Leading effective Goal-Setting to Improve School Outcomes

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Auckland - Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2018
Project end date: 
March 2020
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Frauke Meyer and Dr Linda Bendikson
Research team members: 
Associate Professor Deidre Le Fevre
Research partners: 
Two secondary schools and one primary school, all in Auckland.


This research collaboration between three researchers and three principals will identify barriers and enablers to goal-setting and school improvement in two secondary schools and one primary school. Using an inquiry approach, principals will identify ways to improve schools’ goal-setting practices and the alignment of improvement strategies, ultimately creating more equity in student outcomes. The project will map schools’ improvement efforts and identify potential links between changes in practice and student outcomes.


Our first goal is to understand what is currently happening in the three schools in terms of goal-setting for school improvement. Secondly, we aim to identify enablers and barriers to effective goal-setting in these schools. Our final goal is to develop more effective practices in these schools with the aim of improving outcomes for priority learners. The project will test the theory that where within school leadership is strongly goal focussed, improvement is likely to occur.
The overarching research question of this project was:
How can school principals lead goal-setting effectively to improve equity in student outcomes?

The project was guided more specifically by the following sub-questions:

  1. What is the nature and quality of goal-setting and school improvement processes evident in the three schools?
  2. What enables and constrains effective goal-setting and school improvement processes in these schools, especially in view of improvement in priority learner outcomes?
  3. What changes in the nature and quality of goal-setting and school improvement processes are evident over the course of two years in these schools?
  4. What leadership actions are the most important contributors to school improvement over the two years?

Why is this research important?

Previous New Zealand research indicated that barriers to greater school improvement seem to lie in a lack of goal clarity, misalignment of improvement strategies to goals, and a limited capacity in schools to keep a sustained focus on their progress against the goals. Our project was important because there was little detailed information about how leaders enact this goal focus in their day-to-day work with their team and teachers, i.e. what behaviours help to motivate the team, and what detracts from this focus? Our research findings provide actionable advice for practitioners in gaining more equitable outcomes.

What we did

The project had four phases:
Mapping Phase: We examined the extent, focus and quality of current goal-setting and strategic planning in the schools through thematic analysis of transcripts from interviews with principals, senior leaders and teachers, and from planning meetings. We also analysed schools’ strategic plans and Education Review Office reports. School achievement data was collected as a baseline. Through the analysis, we identified constraints and enablers for school improvement in each school.
Design Phase: We decided on foci for practitioner inquiries that principals led in their schools on the basis of our constraints analysis. The focus was on leadership practices that addresed identified constraints and gaps in schools’ processes and practices and build on identified enablers.
Inquiry Phase: Principals implemented the collaboratively designed practitioner inquiries and explored if changes in practice improved the goal-setting process, alignment of strategies and sustained goal focus.
Inquiry and Evaluation Phase: We replicated phase one processes to map changes in practice and outcomes and identify potential links between them. Lastly, we disseminated the findings to policy, practitioner and academic audiences.

Our Partners

This partnership between Dr. Frauke Meyer, Dr. Linda Bendikson and Associate Professor Deidre Le Fevre and principals builds on previous professional relationships through different projects. Thus, we share a philosophical approach to leadership and draw on a shared theoretical framework.

Contact Details:

Dr Frauke Meyer
Faculty of Education and Social Work
The University of Auckland
Private Bag 92601, Symonds Street 1150
+64 9 623 8899 ext. 48471