Transformational Change as a new Building Leader


Social change tends to change ones’ attitudes, behaviors, laws, policies and institutions for the sake of inclusion, fairness, variance, and opportunity. Change involves collective actions of individuals who are closest to the organization or social problems.  This allows stakeholders opportunities to develop solutions that address pressing social issues or ills.

People have their daily routines down and people feel their way is beneficial to them, however, never realizing how significantly harmful to the entire organization.   As one reflects over the development of this great land we call The United States of America, we are quickly reminded of the heavy price many paid as a result of social change, or should I say many lives were taken due to opposing viewpoints brought on by change.  Just think some people prefer to harm you for having a difference of opinion instead of simple conversation that may result in a constructive compromise.

Role of Leaders in Student Achievement

“The purpose of supervision should be the enhancement of teachers’ pedagogical skills, with the ultimate goal of enhancing student achievement” (Marzano, Frontier, & Livingston, 2011, p. 3).  School administrators are top officials responsible for establishing objectives to meet the needs of students, educators, parents, and the community.  Superintendents meet these needs by implementing detailed policies and guidelines for schools within their districts.  Superintendents are to make sure all schools perform proficiently and enforce all rules and regulations established by the Board of Education.  Assessments provide concrete evidence of success on the part of the student, teacher, and the system. To ensure principals are savvy, superintendents must make sure principals gain necessary knowledge to be successful.  In most urban and rural locations, which usually have high numbers of low-performing students, high-poverty schools, and ineffective teaching practices, it can be challenging for districts to attract and maintain great principals and teachers.  Professional development received by the principals should be visible and consistently demonstrated by administrators and all involved in the educational process throughout the organization for the sake of student success. In the next section, the author makes the case for adaptive change and the challenges that comes when trying to shift mindsets of the organization.

Personal Theory of Leadership

A leader is an energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate leader with a clear vision and ability to lead positive changes in followers.

Transformational leadership can very well be defined as an energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate leader who leads to positive changes in those who follow. Transformational leaders are also inspired to help every member of the organization excel in order to protect the organization.   I was disappointed to see that Transformational Leaders tend to communicate poorly because of expectations that people should know what to do.  Overall, I am pleased with all of the positive that comes with being a Transformational Leader.

James MacGregor Burns has been credited for introducing the concept of Transformational Leadership.  Burns (1978) believed, transformational is transparent when “leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of moral and motivation” (Bruns, 1978).  Transformational leaders tend to have strong personality with a great vision.  These leaders have the ability to motivate followers to change their views or positions, perceptions and consistently strive for commonality within the institution (Burns, 1978).

As time progressed, Bernard M. Bass followed the path of Burns.  Needless to say, Bass expanded James Burns’ original thoughts regarding transformational leadership.  Bass (1985) suggested transformational leaders earn trust, respect, and admiration from their followers.  Bass believes there are four different components of transformational leadership.

  1. Intellectual Stimulation—Not only do transformational leaders challenge the status quo; they tend to promote creativity among followers.  They motivate followers to explore new ways of doing things and new chances to learn (Bass, 1985).
  2. Individualized Consideration—Transformational leadership also involves offering support and encouragement to individual followers. To keep this support, transformational leaders keep their lines of communication open so members of the organization feel comfortable to approach the bench and offer solutions (Bass, 1985).
  3. Inspirational Motivation—Transformational leaders have a clear vision that each member of the institution is able to articulate (Bass, 1985).
  4. Idealized Influence—The transformational leader usually takes the hit for the team. Transformational leaders serve as a role model for others involved in academic process.  As a result, of the followers trust and respect for the leader, they mimic their leader and internalize the leader’s ideals (Bass, 1985).

Transformational leaders are never in their office hiding out.  They are usually visible and will stand up to be counted.  Transformational leaders show by their attitudes and actions how everyone else ought to behave.  These leaders make habitual efforts to rally their members, consistently doing the rounds, listening, soothing and enthusing (Bass, 1990).  Transformational leaders apply sustain motivation for their followers.  Small changes get big recognition.  This technique of recognizing and praising accomplishments keep members of the organization motivated.

When I received the call from my direct supervisor to report to duty there was no doubt I was able to take on the challenges that plague public education.  Needless to say, I did not have a clue about some things such as the budget and the unbelievable amount of baggage students bring to school which negatively impact teaching and learning.

