effective leadership styles education
effective leadership styles education

5 effective leadership styles in education

Leading Education

Leadership in education can play an integral role in creating a positive school culture. It can also influence student learning and achievement. Effective school leadership is increasingly viewed as the key to far-reaching education transformation. With the right leadership approach, education heads can turn an average school into a successful one. Here are effective leadership styles in education that will prepare you to lead for impact.

Instructional leadership

The OECD report, Improving School Leadership suggests that effective school management generally comes from engagement in instructional leadership. There’s a growing body of evidence which shows that schools with instructional leadership outperform others. This coaching style of leadership concentrates on student learning outcomes by improving teaching quality. To realise this goal, school leaders adopt the responsibility for the professional development of teachers.

Instructional leadership involves the practice of planning, evaluation, coordination and improvement of teaching and learning. According to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, instructional leaders define the school’s mission, manage the instructional program, promote high expectations and provide incentives for teachers and students.  

Working directly with teachers, instructional leaders evaluate teacher performance and help advance their skills through mentoring and coaching. Becoming an instructional leader entails time spent solving pedagogical problems, taking action to improve teachers’ instruction, as well as holding teachers accountable for improving their instructional skills. This pursuit to improve learning within the school community requires leaders to have an in-depth understanding of pedagogy and practice themselves. 



Transformational leadership

Taking a collaborative approach, transformational leaders empower their school teams to have a say in decision-making processes and enable collective goal-setting. Through role modelling, these leaders create a culture of innovation and improvement and a shared sense of purpose. This sets the foundations for growth and success. 

Transformational leaders are able to influence school outcomes by outlining high-performance expectations, developing people through individual support, building productive relationships and providing instructional support. According to researcher Bernard Bass, the four attributes of transformational leadership are defined as idealised influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualised consideration.

Transformational leaders instil trust, admiration, loyalty and respect – which inspires teacher motivation, morale and performance. The influence exerted by transformational leaders has been described as “the generating of feelings.” Using charisma, compassion and emotional intelligence (EI), transformational leaders are able to monitor and manage not only their own emotions but those of others as well. This gives them the ability to energise their teams and drive successes.

Studies have shown that transformational leadership has a direct impact on teacher performance, with teachers willingly taking steps to improve their classroom practice. The findings also show that transformational leadership increases teacher job satisfaction and strengthens their commitment to professional growth. The result is improved student outcomes and lasting progress across the school system.

Constructivist leadership

This type of leadership is about facilitating the learning process, rather than directing it. At the core of the constructivist approach is that learners control their own learning, not teachers. Acknowledging that every learner understands, processes and gives meaning to lessons through their own reality, constructivism places a priority on customised teaching approaches that take into consideration individual learning needs.  

School leaders who embrace the constructivist model shift the focus within their school, from knowledge as a product to knowing as a process. Instruction and curriculum design under their leadership encourages the sharing of big ideas and challenging other’s perspectives. The classroom is seen as a place where ‘inquiry and co-construction dominate.’ Constructivist leaders expect teachers to engage in reflective practices and processes with their students and peers. The purpose of reflection is to challenge previous assumptions about teaching and learning and to rethink and reframe student participation.

Constructivist leadership is about immersing teachers in a culture of learning and enabling them to take risks. It’s not about dictating to teachers on how to deliver instructions – it’s about educating teachers that we are all learners. 

Servant leadership

This participatory style of leadership pushes the ego aside and considers the needs of others, rather than focus on self-interest. The philosophy behind servant leadership is that a “great leader must first serve others and that this simple fact is central to his or her greatness: true leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a desire to help others.” School leaders who practice servant leadership maintain high expectations; however, they also help teachers and students to develop their skills to improve their performance. These leaders instil the desire for improvement while maintaining a focus on both results and relationships.

The former president of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership identified the ten characteristics of servant leaders as: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualisation, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. Servant leaders are able to cultivate high-performance teachers by removing barriers, providing resources and opening communication channels with the whole school community. 

Sharing the power in decision-making, servant leaders motivate and persuade their school community to fulfil their long-standing vision. By engaging with teachers and students on what the school’s future should look like, servant leaders can implement structural changes that keep an eye on the bigger picture. Research shows that in the long-term servant leadership creates a positive and productive school environment.  



Strategic leadership

Strategic leadership is based on long-range planning. Through analysis, evaluation and monitoring, strategic leaders assess current school performance and take the necessary steps to improve future results. These leaders not only set the direction of the school by having an organisational vision, they create frameworks, set up interventions, allocate resources and maintain systems for reforms to take place.  

There are seven guiding principles of strategic leaders. Rather than focussing on day-to-day issues, strategic leaders are future-orientated and prepare for an uncertain destiny. These leaders base their decisions on evidence and research. Drawing on data that demonstrates school learning outcomes, strategic leaders will respond with the most suitable approach – whether that’s staff training, reviewing policies and procedures, or fostering a culture based on achievements. Innovation is at the heart of a strategic leader’s mission – they’re always looking for ways to improve the school environment – whether that’s relationship building, embracing diversity or creating partnerships with parents. Strategic leaders invest in partnerships across the school community and use the power of collective thinking to build a values-based school were transparency, ethics and accountability are the cornerstones of their leadership.  

Studies show that using strategy as a tool to manage an educational organisation is at the heart of developing successful schools in the long term. Aligning organisational structures, processes, culture and people behind a strategic focus is critical to this success. 

Why does leadership matter?

Great school leadership is the bedrock for great schools. Evidence suggests that effective leadership is essential to creating a learning environment where every student has access to high-quality education. Teachers who pursue postgraduate education in leadership will be able to support effective teaching and learning strategies, keep pace with transformation across the education industry and inject new thinking into schools.  

Find out more about learning these skills and more by studying a Master of Education with ECU Online.