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5 Essential Transformations for School Leaders to Deliver Excellent Education.

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

If you drive a 5-speed car, you know that there are 5 gears to move forward and one gear to reverse the car. There is one more gear setting - neutral. If you choose this setting, the car moves under the influence of inertia and friction, without any contribution of the engine. How is this context relevant to driving a school to excellence?

5 Gears of School Leadership: To deliver excellent education

Schools in "neutral" gear are operating under the forces of inertia and friction. The friction caused by external and internal people and processes gradually slows down the progress of the school. Eventually, the school reaches the stage where there is no noticeable improvement. If you are a complacent school leader who is satisfied with the neutral state, this article is definitely not for you.

To deliver excellent education, school leaders must have a growth mindset. They must continuously look for ways to shift from the 1st gear to 5th gear. But, what are these 5 gears? These 5 gears are the 5 roles that school leaders have to play in order to ensure their school is offering excellent education to students.

Let us look deeper into these 5 roles.


1. Be The Pedagogical Leader

Your students deserve a good education. Your prime focus area is to ensure that they achieve the desired learning outcomes.

The only role of the school is to deliver effective education in an efficient manner for every student. Thus, as a pedagogical leader, the school leader must take the responsibility for the quality of teaching-learning in the school.

Your transformation from a "school manager" to a "pedagogical leader" must begin as soon as possible. This will require you to develop a new outlook, competencies, knowledge, and skills. 

As a pedagogical leader, your primary focus is on the students. You need to concentrate your energies on tasks that can improve their learning and performance levels. You will need the support of teachers, parents, and the school management to succeed as a pedagogical leader. It is important that you develop the skills to help them work toward improving the teaching-learning processes in the school.  

Successful pedagogical leaders spend the majority of their time and effort on issues that relate to students' learning and achievement levels. They use several tools, techniques, and strategies to optimize the performance of students. To become a successful pedagogical leader, you must:

  • develop a deep insight into the seven domains of school leadership

  • establish a strong relationship with students,

  • motivate, mentor, and coach teachers, and

  • solicit management support for pedagogical initiatives.


2. Be The Visionary

A ‘vision’ is a clear statement of what the school is trying to achieve so that all stakeholders – teachers, students, their families and community members – are working together.

Developing a vision for your school is an important part of being an effective school leader. In a report that examined a number of educational systems across the world to see what factors led to improvement, it was found that ‘almost all school leaders say that setting vision and direction’ are among ‘the biggest contributors to their success’. Four behaviors that characterize an effective school leader are to

  1. have clear, informed visions of what they want their schools to become; visions that focus on students and their needs

  2. translate these visions into goals for their schools and expectations for their teachers, students and administrators

  3. not stand back and wait for things to happen, but continuously monitor progress

  4. intervene, when necessary, in a supportive or corrective manner.

A visionary has to believe that 'everything' is possible and possess high degrees of self-confidence. A visionary must have a futuristic mindset, high levels of awareness, deep knowledge, and the right attitude. Visionary school leaders clearly understand the needs of all stakeholders, have strong leadership skills, and the courage to achieve high aspirations.


3. Be The Change Leader

The leader cannot change the events of the past but has considerable scope to influence how individuals respond to change in the future, and their commitment to it.

The ultimate aim of any change is to move from a current state to a more desirable future state. Within a school context, this ultimately relates to improving student learning, either through direct changes to teaching and learning or through improving the effectiveness of school structures and systems to support learning. The change could be proactive (a deliberate, self-initiated action) or reactive (responding to a stimulus).

Change can be a challenging process for both the leader(s) and participant(s) involved, as people may be worried about the consequences. It is the school leader's responsibility to lead them through the change process. 

Read this blog which explains 3 critical theories of Change.

Leading change is a continuous and regular task for the school leader. At every given time, the school leader is involved in some aspect of enabling the change within the school.

School leaders need to work with all the stakeholders during the change management process. This includes students, parents, teachers, staff, vendors, and the members of the school management.

Most people are naturally reluctant to change. To lead changes successfully, a school leader must:

  • link the change to the vision of the school,

  • exhibit strong leadership skills,

  • use multiple leadership styles,

  • create a change plan,

  • diligently implement the plan.

Undoubtedly, managing change is the toughest role of the school leader.

4. Be The Enabler

Unless you enable teachers to experiment and depart from their traditional teaching methods, there will be no change in student learning.

Being an enabler is about creating the conditions for active, participatory learning to take place for everyone in your school. School leaders cannot demand change from any stakeholder. They can only work with stakeholders to enable them to do things differently.

Enabling others requires constant communication. School leaders must spend a minimum of 30 mins every day to meet two faculty members individually to provide inputs and resolve their individual issues. A weekly faculty meeting of 45 minutes should be planned to address specific common issues. School leaders will also have to schedule regular enabling sessions with other stakeholders.

Although school leaders will spend most time enabling teachers, they also need to work with students, parents, and members of the management at regular intervals.

You enable your teachers by being a lifelong learner yourself – by applying your learning to innovate and solve issues at your school. Teachers need your encouragement to change. You can provide opportunities for and guidance to teachers by:

  • trying out new ideas or practices

  • giving feedback to teachers

  • sharing and reflecting on the positives in their classrooms

  • discussing what could be done differently to improve things.

It is important to listen to your teachers and develop a collegial approach to leadership – enabling means working with and alongside your teachers so that there is dialogue and to ensure that you learn from them. During the enablement process, school leaders need to mentor as well as coach teachers. 


5. Be The Lead Learner

Your attitude to your own learning directly impacts the attitude of your teachers toward their professional development.

"Be the change you want to see." These words of Mahatma Gandhi hold merit for school leaders too. Your efforts to enable students and teachers to learn and grow must begin by transforming yourself into the "lead learner" of the school.

Learning is a continuous lifelong process. However, it is important that you dedicate a fixed number of hours towards your own learning on a daily basis.

Your school management needs to be convinced to allocate time and money for your professional development. They must view this as the primary investment in developing the school.

There are multiple learning options available to you to grow your skills, knowledge, and competencies. These include:

  • Reading books related to school leadership, like "LEAD the Change"

  • Subscribing to magazines, such as "The Progressive Teacher" or "The Progressive School"

  • Joining a professional network of school leaders, such as the ICSL Telegram Group - LEAD the Change,

  • Enrolling in professional development programs, such as LEADING in Chaos,

  • Visiting other countries to study their education system,

  • Writing articles on school leadership for blogs or magazines.


About the Author

Dr. Atul Nischal is the Founder of the International Council for School Leadership (ICSL) and serves as the Program Director of ReSET, the 3 week online certificate program for educators.


Support ICSL

ICSL is a not-for-profit organization on a mission to inspire, empower, and enable school leaders and educators. You can support us by becoming a member, participating in our programs (Friday@5, ReSET), and spreading the word amongst all educators in your network. Your support is very critical for our mission.


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