Teaching is Servant Leadership: Faculty Growth and Formation

This article was contributed by Pam Bernards, NCEA Director of Professional Development.


During his presentation, Dr. McMahon emphasized the importance of developing a “Culture of Leadership” within the school. Finding leaders for Catholic schools emanates from the idea that every Catholic school teacher is a leader whose skills are an outgrowth of his or her own teaching. He began by providing a theoretical framework for teaching as leadership before sharing two projects that have been implemented in his own school to initiate teacher leadership among the faculty.

Dr. McMahon believes that teaching is a primary leadership practice. Catholic school educators are blessed to have the ultimate role model in Jesus who came not as a priest, administrator, or theologian, but as a teacher. As the consummate Servant Leader, Jesus provides the perfect example which all can strive to emulate in their teaching and thereby lead as Jesus did.

Two types of leadership were identified. Transactional Leadership, which occurs as an act, takes initiative on the part of the leader to enact an exchange of valued things. It can be described as an exchange of goods, but there is no purpose that holds the teacher and student together in a relationship. It merely represents the transfer of knowledge.

Transformational Leadership, on the other hand, occurs when the leader forms a relationship with the followers who in turn become more active as followers. Teachers and students can raise each other’s expectations and be more conscious of their obligation to one another. In transformational leadership, the teacher and student do not have to be together for the student to continue learning and aspire to something, sometimes in honor of the teacher.

Dr. McMahon also shared insights from Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great in the Social Sectors. McMahon says that in Collins’ book, he rejects the idea that the primary path to greatness in social sectors such as non-profits is to become like business. For various reasons, as noted by McMahon in his talk, Collins emphasizes the importance of finding those who are self-motivated and disciplined, who start each day desiring to be their best. McMahon’s application of this principle is to look for mission driven individuals to be teachers in his school.

Dr. McMahon used a leadership profile with his leadership team to increase understanding of personality type among the group. They worked together to evaluate the implications of the results with the knowledge that this level of understanding can be powerful in helping them work collaboratively as a team. The second phase expands the program through the administration of a different leadership profile with all teachers in the school. The results will identify the areas in which the teacher excels and how she or he prefers to lead a classroom.