Open Journal of Leadership
2013. Vol.2, No.4, 87-94
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojl) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojl.2013.24014
Open Access 87
What Makes School Leaders Inspirational and How
Does This Relate to Mentoring?
Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Received September 17th, 2013; revised October 15th, 2013; accepted October 21st, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Peter Hudson. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribu-
tion License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
Leadership comes in many forms (such as transactional, transformational, and distributed) and its effec-
tiveness can inspire others to achieve organisational goals and visions. Inspiration as an emotional event
requires receptiveness and an awareness of social interdependence. When mentees are inspired by mentor
role models they can extend personal attributes and practices. Similar to other leaders, inspiring mentors
can motivate mentees to develop a strength of character and achieve goals in the workplace. What makes
school leaders inspirational and how does this relate to mentoring? This qualitative study collects data
from 25 experienced teachers, which involved a written questionnaire, work samples, and audio-recorded
focus group discussions. These participants indicated that inspirational school leaders were those who had:
1) organisational goals (e.g., visionary, goal driven, innovative, & motivational); 2) professional skills
such as being knowledgeable, communicative, and acknowledging others’ achievements; and 3) personal
attributes (e.g., integrity, active listening, respectful, enthusiastic, & approachable). This research shows
how mentors and school leaders can consider the inspirational attributes and practices outlined by partici-
pants in this study to inspire teaching staff. For example, an awareness of attentive listening, motivational
and visionary practices, and acknowledging individual achievements can guide school leaders and men-
tors to inspire others for achieving organsational goals and visions.
Keywords: Leadership; Mentoring; Preservice Teachers; Mentor
Leadership and Mentoring
Leadership comes in many forms with past research identi-
fying leadership in terms of traits, behaviours, and characteris-
tics (Burns, 1978). However, identifying leadership continues
to be elusive with many theories of education leadership (e.g.,
Bush, 2003); consequently considerable research has been un-
dertaken during the last few decades, moving from trait leader-
ship with characteristics of physical appearance, intelligence,
skills and knowledge, and temperament (Yukl, 2006) to more
flexible modes of leadership. Bass and Avolio (1997) drew
from theories of leadership, including Burn’s (1978) notions
about leadership, and categorised a full range leadership model
with practices assigned to transactional, laissez-faire and trans-
formational approaches. Avolio and Bass (2002) explain how
strategies within these leadership practices can assist to deter-
mine a person’s particular leadership practices and possibly
predict the outcome of such leadership (see also Trottier, Van
Wart, & Wang, 2008). To illustrate, transactional leadership
focuses on providing rewards such as promotion and increased
salary as a transaction for increased productivity. For a mentor
teacher, this may entail rewards to the mentee such as favour-
able practicum and internship reports in return for effective
teaching that could lead towards securing a teaching position.
Laissez-faire leadership may be considered as an absence or
indifference in leadership, hence, it cannot be classified within
effective leadership models.
Yet, transformational leadership, with ethics and values at
the centre of these practices, holds promise for inspiring others
to advance workplace goals (Geijsel, Sleegers, Leithwood, &
Jantzi, 2003). Transformational leadership focuses on motivat-
ing people for quality and/or quantity increases in productivity
(Boseman, 2008). It is within transformational leadership where
organisational members are inspired to work collaboratively
towards achieving organisational visions and missions (Gronn,
2002). Transformational leadership appears to have strong syn-
ergies with mentoring arrangements, where a mentor teacher
works in collaboration with the mentee to collectively advance
teaching and learning goals in the classroom. As a subset of
transformational leadership, distributed leadership can inspire
others in roles to assist in achieving organisational goals (Harris,
2004), where workers share responsibility within an organisa-
tion to advance workplace practices through an ethical and
democratic investigative culture (Dean, 2007; Gronn, 2002;
Spillane, Halverson, & Diamond, 2001).
Although Shoaf and Britt (2009) focus on behaviours instead
of practices, they explain how a leader’s responsibility is to
show how others can succeed with demonstrable links to suc-
cessful work. In a behaviourist perspective, leaders “1) chal-
lenge the process, 2), inspire a shared vision, 3) enable others to
act, 4) model the way, and 5) encourage the heart” (Kouzes &
Posner, 2007: p. 3), which can be aligned with mentoring proc-
esses. Indeed, effective leadership appears inextricably linked
to mentoring as “... mentoring is both an obligation and respon-
sibility of leadership” (Kunich & Lester, 1999, p. 117). Indeed,
they use the term mentoring as an acrostic (model, empathise,
nurture, teacher, organise, respond, inspire, network, and
goal-set) to provide an indication of practices that may also
align with leadership.
