Home Education How improved leadership in education can lead to sustainable change

How improved leadership in education can lead to sustainable change

by Paul Petersen


Change is standard in schools. New students arrive, classes change, and cohorts move on. Each new leader brings a fresh perspective on how to manage the institution. Schools must also respond to government and local authority needs, regulations and funding changes.

Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought schools more adjustments than they have had to deal with in years, often requiring them to adapt overnight. Schools may be accustomed to change daily, but when it comes to implementing changes to leadership, working methods and culture, schools can learn a lot from the change management principles used in industries such as technology and business to ensure that changes are successful and long-lasting.

When we talk about change within a school, we mostly mean efforts that disrupt individuals’ daily work. There are numerous schools of thought when it comes to managing that kind of change, but they all boil down to the same idea: give it a defined structure and method to achieve a specific end. Because change is risky, sometimes met with opposition and challenging to define, organizational change management is a specialist skill and discipline.

Anyone in charge of educational change understands that it occurs only when all involved change their behaviors, and change management is centered around this concept. Administrators, parents, students and teachers are all influenced by change and must be considered while managing and leading change in educational environments. This process includes modifying past habits, educating staff on new procedures, and reinforcing the new way of doing things. The purpose of change management in schools is to guide people through the change process successfully.

The rapid rate of change in our modern environment necessitates leadership flexibility, agility and adaptability. Additional concerns inside the school system — social, financial, ethical, cultural and technical — only add to the complexity. Empowerment and autonomy are required to embed an effective leadership model in an ever-changing educational setting. It requires a committed, passionate leadership team with the necessary skills to propel the school forward. But how can this leadership team make the changes required to improve the educational system?

How leaders can better the education system

We have come to realize that in today’s world, the only thing that seems to be constant is change. However, we need to spend more time considering how to manage change. The first step in implementing any change, significant or little, is to explain why the change is necessary and its desired advantages. This requires caution, and there should be many opportunities for colleagues to express their concerns and contribute their thoughts, views and opinions. Ideas may elicit some initial skepticism due to a lack of clarity, so only assume that your colleagues will grasp your concepts after further unpacking and explaining. Take the time to clarify your ideas as clearly as possible. You must complete this stage to avoid harming the change process before it has even begun. Before making significant changes in a school setting, here are some more things to consider:

Planning — The first stage is to create a 10-year plan that outlines your goals for the school and the community it serves. This demonstrates to everyone, including your pupils and their families, that you are in it for the long haul and that you are willing to make difficult decisions and deal with the consequences.

Standards — Higher achievement goals and criteria should be the focus of educational policies and activities. Measures should be created and implemented by the guiding principles of balance, consensus, openness and due process to meet market needs, along with technical, regulatory, safety, and societal catalysts for market competition and technological innovation. The adoption of these measures can be beneficial for both faculty mentors and students as they face different problems, and to help students understand and assess what they are studying for and towards.

Community — In recent decades, the education system has shifted away from teachers and local boards regarding who determines classroom and curriculum decisions. As a result, student outcomes have decreased. Leaders who recognize this tendency can advocate for a shift away from standardized control and toward community-based processes, such as community-elected school boards, which have the power and authority to decide how their pupils are educated. Involving parents in their children’s education as much as possible can also help students succeed. People banding together to send policymakers consistent messages about the changes they want to see in their education systems can only benefit children.

Engagement — Using the educational core — or focusing on interactions between educators, educational materials, and learners to increase student engagement — can help to identify any new strategies or innovations that may become community-based aids in students learning journeys. For example, even after only a short period, educators worldwide learned how to keep classrooms going during the Covid-19 pandemic. From that we have seen some new strategies that can potentially contribute to an enhanced educational experience, and several of these include engaging educators, learners and parents using new methods and approaches.

Pressure — One of the most severe faults in the American education system is the stress placed on pupils to perform well in school so they can get into a good institution. Because students are under such pressure, they focus solely on performing well rather than learning and gaining something useful from what they are taught.

The above points are a great way to improve the education system. However, if we do not improve the leadership teams, we will not be able to implement these changes. So, next we will look at how we can create positive change in leadership itself.

Improving leadership in education

Most leadership abilities are soft skills rather than hard skills. Some soft leadership skills can be taught through structured learning, no matter what educational leader career paths you choose. Online courses, such as the Ed.D at Marymount University, help individuals become more conscious of their behaviors and what is expected of them, unlocking the potential to enhance their leadership skills over time. Moreover, these courses might allow us to comprehend the philosophy behind distinct leadership styles.

