Transformational Leadership Matters: One Student, One Teacher at a Time

Individuals in leadership positions, especially those who aspire to transformational leadership, bear much responsibility in their professional and personal lives.  Indeed, to a certain extent, this responsibility transcends the boundaries of personal or professional life.  Entire volumes about leadership exist; however, daily actions require a shorthand for the guiding principles around transformational leadership.  Here are five words that serve as my guiding principles for transformational leadership in the field of gifted and talented education: voice, doors, affirmation, trust, tension.

Voice:  First, we must give voice to those who – for whatever reason – cannot speak for themselves or who are not in a position to have their voices heard.   For example, the psychologist who assesses a child and determines the child has both exceptional intellectual ability and an autism spectrum disorder gives voice to that child through the psychoeducational report and the associated recommendations.  The teachers and counselors who enact those recommendations also give voice to that child.

Above-level testing through the talent search process gives voice to individual children who are high achievers as well as groups of high achieving students.   Having information about a child can be the key to opportunity.

Researchers who seek to better understand the talent development process and the role of education in ensuring the development of talent give voice to professionals and colleagues through their research findings.  The voice is strongest when research is used to develop policy.  This is the only way to promote transformation in education.

Doors:  Professionals, parents, and volunteers have the capacity to open doors.  This capacity is greater than they may think, and the rewards are far-reaching.  New opportunities are a sign of affirmation and trust, and it is our responsibility to find doors for students and colleagues.

Affirmation:  Leadership implies that there is one person who is “leading.”  That has not been my experience.  You cannot lead if you do not have a team of people with whom to collaborate.  Every action of each team member, no matter how small, requires support from the team.

Trust:  Affirmation and trust go hand in hand.  Among the many synonyms for trust are reliance and confidence.  A member of the team has to know that the leader has confidence in the individual and collective creativity of the team.  Likewise, the team members should know that the leader relies on them to put forth their strongest effort.

Tension:  Finally, any action that aims to transform will require effort and energy, which automatically means that there is some level of tension involved.  Effort involves  stress, output, and strength.  One of the most important jobs of a leader is keeping in mind the tensions associated with giving voice, opening doors, offering affirmation, and demonstrating trust.

Leadership means asking challenging questions of others and ourselves.  Who gives voice to your students? Who opens the doors for them?  Do your students know that you trust that they can meet a challenge?  These questions correspond to one of the most pressing issues in our field: finding students with academic talent – especially those who are vulnerable due to disability, culture, or economics – and keeping them engaged in the talent development process.

I hope that you enjoy the current issue of our newsletter, where you will learn about the many ways the Belin-Blank Center staff are opening doors and giving voice to students and educators.

Excerpted from remarks made on February 8, 2017, as part of the Denver University Transformation Leadership Gifted Education Conference.   Professor Norma Lu Hafenstein, Daniel L. Ritchie Endowed Chair in Gifted Education, led the panel that included Dr. Del Siegle, Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews, and Ms. Jacquelin Medina.  In addition to responding to the question asking panelists to interpret the phrase, “transformational leadership matters,” we also responded to a question about the most pressing issues in our field today. 

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