It’s no secret that educational leaders have a full plate of challenges, ranging from staff shortages, experimental curriculum and students still struggling to catch up on crucial reading and math skills. While the factors vary by campus and school district, the trends have demonstrated the need for clear leadership from principals, assistant principals and teacher leaders.

Graduates of Eastern Michigan University’s online Master of Arts (M.A.) in Educational Leadership program learn the frameworks of educational leadership and which style to apply depending on the school environment they are working within. The program offers a chance for rising educational professionals to deepen their expertise in using leadership skills to improve school performance and address the needs of students from all backgrounds.

Popular Leadership Styles and Frameworks in Education

Educators may be familiar with the three basic leadership styles outlined by psychologist Kurt Lewin. His pioneering study, published in 1939, assigned students to one of three groups led by an authoritarian, democratic or laissez-faire leader.

The authoritarian leader provided clear instructions for tasks and the process for accomplishing those goals with little to no input from the group. Under the democratic (or participatory) leader, students were given guidance but were also encouraged to offer their own creative ideas. Finally, the laissez-faire leader — also known as a delegative leader — offered little to no guidance and allowed group members to make their own choices about roles and goals.

In Lewin’s study, the democratic leadership style was most successful in inspiring students to participate and make high-quality contributions. Other studies, including a survey of principal leadership styles published in 2022, have confirmed that many principals embrace democratic principles to boost teacher development. While Lewin’s study was conducted in 1939, professionals now apply democratic principles as they engage in leadership practices, including data-driven leadership, to advance student learning.

There are different ways to lead effectively. Some leaders consider themselves coaches who mentor their teams and identify areas where they can improve, according to Indeed. Others see themselves as part of a collaborative leadership model where their staff’s perspectives guide the direction of the group. Education professionals may look to a transformational leadership framework, where the central objective is to set large-scale goals while empowering others to carry out tasks that accomplish this vision.

Fostering Collaboration and Empathy in Education Through Leadership

Educational environments are particularly suited for a collaborative leadership approach, according to education author Peter DeWitt. Too many school leaders believe they should hold all the answers and complete their tasks in a silo, DeWitt writes. In reality, their goal should be to surround themselves with staff well equipped to solve problems and find the best solutions together.

DeWitt points to the work of researchers Megan Tschannen-Moran and Marilyn Barr, who found that educators must build a sense of “collective efficacy”: the belief that staff and leadership can execute their plans to reach both short- and long-term goals.

Often, this requires setting bold goals that challenge teachers and leaders and allowing teachers to learn from working alongside each other. It entails providing positive feedback to encourage staff to continue building skills and paying close attention to the social and emotional well-being of employees.

Creating an environment where teachers and staff of all levels feel comfortable growing and sharing their experiences is no easy task. Educational leaders should show a willingness to listen to the perspectives of all employees and clearly communicate their expectations. When a campus or team underperforms, leadership should be willing to take responsibility for their mistakes as well.

Develop Educational Leadership Skills with Eastern Michigan University

Courses like Educational Leadership in a Pluralistic Society and Leadership for School Improvement analyze how administrators can make effective decisions in diverse school environments and improve the performance of staff and students in the process. Students also take the Organization and Administration of K-12 Schools course, providing them with the theoretical and practical knowledge to step into a leadership role upon graduation.

Through Eastern Michigan University’s online M.A. in Educational Leadership program, students dive deeper into how educational leaders tackle challenges in a rapidly changing educational landscape.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program.