Transformational leadership effects on schools: A myth or reality?

Transformational leadership is a productive approach in leading organizations. Generally, schools that had undergone remodeling used such an approach under certain conditions.

However, transformational leadership has turned into a hot topic to be investigated systematically in school contexts. As mentioned, this model to leadership basically targets to engage capability development and improved levels of personal commitment to an organization’s goals on the part of the leaders’ colleagues.

This article will be looking into the findings of Leithwood & Jantzi in their article, Transformational School Leadership Effects: A Replication.

Transformational leadership group dynamics

What are the conditions faced in the context of transformational leadership?

These “conditions” consist of decisions and actions taken outside the classroom but within the school. This aims to enhance the “teaching and learning” environment in the classroom.

However, in spite of Hallinger and Heck’s (1998) purposes and goals of instructional leadership, we had perceived “school planning” as a separate entity as in school condition.

In effect, this does not exclude the approaches used for decisions on mission and objectives, and on the action plans executed for their own success. Besides that, “organizational culture” also plays a role in school-level mediating variable.

For classroom conditions, these refer to the decisions and actions directly linked to the “teaching and learning” environment in the classroom.

This closely resembles Scheerens’ (1997) conception of classroom-level variables. In lieu to that, student participation in schools has both behavioral and affective elements.

The research approach

In this study,  Leithwood & Jantzi obtained the data about all variables aforementioned in the framework through two distinctive surveys in one large school district in central Canada. The district with a population of around 400,000 served elementary and secondary students. Likewise, this ranged from not only urban, but to rural area, made up of approximately 57,000 students in total.

There were two survey instruments used for data collection. One survey gathered data from teachers on school and classroom conditions, and on the practices and integration of transformational leadership.

The second survey collected substantial evidence from students on their engagement with school and their family’s educational cultures.

All teachers in the district took part in the “Organizational Conditions and School Leadership Survey”. The aim of this study is to investigate the effects of transformational leadership practices on school organizational conditions and student engagement with school.

In addition, this took into account the potentially large, moderating effects of family educational culture.

The results: A myth from reality

As a result, transformational leadership approaches have a mediocre but statistically significant effect on the psychological dimension of student engagement.

The size of these effects is approximately the same as those found for the effects of leadership provided specifically by principals in two of the other studies by Leithwood and Jantzi, which also used student engagement as an important factor.

Nevertheless, the best explanation is that principals and transformational leadership practices make a disappointing contribution to student engagement.

In fact, student engagement is a product linked directly to teachers’ classroom practices and not the leadership. Accordingly, this notion of leadership goes back to the term, “romance of leadership” (Meindl, 1995). This argument puts leadership as a convenient, phenomenologically legitimate, social construction. Hence, this disguises a multitude of influences on organizational outcomes including teachers’ practices.

Consequently, people stick to the idea of leadership in part because it provides a simple explanation for organizational effects that otherwise would defy their understanding.

Apart from that, leadership has very small effect on student engagement. Transformational school leadership practices do explain a large proportion of the value-sided variation in school rather than classroom climates. Furthermore,

Furthermore, large proportion of variation in student engagement explained by family educational culture raises the possibility that different student outcomes may range considerably in their sensitivity to family, as compared with school, variables.

Limitation and reflection

For the limitation of the study, further research needs to include a wider set of student outcome variables. These may resemble the general set of academic, social, and psychological outcomes included in the curricula of most schools.

Second, such research would step up its conception and parameters of “student background” variables, focusing on a quite specific sub-set of variables.  These may likely justify other factors influencing students’ accomplishment credited to background variables.

Finally, the premise of this study tries to debunk the myth of a transformational leader that Leithwood himself worked on for years.    This humbling gesture from an established researcher reveals the nature of educational research as a dynamic field.  Although leadership plays only second to teaching, still it is a key factor in any organization.

Leaders must always aspire to be transformational leaders that promote better teaching practices and learning strategies.

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