Many educational leaders aspire to be transformational leaders within their schooling environment. A transformational leader is someone who is able to encourage, influence and motivate subordinates to create change in a constructive manner. Transformational leaders will work with staff to identify essential change and create a vision to guide it, while being able to see past their immediate self-interest. They often lead by example and look for a strong sense of organizational culture, team member ownership and autonomy in the workplace, inspiring individuals without micromanaging.

Understanding your leadership style opens the door to improving managerial skills harmoniously with your genuine character. Is your leadership style democratic, visionary, mentoring, affiliative, setting the pace, or commanding? You will be better equipped to learn how to enhance your leadership skills if you know where you fall in these areas. This is a fantastic starting point because your leadership style has inherent strengths and shortcomings. For example, if you have a democratic leadership style, you may struggle to deal with emergencies. Visionary leaders may lack the ability to plan and execute. Instead of accepting these characteristics as fixed, adopt a development attitude and commit to working on them.

One of the best ways to improve leadership within the education sector is to enhance the skills of leaders so that they can flourish and ultimately improve the system. Leadership abilities and qualities inspire, motivate and guide others. These abilities are helpful for everyone in a leadership position, whether at work, school or in your community. Delegating work and projects and being a strong communicator are all skills that can make someone a good leader. Below, we highlight some essential leadership skills you should be aware of.

Discipline — An excellent leader must be able to demonstrate discipline. Developing discipline is vital if you want to be a successful leader and inspire those around you to be successful also. Many will judge your leadership skills based on how disciplined you are at work. Show your job discipline by continuously delivering on promises, making appointments, meeting deadlines and finishing meetings on time. If you are inherently disorganized, you could find life challenging within your leadership role.

Proactive — Good leaders can anticipate possible problems before they occur. They can also devise methods to prevent problems from occurring. Good leaders are also aware of potential possibilities and seize them for the benefit of the firm and its people. In other words, take the initiative. Instead of waiting for things to happen, anticipate them and assist the team in being prepared if something goes wrong. For example, if you are a leader and a team member brings a problem to your attention, assist them in determining the root cause and putting preventive measures in place to ensure the school is not negatively impacted.

Learn — Nobody is always a leader. You could be a leader in one situation and a follower in another. However, even if you are a follower, you can improve your leadership abilities. First and foremost, learn from other leaders — what are they doing well or incorrectly? What changes would you make? Is there anything about their leadership style that you cannot replicate — for example, do they utilize humor to lighten the mood when you cannot, or do they use age and expertise to accord themselves authority? Then, based on your leadership experience, consider what you would like someone in the follower role to do.

Vision — As a leader, it is your responsibility to define the goals and vision for your institution and to communicate that vision to your staff. Giving them a clear path to follow makes it much easier for them to work together toward a similar objective. If you all share the same vision, you will work hard to realize it. Explain in detail how this goal would benefit the company and them as a result. Transparency is essential in this situation.

Passion — Leaders are enthusiastic, and as a result, they may inspire others to succeed. It is possible to tell the difference between someone who is merely working for money and someone passionate about what they do. When people are passionate about something, they naturally acquire leadership skills to guarantee that the work is done correctly.


As schools face unprecedented pressures from all sides, the challenges of guiding them to meaningful improvement have never been more significant. Once upon a time, a school leader was inevitably its principal, expected to preserve and perpetuate a stable knowledge base for use by society’s elite. However, we now expect schools to educate a much larger population for a rapidly changing global community with an expanding information base.

Influential school leaders are essential for large-scale, long-term educational reform. For a long time, educators believed that principals needed to be instructional leaders in order to be the influential leaders required for long-term innovation. Principals focus on developing teachers’ knowledge, skills and the professional community, while program consistency and technical resources are at the heart of a school’s capacity. An organization cannot thrive — at least not for long — only on the activities of its senior executive. Many leaders are required at various levels in schools and districts. Learning in context contributes to the development of such leaders. To some measure, the leaders that a school leader leaves behind will determine their efficacy in fostering a culture of sustainable change.

Each leader’s definition of good leadership is unique. Some leaders are quiet and serene, while others are boisterous and outgoing. No one personality type lends itself best to good leadership. That is a good thing since, at its core, leadership is about leading people, and people come in all shapes and sizes, so you want your leadership teams to reflect that.