Empowering Change in Education

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By Merrilee Henk, WTWL Writer

Merrilee3Merrilee Henk is a teacher and life long learner. She has a background in psychology and  emotional and behavioral disabilities. Merrilee currently teaches elementary special education and is working on her doctorate in education. She has written numerous articles on parenting, discipline, behavior modification, and other child related topics. Merrilee gives presentations for the Wisconsin Public Library Summer Reading Program for Children and recently began writing for eHow. Follow these links to view non-teaching related articles by this author: How to Attack the “After Christmas Naughty”  and How to Change Your Life. . .Pick Your Vice.


Teachers in every district face the frustrations of working under poor leadership, as well as the satisfaction and personal growth that can be realized when working for exceptional leaders. Cunningham and Cordiero (2006) stated, “leaders need to ensure that the focus, structure, and process of their work with faculty and staff is always focused on teaching and learning” (76). Maintaining this focus can be challenging, especially when faced with change. The choice of leadership style and reform model becomes critical to the success of an educational organization in need of reform. Transactional leadership, shared governance, and transformational leadership are some leadership styles that can affect the success of the reform model used by the district leader to initiate change.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leaders can be effective in achieving performance goals. According to Dumdum, Lowe, and Avolio (as cited in Avolio and Yammarino, 2008) transactional leaders “[exchange] rewards or recognition for cooperation and compliance behaviors consistent with task requirements” (p. 38-39). Transactional leaders closely follow the task accomplishments of their followers. Bass and Steidlmeier (1999) stated that “the leaders react to whether the followers carry out what the leaders and followers have ‘transacted’ to do” and Burns (1978) described transactional leaders as motivating their followers by satisfying the self-interests of the followers (as cited in Lo, de Run, and Ling, 2009, Literature Review section, para 3). Transactional leadership can be effective. One study by Lo, de Run, and Ling suggested that transactional leaders have followers that are more committed to change than those of transformational leaders, yet other studies suggest the opposite (Shamir, Zakay, Breinin and Popper, 1998; Walumbwa and Lawler, 2003, as cited in Lo, de Run, and Ling, 2009).

The traditional hierarchical transactional style of leadership often found in school districts may achieve compliance, but not commitment. Commitment is essential when educational reform is needed. Senge (1996) stated initiatives directed from the top down often backfire and prevent forward movement by organizations. Marion (2005) stated that the “bureaucracy legacy [is] clearly evident in the way we organize and run schools” (p. 22), but it can be replaced.

Shared Leadership

Shared leadership follows common sense reasoning that “many minds are better than one”, yet has not taken hold in K-12 public schools (Lindahl, 2008). Sarason (1996) wrote, “the failure of school reform was predictable because of the power relationships that exist in schools” (as cited in Lindahl). Shared leadership, in theory, removes the power relationships with shared decision-making. Lindahl asserted, “Teachers can share leadership, however. In schools, leadership can be shared among many people, not only the select few who might be formally designated as administrators or teacher leaders” (Why Have K-12 Schools Struggled with Shared Leadership? section, para 7). Yukl and Lepsinger (2007) explained that when complex school reform is needed, it takes more than one person to gain understanding of, and commitment to, a new vision and the decisions needed to successfully realize that vision (as cited in Lindahl).

Beach (2006) listed six leadership responsibilities that teachers could feasibly contribute to: assessment, culture, vision, plans, implementation, and follow through (as cited in Lindahl). Lindahl listed other leadership responsibilities related to the vision of the school. Teachers can take a leadership role in creating the vision, demonstrating it in their classrooms, and making it real for students, parents, and other stakeholders in the district. Lindahl asserted that strong involvement from teachers in the implementation of the vision would lead to greater likelihood of success.

Transformational Leadership

Organizations require employee willingness to cooperate with and believe in a common vision (Barnard, 1938, as cited in Marion, 2002). Transformational leadership is associated with achieving high levels of employee performance in organizations (Kark and Shamir, as cited in Avolio and Yammarino, 2008). Yukl (1998) suggested that transformational leaders transform the “values and priorities of followers and [motivate] them to perform beyond their expectations” (as cited in Avolio and Yammarino). Teachers managed by the use of strict rules and demeaning supervision may perform only to the level that satisfies the rules and never be motivated to pursue a level of excellence (Marion).

Pratt (1998) cited social identification with the leader or the organization as a common effect of transformational leadership behavior (as cited in Avolio and Yammarino) by building strong bonds and emotional ties with their followers. Social bonding could produce critical benefits for a superintendent attempting to improve the work of employees by positively affecting the motivation of employees to improve performance. According to Burns (1978) and Bass (1985), the most important effect of transformational leadership is “getting followers to transcend their self-interests for the sake of the group, organization, or movement” (as cited in Avolio and Yammarino, p. 85).

There are many leadership models proven effective in times of school reform, which all public school districts are facing as they move into the 21st century. One model suggested by Goddard and Clarke (2007), follows in the style of transformational leadership. This model includes eight stages, the first four that focus on institutional change are individual mobilization, community building, creating an enabling environment, and focus on student learning.

