classroom and more.

Graduates of EWU’s online M.Ed. – Educational Leadership program develop students’ abilities, which equips them for success. Every person can be a leader in some capacity, but educational leaders have unique responsibilities to support communities of teachers, superintendents, parents, families and students. While leadership skills can be innate, they can also be fostered and developed with the right tools.

Learn more about EWU’s online Master of Education – Educational Leadership program

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