Educational leadership has a great impact on student learning (Hallinger & Heck, 1996, 1998; Waters et al, 2003). Multiple studies have established that setting the vision and direction of the organization, developing its people, leading the instructional processes, and creating a positive organizational culture and practices are the hallmarks of effective educational leadership (Leithwood et al, 1996; Fullan, 2001; Marks & Printy, 2003; Robinson et al, 2009; Scheerens, 2012). Effective leadership is also contextual in regards to student population, organization size, environment and developmental stage, and employee characteristics (Leithwood et al, 2004; Day et al, 2007). OECD’s review of 22 education systems in the world points out to leader preparation as one of the key elements for improvement of educational leadership (Pont et al, 2008).
In spite of the importance of educational leadership, the field has not been – until very recently – a priority of Serbian education policy makers. Serbian principals and vice principals are teachers whose principalship learning is mostly experiential. Serbian school boards are selected without established criteria and receive no training. Employees in local and regional education authorities are also not required to have an educational background and receive training that is frequently connected only to the educational reforms that are to be implemented, not training in educational leadership.
Educational leaders who want to improve their capacities face a rather inadequate supply of training. The in-service training that is available to principals is mostly comprised of isolated 2-3 day long lectures or workshops that are usually focused on routine, managerial issues, rather than on the evidence-based competencies of effective leaders. The only two master-level programs/modules targeting educational administrators (independently at the University of Belgrade and University of Novi Sad) are located in the field of management and organizational science, so they naturally focus on managerial and operational tasks. While these tasks are important and will be addressed in this Master program (also via PC staff who teach in the above-mentioned UNS module), they lack many aspects of effective educational leadership (see above). This situation is dire, as inadequate educational leadership ultimately leads to inadequate student learning. Country such as Serbia, whose PISA scores of around 60 points below the OECD average indicate poor student achievement, cannot afford to not improve the capacities of its educational leaders.
Thankfully, educational leadership has recently garnered attention from Serbian policy makers. Serbian Strategy for Development of Education (2012) recognizes educational leadership (especially instructional leadership) as the key component of successful schools. The 2009 Law on the Foundations of Educational System stipulates that principals need to pass a license exam, but that has not yet been implemented in practice. In February 2013, the National Education Council (NEC) has adopted Standards for competencies of principals, which, although lacking certain aspects of effective leadership, are nonetheless a very important step forward.
These circumstances create a perfect opportunity to establish the Master program that will: 1) directly target all NEC Standards for competencies for principals; 2) address additional, research-established competencies for school and other educational leaders (e.g., in Quinn et al, 1996); 3) adopt principles of effective leadership preparation programs, such as those at NSO (the Netherlands), University of Jyvaskyla (Finland), National College for School Leadership (England), programs based on Ontario Leadership Framework (Canada) and others. These programs use active, student-centered instruction; intertwine practice and theory; have a strong mentorship component; allow flexibility of learning pathways; differentiate between various educational leaders, and cooperate strongly with local school systems (Darling-Hammond, 2010). Additionally, this time also presents the opportunity to enhance the discourse on educational leadership and move the field forward.
In summary, the wider objective of the project is to improve student learning in Serbia through the improvement of the professional competencies of principals and other educational leaders. The first specific objective is to develop and implement a joint, modern, interdisciplinary 60 ECTS Master program in Educational Leadership, including professional development courses, that will address Serbian Standards for Competencies of Principals, Law on the Foundations of the Educational System and Strategy for Development of Education, as well as be built on rigorous research evidence and Bologna principles. The second specific objective is to establish an Educational Leadership Network for the exchange of experiences, discourse on educational leadership, identification of issues in educational leadership in Serbia, and formulation of recommendations for their improvement.
The program targets principals and school team leaders; graduated bachelor students who are aspiring leaders; employees in state and NGO local, regional and national education sectors; school board members, and other parties interested in educational leadership.