2 Styles of school leadership

As identified by the NCF and the CEP definition, culture is established not only in actions taken but also in the relationships that are built. The next activity will help you to consider the impact of different styles of school leadership on school culture.

Activity 2: Leadership styles

Read the descriptions of school leaders in Table 2. Think of the school leaders you have known since you were a student, as well as those in your peer group. Which box in Table 2 would they go in, based on the description that fits them best according to your perspective? Think about which box you would go in too. Write your reflections of what you noticed in your Learning Diary.

Table 2 Leadership styles.
Relationship-oriented leader

Task-oriented leader

HighThe leader is very interested in the growth and development of their staff and students. They are often in class, leading teaching and learning, modelling good practice, and supporting the students. They take a deep interest in their work, do it well and in time, and ensure that staff and students are involved in the decision making. Everyone feels that the leader knows and supports them to get better.The leader is very focused on getting the work done to perfection and well in time. They feel that it is a waste of time to check whether their decisions are acceptable to staff and students, and see it as their job. If they enter a class, the leader is more interested in the time spent on a task than on supporting the teachers to get better; they often take over from the teacher, since they can teach better than the teacher can. Everyone feels that they have to prove they are better than the others.
LowThe leader is most interested in spending time socially with the staff and students. They are very sympathetic to the difficulties they face but prefer to discuss tasks that need to be done with staff. They work with a view to getting a task completed, without much attention to detail. Everyone feels that the leader likes them.The leader keeps to themselves, and may get the work done so that it is submitted, without any interest in the work or in the growth and development of the teachers and students. There is limited social interaction and work is done in a minimal way. Everyone feels that the leader does not know their capabilities.

Of course, this activity provides a very rudimentary understanding of different styles of leadership. In real life, the task- and relationship-oriented axes represent a spectrum, with very few people demonstrating all of the characteristics described of one zone of Table 2. However, it is useful to reflect on what implicit messages these four ‘styles’ of leader might give about the school’s culture, as illustrated by the examples in Case Study 1.

Case Study 1: Four school leaders with different styles

Mrs Balasubramanian

Mrs Balasubramanian is well-respected by the parents, who appreciate her open style communication and the way she invites them regularly to the school for information evenings, but also to ask their opinions about changes in the school. Their children used to come home complaining about the lack of order in the school, and how some students disrupted classes.

This has improved since Mrs Balasubramanian introduced a school council and gave students responsible roles such as keeping order in the corridors when classes change. She did not just give out these roles to the most able students, but took care to offer roles to both male and female students, different social groups, and to students who struggled with school work but worked hard. She knew the name of every student in the school and also took care to know her staff so that she could support them individually to do a good job. As a result, both the staff and students found Mrs Balasubramanian very approachable and willing to help. Because she so obviously believed in them and their abilities, they in turn did not want to disappoint her.

Mrs Balasubramanian has a high task/high relationship orientation.

Mrs Dasgupta

Mrs Dasgupta is a dedicated and conscientious school leader who carries the burden of her responsibility very seriously. She knows THAT if she wants a good job done, she will probably have to do it herself. She has a clear vision about how she wants the school to operate, how students should learn and how teachers should teach. Although her teachers respect her organisation and hard work, generally they would not describe Mrs Dasgupta as supportive. Some say that they feel she does not trust them. Staff meetings tend to consist of Mrs Dasgupta giving instructions and advice, and it is difficult to offer up ideas or alternative suggestions.

Students’ experience in the classroom is variable, as some teachers lack motivation and Mrs Dasgupta seems to be quite remote – they only really see her in the distance and none of them can recall her taking any particular interest in them as individuals.

Mrs Dasgupta has a high task/low relationship orientation.

Mrs Haldar

Mrs Haldar is always careful to take on board everyone’s views about the school. She will often worry a lot about how to address feedback from a parent or how to deal with a complaint by the neighbours. She was recently very preoccupied with a comment from a visiting local education officer, who remarked that the displays were a bit old and battered.She instructed every teacher to prioritise some new displays before he called again – and was disappointed that he did not even seem to notice any change.

Mrs Haldar can feel a bit overwhelmed by the demands of her staff and SMC, as she hates to disappoint and tries hard to please everyone. (This is of course is not possible, as sometimes their request conflict with each other.) Sometimes she feels that her whole day is taken up with dealing with people rather than getting on with her own teaching, or the monitoring and reporting that she needs to do.

She shows kindness and compassion towards the students, and is always ready to give her time to sorting their problems as far as she can. She feels that there is not a lot she can do to change their lives, however, as they come from such poor families and the school has only limited resources.

Mrs Haldar has a low task/high relationship orientation.

Mr Magar

Mr Magar believes that he runs a good school.He does not sit down all day – he visits classrooms regularly to ask teachers questions or call on their time. He does not have time to run staff meetings and they often get cancelled at the last minute. The motivated staff tend to organise their own support between them, sharing ideas and problems.Some feel resentful about this, as they feel Mr Magar should be helping them more – and they don’t quite know what he does with his time.The less motivated staff keep themselves to themselves and one of them, who had been at the school for two terms, realised last week that Mr Magar did not even know her name.

The students lack direction and motivation in most lessons.There are a few good teachers whose lessons they value, but often the lessons are dull and repetitive.

Mr Magar receives communications and directives from the DIET and SCERT, but is never quite sure what to do about them or how he might enlist the help of others on his team; in fact, he has no idea who has skills that he might use.

Mr Magar has a low task/low relationship orientation.

Having thought about the different ways that a school culture expresses itself and the way it can be influenced by leadership style, it is now important to reflect on your own role in the culture of your school.

It is not just what we do, but how we do things that helps establish the school culture. The next activity will help you reflect on how you take action as a leader, and the implications of this on the school’s culture.

Activity 3: The role of leadership in determining school culture

Think of two leadership scenarios where you have taken action. This may, for example, be supporting a teacher developing their practice, making a change to school policies or rules, changing the way the curriculum is structured or taught, or taking specific actions to improve female students’ participation in class. Using your Learning Diary, record your responses to the following points:

  • Reflect on your approach for each of the two examples you have thought about. What characterises the approach you took? Were there particular reasons for this approach?
  • Consider each scenario in turn from the perspective of others who were involved (parents, staff, students, other stakeholders). What messages about school culture do you feel they took from your approach?


You may have found it challenging to think about which characteristics would be identified by others involved in the scenario. For example, you may think that you demonstrated openness, but others’ experiences of trying to organise an appointment time to see you suggests otherwise. Equally, there may have been particular circumstances about the scenario that made it challenging to act the way you would have wished. It may be that you were under significant pressure to achieve a change quickly, which led to a lack of reciprocal collaboration. However, considering how others are interpreting your leadership style as a comment on the school culture you want to establish is important. Asking yourself the following questions regularly may help:

  • What types of interactions and actions am I modelling in dealing with this issue?
  • What messages may others take from how I am acting or interacting?
  • What opportunities does this issue give me in establishing or reinforcing the culture that we want to create?

If you feel able to, it is very useful to ask others to provide feedback to you about how they perceived your leadership, as you can otherwise only guess at this. This can take a lot of confidence, and you may decide to start by sharing the above activity with one member of staff who you feel you can trust to provide honest, fair and supportive opinions.

Figure 3 A task- and relationship-oriented school leader.

1 What is school culture and how does it impact on learning?

3 Identifying and analysing the culture in your school