Transformational Change in Education

The International School Principal as a Transformational Leader during times of change and crisis.


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The world around us is going through very fast paced changes. The exponential technological growth, frequent financial downturns, globalization, international political instability and, as most recently highlighted, global medical emergencies, are forcing organizations around the world to some form and degree of transformational changes. Businesses are constantly trying to react to the new challenges in such ways that will allow them to effectively sustain their profitability, competitive advantages and if possible, to become more competitive and grow their profits in order for them to secure their future survival. Although changes are meant to be stimulating in an organization, they are frequently met with negative emotions such as stress and fear. And these emotionstend to result in resistance and thus organizational crisis.People tend to perceive the need for change as a threat regardless of changes being large or small, real or imagined, intended or unintended (Palmer, Dunford & Akin, 2009). Such circumstances can however be seen as opportunities for effective leaders who have the right skillset to drive organizational change. Reardon et al. (1998)suggest that changes can be accepted only with the contribution of effective leadership that will make people understand the benefits from change and will reinforce their willing to change.As an educator I have always been interested in finding ways of improving education for all learners. I firmly believe that the Principal is the key individual who can influence a school’s success.

The objectives of this study is to examine and study a leader’s role in an international school setting. More specifically when dealing with transformational changes or a crisis and what they should do to manage them in order to get a positively successful outcome whilst maintaining the Organisation’s (school’s) survival. The main research questions to be answered in this study are: 1. Which factors influence transformational changes to fail? 2. How do transformational changes cause organizational crisis? 3. What are the leaders’ competencies to lead change and crisis? 4. What needs to be done for successful transformational changes? What is the Principal’s (Head’s, Headmaster’s) role as the key leader in this organisation? The head of the school unit addresses a variety of issues on a daily basis in an effort to effectively perform his/her role. Is every Head prepared for crisis management and transformational change? This last question is very important as an organisation can plan change and ensure the people with the appropriate skillset are leading the process but a crisis cannot be predicted and this may be detrimental. In order for the headmaster to fulfil his/her role and improve the management of the school unit, I consider it appropriate to give institutional assistance to the managerial role of the headmaster and begin to consolidate serious leadership training. Finally I would like to demonstrate how transformational leaders should act, and what are the characteristics, the competencies and the skills that they must possess to overcome any obstacles and motivate employees (teachers and admin staff) to react positively during organisational changes or a crisis.


Literature review

The extensive literature on leadership has identified a number of theories and subsequently produced a number of different leadership models. It is interesting to note that in 2004 whilst conducting a survey, Northouse came to the conclusion that “there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are people who have tried to define it” (Northouse, 2004).Trying to focus at educational and school leadership, one notices that the literature is vast and thus it is impossible do justice to all the available sources in a single paper. Trying to give a definition to school leadership is almost impossible and as Yukl (2002) suggests: “the definition of leadership is arbitrary and very subjective”. One aspect where researchers seem to agree is that leadership implies some form of influence. Leithwood et al (1999) say that “influence… seems to be a necessary part of most conceptions of leadership”. Cuban (1988) also refers to leadership as an influence process. “Leadership, then refers to people who bend the motivations and actions of others to achieving certain goals; it implies taking initiatives and risks”. The above definition indicates that influence is a purposeful process and that its intention is to lead to specific outcomes.

Kotter (1995) believes that leaders are the drivers for changes in organisations and Deal & Kennedy (2000) take this concept one step further by suggesting that effective leadership brings effective changes. At this point it is important to introduce transformational leadership. Leadership has evolved over time from a participative and task driven to a transformational leadership style; effective leaders can be both participative and directive to their efforts for successful and effective outcomes (Meyer & Kirsten, 2005).Beer & Nohria (2000) believe that it is the leader’s duty to “crack” the change code, to deeply comprehend both the nature and the process of the changes for these changes to be successful. According to Leithwood (1994) there are eight dimensions of transformational leadership: building a school vision, establishing school goals, providing intellectual stimulation, offering individualized support, modeling best practices, demonstrating expectations, creating a healthy school culture and developing structures that foster participation in school decisions.These eight dimensions are similar to Kotter’s (1996) eight step change model: Establish a sense of urgency, create a guiding coalition, develop a vision and strategy, communicate the change vision, empower action, create short-term wins, don’t let up, anchor new changes. Day et al., (2000) link these steps with effective school leadership and found effective principals to define core values of the institution that they head, set the vision to be translated into action which would let in rising the expectations of the stakeholders, also set direction, create conducive environment for teaching and learning process, restructure the organisational parts and remodel leadership roles and responsibilities.

Changes may be planned or a response to external and often sudden variables such as an economic crisis or a pandemic. Beal (2007) adds that a crisis appears to be new unexpected situation to the organization, outside its typical structure, therefore, the unpredictable need for change that comes unplanned may also trigger further organizational crises (Todnem, 2005).

