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Transformational Leadership: Viewing Schools as Communities

EducationWorld is pleased to present this excerpt adapted from A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories, by Matthew Lynch (Routledge, 2012). Bridging the gap between the academic and practical world, the book explores 10 dominant leadership strategies to give school leaders a solid basis in theory and practical application. Dr. Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University and an EducationWorld columnist.transformational school leadership

Managing a school is an arduous task. Individuals given this responsibility need to develop leadership that will be effective for the school and in the community. Recently, a new method called “transformational leadership” has proven highly effective in fostering staff loyalty and behavioral growth among students. This new approach has received worldwide acclaim and found its way into many complex organizations. However, despite its success in other types of organizations, transformational leadership has not yet been introduced into many school systems.

This excerpt explains transformational leadership, and describes how it can be applied in a school. Specifically, administrators who focus on staff empowerment, rather than directly controlling all aspects of school functioning, foster greater professional growth.

On a typical Tuesday afternoon at Parker Middle School, an observer might see a crowd of parents and grandparents, waiting for an escort to the auditorium to see the fifth-grade play. At the front desk, the school administrative assistant is explaining the afternoon assignment to a new substitute teacher. Across the hall, in a small examining room, the school nurse is listening to a parent who is concerned about her child’s food allergies. Near the principal’s office, a local policeman is waiting to speak with someone about a family situation involving a student. Two teachers are also waiting; they want permission to organize a field trip.

Any one of these situations might call for involvement from a senior school administrator. As it is, several people are acting simultaneously on the school’s behalf, each making judgments about what school policy should be. What should the role of the administrator be in each of these situations?

The Parker Middle School example presents situations of varying degrees of importance. Some may be dealt with by the principal, but most are being taken care of by other members of the staff. Astute delegation of responsibility and empowerment of staff are key to transformational leadership.

Direct Leadership vs. Community

Consciously or not, leaders make a choice between defining a school as a formal organization or as a community. Though both may be applicable, the definition that is stressed can make an enormous difference.

A leader who assumes a school is a formal organization is bound to be control-driven. His or her focus is on the organizational need for rules and standards. In such a system, it is assumed that principals and supervisors are the “responsible” members of a school, and are better able to make day-to-day decisions than are teachers or staff.

This form of leadership is called “direct leadership.” An administrator tries to be in active control of all aspects of the school, including school activities, monitoring of teachers, analysis of curriculum, etc. Most principals assume they are responsible for everything that goes on in the school, and do not even recognize that alternatives to direct leadership exist.

Perception of a school as a community fosters a different approach to leadership. A community is not defined by evaluation and instructional leadership, but by the principles, beliefs, and values that bind it together. Sergiovanni (1992) referred to these principles and values as “centers.” If new leadership styles were employed, teachers and staff would become self-managing, leaving the principal to deal with strategic issues of educational policy and community involvement, rather than day-to-day implementation.

Once a school leader lets go of command and instructional leadership, he or she is spared the rituals of formal evaluations. Released from the strictures of command, teachers and staff are free to grow professionally. The outcome is not only more satisfied staff, but also improved quality control.


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