Enabling Visions

Notes from reading this article by Dr Paul Browning on ‘Creating the conditions for transformational change’.


 Photo by Trey Ratcliff

As a teacher committed to driving change and innovation in my school, the ideas raised in this article are important to reflect on in order to develop and progress elements of my practice.

Whatever your education vision may be, creating the conditions for the vision to become a reality can be difficult. Browning begins this article by referencing Blanchard & Hodges (2005) and reflects that there is a major difference between management (maintaining the ‘status quo‘) and leadership (‘influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation‘) before moving to explore the concept of transformational leadership. Transformational leadership was introduced by Burns (1978) who defined the concept as an approach where ‘leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.’ (See here). Browning synthesises the work of Bartram & Casimir (2007) and reflects that ultimately, ‘transformational leadership energises people by providing them with an exciting vision for the future rather than providing them with rewards and punishments’.

Six behaviours or elements of transformational leadership are offered from Podsakoff, Mackenzie, Moorman and Fetter’s 1990 framework.

  • Identifying and articulating a vision
  • Providing an appropriate model
  • Fostering an acceptance of group goals
  • High performance expectations
  • Providing individualised support
  • Intellectual stimulation

The implications of this research, Browning suggests, are that relationships between all stakeholders in any vision for change need to be strong and that trust should be at the heart of this. Staff must trust in their leaders because changing the ‘status quo’ evokes uncertainty. Browning’s research has found an ‘inextricable link’ between trust and change: ‘the more a leader is trusted…the more they are able to bring about transformational change.’

The benefits of good leadership (and trust) are then considered with research into Ofsted results quoted that showed the effect of positive leadership on pupil attainment. Without good leadership, the research suggests, standards of achievement will not rise. In addition, the benefits include improvements in cooperation, openness and, ultimately, student achievement. More research is explored with specific data that showed schools with ‘weak trust reports’ had almost no chance of showing academic improvement in reading or mathematics.

So, how can a leader establish a relationship of trust?

This is where Browning’s research project is discussed. Transformational school leaders were studied and key themes and connections in their practices identified. The intricacies of research into the subjective notion of trust were considered prior to commencing research and, inevitably, ‘no one practice alone [could] engender the collective trust of a staff.’ However, the research revealed 10 key practices of trusted transformational leaders:

  1. Openly admits mistakes
  2. Offers trust to staff
  3. Actively listens
  4. Provides affirmation
  5. Makes informed/consultative decisions
  6. Is visible around the school
  7. Remains calm and level-headed
  8. Mentors and coaches staff
  9. Cares for staff
  10. Keeps confidences

These behaviours, Browning goes on to explain, should be developed and built. Trust is not something that can be assumed to develop over time. A rubric has been created encompassing these behaviours and it is suggested that this could be used as a self-evaluation or performance management tool towards an individual’s growth as a leader.

It is noted that these behaviours are useful for any level of leader, not just ‘principles’ or head teachers.

The final paragraph of Browning’s article summarises why it is so important to consider the research into trust and leadership. If schools are to develop and reflect the changing landscape of our world, transformational leaders are needed. If we wish to move away from the ‘status quo’ of our education system, significant changes need to be made. Reflecting on the issue of the generation and importance of trust will support schools in innovating and moving forwards, together.

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