In the context of mentoring, Hudson and Hudson (2011) out-
line distributed leadership where an extended community of
mentors can take on informal leadership roles to guide mentees
in their development of teaching practices. Distributed leader-
ship transcends a single leader approach towards collaborative
decision-making and may be noted as democratic leadership
with an emphasis on empowering others within an organisation
(Harris & Chapman, 2002), thus sharing responsibility and
building capacity (Dean, 2007; Harris, 2004). In this respect, a
successful mentor-mentee relationship would see the mentor
distributing leadership to the mentee and building the mentee’s
capacity towards eventual autonomy in a classroom, depending
on circumstances (e.g., preservice teacher’s university year
level). Collaboration and sharing of common goals has strong
association with the distributed model of leadership (Kark-
kainen, 2000) and strong associations within effective men-
tor-mentee partnerships (e.g., see journal Mentoring & Tutor-
Successful mentoring relationships can be viewed progres-
sively as a power exchange, which can operationally change the
nature and dynamics of the relationship (Rippon & Martin,
2006). Effective leadership during mentoring would transform
the mentee into an independent role, whereby the mentee be-
gins to gain credibility and be recognised as a teacher with a
teacher identity through an “emerging colleagueship” (Rippon
& Martin, 2006: p. 92). Some researchers (Beutel & Spooner-
Lane, 2009; Hudson, 2006) recognise that being an effective
practitioner in the classroom does not presuppose mentoring
ability or leadership skills. As Zachary (2009) reflects, some
mentors may be willing and committed to participate but “don’t
know what they don’t know” about mentoring (p. 43). An ex-
perienced teacher may have expert knowledge and understand-
ing on teaching practices, yet, mentoring requires learning new
skills that both includes and extends beyond classroom teaching.
A teacher in a mentoring role needs to deconstruct pedagogical
practices and articulate understandings in ways that support
another adult’s learning for becoming a teacher.
Mentoring is not inherent but rather these skills must be
learnt, thereby Hudson (2006) advocates that mentors can im-
prove their methods of mentoring in much the same way as
teachers aim to improve their methods of teaching (e.g., profes-
sional development, sound planning and preparation, and re-
flection on practice). To be effective in mentoring, mentors
need to recognise their roles and, although models of mentoring
are becoming more available (e.g., Hudson, 2010), there needs
to be recognition of mentoring as a leadership role to inspire the
mentee into teaching. Indeed, “mentors must have the vision to
develop the leadership potential” (Kunich & Lester, 1999: p.
126). Offstein, Morwick, and Shah (2008) explain how men-
toring is related to contingency leadership through roles such as
modelling, counselling, coaching and sponsorship (e.g., a men-
tor teacher sponsoring a preservice teacher on a class).
Inspiration as an emotional event requires receptiveness and
an awareness of social interdependence (Hart, 1998). When
mentees are inspired by mentor role models they can develop
resilience and extend personal attributes such as kindness, em-
pathy and sensitivity (Moberg, 2008). Mentees can “develop
moral character in the aftermath of profound inspiration” (Mo-
berg, 2008: p. 99). Lockwood, Jordan, and Kunda (2002, cited
in Moberg, 2008) claim that inspiring mentors can motivate
mentees to develop a strength of character and achieve goals in
the workplace. Mentoring can inspire leadership in others (John,
2008), with effective mentors conveying inspiration though
their practices (Simmons, 2007). Determining relationships
between inspirational school leadership and mentoring may
assist both leaders and mentors to understand connections be-
tween their roles, particularly what others perceive as being
The research question for this study was: What makes school
leaders inspirational and how does this relate to mentoring?
Demographics and Context for the Study
Demographics for 25 participants (11 secondary teachers, 14
primary teachers) involved 7 males and 18 females. Four par-
ticipants were between the ages of 22 - 29 years, 14 were be-
tween 30 - 49 years and the rest older than 50 years of age.
