Monday, July 26, 2010

Transformational School Leadership

As teachers, why do we work as had as we do? Why do we get to school early, stay late, pore over test scores, make those extra parent phone calls, spend hours fine-tuning lesson plans?  For most of us, the answer is not to get a bigger paycheck or a pat on the head.  It is because we know that what we do matters, and we are passionately devoted to making positive change.  We are focused on transformation, not quid pro quo. 

Transformational leadership is a leadership philosophy focuses on bringing about change by tapping into individuals’ values and by activating the motivation they already have. Teachers are especially, and maybe uniquely, suited to transformational leadership styles.  A transformational school leader is characterized by four major characteristics, as defined by leadership theorist Bernard Bass (1985):

  • Individual consideration.  The leader seeks out those who are on the margins and recognizes the strengths that each teacher has to offer.
  • Intellectual stimulation.  A transformational leader involves teachers in the problem-solving process and encouraging “followers to think of old problems in new ways” (Marzano, Walters, & McNulty, 2005)
  • Inspirational motivation. The leader communicates high expectations using personal charisma and projection of a confident presence.
  • Idealized influence.  The transformational leader is an exemplary model for teachers, a person to whom teachers can look and see a master teacher as well as an administrator.

School leaders can use technology in the shift toward transformational leadership.  When engaging in the problem-solving process, why not connect with administrators and teachers at other schools around the work who are dealing with the same issues?  The data that is at our fingertips can be sorted and reinterpreted more easily than ever before. The Internet provides endless opportunities for professional development.  At large, busy schools where “face time” is at a premium, a school leader can use blogs or Twitter to connect with teachers and to highlight the accomplishments occurring in classrooms.

We know transformational leadership works in education. “A compelling body of recent evidence tells us that successfully implementing local change of the sort that accountability policies advocate requires transformational forms of leadership—at the least” (Leithwood, 2007).   The problem is that proposed educational “reforms” are becoming more and more transactional in nature—“implement these programs and receive extra funding,” or even “produce these outcomes or else.”  District and school leaders must often attempt to reconcile transactional mandates from above with the transformational philosophy that they know is in the best interests of students and teachers.   They must work to transform not just the schools they are responsible for, but also the structure above, so that the potential for positive change is not lost with the next set of legislation. 


Bass, B.M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: The Free Press.

Leithwood, K. (2007). Transformation school leadership in a transactional policy world. In Fullan, M. (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (pp. 17-25). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Marzano, R., Waters, T., McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. San Francisco: Alexandria, ASCD.

1 comment:

Lynne said...

It is so true that many proposed educational “reforms” promote transactional leadership styles. Ironically, these transactional school districts will send their school leaders to professional development activities to learn how to transform their school cultures. Not surprisingly, tension between district mandates and the empowerment nature of transformational leadership cause frustrations among principals. In these cases, principals typically don't receive the resources or organizational support they need to build school learning environments that reflect 21st century learning. Transformational leadership works best in schools when principals understand how to apply its processes and are rewarded by central office administrators for building a community of leaders among teachers.