Analysis of within the Organization  

 In 2008, RUSD appointed me as the Directing Principal of Gilmore Middle School in Racine, Wisconsin.  GMS is an urban school with an extremely high special education population and 75% of the students are living below poverty. The Assistant Superintendent of RUSD, called me into their office.  During this intense meeting, my supervisor explained all of the problems associated with GMS and they did not fall short when communicating expectations.  My supervisor discussed and presented failing test scores and how students were not learning. My supervisor was also concerned with the community’s perception of the school.  My supervisor challenged me to make changes, but at the same time they did not offer many solutions to help bring about the needed changes that were so vividly described. My survival skills kicked in.  I decided to read, read, and read.  There was no one to turn to except myself.  I read Fullan, Marzano, DuFour, Ravitch, Diane, Tripp C., Daniel T. Willingham, David Conley, Hattie, and my favorite is Mike Schmoker.  Having the opportunity to attend a five days Differentiated Instruction Seminar, which certified me as a DI trainer was priceless.  The differentiation training gave me the capability to train my staff with confidence.  Attending research based conferences such as Douglas Reeves and Mike Schmoker’s conferences, allowed me the privilege to absorb valuable information to share with staff.  I also had the opportunity to sit in the same room with the magnificent Deborah Meier and be part of a conversation that matters.  As a result of GMS being a Title I school, administration was able to purchase current research-based curriculum and instruction books for the entire staff.  The essential books were read and modeled on Professional Development Day. As leaders for real change, administration eventually hired team-building consultants to come in and work with the faculty.  I realized the atmosphere was toxic and there was a lack of trust everywhere.  Some of the Title 1 budget was used to send multiple faculty members to professional development conferences throughout the country.  During the summer of 2008 and prior to the start of school, I asked certain charismatic teachers if they would be leaders in order to train and assist the rest of their young colleagues.  As a staff of learning leaders, we applied all new research-based interventions, strategies, and trainings and put them into practice.  Teachers were encouraged to meet on their on time because they did not share common preparation time.  Teachers met and worked together constantly, even outside their workdays.  The actions the teachers took upon themselves to collaborate during their summer vacation gave me the opportunity to measure how hungry they really were for real change that mattered.  It was apparent faculty members were willing and eager to take on the horrific challenges as well as, put their trust in me, the newly appointed “green” Directing Administrator.

As the newly appointed principal, there were a real concerns with the homes proximity to Gilmore Middle School.  Therefore, myself and the assistant principal decided to grab  pad and pencil.  We set out to knock on the doors of homes immediately surrounding GMS.  The citizens were shocked to see me at their front door.  I introduced myself as the new principal.  It was important for me to understand the community’s concerns and attitude regarding the students.  To my surprise, I was warmly welcomed and 100% of the community stated, “Since 1973, no principal had ever knocked on their door.”  This was my way of letting the community know that changing the negative perception of Gilmore was part of my vision and mission.

As the newly appointed administrator who understands the importance of effective teaching strategies, the entire first year the organization focused on effective strategies.  The entire staff received a free copy of Robert Marzano’s Classroom Instruction that Works.  After collaboratively studying the book as a staff, the practices were implemented.  Whenever administration went on walk-throughs for observations, some of the nine strategies had to be included in the teachers’ instructional delivery.  The few things mentioned above are examples of what it takes to be a successful transformational leader.

Transformational Leaders compromise their attention between action that creates progress and the mental state of their followers.  Transformational Leaders are people-oriented and believe that achievement comes first and enduring through deep and sustained and commitment.   However, the negative to being a Transformational Leader is leaders such as these tend to see the big picture, but not the details.  When organizations do not need transforming, then such a leader will become discouraged (Bass, 1990).  The knowledge and priceless experience gained over the years have truly aided me in becoming the 2011 Administrator of the year.  I enjoy the hustle and bustle of being a transformational agent.

Failure is not an Option, Dealing with Failure, Re-Do’s and Do-Over’s/Adaptive Change

To effectively meet the challenges associated with the multifaceted layers of education, leaders must pose a vast amount of knowledge regarding the biological and environmental aspects of learning.  Students are products of their environment.  Students enter school with very different life experiences.  The different experiences can very well impact student achievement (Wormeli, 2006).