Individual mobilization begins with relationship building. Cunningham and Gordiero (2006) stated, “Good leaders do not communicate with people because they need something, but to enjoy the shared experience of working toward exciting outcomes. They have a genuine interest in the staff and their optimal performance” (p. 23). As teachers and students develop interpersonal relationships, they begin to redefine their identity within the school (Goddard and Clarke). Self-actualization can lead teachers to develop new ideas and beliefs about their roles and responsibilities.

Salisbury and McGregor (2002) discussed a strategy for community building, which would also follow in the transformational leadership style. School culture could be enhanced by reaching out to the community, encouraging meaningful participation by  parents, positively altering the community’s perception of the school district (as cited in Goddard and Clarke, Developing an Integrated Model of School Change section, para 5). Parents, teachers, students, and administrators could become parts of a cohesive group. Kohm (2002) and Lick (2002) suggested strategies such as teacher study groups (as cited in Goddard and Clarke, Developing an Integrated Model of School Change section, para 5).

Goddard and Clarke described administrators acting in this capacity as “catalysts, willing to take a moral stand on their beliefs and bringing teachers together in collaborative approaches to student learning” (Developing an Integrated Model of School Change section, para 5). Godard and Clarke suggested that this strategy would create a culture in which “staff and students adopt the school culture in a deep personal way and…take responsibility for making sure the [school] culture survives” (as cited in Goddard and Clarke, Developing an Integrated Model of School Change section, para 5).

Creating an enabling environment is necessary to improve student achievement. Schools need to make data driven decisions and strive to change teachers’ views of students from a deficiency model (Goddard and Clarke). Cummins (2001) stated:

When we choose to frame the discourse about underachievement primarily in terms of children’s deficits in some area of physiological or linguistic functioning, we expel culture, language, identity, intellect, and imagination from our image of the child, and we eliminate these constructs from our image of the effective teacher of that child (as cited in Goddard and Clarke, Developing an Integrated Model of School Change section, para 7).

Teachers are motivated by the ability to engage in the art of teaching. Davies (2002) acknowledged, “There is a tension between compliance and performance. Excessive compliance reduces the scope for creativity and limits performance. It will also put undue emphasis on outcomes, with processes having to be ignored” (The Changing Tensions Between Autonomy and Recentralization section, para 4).

In stage four the focus turns to individual student learning. Resources are dedicated to research based materials and programs, and teachers and parents align in supporting student needs. The outcomes measured must go beyond reading and math. Davies (2002) claimed that the process of teaching “thinking skills” is critical to the development of deep learning and that “The outcomes addiction also diminishes the central importance of a vision of education that is wider and deeper than simple test results. (The Changing Tensions Between Autonomy and Recentralization section, para 4).

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has fueled the outcomes addiction at the expense of real learning. Rothstein and Jacobsen (2006) described the unbalancing of instruction between the individual subject areas, creating a focus on reading and math, reducing the amount of time spent on non-tested curriculum. Curriculum has been narrowed as a result. School leaders focusing on individual student learning will provide a rich curriculum that includes critical thinking skills.


Educational change is an evolving interaction of individual mobilization, community building, creating an enabling environment, and focus on student learning. Institutional complacency must be avoided in place of constant revision and renewal with the holistic picture in mind (Goddard and Clarke). Transformational leaders can have a powerful effect on educational institutions and teachers for lasting change through strong relationships and a shared vision. Goleman, Boyatzis, and Mckee (2002) stated that leaders of reform need to build relationships with many, those who think like they do and those who don’t (as cited in Fullan, 2002). Goleman, Boyatzis, and Mckee claimed, “In complex times, emotional intelligence is a must. Emotionally intelligent leaders are able to build relationships because they are aware of their own emotional makeup and are sensitive and inspiring to others” (as cited in Fullan).


Avolio, B. J. & Yammarino, F. J. (Eds.). (2008). Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road     ahead.  Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Cunningham, W. G. and Cordeiro, P. A. (2006). Educational leadership: A problem-based approach (3rd ed) Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Davies, B. (2002). Rethinking schools and school leadership for the twenty-first century: Changes and challenges. The International Journal of Educational Management (16)4/5, 196-207.

Fullan, M. (2002, May). The change leader. Educational Leadership, 59(8), 16. Retrieved September 15, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database.

Goddard, J. T. & Bohac-Clarke, V. (2007, Fall). The cycles of school change: Toward an integrated developmental model. The Journal of Educational Thought. 41(2), 105-124.

Lindahl, R. (2008). Shared leadership: Can it work in schools? The Educational Forum, 72(4), 298-308.

Lo, M., Ramayah, T., de Run, E., & Ling, V. (2009, May). New leadership, leader-member exchange, and commitment to change: The case of higher education in Malaysia. Proceedings of World Academy of Science: Engineering & Technology, 41, 574-580. Retrieved September 20, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database.

Marion, R. (2005). Leadership in education: Organizational theory for the practitioner. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Rothstein, R., & Jacobsen, R. (2006, December). The goals of education. (Cover story). Phi Delta Kappan, pp. 264,272. Retrieved August 6, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database.

Senge, P. (1996, December). Leading learning organizations. Training & Development, 50(12), 36.   Retrieved September 15, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database

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