Make your educational leadership style work for you

As an education leader, you play a pivotal role in your district’s success. Let ThoughtExchange help you engage your community and enhance your leadership style.
Trusted by:

May 15, 2023

Sarah Mathias

5 Effective Leadership Styles in Education—How to Make Them Work for You

5 minutes

As an education leader, you play a pivotal role in your district’s success—from guiding students along their learning paths to providing safe, inclusive school environments, to making important budget decisions. And although the last few years have been especially challenging, you need to keep showing up and doing your job well. Your community depends on it.

So how do you do it right? There are many educational leadership styles to work with. Here, we discuss five effective leadership styles in education and how to make them work for you.

See ThoughtExchange in Action — Start the Product Tour

In this Article

What are educational leadership styles?

Leadership in education is a key component of a positive school culture and profoundly impacts student learning and achievement. In fact, with the right approach, effective school leadership can provide the key to education transformation, changing an average school or district into a successful one.

Using effective leadership practices in schools is crucial to providing an appropriate learning environment for students. There is no “best” leadership style in education—leaders can apply different leadership methods based on needs.

Leadership styles may vary. And from instructional to democratic to transformative, not all educational leadership styles are equal. Let’s look at some of the most effective styles and how to make them work for you and your district.

The 5 most effective educational leadership styles

When choosing a leadership style, consider your district’s and community’s needs. What will work best for them? Here are some of the most effective leadership styles and how to make them work for you.

Instructional leadership

Instructional leadership focuses on teaching quality. Schools focus on developing teachers to ensure their students get the best possible learning experience.

Coaching leadership

Coaching is effective for long-term development. It encourages teachers and students to experiment with new ways to develop their strengths and be more aware of their weaknesses. This increases self-awareness and helps individuals focus on their strengths.

Democratic leadership

Democratic leadership encourages peers to discuss their problems and collaborate to find a solution. School administrators use it to solve problems, make curriculum decisions, or work out issues with how the school is functioning. Teachers use democratic leadership to foster collaboration, communication, and teamwork in their students—all of which help them succeed in their future lives.
Example: Douglas SD has seen success with democratic leadership in the Apaptive Schools program. Read their story.

Constructivist leadership

Constructivism allows students to deepen their understanding of what they’re learning by interacting with one another and exploring their perspectives on a particular topic or issue. It empowers and builds confidence.

Using this leadership style, teachers start with a problem and let their students find solutions. They also encourage their students to share ideas, collaborating to solve problems together.

When teachers give students opportunities to explore, discover, and create, students develop skills that will help them succeed in college and beyond

Example: Elgin School District U-46 exemplified constructivist leadership when creating their African American studies course with student input. Read their story.

Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership is an effective way to teach and run a school. Following this model, educators—deans, principals, professors, and teachers—lead by example. This style focuses on role-modeling, where leaders influence, inspire, and encourage employees to deliver positive change.

A transformational leader will work with teams beyond their immediate self-interests to identify needed change and create a vision to guide it.

Leaders create an innovative culture in the school by inspiring others. As a result, people running the education institute share a sense of purpose and are also given a chance to have their voices heard during the decision-making process.

Example: Saddleback Valley USD is successfully using transformational leadership to include the community in district planning. Read their story.
Explore all the features and benefits of ThoughtExchange, in depth, at your own convenience.
Watch Product Tour

Include your community in decision-making to enhance your leadership style

Whatever leadership style you choose, from instructional to transformational to any style in between, include your community for the best results. Creating an inclusive environment for your district and your schools, where you tap into your community’s insights—and use them—is key.

Our partners are doing educational leadership right. They’re using ThoughtExchange to enhance and broaden access to engagement initiatives; ensure priorities are aligned to build trust, empathy, and belonging; and create equity at scale.

Saddleback Valley USD includes community voice in district plans

Michael Gomez, Ed.D., District Coordinator of Assessment, Accountability, and New Teacher Induction for Saddleback Valley USD, exemplified transformational leadership when he adopted ThoughtExchange survey and community engagement software.

He gathered diverse perspectives and nuanced data from his entire district to inform his plan, using the platform to enhance and broaden access to the district planning process. This allowed him to make informed decisions that were more likely to be supported by the community.

“I constantly sing the praises of ThoughtExchange to my colleagues. You truly don't know the benefits until you jump in. Once you experience how it reduces your processes, timing, and workload—you'll never go back. It's never a question of, do we continue ThoughtExchange next year? It's how are we going to use it differently, and how can we innovate from there?”Michael Gomez, Ed.D., District Coordinator of Assessment, Accountability, and New Teacher Induction for Saddleback Valley USD

Washington’s Highline Public Schools establishes community trust to pass bond

Superindendent Dr. Susan Enfield knows that passing a bond doesn’t happen overnight. Gaining the community's confidence takes time, trust, and transparency. Constituents need to share their thoughts and concerns, know you value the money they’re trusting you with, and believe you’ve really heard them.

Dr. Enfield shares how creating a fair process through ThoughtExchange helped her district pass a bond for the first time in 10 years:

“We knew that we had a trust issue, and we needed to do something beyond what we had been doing in the past around community feedback and engagement. We did a lot of community meetings, and those were pretty sparsely attended. We had done straight surveys, and had low participation rates. Beyond that, we didn’t know if we were asking about the things people really cared about. A survey has its function, but it’s a limiting tool. When we use a survey to gather community input, we are asking about what we care about. ThoughtExchange allows the community to say what they care about.”Dr. Susan Enfield, Superintendent, Washington State’s Highline Public Schools

U-46 students shape critical African American studies curriculum

Dr. Teresa A. Lance, Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Innovation at Illinois’ Elgin School District U-46, tapped into her students’ voices to create an African American Studies course. This helped create equity at scale and aligned with the district’s mission to systematically meet students’ unique learning needs while preparing them to contribute to a global community.

“The student Exchange we ran helped our curriculum team more deeply understand the essential nature of some critical pieces that were missing in the planning and development of our new African American Studies course. We now feel confident that what’s being developed will reflect all voices more equitably.”

Teresa Lance, Ed.D., Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Innovation,
Elgin Area School District 46, Illinois

Making your educational leadership style work for you

Your leadership style is integral to creating a positive school culture and influencing your students’ learning and achievements. Consider using an engagement and survey platform like ThoughtExchange to enhance and broaden access to engagement initiatives; ensure priorities are aligned to build trust, empathy, and belonging; and create equity at scale.

By tapping into your community’s collective intelligence and including them in the decision-making process, you can help your district thrive.

Ready to learn how ThoughtExchange can help you take your educational leadership style to the next level?

Ready to learn how ThoughtExchange can help you take your educational leadership style to the next level?
Get Started
Sarah Mathias
Sarah discovered her love of words when she penned her first journal in grade 4—she hasn’t stopped writing since. With a BA in Sociology and an MPC in International/Intercultural Communication, Sarah honed her corporate writing skills in the travel insurance and fashion industries before working with ThoughtExchange. She brings her collaborative spirit and commitment to antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with her penchant for grammar jokes.

Gain clarity, not clutter.
Turn insights into action today.