Three had not mentored a preservice teacher previously, 13
mentored between 1 to 4 mentees, 4 mentored between 5 - 9
mentees and 5 mentored 10 or more mentees. Although 4 par-
ticipants had only taught between 1 - 4 years, the rest had
taught for more than 5 years, including 13 who had taught for
more than 10 years. Only seven participants had received pre-
vious mentoring professional development, which included
being on a mentoring committee, a one day conference (8 years
ago), Specialist Teacher Assistant Course Mentoring course in
the UK, and a two-day Mentoring for Effective Teaching (MET)
professional development. Five participants claimed they were
in leadership positions within their secondary schools (i.e.,
deputy principal, head of department, director of learning, head
of curriculum, coordinator of Indigenous education). Two par-
ticipants “strongly disagreed” they would want to be in a lead-
ership position, five were “uncertain” and the rest either
“agreed” or “strongly agreed” they wanted to become a leader
in an educational role. These mentor teachers were involved in
a professional development MET program.
This qualitative study was conducted within a constructivist
epistemology and used a grounded-theory approach as data
formed “initial categories of information about the phenomenon
being studied by segmenting information” (Creswell, 2012: p.
424). Data were collected from 25 experienced teachers at the
commencement of a professional development program titled
Mentoring for Effective Teaching (MET, see www.tedd.net.au).
Data involved an extended written response questionnaire, au-
dio-recorded focus group discussions, and work samples. The
questionnaire was administered at the school site during the
professional development program about mentoring and lead-
ership, questions included: 1) Do you believe you have leader-
ship potential? Why? 2) Think of an inspirational school leader:
What were the leader’s practices that inspired you? Participants
were asked to elaborate on their responses through a focus
group. Furthermore, they extended their responses with work
samples that focused on the qualities of inspiration leaders.
“Inspirational leaders” was a category for axial coding to occur,
that is, other categories were identified that related to this cen-
tral category. As a result of inductive, comparative method, a
model was generated around this central category (Charmaz,
Analysis occurred by collating data into themes as they
emerged (Charmaz, 2011). For instance, participants’ written
responses, focus group recordings and written work samples
(i.e., words used to describe inspirational school leaders) during
the professional development were collated into themes with
frequencies of each theme tabulated across the range of re-
sponses. For example, “knowledge”, “knowledgeable”, and
“knows” were collated under the word “knowledgeable” and
provided with a numerical figure indicating the number of re-
sponses. The Microsoft Word thesaurus was used to connect
synonyms with one word (e.g., approachable: open-minded,
accessible, social, and easy to talk to) and words that did not
align with the Microsoft Word thesaurus but had strong con-
nections were also collated (e.g., practical: down-to-earth). The
focus group discussions produced six audio-recorded narratives
about inspirational school leaders, which were transcribed for
the purposes of providing more elaborate examples to the ques-
tionnaire and work samples. As these participants were allo-
cated randomly into groups, they were not identified by number
in the same way as their questionnaire responses.
Results and Discussion
Mentors involved in the MET program were asked about
their leadership potential with 6 outlining existing leadership
roles and 17 claiming they wanted to be in leadership roles. The
participants wrote about personal attributes (e.g., supporting,
listening, and enthusiasm) and interrelationships within the
school community, professional sharing with colleagues, past
leadership experiences, and a professional sharing with col-
leagues. To illustrate, positive personal attributes and school
community relationships as indicators of leadership potential
was noted by nine participants (4, 5, 6, 9, 12, 14, 18, 21, & 22)
with opening remarks such as “I am able to listen and under-
stand people’s concerns” (Participant 5), “I have a strong con-
nection with people in my school community” (Participant 4),
“daily interactions with all types of personalities” (Participant
12) and “I am a personal and relational leader. My strength is
building relationships across my school” (Participant 21). In
addition, enthusiasm and passion “about quality teaching and
quality learning” were attributes highlighted by three partici-
pants (16, 17 & 24). Facilitating positive relationships within a
school community requires positive personal attributes and is
advocated as a leadership quality (see also Hudson & Hudson,
Professional sharing with colleagues was noted by four par-
ticipants (9, 15, 16, & 22) and was connected strongly with
vision, knowledge, and capacity for leadership roles. Participant
9 stated, “I have a vision around what I would like to see hap-
pen in our school/education system and how I would like peo-
ple to behave and operate within that setting” and Participant 16
wrote, “Professional sharing, particularly in regards to progres-
sive/innovative and non-traditional methods with the goal of
educational progress is something about which I am passionate
and determined” (Participant 16). There was recognition of
one’s knowledge and capacity for undertaking leadership roles,
to illustrate, Participant 22 claimed, “capacity to develop poten-
tial of myself through collaborative practice, synthesis of edu-
cational priorities, organisational and relational skills to drive
change to improve pedagogy and student achievement” and
Participant 15 noted, “Interest in professional development,
curriculum, self improvement, leadership qualities”. Others
within an organisation rely on the expertise of school leaders to
share their professional knowledge and project a collective
vision for moving an organisation forward (e.g., Bush, 2003;
Gronn, 2002). In the context of mentoring, the mentee relies on
the mentor’s knowledge and vision for teaching, particularly
during the mentee’s formative stages of development. As the
mentee matures in pedagogical practices, the mentor-mentee
interaction becomes more of a shared arrangement, which can
be likened to distributed leadership (e.g., Karkkainen, 2000).
