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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response


April 2020


What research is available about the role of school leadership in developing shared mission, vision and goals?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and policy overviews on the role of school leadership in developing shared mission, vision, and goals. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Englert, K., & Barley, Z. A. (2008). Identifying differences between two groups of high-needs high schools. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study examined differences in nine factors between a group of the highest-performing needs high schools (HPHN) and a group of the lowest performing high-needs (LPHN) high schools using teacher responses from a national dataset. The factors are: (1) shared mission and goals; (2) professional development; (3) collaboration among teachers (4) assessment and monitoring; (5) parent involvement; (6) safe climate; (7) orderly climate; (8) support for teacher influence at the school level; and (9) support for teacher influence at the classroom level. High needs high schools were schools with greater than 50% of their students eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Meaningful and statistically significant differences in seven of the nine factors suggest that teachers’ perceptions of these factors in highest-performing high schools differ from teachers’ perceptions in lowest performing high schools. These differences were identified through a descriptive analysis. The factors with significant differences, however, do suggest areas for further research.”

Gurley, D. K., Peters, G. B., Collins, L., & Fifolt, M. (2015). Mission, vision, values, and goals: An exploration of key organizational statements and daily practice in schools. Journal of Educational Change, 16(2), 217–242. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article reports findings from a study of graduate level, educational leadership students’ familiarity with shared mission, vision, values, and goals statements and the perceived impact these concepts have on their practice as leaders and teachers in schools. The study is primarily qualitative and uses content analysis of responses to open-ended questions. Researchers adopted a limited quantitative analysis technique, however, in order to report frequency of responses to survey questions. We used the literature base regarding strategic planning and school improvement as conceptual frameworks to guide the analysis. Findings revealed that educational leadership students had limited ability to recall the content of key organizational statements. Further, respondents reported that these key organizational statements had only minimal impact on their daily practice. Implications are presented for university preparation programs designed to equip school leaders to effect meaningful school improvement and organizational change centered on development of shared mission and vision for improvement. This research confirms similar findings reported by Watkins and McCaw (‘Natl Forum Educ Adm Superv J’ 24(3):71-91, 2007) and adds to the research by exploring respondents’ reports of the impact of mission, vision, values, and goals statements on their daily practice. It further extends the discussion by presenting a content analysis of key organizational statements, comparing mission, vision, values, and goals statements to models of strategic planning and planning for continuous school improvement from the organizational improvement literature.”

Hitt, D. H., & Tucker, P. D. (2016). Systematic review of key leader practices found to influence student achievement: A unified framework. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 531–569. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The field of educational leadership has accrued a body of research that explains how leaders influence student achievement through the enactment of various practices. Yet, differences exist in the substance of the frameworks that assert the areas to which leaders should attend. The specific purposes of this article are to identify and synthesize the empirical research on how leadership influences student achievement and to provide evidence on how school leaders should direct their efforts. During the literature review, we consulted experts for recommendations and searched peer-reviewed journals from 2000 to 2014. The literature review yielded 56 empirical research studies of relevance to the topic and 3 frameworks consisting of clustered practices. We then grouped the 28 practices according to systematic criteria and found 5 overarching domains. In doing so, this study unifies existing frameworks through developing a cohesive set of practices to inform the work of researchers and practitioners.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Ikemoto, G., Taliaferro, L., & Adams, E. (2012). Playmakers: How great principals build and lead great teams of teachers. New York, NY: New Leaders. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report identifies the concrete practices that set exemplary principals apart from their peers, exploring how they assemble the strongest-possible staff and foster a culture where teachers—and their students—are supported to success. The researchers conducted an in-depth analysis of data sets from two studies conducted by New Leaders from 2007 to 2011: the Urban Excellence Framework™ (UEF) case studies and the Effective Practice Incentive Community (EPIC) case studies. Both data sets were chosen because they identify and analyze principals whose schools made better-than-average gains in student achievement. These principals across both studies are referred to as ‘highly-effective principals.’ The Urban Excellence Framework data set consisted of case studies made during site visits to New Leader schools. The EPIC data set consisted of case studies of New Leader and non-New Leader schools that had relatively higher value-added scores than other schools in their district or charter consortium. For both studies, researchers conducted site visits and interviews, then coded the information they collected according to New Leaders’ Urban Excellence Framework, which outlines the leadership and school practices that drive dramatic gains in student achievement. This Framework includes the entire range of leadership practices, but for the purposes of this study, researchers focused only on those actions that related to teacher effectiveness. In order to form a clearer picture of the specific ways these highly-effective principals influence teaching, the researchers re-examined the case study examples that had been coded as related to teacher effectiveness according to the UEF framework. Great principals amplified great teaching by working in three intersecting areas: (1) developing teachers; (2) managing talent; and (3) creating a great place to work. This report discusses the numerous and specific ways the principals in the study pursued each of these goals, including the ways in which some actions served multiple purposes at once.”

