Becoming a Transformational School Leader

Though community-building takes time, its impact is long-lasting. In order to implement change in a school environment, creating a common vision is paramount. The biggest challenge for school leadership is handling different kinds of people, with various goals and interests. A school leader has to ensure that students are following curricula, excelling academically, and becoming outstanding members of society. In comparison, teachers’ are focused on meeting curricula deadlines and ensuring that students keep up with class work. The leader must confront student deviance , as well as teachers’ possible cynicism and lack of motivation.

A transformational school leader ensures students focus on their studies by being considerate of individuality, being charismatic in influencing them, and inspiring them. Instead of using set problem-solving techniques, he or she involves students and teachers to come up with solutions to problems as they arise. Transformational leaders in a school setting quickly identify areas in need of improvement, seeking out-of-the-box solutions. The leader identifies cynicism and intentions to quit among teachers, through consultation and individualized consideration. Realigning their values and goals to resonate with those of the school, the leader reassures teachers that they are needed and valued.

Emphasis in a transformational school shifts from “leadership” to “professionalism.” Direct leadership and professionalism do not mix. Studies show that professionalism cannot develop when stifled by command and instruction based leadership. Professionalism is more about competence than skill. It involves a higher degree of trust, and ensures a teacher’s commitment to caring, excellence, and to professionalism as a given.

T. J. Sergiovanni, proposed five alternative approaches to full transformational leadership in schools. These are:

• Technical leadership: sound management of school resources
• Human leadership: networking; establishing social and interpersonal bonds
• Educational leadership: expert knowledge on educational matters
• Symbolic leadership: role-modeling and behavior
• Cultural leadership: regarding the values, beliefs, and cultural identity of the school

The first three approaches—the technical, human, and educational aspects of leadership—are the primary influences on a school’s effectiveness. The symbolic and cultural aspects add the most value and are responsible for the overall excellence of the school. The traditional concept of direct leadership places an enormous burden on a school leader to run almost every aspect of leadership. Substituting a community-based approach, coupled with professionalism and cooperation, can produce speedy results. Transformational leadership can change the mindset of staff and students. Emphasis is placed on the school community, not just the leader’s interests.

Transformational leadership also brings about professionalism in the teaching staff by allowing them the autonomy and room to improve. Because a leader allows followers to meet and overcome challenges on their own, teachers are more involved in school affairs. Cooperative relationships are most likely to develop when challenges are surmounted together, without supervision from the leader.

Clearly, transformational leadership improves job performance through the four pillars of charismatic/idealized influence, individual consideration, inspirational motivation and intellectual stimulation. Studies have now shown that it also positively affects the psychological well-being of employees.

Transformational leadership helps in individual goal-setting and goal commitment, by transferring responsibility- making the individual feel part of a whole. In a shift of focus, the leader no longer offers rewards, but empowers followers to become leaders through mutual responsibility and trust. This inspires staff performance beyond leader expectations. Transformational leaders help their followers maximize performance, by finding and emphasizing common ground.

Research studies suggest that highly effective leadership styles positively influence student performance. Transformational leadership can bring about a wide range of results at a personal level (i.e., followers’ empowerment and identity) and at the group or organizational level (cohesiveness and collective power to make changes). It produces these positive effects primarily by shaping the followers’ self-worth and promoting identification with their leader.

What distinguishes a transformational leader is the combination of head and heart, and the ability to understand and apply emotions effectively to connect with and influence followers. Transformational leadership results in wide-ranging changes wherever it is introduced and is effective in solving problems in the school environment. It would be prudent for school leaders in the U.S. to utilize it in their school communities.


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