As a building leader, it is imperative to ensure teachers and others are being fair across the board with fair grading practices in a truly differentiated classroom. During my initial year as building administrator, focused our attention on “The Zero” on the 100 points grading scale, the value of homework, and allowing do-overs or re-takes in mixed-ability classrooms.  Little did I the building administration realize that talking about something much lighter such as the death penalty would have been easier.  Teachers had severely strong opinions and not to mention there was push back from some of the old guards or veterans.  Nevertheless, consistent among those who had problems embracing any type of change that removed them from their comfort zone (Heifetz, 2002). Conversations around why we as an organization needed to embrace different grading practices were not being accepted by many of educators.

I tried making the case by disclosing the most effective grading practices provided reliable, specific, and timely checking for understanding designed to enhance student achievement (Marzano, 2007; O’Connor, 2007).  In the highly effective classrooms, grades are only one of several ways of feedback provided to students.  The benefits of effective grading practices are not limited to diminished failure of students.  When students’ failure is reduced, students’ attitude and behavior greatly improves, as a result, faculty esteem improves, resources allocated to remedial courses are reduced, and resources invested in electives and advanced subjects improve (Reeves, 2008). As the instructional leader, my moral compass led me to address why we collectively had to take the correct position as it related to appropriate grading. This was the adaptive change I was led to address.

Current Reality (Support and Obstruction)

There was an obligation on my behalf to do something about accurate grading.  Grading should only convey what the students understand (Kohn, 2011).  Inappropriate or appropriate behavior should be graded in another column when reporting grades.  To average students’ behavior with the students’ regular grades, which normally measure what students understand, falsifies what they children actually know (Wormeli, 2006).  Students fail courses, assignments, and tests daily as a result of inaccurate grading.  The Alliance for Excellent Education estimated the annual cost of high school failure exceeds $330 billion (“An Economic Case,” 2007).  However, this is not all as a result of ineffective teaching, learning, or grading.  Some failure exits due to students consistently being absent, as well as, poor student performance.

Despite the glaring research that revealed our current grading practices worked against students and the economy, administrators and teachers continued the practices such as averaging formative assessments with the summative assessment. Homework counting as much as 30% to 50% of the final grade and grading with the zero on a 100 points scale.  As leader, I felt it was absurd to say the least.  Students did not stand a chance with these flawed practices.  “Sometimes it was only after grading had ended that we realized just how harmful grading had been to students (Kohn, 2011).   On the other hand, it was motivating to know that many teachers were on board and they were open to change.  The support made it easier for conversation that led to eventually implementing accurate practices.  A teacher leader in the building didn’t really see any blind spots for fairly grading students.  She did point out that some of our educated parents will think we are dumbing down the curriculum.  Parents tend to judge school effectiveness based on the amount of homework a teacher gives.  Despite parents’ level of education, parents do not realize homework is a form of formative assessment.  Students may be less likely to turn in their homework once they realize it is of no value.  Therefore, to make sure students completed homework assignments, students had to complete all homework and tuned it in to the teacher in order to take the chapter test.  This practice held students accountable, but homework was not going to be 30 to 50% of students’ final grade. Though I did not like this practice of aligning homework with taking the chapter test, I had to compromise.

I continued making my case as to why we had to change, teachers who had been teaching for a decade or more were not necessarily on board with the research presented.  Naturally objections were raised to changing the way we  graded. Old habits were hard to break, but once parents and students had an understanding and were reassured of the new research-based grading practices, the new practices were  embraced by students and parents (Kohn, 1999).

Susan Brookhart (2011) suggests to get the conversation started about grading practices, it is important to have an understanding of the faculty as it relates to the research and their personal opinions about grading.  As the leading administrator of the building, it was important to gather information about what teachers actually knew about current research on effective grading.  A survey regarding grading was put in every teacher’s mailbox to complete.  Some of the research is shocking, but with more professional development these teachers can come to understand.  As a Transformational leader, it is imperative to not give up on naysayers, but instead, continue to expose and scaffold the naysayers.  Hopefully, the success of small to moderate gains will be enough to persuade them over, without compromising many of their existing effective teaching practices.

After analyzing the collected data on grading practices, it was apparent some teachers still needed time to understand that facts should trump ones’ opinion. Opinions are very seldom supported by research.  Unfair practices simply hurt students.  The data findings from the survey revealed that 60% of the surveyed participants disagree with current grading practices.  94% of the educators do not believe poor grades prompt students to try harder.  In other words, students give up many times due demonizing failure and not providing opportunities for re-teaching and retakes (Wormeli, 2006).  87% of the people who completed the survey believe zeroes do not have to be given to report a student’s missing homework or that he or she lack understanding of particular standard.  It is with sincere pleasure to report that 100% agree students should have opportunities for Re-takes, Re-dos, and Do-overs (Wormeli, 2007).  Overall, the data revealed the staff supported me as their Transformational Leader, the strong followers believes in me as trusted me as a leader.  The data also disclosed the teachers were opened to challenging the status quo; for the good of student success.  Because it matters!!! Nevertheless, there were challenges, barriers, and strong mental models.