Ikemoto, G., Taliaferro, L., Fenton, B., & Davis, J. (2014). Great principals at scale: Creating district conditions that enable all principals to be effective. New York, NY: New Leaders. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “School leaders are critical in the lives of students and to the development of their teachers. Unfortunately, in too many instances, principals are effective in spite of—rather than because of—district conditions. To truly improve student achievement for all students across the country, well-prepared principals need the tools, support, and culture that enable them to be the best. New Leaders and the Bush Institute’s Alliance to Reform Educational Leadership (AREL) launched the Conditions for Effective Leadership Project and partnered with leading researchers and practitioners to generate a comprehensive and research-based framework outlining the conditions necessary for transformational school leaders to succeed. The project used a combination of literature review, empirical data collection, and expert convenings to build consensus and bundle the disparate ideas into a single framework that is accessible to school system leaders. This report describes that set of conditions that effective school systems have in place that enable principals to be successful. The conditions include four strands developed as follows: Strand 1: Alignment among goals, strategies, structures, and resources; Strand 2: Culture of collective responsibility, balanced autonomy, and continuous learning and improvement; Strand 3: Effective management and support for principals; and Strand 4: Systems and policies to effectively manage talent at the school-level.”

Kose, B. W. (2011). Developing a transformative school vision: Lessons from peer-nominated principals. Education and Urban Society, 43(2), 119–136. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Scholars argue or imply that schools should build transformative school visions that promote equity, diversity, and social justice. However, little empirical research has investigated the principal’s role in this endeavor or analyzed the practical dimensions of transformative vision statements. This study re-examined relevant data from two qualitative studies of school principals who were peer-nominated for exemplary transformative practices. The findings delineate principals’ practices in developing a transformative vision and suggest several useful dimensions of transformative vision statements. Implications for practice and research are discussed.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Lefkowits, L., & Woempner, C. (2006). Focusing on the basics in beat-the-odds schools (Policy brief). Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Researchers at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) recently completed a study of ‘beat-the-odds’ schools—high-needs schools that demonstrated atypically high student achievement. This policy brief draws from the report of the study’s findings, ‘High-Needs Schools—What Does It Take to Beat the Odds?’ (ED486626). The study focused on four key components identified as broadly contributing to school success and examined how the components interact to contribute to success in high-needs schools. The four key components are: (1) Leadership: Leading organizational change, providing instructional guidance, and establishing shared mission and goals; (2) Professional Community: Teachers collaborating, receiving professional development, and being encouraged to have influence in school matters; (3) School Environment: Parents involved meaningfully, the school culture focused on academic achievement, a safe and orderly climate, and attention to assessment and monitoring; and (4) Instruction: Individualized learning, structured instruction with feedback to meet student needs, and challenging opportunities to learn. ‘McREL Insights: Schools that ‘Beat the Odds’’ and McREL’s ‘High-Performing, High-Needs Schools Resource Guide’ are two resources that McREL has prepared to help further the application of this important research in the field. This brief extends this work and offers guidance to local school board members and other policy makers who seek to support their district’s school improvement efforts by providing effective policy derived from research-based evidence. These policy suggestions can become part of a system-wide effort to improve student achievement.”

Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “What can school leaders really do to increase student achievement, and which leadership practices have the biggest impact on school effectiveness? For the first time in the history of leadership research in the United States, here’s a book that answers these questions definitively and gives you a list of leadership competencies that are research-based. Drawing from 35 years of studies, the authors explain critical leadership principles that every administrator needs to know: (1) 21 leadership responsibilities that have a significant effect on student learning and the correlation of each responsibility to academic achievement gains; (2) The difference between first-order and second-order change and the leadership responsibilities—in rank order—that are most important for each; (3) How to choose the right work to focus on to improve student achievement; (4) The advantages and disadvantages of comprehensive school reform models for improving student achievement; (5) 11 factors and 39 actions that help you take a site-specific approach to improving student achievement; and (6) A five-step plan for effective school leadership that includes a strong team, distributed responsibilities, and 31 team action steps.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Murphy, J. F., & Louis, K. S. (2018). Positive school leadership: Building capacity and strengthening relationships. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This landmark book translates positive and asset-based understandings of organizations to develop a powerful model of school leadership that is grounded in both existing research and the complexities of life in schools. The authors—both senior scholars in educational leadership—apply insights from positive psychology to the role and function of educational leaders. The Positive School Leadership (PSL) model draws on the strengths of relationships among staff and the broader school community to communicate and instill shared values and a common mission. This book builds a compelling case for creating a more inclusive, less ‘mechanistic’ approach to leadership. Designed to engage both the hearts and minds of readers, the text is organized around reflective questioning of educational practice and current assumptions about the purposes and goals of leadership in schools. Book Features: (1) An integrated way to think about organizational, interpersonal, and systemic leadership from the inside out; (2) A look at positive leadership in action, demonstrating how it operates to strengthen relationships that make a school more effective; (3) An examination of the long-range impacts that can be anticipated from reorienting schools toward positive leadership; and (4) Reflective questions in each chapter that engage readers in deeper analysis of the information presented.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Stemler, S. E., Bebell, D., & Sonnabend, L. A. (2011). Using school mission statements for reflection and research. Educational Administration Quarterly, 47(2), 383–420. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Purpose: Efforts to compare schools nationally tend to focus on educational outcomes (e.g., test scores), yet such an approach assumes that schools are homogeneous with regard to their overall purpose. In fact, few studies have attempted to systematically compare schools with regard to their primary aims or mission. The present study attempts to fill this gap by exploring the utility of school mission statements as a data source for comparing and systematically reflecting on the core purposes of schools nationwide. Research Design: A mixed-methods research design was implemented. In Study 1, true random samples of 50 high schools were selected from each of 10 geographically and politically diverse states, yielding a total of 421 mission statements that were ultimately coded and quantitatively compared. In Study 2, structured interviews were conducted with principals from diverse high schools to evaluate their perspectives on the usefulness of school mission statements. Findings: Results indicate that mission statements can be reliably coded quantitatively and that schools vary systematically and sensibly with regard to both the number and types of themes incorporated into their mission statements. Furthermore, consistent with prior research, the qualitative results showed that principals generally regard mission statements as an important tool for shaping practice and communicating core values. Conclusions: School mission statements are a valuable source of data that can be quantified for educational researchers and administrators interested in reflecting on school purpose, comparing schools with regard to their core mission, and monitoring changes in school purpose over time.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Wallace Foundation. (2013). The school principal as leader: Guiding schools to better teaching and learning. New York, NY: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This Wallace ‘Perspective’ summarizes a decade of foundation research and work in school leadership to identify what it is that effective school principals do. It concludes that they carry out five key actions particularly well, including shaping a vision of academic success for all students and cultivating leadership in others.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

National Institute for School Leadership –

From the website: “NISL is providing school and district leaders with the skills, research and tools they need to design and lead high-performance education systems. Research has shown that our state and district partners are strengthening leadership and raising student learning—equitably, efficiently, and at-scale—making NISL’s leadership programs the mostly widely used, research-based leadership supports in the country.”

Wallace Foundation –

From the website: “Our mission is to foster improvements in learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children and the vitality of the arts for everyone.”

School Leadership:

From the website: “School leadership is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning, according to research. Moreover, principals strongly shape the conditions for high-quality teaching and are the prime factor in determining whether teachers stay in high-needs schools. High-quality principals, therefore, are vital to the effectiveness of our nation’s public schools, especially those serving the children with the fewest advantages in life. Browse the reports and other resources on these pages for insights into school leadership and how to improve it.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Leadership “shared mission”

  • “leadership role” goals

  • “leadership role” vision

  • “School leadership” “shared mission”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.