Cover: Perceptions of School Leadership

Perceptions of School Leadership

Implications for Principal Effectiveness

Published Apr 9, 2020

by Katie Tosh, Christopher Joseph Doss

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Research Questions

  1. How do teacher perceptions of principals and principal self-perceptions compare on whether principals communicate a clear vision for their schools?
  2. How do teacher perceptions of principals and principal self-perceptions compare on whether principals set high standards for teaching?
  3. How do teacher perceptions of principals and principal self-perceptions compare on whether principals make expectations for meeting instructional goals clear to staff?

Effective principal leadership practices improve school organization, teaching, and student achievement outcomes. These practices include framing and communicating a school's goals and mission, creating shared expectations of high performance, clarifying roles and objectives, and promoting professional development. However, research demonstrates that teachers tend to rate principals lower on important leadership practices than principals rate themselves, and this mismatch in perception could have negative consequences. Numerous studies in the fields of human resources and organizational management reveal that leader self-awareness — when leader self-perception is in agreement with what subordinates perceive — is directly related to leadership effectiveness. The degree to which leaders rate themselves more highly than do subordinates correlates with diminished organizational outcomes, including reduced subordinate job satisfaction and productivity. Specific to education, negative teacher perception of school leadership correlates with teacher burnout and reduced teacher collaboration. We used data from the RAND Corporation's web-based American Educator Panels to gather nationally representative evidence of whether perceptions of school leadership practices vary by educator position. We find that principals almost universally rate themselves as effective, but a minority of teachers disagree.

Key Findings

Principals rate themselves highly, teachers slightly less positive

  • Over 98 percent of principals stated that they communicate a clear vision for their schools, set high standards for teaching, and make clear to staff expectations for meeting instructional goals.
  • Eighty-four percent of teachers agreed that principals set high expectations for teaching, 77 percent agreed that principals had clear expectations, and 79 percent agreed that principals communicated clear visions for their schools.
  • These disparities suggest that a significant minority of teachers do not agree with principals' self-perceptions, highlighting potential barriers to a cohesive school culture.


  • More research needs to be done to explore gaps in the perception of leadership within a school, whether these disparities extend to indicators of principal leadership other than those discussed here, the causes of these gaps, and the implications of these gaps in perception between principals and teachers.
  • Principals could consider adopting 360-degree reviews to better understand disparities in teacher and principal perceptions of leadership practices and use the results to guide reflective organizational improvement.

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The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For this document, different permissions for re-use apply. Please refer to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation section on our permissions page.

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