How do Headteachers make the greatest impact across their schools?

by Annie Boate

How do Headteachers make the greatest impact across their schools?

In my previous article, I shared some interesting research findings relating to Headteacher effectiveness. The research shows that, as Headteachers, our impact on pupil outcomes is indirect, and thatour direct impact ison our staff. They in turn impact directly on pupil outcomes.

These findings lead us as Headteachers to ask ourselves some key questions:

  1. How can we be really effective in our role as Headteachers?
  2. What should our priorities be?
  3. How can we maximise the direct impact we have on staff, in order to improve pupil outcomes indirectly?

It makes sense that effective headteachers focus relentlessly on their area of direct impact: improving STAFF PERFORMANCE.

In order to maximise staff performance, our ultimate goal has to be the development of staff leadership skills at all levels (including self-leadership), so that leadership can be truly distributed throughout the school.

Research also shows that effective Headteachers develop and unleash the potential capacities of their staff by creating something across their schools known as SYNERGY or SYNERGISTIC EFFECTS.

The definition of synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

So how do they do this exactly?

Effective headteachers create SYNERGISTIC EFFECTS throughout the school by applying these 4 LEADERSHIP ELEMENTS:


Integrated leadership proved to be the most effective leadership approach, being a blend of transformational leadership (people & relationships), and instructional leadership (high standards of teaching & learning)




The effective Headteacher skilfully combines these 4 leadership elements simultaneously, day in day out, to maximise staff performance, and raise pupil attainment.  Together the 4 leadership elements create an impact that’s exponentially greater than any one leadership element on its own.

It’s what the best Headteachers do every day without necessarily naming it as synergy.

So, what do effective Headteachers prioritise in achieving SYNERGY?

Research reveals that synergistic Headteachers focus on these 8 STRATEGIC PRIORITIES to maximise staff performance, and raise outcomes for their pupils:

  1. Defining the VISION
  2. Setting GOALS
  3. Building RELATIONSHIPS INSIDE school
  4. Improving TEACHING & LEARNING:
  6. Enhancing TEACHER QUALITY
  7. Re-designing & enriching the CURRICULUM
  8. Building RELATIONSHIPS OUTSIDE school

The list isn’t in any hierarchical order. And synergistic Headteachers certainly don’t focus on all 8 priorities at the same time! Instead, they use their strategic intelligence and knowledge of their school context to focus on the right priority for their school at the right time.

Having said that, effective Headteachers who are new to role will naturally prioritise the first 2 on the list – defining the vision, and setting goals to achieve clarity & focus for the school. That’s because they recognise that a clearly articulated vision, and clearly defined goals are absolutely crucial at the start of any headship.

So, back to the original question…  

Headteachers make the greatest impact across their schools by doing 2 things:

  1. Developing high performing staff who are leaders in their own right, and who are able to achieve outstanding outcomes from their pupils
  2. Creating synergistic effects throughout the school

In addition, effective Headteachers remain effective by constantly reflecting, self-assessing and growing.  They see ‘thinking time’ as a key leadership tool rather than a frivolous luxury, and build it into their working week.  They ask themselves questions such as:

  • Is my focus still firmly fixed on developing all staff to the highest level?
  • How can I become even more effective at creating those synergistic effects that maximise staff performance?
  • How can I become even more skilled in the 4 leadership elements?
  • Are my strategic priorities for the school the right ones, given the school’s context?

In my first article I shared with you that I never wanted to be a Headteacher but that I inadvertently became one! 15 years of headship later I can honestly say that stepping into my school was the most serendipitous experience in my career, and one that I wouldn’t change. As Douglas Adams wrote:

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

And finally, at Coachinginschools we want to THANK YOU for the work that you do as a Headteacher, for taking on an impossible, unrealistic role, and then doing it so effectively. You really are looking after everyone in the school and beyond during this difficult period, and no doubt putting yourself last.

Never forget your true value! You make an immeasurable difference.


Monica Austin

(Recently-retired Headteacher & Coachinginschools Accredited Trainer)

PS Click here to read the previous article in this series.

Do headteachers really make a difference