Leading change is thus one of the most important and difficult responsibilities for leaders who deal with change. It entails inspiring, guiding, encouraging, and facilitating followers‘ effort to adopt changes in order to improve or even survive their business, which for some authors this is cornerstone of leadership (Yukl, 2013).According to Anderson & Anderson (2001) transformational change is the most complicated type of change that organisations need to confront. Transformation implies significant change from one condition to another, which may completely change the way individuals see their work, their customers and themselves.Employees are key to the change journey and play a pivotal role in both the duration and success of the change process. The literature on emotions during change is separated in two parts. The first part focuses on employees’ behaviour as a result of emotions evoked during change (Avey et al., 2008). The second part looks at psychological models that explain how emotions relate to the employees’ behaviour during the change process (Liu &Perrewe, 2005). Employees may approach change in a positive way and thus support the process or in a negative way as a result of fear and anxiety. This negative approach may reign in change (Huy,2002) as it usually leads to resistance. The psychologist Kübler-Ross’ change curve presents five phases of emotions people experience when going through a change process: Denial (shock), Anger (resistance), Bargaining (exploration), Depression, Acceptance (commitment). In 2006 Cullberg and Lundin suggested four moods that apply to these phases: It won’t affect me, I don’t want to, What is it all about?, Ok, I am in.

Emotions throughout the transition phase (Austin and Currie, 2003)

Research shows that organizations‘ transformational efforts fail to succeed at a worrying percentage of 70% (Hughes, 2011).Many researchers and authors seem to agree that the prime reason for this failure of change initiatives is employees’ resistance to change. People have a naturaltendency to perceive the need for change as a threat. This perception appears to be unrelated to how large or small, real or imagined, intended or unintended the changes are (Palmer, Dunford & Akin, 2009).

Van Toder (2004) adds that change, without any exception, is a particularly stressful situation with negative outcomes that largely depends on the method and approaches leaders use during the change process. Employees prefer to stick to their traditional way of working rather than acquiring new methods(Ansoff, 1990). This reality contradicts Miller’s (2012) suggestion that employees must be ready and willing to accept changes and leaders must transform their organisations on a regular basis in order to remain competitive. Both organisations and employees must realize the value and purpose of the change initiatives, how they are of benefit to them and manage to maintain them for a long time.



This study will adopt a combination of the quantitative (literature review) method and the qualitative research method. The primary research data will be drawn from surveys, interviews and a questionnaire that will be shared with teachers and school leaders from different parts of the world in order to have a valid, reliable and truly international sample. Due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic at the present time, the literature review seems appropriate since many restrictions are in effect and thus a limited access to support. The necessary information for this study will be collected from a variety of sources that are available online; books, articles and scientific publications that discuss leadership, transformational changes and leadership of crises. This approach will help us identify the experts on this field and thus form the foundation for future advice.

For the primary data, a multiple choice questionnaire in the format of a Google form will be distributed to schools in different parts of the world and the data collected will allow for a practical understanding of the teachers’ and Principals’ knowledge of leadership styles and their real life application within an international school setting. Earlier research and literature will be used as a framework to define the interview questions, manage data collection and data analysis. Therefore, this study will have the characteristics of a deductive approach.The following sample questions help the reader understand the type of data the writer hopes to get:

  1. Are you i) a teacher, ii) a Senior Leader, iii) a Principal?
  2. Do you have a Principal’s qualification (NPQH, Master’s degree in educational leadership etc.)?
  3. Are you familiar with Kotter’s eight step change model?
  4. Have you been part of / led transformational change?
  5. Was the process successful?
  6. Rank the following parameters that influence transformational change: staff fear/anxiety, communication of vision, timeline – time available, leader’s ability to gain trust, leader’s autonomy to lead transformational change.

Another source of primary data will be interviews with 2 Principals and the Chairman of Governors of the writer’s current environment.

The qualitative research comes though with certain assumptions and is to an extend subjective in nature. According to Creswell (1994): “For a qualitative researcher, the only reality is that constructed by the individuals involved in the research situation”.The writer will have to move from the survey and interview participants’ views to some broader themes. This is the balance point between this method and the literature review and the writer aspires to provide concrete outcomes that will support future leaders apply informed approaches when dealing with change and crises that have either imposed the need for change or were a by-product of transformational change.The aim of the research istherefore not only to evaluate existing theory but to gather new information’s and facts which will give more insights.

The survey and interviews will be conducted in November 2020 and the participants will be informed regarding the voluntary nature of their participation, the use of their responses only in the context of the present investigation as well as the anonymity of their participation and responses.


Analysis of findings

When comparing primary and secondary data,the aim is to identify how close or how far existing literature is in relation to real life examples from across the world. The writer aspires to get a big number of survey responses that will give high credibility to the conclusions drawn. The data will allow to identify global or regional trends and will highlight educators’ perception on the parameters that influence the success or failure of change or crisis leadership within an educational organisation. The data will be analysed by participants’ gender, age, level of education, level of responsibility, years of experience, frequency of experiencing / leading change / crisis.














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