Friday, July 24, 2009

Transformational Leadership

This week, one of our individual assignments is to reflect on what it means to be a Transformational Leader. After processing two weeks of assigned readings and interviewing a supervisor on what it means to be a leader, I feel prepared to answer this question!

We are teaching students for a global society in which we have no idea what that society will look like! We don't know what kinds of jobs will exist for today's students or what kind of technology they will be using. We need to examine how schools are organized so that we can provide today's students for this future. The paradigm shift required to make the necessary change to the school organization "demand[s] a fundamental shift of dramatic proportions" (Burello, Lashley, & Beatty, 2001, p. 77). The educational system as it exists now is in crisis. The call for educational reform has existed for decades. A Nation at Risk was published in 1983. No Child Left Behind Act came later, in 2001. Recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been advocating for changes and in his speech at the Forum in Education (2008), Gates said, "big advances only come when committed people study the same problems and build on each other's work." The new work of leaders that will create these advances is the transformational leader. "A new metaphor for leadership must replace the school commandant and charismatic visionary approaches that dominated our conceptions of schooling in the 20th century" (Burello, Lashley, & Beatty, 2001, p. 93).

The idea of transformational leadership will greatly impact school administrators. The system that they inherit today is not the system that they are going to create. Administrators will need to lead in ways that may make them uncomfortable. Peter Senge stresses in his book, The Fifth Discipline, "innovations in education represent a bigger task than educators can accomplish in isolation" (2006, p. 362). School administrators will be required to build a mental model that encompasses the shared vision of their stakeholders. They will need to create teacher work teams and foster trust and sharing. They will need to be patient, nurturing and empowering if they are to succeed. All of this in the context of an atmosphere where parents and community members and sometimes their peers value traditional, yet often out-dated techniques requiring the administrator to "communicate the school's mission clearly and consistently to staff members, parents and students" (Kelley & Peterson, 2007, p. 360). In my own school setting, many teachers are deeply entrenched in the thinking that "it has always been done this way," or "this is how I was taught," and it is very difficult, but not impossible to overcome these obstacles. My principal has allowed our new staff development develop a training program and supports her when the complaints come along. The principal publicly acknowledges her support which reinforces the staff developer's efforts. The staff developer always has a smile, an attitude of "let's go" and is a great listener. I think the principal is doing a great job of allowing the staff developer to lead. When I think of transformational leaders, the descriptors passionate, energetic, enthusiastic and visionary come to mind.

Performing transformational leadership will also impact the school administrator as technology is integrated with instruction. Technology flattens the playing field. Students become the master of their own education and work with their teachers to creatively solve problems. The collaborative, open-source mentality creates a world where everything is visible. Students and teachers reflect in blogs, create wikis to work through the curriculum, and communicate with students and teachers across the globe. This free flow of information sharing and "thinking out loud" can cause anxiety among administrators, teachers and students. My high school was lucky enough last year to receive Promethean Boards for almost every classroom. As exciting as this development was, it caused high levels of anxiety as teachers struggled to adapt the interactive white boards into their curriculum. The most successful teachers were the ones that worked together with their students to create dynamic and exciting lessons. While most of the students were new to Promethean Boards, it was amazing to me how many students were able to troubleshoot, create presentations and teach their teacher how it all works. These conditions can make leadership challenging in schools and this is why I feel that transformational leadership and servant-leadership go hand-in-hand. The administrator will not lead authoritatively, but orchestrate an environment where team building, leadership development, shared decision making and collegiality are valued. It is time for transformational leadership and I for one, am ready!


Burello, L. C., Lashley, C., & Beatty, E. E. (2001). Educating all students together: How school leaders create unified systems. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Gates, B. (2008, November 11). A forum on education in America: Bill Gates. In Bill & Melinda Gates foundation [Prepared remarks by Bill Gates]. Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

Kelley, C., & Peterson, K. D. (2007). The work of principals and their preparation. In The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (2nd ed., pp. 351-401). San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday. (Original work published 1999)


  1. Andrea, great blog. Do you think that most "older" meaning they have been in educational leadership for awhile, will adapt? Or, will they continue the same style of leadership that they have used in the past?

  2. Melissa, I do think that "veteran" teachers definitely have the capability to adapt and change as education changes. I don't think that age has anything to do with the ability to change. I think the biggest factor in determining who will adapt is the personality "style" or leadership style of the individual. I think every "style" has positives as well as areas for growth. I also think that an authentic administrative leader recognizes their own leadership style as well as their staffs' and then brings out the best in everyone and provides professional development opportunities for staff to grow. If a teacher gets entrenched in their teaching style or methods and isn't adapting to change, it is as much the fault of their administrative leader for not articulating a clear vision of learning for their school that promotes the success of all students (ELCC #1.1). Some people just need to be helped "out" [of the building] and they could be rigid, inflexible 1st year teachers or they might be 30+ veterans! It is through supervision and setting high-standards (among other things) that will determine if the inflexible staff will be allowed to remain teaching.