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8 Attributes of Transformative Educational Leaders

By Guest Blogger — March 23, 2018 4 min read
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Judi Steele, President and CEO of The Public Education Foundation in Nevada, will take over the guest blog this week. Before joining The Public Education Foundation, Judi was a fifth-grade teacher in New York, then served as director for special education programs and services and manager of the Office of Development and Education Improvement in Clark County.

Transforming the education system to respond to students’ needs in a rapidly changing world requires a critical mass of agile leaders. These transformative leaders must harness the immense power of networks to mobilize, advocate, and lead for their students. Just as entrepreneurs find success through agile change management, transformative education leaders can harness their networks for partnership and student success.

What attributes can take good-to-great leaders to this next level? By following the over 150 alumni of the Executive Leadership Academy who demonstrate change leadership daily, I observe 8 key attributes of transformative leaders. And most importantly, these leaders demonstrate the nuanced thinking needed to maximize each attribute in different circumstances.


  1. Disruptive Thinking. Transformative leaders do not accept the status quo. They demonstrate the courage to bust out of the cage and openly acknowledge current structures that do not best serve students. They share their vision for new horizons and inspire others to do the same.
  2. Active Listening. Transformative leaders are open to listening. They acknowledge that others share similar interests and are critical thought partners. They seek continuous feedback and improvement for themselves, their team, their students, their school, and their system.
  3. Cognitive Diversity. Transformative leaders embrace big, bold ideas to better serve students. They acknowledge that as opposed to one panacea, transforming systems requires multiple ideas for programs, policies, data, and feedback. They identify other burgeoning leaders in their space and recruit them as partners for ideas and action.
  4. Collaborative Problem-Solving. Transformative leaders inspire colleagues and others in the community to mobilize around a common goal, and then lead these teams to develop and execute effective solutions to better serve students.
  5. Finding Common Ground. Transformative leaders acknowledge that different people can and will disagree on ideas and their execution. These leaders facilitate open, critical dialogue to reaffirm common goals, inspire open minds, and rally around shared ideas and ideals for change.
  6. Cross-Sector Collaboration. Transformative leaders understand the power of collaboration with various sectors—private and public, government and nonprofit, within and outside of education. They form meaningful bonds with key stakeholders from various sectors and assemble them around common goals to better serve students.
  7. Leveraging Resources. Transformative leaders understand the sources of financial and other forms of capital. They develop their human talent to maximize different resources efficiently and effectively, all to support their students.
  8. Cultivating Higher Levels of Engagement. Transformative leaders, through all these attributes, inspire others to view an expansive horizon about the role of education in a rapidly evolving world. These leaders inspire others to think deeply, improve purposely, and act boldly.

These attributes, coupled with the nuanced thinking required to maximize each attribute’s potential, offers education leaders pathways to more meaningful and effective change for students. These leaders do more than run school buildings. Executive Leadership Academy alumni exhibit examples of collaborative engagement with the attributes of transformative leaders:


  • Actively meeting with senior school district administrators and school board members to provide priorities and feedback for a new superintendent
  • Collaborating with school district officials to explore legislative priorities for the 2019 Nevada Legislative Session
  • Convening fellow alumni and colleagues to discuss ways to maximize school leader and teacher potential through site-based management and school-based budgeting
  • Serving as franchise principals—one principal leading two or more schools—and building staff capacity at scale to serve more students

Alumni also continue to execute on their capstones, a key Academy activity in which participants identify pressing issues of education policy or practice, research promising solutions, and execute their ideas. The Clark County School District’s current cultural competency framework is a result of an Academy capstone project, as are new teacher preparation courses for students in a comprehensive high school. In addition, alumni are now executing capstone projects to develop a framework for social-emotional learning throughout elementary and secondary curricula, improve the Nevada Educator Performance Framework to provide more timely and meaningful feedback to educators, and align state business and industry licensure with career and technical education programs.

These transformative leaders are today’s pioneers. The entrepreneurs of years past reimagined what a barren desert could be and reinvented the landscape to build today’s international destination. I see a critical mass of transformative education leaders who are prepared to reimagine what our education system could be and reinvent Nevada education to build a world-class system for students. These leaders are prepared to embrace and cultivate change, and with their courage and passion, inspire others to think deeply, improve purposely, and act boldly.

Judi Steele

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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