Faculty’s Perception

Teachers gave consistent excuses to support their unfair grading practices.  These excuses range from “I am teaching the child about the importance of deadlines and responsibility” to “We are preparing them for society.” Wormeli (2007) states nothing could be farther from the truth. As directing principal of an urban middle school of 800 students surrounded by high poverty, I could not continue to allow teachers to unfairly grade students’ understandings of targets, benchmarks, and standards.  Human progress should not be measured with the 100 points scale.  The 100 points scale is not designed to measure human progress.  The three building administrators realized that teachers were sincerely trying to effectively implement differentiation in their classroom, but under-mind differentiation with their unfair grading practices.  It became apparent that administration leading from the balcony (Heifetz, 2002), had a moral imperative to bring these unfair assessing practices to light through simple and fair conversation.  Wheatley (2009, p. 7) states, “I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again.  Simple, honest, human conversation…  Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate or public meetings.  Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.

During professional development day, I took a risk by disclosing research by Guskey (2001), Wormeli (2006), and Reeves (2004, 2008) on why homework should not be averaged into the summative grade and how homework should be of no value due to homework being formative assessment and students should not be graded on new information in which they are coming to know (Wormeli, 2006).  Formative assessment is immediate data that drives instruction.  Teachers who had been teaching for a decade or more were not necessarily on board with the research presented.  Some teachers quickly reminded me, “anyone can make research say what they want it to say.”  This statement was a strong indication that getting total buy-in by all educators was off the table. This statement did not prevent progress because these types of opinions were expected.  After all, change is slow.  One would be naïve to think discounting homework would go over well.

Even though there is significant evidence supporting that grading with zero as punishment for missing assignments does not work, (Guskey, 2000) and the obvious mathematical defect in the use of the zero on a100-point scale (Reeves, 2004), the majority of teachers consistently decide to grade using the zero as punishment.  As leader of the building, I proposed to the staff, if you want to dramatically reduce student failure rates, start with discontinuing the use of zero and averaging homework into the final grade and allow re-takes because research suggest that one glove size does not fit all (Wormeli, 2007).  All students do not get it at the same time. Many times re-teaching is required. Rick Wormeli explains, in the larger world people are allowed re-takes on pilot test, CPA test, GMAT, teacher praxis exam, lawyers bar exam, LSAT, motorcycle license test, driver’s license test, and engineering exams for full credit.  Research shows that people learn more from failure than they do with consistent success.  Therefore, “Failure is Preferred.”  Wormeli explains it takes being exposed to something at least 24 times for 80% proficiency (Wormeli, 2006).   Opposing views of the zero claims students need to have consequences for failing to turn work in on time.  As administrator, I agreed but only if the zero is fully recoverable.  Giving zeroes on deadlines for homework and assignments is not teaching larger world lessons.  Instead, it is teaching to the conveyer belt.  Conveyer belt learning gives the child one time to show evidence of understanding.  “Only a weak teacher does not allow retakes” (Wormeli, 2006).

The most effective grading practices provide reliable, specific, and timely checking for understanding designed to enhance student achievement (Marzano, 2007; O’Connor, 2007).  In the highly effective classrooms, grades are only one of several ways of feedback provided to students.  The benefits of effective grading practices are not limited to diminished failure of students.  When students’ failure reduces, students’ attitude and behavior greatly improves, as a result, faculty esteem improves, resources allocated to remedial courses are reduced, and resources invested in electives and advanced subjects improve (Reeves, 2008).  This seems to be a non-negotiable.  Although changing a grading system is colossal task to conquer, the benefits are so huge it is worth doing.

To help change this unfair grading practice, the leaders and others must create a sense of urgency.  Identify the accurate cost of inconsistent grading procedures. Second, administration should recognize teacher leaders who are already improving policies.  They may have already eliminated the unfair practice (Reeves, 2008).  Third, administration should gather facts and evidence that will give a great reasoning for decision making.  Finally, reassure parents, students, and teachers that certain things will not change.  Students will be required to have letter grades, transcripts, honor rolls, IEPs and everything else they have always had as part of the system.  However, they will not have irrational grading policies that give students large discrepancy and misrepresentation in their work. The next section of this article explains some of the important action steps taken to be inclusive and collaborative with all stakeholders.

