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Educational Leadership: Definition and Impact

January 11, 2023

When children have access to a good education, they have a higher likelihood of becoming successful adults. The benefits of a good education include improved communication and critical thinking skills, increased career advancement opportunities, higher income potential, and enhanced self-reliance. However, educators often face challenges as they strive to fulfill their mission to deliver quality education to students. 

According to Public School Review, some of the most common challenges that public schools face are insufficient budgets, too many students per teacher, student poverty, and poor student health. 

With skilled educational leadership, educators can overcome challenges with a solutions-based approach that values innovation, inclusion, and diversity of thought. To equip themselves for this important work, educational leaders can earn an advanced degree in education.

What Is Educational Leadership?

Educational leadership—sometimes called teacher leadership—refers to an educational system approach that unites everyone under a common goal and a core set of values. It is most closely associated with transformational leadership, a leadership style that emphasizes positive change and growth, and inspires workers to reach their full potential for the collective benefit of all.

Leadership applies to all levels of academia, from prekindergarten through college. Often, principals or education directors emerge as leaders. Leadership in education typically involves the following:

  • Leading by example—demonstrating a commitment to a core set of values and to students
  • Uniting and elevating others
  • Making meaningful connections with teachers, staff, students, and parents
  • Embracing diversity of thought by valuing the opinions, ideas, and viewpoints of others
  • Being solutions oriented and willing to make changes for the benefit of students and teachers
  • Inspiring a positive work culture that is team oriented, is inclusive, and operates with a clear vision of the future
  • Demonstrating thought leadership and the ability to overcome complex challenges

When effective educational leadership is in place in a school, educators become more proficient in their roles, students get more value out of their education, and parents and guardians actively participate in the process. 

Why Is Educational Leadership Important?

Educational leadership is important because it enables schools and universities to overcome challenges and innovate ways to deliver a meaningful classroom experience to students. An example of leadership in action can be found in the way schools responded to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Faced with unplanned suspensions of in-person learning, school leaders across the country were challenged to pivot their classrooms to remote-only learning on a tight timeline. Although some schools were more successful at this than others, the shift spotlighted online learning as a viable—and occasionally more effective—mode of education delivery.  

During the pandemic, effective leadership was required to address a challenge brought on by a public health crisis. 

Educational leadership has often focused on addressing the needs of specific student populations or on making education more accessible to students with learning disabilities or other challenges. Notable examples of leadership in education include the following:

  • In 2008, CEO and founder of Khan Academy Sal Khan launched his nonprofit organization with the goal of providing free education to students in underserved US communities and developing countries. Khan has also developed math software specifically for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Dr. Maria Montessori demonstrated true thought leadership and vision by introducing collaborative play and hands-on learning into the classroom. Popularized in Rome in 1907, the experimental Montessori method led to students having a much deeper understanding of their schoolwork, and it improved students’ social interactions.   
  • Educator Erin Gruwell found a way to teach students deemed unteachable. In 1994, she got her first teaching job in Long Beach, California, at a school dealing with gang violence and low family involvement. Gruwell adapted lessons to engage her students. For example, she framed Romeo and Juliet in the context of warring gangs. She gave students journal writing assignments in which they were asked to write about their thoughts and feelings. These entries are featured in the book The Freedom Writers Diary.  

Careers in Educational Leadership

Leadership in education applies to both administrative and teaching roles. The following are some high-ranking careers in educational leadership.

  • University president: the university executive who oversees the operations of the entire school
  • Superintendent: the leader of a school district responsible for appointing principals, managing financial resources, and monitoring academic performance
  • Department head: an educational leader who manages the instructors teaching in a specific department
  • Principal: an educational leader of a school who oversees teachers and staff 

Become a Leader in the Field of Education

Leadership in education is essential to problem solving and innovating in the classroom and the wider school community for the benefit of all students. It takes passion, dedication, and thought leadership to unify teachers and staff so that they may collectively reach their full potential.

Educational leadership also requires expertise in academic policy and the foundations of teaching. Individuals who aspire to become leaders in education are encouraged to invest in their own education, such as through any of the online programs offered by American University. They include:

Each program features coursework that can prepare education professionals to pursue a successful career in academia in any of a variety of roles—in the classroom or in administration. Begin pursuing your goals in education with American University.