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Leadership Approaches for Change

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

The debate about which approaches are most suitable in leading educational change continues. Academics and practitioners have presented several views, some of which we discuss in this section. It is important that you, as a school leader, should not do all the work yourself. Apart from getting physically exhausted, you are likely to get a better reaction when everyone plays a part. While some people may be assigned specific duties and responsibilities, others may only take part in decision making – but the underlying principle is maximum engagement to maximise participation.

When change is imposed, directions are often given on planning, implementation and the time frame. You will need to translate this into a plan for your school with clearly defined outcomes. It is useful to have a clear communication process and let everyone know about the part they are expected to play. Although a well-planned change does not guarantee success, it does make it easier to streamline the processes and to identify potential barriers.


The Four Leadership Styles

Collaborative leadership involves two essential components: the team and consensus. Decisions are taken based on a general consensus among staff, so there will be space made for group discussions or consultations to allow everyone’s view to be heard. Collaborative leadership is seen as a positive approach to leading and managing change, as it brings people together and builds shared understanding. Some critics argue that the pace of change sometimes does not allow enough time for consensus building and therefore question the practicalities of this approach.

Another approach that has dominated educational leadership discourse in recent years is distributed leadership. For Gronn (2003), the essence of distributed leadership is that it creates a sense of responsibility that is spread among several people within the school. Distributed leadership allows schools to cope with complex or urgent change by drawing a wider range of staff into the leadership task.

There are many different points of view about this approach, especially around issues of boundaries and accountability. Harris (2008) maintains that distributed leadership is still firmly controlled by senior leaders and suggests that there is a blurred distinction between distributed leadership and delegation. This view is shared by Hartley (2010), who argues that teachers and students have very limited influence on the direction of school strategy, so distributed leadership is more a way of accomplishing predefined organisational goals through tasks and targets set by senior leaders. Where traditional hierarchies define roles and responsibilities in a school, there can be unease and mistrust when authority and responsibility is distributed in this manner.

Essentially, democratic leadership in schools is about creating an environment that supports participation, shared values, openness, flexibility and compassion. Furman and Starratt, in their article ‘Leadership for democratic community in schools’ (2002, p. 118), asserted that democratic school leadership requires the ability to ‘listen, understand, empathise, negotiate, speak, debate and resolve conflicts in a spirit of interdependence and working for the common good’. A democratic school leader is therefore likely to be approachable and ready to take on others’ ideas and solutions.

Furman and Starratt continued by saying that, in democratic schools, leadership is vested in the stakeholders and their expertise rather than in bureaucracy. This involves engaging stakeholders in decision making and establishing conditions that foster consultation, active cooperation, respect and a sense of community for the common good. Critics question whether this style of leadership really does count everyone’s vote in reaching decisions, arguing that final decisions are still made by senior leaders.

Transformational leadership identifies new goals that will drive changes in practice and persuades others that they can achieve more than they thought possible. It places strong emphasis on the central role of the leader. The leader has to be convincing and generate enthusiasm in others, so needs to:

  • have a vision of how the future organisation will look

  • acknowledge that colleagues must share that vision if it is to be achieved

  • work hard to persuade colleagues that the vision is worth pursuing

  • work collaboratively towards achieving the vision


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.


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