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What Is Transformational Leadership in Education?

The core tenets of transformational leadership have spread like wildfire through the corporate world. To inspire innovation throughout their organizations, executives embrace transformative leadership qualities such as charisma, motivation, intellectual stimulation and empathy. 

Now, educators have a unique opportunity to instill these values into their campuses as teachers and administrators navigate an environment profoundly changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Arkansas State University (A-State) online Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership program, graduates will gain the practical skills they need to empower staff members to succeed.

Four Traits of Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders are defined by their ability to embody four key qualities. Their most recognizable value is “idealized influence,” or a willingness to lead by example and serve as a role model, according to CIO. Staff members may call these leaders charismatic, but Simple Psychology says their secret to success is holding themselves to a high standard and encouraging others with clear communication and constructive feedback.

To spark innovation, transformational leaders are also intellectually curious. They welcome criticism and fresh ideas with the understanding that their workplace has a better chance of solving a problem if employees feel comfortable expressing themselves.

The ability to effectively articulate an organization’s mission and inspire employees to follow it is another sign of a transformational leader. Fear is never a motivational tool for these bosses, according to CIO. Instead, they focus on the group’s ability to achieve its goals through a shared sense of purpose.

Transformational leaders are also keenly attuned to each staff member’s needs and contributions to an organization’s overall success. They pour energy into understanding what drives employees and provide individualized coaching.

Teams led by transformational leaders have experienced higher levels of performance and lower burnout rates in comparison to staff led by other leadership styles, according to Simple Psychology. Employees are also likely to take these traits into the rest of their careers, creating the next generation of empathetic leaders.

Translating Leadership Theory to The Classroom

School administrators face a distinct set of challenges, as everyone from teachers and coaches to counselors and support staff struggle with long hours, high stress and political debates entering the classroom. According to The New York Times, more than half of educators surveyed by the National Education Association in 2022 said they have contemplated leaving the profession.

With schools facing massive disruptions after the pandemic, principals and superintendents must adjust their leadership style accordingly. To be a transformational leader on campus, administrators can start by soliciting feedback on a shared vision to better serve students and educators, according to Education Week.

Here’s how this could work in practice. A superintendent is considering new security measures at high schools after an after-school conflict turned violent. Administrators agree that metal detectors and clear backpacks may be necessary to improve safety. School district leaders could make this decision without input from parents, teachers or students.

Transformational leaders, however, recognize an opportunity for engagement and consensus-building. These administrators have a high tolerance for uncertainty and create conditions that allow everyone on campus to take a leadership role, according to Education Week.

In this case, the superintendent could appoint a committee to evaluate different approaches to school safety and host forums to collect ideas from families and educators, according to Thought Exchange. Rather than spreading fear within the community about school violence to gain support for their plan, the superintendent welcomes different perspectives that will allow multiple constituencies to reduce school violence.

Through developing a shared sense of responsibility, administrators can encourage community participation and create a more collective culture built on trust.

Doctorate Program Fosters Transformative Leadership

A-State’s online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program offers a variety of opportunities for students to deepen their knowledge of transformative leadership. The Educational Leadership Practices course focuses on the professional applications of theoretical and empirically based leadership practices in educational institutions. Through the Organizational Development in Education (P-12) course, graduates will explore the application of research to problems of change and innovation in education.

Regardless of background or years in the classroom, every educator can become a transformational leader. A-State provides the tools to make that shift a reality.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program

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