4 Ways To Improve Organizational Leadership In Education

A group of higher education teachers learning from one another
A group of higher education teachers learning from one another

The past several years have highlighted the need for organizational leadership in education. As the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and forced administrators to transform their educational processes at a breakneck pace, teachers, students, and families looked to strong educational leaders to guide them through a chaotic time. 

The height of the pandemic may be behind us now, but the need for transformational educational leadership is rising. Students are facing learning loss, struggling with virtual learning burnout, and are exhausted from the day-to-day uncertainty surrounding their education. At the university level, up to 44% of college students report that they are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. And “The Great Resignation” is seriously affecting the field of education as nearly four in ten educators report that working during the pandemic has led them to consider changing jobs. 

While schools and universities may be the first places that come to mind when it comes to the need for educational leadership, understanding the answer to the question “what is organizational leadership?” reveals that there are many more institutions, organizations, and professional settings that benefit from strong organizational leadership rooted in educational philosophy. Organizational leadership is an approach to management in which leaders empower individuals to meet a common goal or achieve a mission. 

As organizations in both the public and private sectors try to make decisions about everything from remote work policies to addressing social justice issues as a company, strong organizational leadership can make all the difference. Consider four ways to improve organizational leadership in education, whether that education takes place in an elementary school, university, nonprofit organization, or company. 


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1. Prioritize Ongoing Learning as an Institution

An organizational culture that values innovation, imagination, and invention can foster a sense of collaboration that benefits whole teams and institutions. Educational organizations need leaders who take steps toward creating a culture that values attaining and implementing new knowledge. 

Learning organizations have several key elements, including:

  • Systems thinking: seeking to understand how the whole picture is affected
  • Personal mastery: training employees to be active learners and participants in learning opportunities
  • Team learning: building a supportive company culture that encourages creativity and constructive criticism

In an educational setting, striving for a learning organization may look like a principal who invites teachers to speak on policies or procedures that may have worked years ago but are no longer working for the needs of the present. It may look like a superintendent hosting regular roundtables with seasoned teachers to discuss what they are seeing in the classroom and how the district can better serve students and teachers. 

At the college or university level, a learning organization may look like an administrator implementing departmental policies that give employees the time, resources, and encouragement they need to participate in continuing education courses that will give them greater insight into today’s college students. 

A nonprofit or corporate leader may build an in-house mentorship or coaching program to ensure that individual skills are identified, cultivated, and leveraged for the good of all. 

Of course, one of the greatest ways to build a learning organization is to model lifelong learning. Through reading, attending educational events, and encouraging constructive dialogue, organizational leaders can build a model for their teams to follow. 


2. Promote Digital Transformation in Higher Education

One of the key roles of the organizational leader in a college or university is ensuring that student needs are clearly understood and met. In today’s academic landscape, institutes of higher education need to have a strategic approach to technology in order to give students the best academic experience possible. With a clear vision for digital transformation, educational leaders can not only empower their students to be technologically savvy, but address important issues in education like accessibility and customization.

Here are just some examples of successful initiatives that have taken place at the intersection of education, organizational leadership, and technology:

  • One university used predictive modeling to improve their student retention rate. Their efforts, such as identifying at-risk students and creating programs to facilitate early intervention, raised the graduation rate for four-year undergraduate students by five percent in two years.
  • An engineering professor leveraged technology to build an AI-powered learning community that has driven student satisfaction with the class up to 99 percent.
  • Studies have found that technology provides differentiated teaching strategies and opportunities for students with disabilities to show their knowledge and engage in active learning.

For the modern organizational leader in education, an openness to technological development and innovation is key to forward progress. 

A group of students benefiting from educational organization


3. Pursue Clarity and Unity with the Best Change Management Strategies

Whether it is something as drastic as a school lockdown due to a pandemic or something much more day-to-day like a new substitute teacher in the building, organizational leaders in education need to have a solid grasp on change management. In education, change management refers to guiding a school or school district through a change. 

One of the first steps of change management is often deciding what kind of change an organization needs. While some changes cannot be prevented or chosen and must instead be reacted or responded to, many others are intentional choices made by leaders. Skilled organizational leaders will leverage their systems thinking, collaborative approach, and knowledge they have gathered to determine when a change needs to be made — and, then, how.

Airiodion Global Services offers several examples of when change management may be needed in education, including: 

  • Adding more physical activity to students’ schedules to improve health
  • Reimagining the structure of the school year
  • Finding hybrid education solutions that include both in-person and online instruction
  • Improving curriculum based on new data or studies
  • Increasing an emphasis on teaching life skills in the classroom

From students to the most seasoned of faculty, responses to change can be varied and volatile. Some people will be excited for the change, others will be happy to go with the flow, others resist change simply because they are more comfortable with the status quo, and still others will disagree specifically with the change itself. Organizational leaders will need to cultivate their communication — and likely their conflict-resolution — skills in order to guide individuals, teams, and their entire school or organization through a change. 


4. Put Students First with Educational Leadership that Elevates Student Outcomes 

Research has long shown that principals have an impact on student achievement. However, recent studies have shown that their effect is more significant than once thought.

For example the Wallace Foundation study “How Principals Affect Students and Schools: A Systematic Synthesis of Two Decades of Research” found that if a principal is ranked in the 75th percentile of effectiveness, student learning in reading and writing increases by about three months. That is nearly as great an increase as the four months of increased learning that a teacher at the 75th percentile sees in the students. However, at the principal level, this increase occurs across an entire school rather than within one classroom.

At the district level, research shows that superintendents can also influence student outcomes through:

  • Providing research-based curriculum planning, development, and design procedures
  • Ensuring that materials, facilities, and funding are provided for teachers to achieve district goals
  • Budgeting and planning spending in ways that facilitate curriculum goals and provide professional development to teachers who are responsible for curriculum implementation

By making strategic, organizational leadership decisions, education leaders at every level can positively influence student outcomes and success.


Prepare to Promote Organization Leadership in Education

From junior high schools to educational technology companies, professionals who are well-versed in organizational leadership are needed.

Take Jessica Burns-Turch, a student in Marymount University’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Organization Innovation program, for example. Burns-Turch is a former classroom teacher who now runs six Life Celebration Homes (funeral homes) with her husband while raising her four children. Burns-Turch has seen the need for high-quality leadership throughout her career.

“How did I go from the funeral industry to working on a Doctorate in Educational Leadership?” says Burns-Turch. “Both in education and in the business world, I’ve seen a lack of strong leadership and strong leadership platforms. So, I started looking for a program to both strengthen my leadership skills as a business owner and provide me with the necessary tools to educate other leaders as a professor at the collegiate level. Coupled with my experience in education and the business world, this Ed.D. will provide me with the necessary platform to effect change in leadership practices and policies.”

Do you want to be an agent of change and be a pillar (of/for) strong, organizational leadership within an organization? The Ed.D. at Marymount University will help you prepare for just such a career path. Designed for working professionals, the Ed.D. is an entirely online program that can be completed in less than three years. 

Earn your Ed.D. from Marymount to inspire change in your workplace and community.


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Trying to Decide Between Pursuing an Ed.D. or a PhD? Be Sure to Read:

PhD vs. Ed.D.: Which is Right For You?