Procedures for the Implementation Accurate Grading

  Like almost all other complex traditional social organizations, the

Schools will accommodate in ways that require little or no change…

The strength of the status quo—its underlying axioms, its pattern of

Power relationships, its sense of tradition and therefore what seems right,

natural, and proper—almost automatically rules out options for change.

Seymour Sarason (1990, p. 35).

Downloading—Schools and districts sincerely interested in reforming grading practices first, must hold conversations about it in ways that challenge colleagues on the questions that matter and leads to change (Brookhart, 2011).  It is necessary to focus on the main issue.  The main issue should not focus on what scale to use, how much to report performance, how many grades to average or combine, or how to connect them.  Susan Brookhart (2011) believes these secondary concerns can be decided only after the main questions are answered.  The main questions should ask: “What meaning do we want grades to communicate?”  Who is (are) the primary intended audience(s) for this message?”  Brookhart states, “Grades are not about what students earn; they are about what students learn.” The next main question should ask, “To what degree do you and your colleagues believe that?”  If the organization does agree, “What are the advantages to you and your students?” These questions mentioned lead to the right discussion that puts the organization on the right track for change that accurately assess students’ understanding of content.

Talking nice—Brookhart (2011) states to get things started, faculty should come together in small groups in order to have each member disclose his or her approval or disapproval of the four discussions questions.  It is important to poll the groups to see where there is agreement (checks); and disagreement (X’s); and unsure or mixed opinions (some of each).  Afterwards, begin the conversation with the areas of agreement (Brookhart, 2011).

Debate—Secondly, Brookhart (2011) discusses the importance of randomly assigning teachers the pro and con position for the initial discussion with four or five members, on each side despite the teachers’ position on grading (p. 12). Next, it is important to have teachers prepare for a debate in which they apply that position and support it with concrete logic and supporting evidence.  This includes evidence that they find in resource material.  “The teams’ presentation should include anticipating the arguments of the opposing side and preparing a defense for these, also using logic and evidence” (p. 12). (Dialogue or reflective inquiry) Once the formal debate has taken place, the entire faculty can reflect on what was learned.

When schools and districts start conversation on grading practices, they have an agenda.  If this is the case, the agenda should be transparent.  Nevertheless, this does not mean the discussion should be about how to make members of the organization support the agenda.  All stakeholders should be heard, and people’s right to hold them should be accepted.  When this happens, teachers and others will be more open to new ideas; even the positions including the ones that challenge their own views that come from peers who understand their stance and why.

Districts and schools that decide to focus on accurate grading for student success engage in professional development that focus on “Learning” as well as to how to implement new grading procedures.  However, what many districts find out when they take on this monster of changing grading practices, they have questions about (blind spot) “Learning” (Brookhart, 2011).   (Presencing) In order to be successful with fair grading practices, Brookhart (2011) explains why teachers must develop teaching and learning techniques, checking for understanding strategies, as well as coaching strategies.  Brookhart goes on by elaborating on the need for teachers to develop skills around differentiating instructions effectively.

Finally, to seriously reform grading, start by having conversations on the issues that matter about what grades should represent and who the primary audience for grades should be.  Effective conversations about grading must focus sincerely with educators’ lifelong beliefs and secured practices.  The organization is required to have discussions about foundational issues, not details (Brookhart, 2011).  Challenge other positions with respect and look for the underlying concerns.  Everyone part of the process is valuable and hopefully with success the naysayers will hop on board the wagon of consistent student success.

Yes, there were reluctant teachers, however, many teachers started embracing the idea of fair grading.  The faculty discussed the changes during their PLC meetings.  The teachers submitted their discussions to administration through email.  They started letting go and emerged with adaptive change.  There are no words to describe how pleased I was to know that my faculty had an open heart and open will to change unfair to more accurate grading for the sake of the student achievement.  Changing the culture of the school to a more sound grading practice will breed conflict, confusion, and it challenges competence.  As a result me realizing this,  it was imperative for me as a leader to take things slow and scaffold teachers along the way.  Implementing different grading practices had to happen on many levels.  To successfully promote the change, it took more than one year and it had to be a collaborative effort.  I understand this process is time consuming nevertheless, administration should be willing to stay the course.  Administration cannot be the only cheerleaders for much needed change.  All internal and external stakeholders are essential for any adaptive change to be a success.



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