• by Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., and Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2016 •

Much has been written about the core competencies of effective school leadership, but less is studied about the transformative effect of these qualities within culturally diverse learning environments. This article explores a few examples of the virtues and transformational qualities of educational leaders working with diverse student populations. It poses the question of self-transformation as requisite for systemic transformation.

As a starting point for reflection, following are some virtues of transformative school leaders within a diverse learning environment for consideration.

IDRA’s Six Goals of Education Equity

Worry and pessimism can erode the courage of school leaders and drain their energy and inspiration, robbing them of the serenity needed to confront and solve daily challenges that emerge. Many good and honest educational leaders find themselves frozen into inactivity because they have not taken the time to renew their spirits and remind themselves of the higher calling of their vocation.

Effective transformational school leaders are pro-active and face seemingly insurmountable obstacles with courage and determination to succeed through their own daily personal reflection and renewal. This can help school leaders return to their initial calling and inspiration to their noble profession.

Transformative school leaders serve as a beacon and example to others, calling them to more noble action for the greater good. Equity in education is an example of a noble act for the greater good of citizens and society in general. Transformative school leaders are advocates for equity and are role models for all staff and students, ensuring that all students perform academically.

Especially within a culturally diverse environment, school leaders must communicate with joy and conviction through their lives, their work, and sincere commitment to valuing the diversity reflected in the student body and communities they serve.

Transformative leaders are not afraid of showing their humanity. In a technological age, data and outcomes often are valued at the expense of the personal experience. Learning is in the journey as well as in achieving the goal.

Transformative leaders are people who genuinely laugh, weep and show tenderness and courtesy to all people. Without advocating excess, transformative leaders relate to their diverse students and families within their unique cultural context. They see themselves with others in the shared journey of transformation.

Transformative leaders set themselves as faithful examples to valuing equity and diversity. They avoid all activity that would devalue equity, diversity and their commitment to their vocation as an educational leader and to their students’ well-being and academic success. IDRA has long held that all children are valuable; none is expendable. This is the transparent guidepost for their lives and the measure against which they consider every action and decision.

They remind themselves consistently that a student and a parent are sitting on either shoulder as they navigate throughout their day. They are faithful to the public trust invested in them.

Transformative leaders achieve balance between reasonableness and gentleness. These leaders avoid emotional excess while working to reduce bureaucracy. They seek a balanced personality and create a school climate that pays careful attention to the unique needs of every person with whom they interact. They are highly sensitive to the diversity of their environment, delicate and respectful in their undertakings and interactions with people.

Transformative leaders are determined in their actions, yet cautious in making judgments. They refrain from impulsive, hasty actions that can be misinterpreted and cause irreparable loss of trust. This requires clear vision and resolute will that adheres to and advocates for diversity within the school setting and values each student. They are attuned to every action and reaction that might result and its consequences, and weigh these carefully.

Transformative leaders act with respectfulness and humility. The transformative leader is tactful and noble and shows genuine respect for their own work, their superiors and those who report to them. They show confidentiality and see themselves as public servants for the greater good and for the educational success of their students.

Transformative leaders are diligent and attentive. They are concerned with the little things that are ultimately important things, for doing their best, and not giving in to the lesser elements in their environment or in their own nature. These are sensitive leaders, aware of subtle verbal and non-verbal communication.

They are conscious of interactions and relationships that can either propel an agenda for valuing diversity or sabotage their shared vision for a thriving and culturally diverse environment that promotes equity and success for all.

Transformative leaders are trustworthy. These leaders reflect sobriety and tranquility, are prudent in their actions, simple, straightforward, acting with balance and temperance. They embody a style of life that is concerned for others, especially those most underserved.

They are people of heart and compassion, beyond superficial sentimentalism. These are long distance runners versus sprinters who achieve their goal, approaching decisions quietly and deliberately, with a calm spirit.

Transformative leaders see themselves as co-creators in partnership with students, families and communities they serve. While there are special challenges to working in culturally diverse environments, the benefits and rewards are immeasurable. Such transformational leaders realize that they are planting powerful seeds of equity and justice for the future, working to transform their schools and themselves.

While they cannot accomplish everything overnight, those seeds will ultimately grow sustainable roots on which others add to the work already begun. They have the vision, hope, strength and the will to begin something that ultimately will produce a better future for all children.


Bahena, S. “’Our children could get lost’ – Rio Grande Valley Parents Gather to Discuss Policy Implications,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Associaiton, November-December 2015).

IDRA. Six Goals of Education Equity (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).

Mapp, K.L., & P.J. Kuttner. Partners Education: A Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships (Austin, Texas: SEDL, 2013).

Pope Francis. “Catalogue of Needed Virtues,” L’Osservatore Romano (Rom: December 30, 2015) Number 53, Pages 6-8.

[©2016, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2016 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]