5 Leadership approaches

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 timeframe. 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.

Case Study 3: Mr Rawool struggles to make changes

Mr Rawool is school leader of a public school in East Delhi. His passion from childhood has been to help others, which was his motivation to train as a teacher. He describes his approach like this:

Since he became school leader two years ago, Mr Rawool has faced challenges in dealing with some of his staff. Although he is confident in his ability to teach and support new teachers to deliver productive lessons, he has had some difficulty dealing with a number of very experienced teachers.

Mr Rawool’s efforts are welcomed by most of the teachers, but he is not making any significant progress with three of his most experienced staff. Some of his principles are unfamiliar to them, and they claim that their methods are more appropriate because they believe that the students learn best when they listen to the teacher lecturing.

Activity 3: Advice to Mr Rawool

What advice would you give to Mr Rawool? How would you approach this change process and engage the three experienced staff? Note down your ideas in your Learning Diary.


Typical barriers to successful change include lack of commitment in implementation, resistance from some participants, inadequate resourcing and unforeseen changes in the environment that the change is situated in. In the case of Mr Rawool’s staff, we can deduce that the key barriers to change are long-standing attitudes and practices that are believed to work best. Your advice probably involved engaging with the three teachers either individually or together. It may have involved a ‘whole team’ approach where the staff group together ‘sign up’ to his approach. It is always important to recognise your teachers’ achievements and experience as any new ideas or approaches need to build on these. As you read through the next section, consider how far your suggested approach fits with the leadership styles outlined.

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.

Activity 4: The leader as motivator

Reflect on some of the changes you have experienced as a teacher or a school leader. It might be a good experience or you may have had reservations about the changes (for example, the introduction of activity-based learning in your school, or implementing revised guidance on multi-level classes). Describe in your Learning Diary how you:

  • were motivated by the leader
  • motivated others as a leader
  • kept yourself motivated as the leader.


All leaders will also have to deal with their own feelings about change, and an awareness of how change commonly affects people will help with this. During a change period, it is a leader’s job to ensure that they maintain a positive attitude both individually and in the school community. It is essential that school leaders do all they can to create a working environment where everyone is able to make sense of what is going on and cope with the changes. If change is imposed without sufficient discussion, consultation and explanation, most people will have difficulty in reacting positively.

Case Study 4: Ms Patel describes her worries as a school leader

As the school leader, Ms Patel was fairly happy with the progress made by the school in recent months, but she remained worried about certain issues. She distinguished between her role as a manager and her role as a leader, to describe her worries.

As a manager, Ms Patel was satisfied that the school had the necessary teams to handle issues of governance, finances, physical resources, staff development, communication and school development. In addition, there were various teams involved in curriculum planning and monitoring, managing assessment, and supporting learners with specific learning needs. She organised attendance at all the training, workshops and discussion forums organised by the state authority and DIET. She ensured that teachers who attended training and workshops reported back on what they had learnt at the next staff meeting and wrote a report to the SMC.

As a leader, Ms Patel remained concerned that although subject teams were well established, they met irregularly, kept inaccurate minutes and did not follow up on action points. Ms Patel observed that nothing much changed following the team meetings and that group discussions following training were superficial and infrequent, with people having little time or energy to be enthusiastic about them. Reflection on practice was still very limited and did not appear to change practice.

Ms Patel’s staff seemed willing to cooperate and would normally try to implement changes that she suggested. However, they did not really engage with the issues, suggest new things or implement change themselves. In fact, they seemed somehow jaded, and fell into what could be described as ‘survival mode’ rather than being the impassioned innovators that she had hoped to nurture. She felt that the school needed to rediscover a sense of purpose and a passion for learning.

Activity 5: The importance of a team approach

How would you approach such a situation? Address the points below, making notes in your Learning Diary.

  • How far does this case description compare with the situation in your school?
  • What advice could you offer to Ms Patel to help her revitalise her school?
  • Draw up an action plan for Ms Patel.


There are no ‘right’ answers to this activity. You should think about Ms Patel’s particular situation in order to help you to engage with issues of teamwork and self-evaluation at your own school. Many schools are like this school, with the staff simply ‘going through the motions’ and drifting from day to day – conforming, rather than transforming. Fundamental to addressing the kind of staff malaise experienced by Ms Patel is the need to understand the situation that staff find themselves in. If you understand where their lack of enthusiasm comes from, perhaps you can engage with them in a more appropriate and sensitive way.

4 Planning and leading change

6 Overcoming barriers to change