Published in The Border Mail as ‘Invest in our teachers and reap the rewards’ on 28 September

Teachers as transformational leaders is not a new concept. It has been explored by corporate gurus’ time and again in turning the education system around. Recently, a similar concept was used in Detroit, USA where corporate trainers, educationists and researchers aligned their brain power and resources to jump start one of the most challenging school systems in the world. The positive results provide empirical evidence against the validity and reliability of the concept.

Transformational leaders as the name suggests are the ones who change the culture for the better. I hear you wondering, “Teachers are not leaders. They don’t lead.” Teachers change mindsets and beliefs to empower individuals. That’s exactly what change leaders do. Teachers lead their classrooms full of students, whether in kindergarten, primary, secondary or tertiary education. No matter what we call them – trainers, facilitators or teachers – they all lead and have the power to initiate change and then blossom it.

The concept of transformational leadership is underpinned by one word ‘purpose’. An individual who finds his purpose in this world has the potential to change underlying beliefs. Simon Sinek reminded us in these tough times of the pandemic to find our ‘Why’ behind what we do. A teacher needs to find her ‘Why’. Why is she/he a teacher? For materialist gain or for empowering young or adult minds. The day this why aligns with intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation, that day our teacher will take her/his first step towards transforming lives.

What do our transformational-leader-teachers look like? They teach because it’s their calling. And not because of rewards or material gain. They don’t stand in front of the students to teach a specific topic or a subject but to inculcate a love for learning. What better way to do it than to model their own thirst for learning!

Their goals are not short-term increase in test scores but holistic development of their students’ personalities. They raise expectations and not reduce them. They don’t avoid conflict but find solutions. They don’t tell colleagues to not stress over students who don’t want to learn. Rather they encourage exploration and motivate others to experiment. They discuss crossing categories and creating relationships that would influence the troubled students. They believe in the impossible. They believe in change. And change is progress!

These teachers like great leaders are oriented towards achievement and goal accomplishment. They are not easily bogged down by small failures. They are tough and resilient. They have cognitive abilities and emotional intelligence. They keep growing.

Think of the time when a teacher first steps into a classroom. It’s not an easy task to maintain discipline, be creative and set high expectations all at the same time, while building rapport with the students to achieve the required learning outcomes. Somewhere on the way to acquiring all these skills, our teacher learns survival skills instead. This is the easy way out suggested by her/his veteran colleagues. Once a teacher learns to survive in a classroom, the learning stops. If you take challenge out of the context, there is no room left for learning. It’s smooth sailing at a steady pace along the same line with no improvement spikes. This is where you enter a comfort zone deciding not to stretch as it brings unease and stress with it. Therefore, a teacher’s progress stops, curtailing those of his/her students in the process.

If teachers find their purpose, they can all be transformational leaders. This purpose to learn and progress will help develop a genuine connection with their students. Their approach towards holistically developing themselves will contribute towards students’ all-inclusive development.

Leaders need to expand their repertoire and so do our teachers!  They need to adopt cross-dimensional models. They need to be controlling and flexible both. They need to be collaborative and competitive. Goal-oriented and creative. They need to embrace competing values. They may have some inherent qualities, but they need to develop others to be at the top of their game.

None of this is possible unless our teachers stretch and challenge themselves. Develop a growth mindset and a can-do attitude. Be openminded to interpretations regarding learning disabilities and giftedness alike. Willing to differentiate instruction. Revise learning plans and improvise to meet the learner’s needs. Innovate themselves and their teaching style. Keep abreast with the latest research and take charge of their own professional development. If each teacher teaches on average 21 students per year, then even if we have 100 transformational leaders then we will churn 2100 future transformational leaders each year. The growth will be exponential if we focus on transforming our teachers and creating change leaders out of them.  Invest in our teachers to reap meteoric benefits in every field.


About the writer… 

The writer is an Education and Career Consultant who has two gifted children. She is a professional member of the Career Development Association of Australia. She has a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering, Graduate Certificate in Careers Education and Development (RMIT) and Certificate of Gifted Education (UNSW). She also holds a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and Certificate of Fashion Illustration.

She worked for a multinational engineering manufacturing industry before switching to career counselling, professional development, writing, teaching, and case management.  She has worked in the British and American schooling systems and is now consulting with Australian schools. Her diverse experience of working around the globe in the education and corporate sector and strong academic background enables her to see the bigger picture.