Six participants (2, 5, 8, 10, 20, & 21) were in leadership
roles of varying intensities and drew upon past experiences for
viewing their leadership potential and synergies with the men-
toring role. For example, Participant 10 stated, “I have been a
Deputy Principal for 12+ years”, while Participant 2 had “acted
in a deputy capacity on 2 occasions. I am Year Level Coordi-
nator and regular mentor for preservice teachers”. Participant 5
who was in a leadership role related to past experiences where
she was able to “create an action plan and follow through and
people love that I demonstrate consistency and I always do
what I say and it’s practical”. There was also recognition that
leadership required continuous learning, “I believe that as a
leader I am constantly learning and seeking feedback in order to
become a more effective school leader” (Participant 20). The
practicalities of school leadership were outlined, especially the
notion of continual growth development for the betterment of
the school, which also may be achieved by taking on mentoring
roles (e.g., Avalos, 2011).
Although these participants were mentors, four participants
appeared tentative about the idea of taking a permanent leader-
ship role in a school. To illustrate, “I enjoy being part of a PLC
and discussing key issues and philosophies, although I feel I
can be reticent/unconfident in leading others to achieve goals I
believe are important to attain” (Participant 18) and a willing-
ness to commit to leadership roles: “I enjoy the challenge and
satisfaction of leading and being a role model but feel I lack the
time to move in this direction as well as effectively teach at
times” (Participant 1). Yet some other participants believed
they had potential to be leaders but appeared unsure on how to
advance their ambitions. To illustrate, Participant 11 waited for
recognition of leadership potential: “Our past deputy was trying
to persuade me to apply for higher roles i.e. Deputy Principal’s
position”, and Participant 19 believed she had leadership poten-
tial but required more development: “I think that I have some of
the qualities of a leader, which I’m hoping to develop with
more experience”. Participant 12 claimed a readiness for transi-
tioning from classroom practitioner to a leadership role high-
lighting her foundational experiences: “Organising and manag-
ing a classroom have given me a foundation on which to build
and extend leadership skills. I believe I have something to offer
others”. It seemed that some teachers wait to be recognised for
their leadership potential; indeed existing school leaders need to
be proactive in identifying leadership qualities within teaching
staff (Pont, Nushe, & Moorman, 2008). This current study in-
ferred that these classroom teachers may need to learn proactive
skills for seeking leadership opportunities and positions, for
which mentoring another adult (e.g., preservice teacher, begin-
ning teacher) may be an initial step towards such roles.
Opportunities for Leadership in Schools
The participants (n = 25) wrote about their opportunities for
leadership within their schools. Although many responses
Open Access 89
ranged from organising parent helpers and year level coordina-
tion to executive leadership meetings, some of their comments
did not explicitly state mentoring as a leadership opportunity.
Nevertheless, their comments inferred mentoring practices as
leadership, for instance, professional learning communities
(PLCs) with common interests were outlined (e.g., ICT and
Curriculum, Participant 10; Gifted and Talented Committee,
Participant 16) and statements such as “Our teachers work
closely together in sector groups which include a ‘Learning
co-teacher’; they discuss, problem solve, plan and evaluate
everything they do as a team” (Participant 4) and “Literacy
coaching model” (Participant 9) inferred co-mentoring frame-
works. Only one response explicitly mentioned mentoring as a
leadership opportunity that is: “Through the mentor program
developed we have the opportunity to observe each other’s
practice in a non-threatening way and provide critical feedback
to enhance our skills” (Participant 25). There appeared to be
multiple opportunities for involvement in PLCs within schools
with further opportunities to mentor others within these PLCs.
When asked if mentoring preservice teachers supports the
development of the teaching profession, all agreed with elabo-
rations on why mentoring supports the profession. It was writ-
ten that “mentoring during practice is critical for preservice
teachers to effectively apply, reflect and improve” (Participant
1) and “sometimes a rewarding prac experience can stay with
you for many years” (Participant 2). There was also the dual
learning role of mentor and mentee, the notion of growth for
both: “preservice teachers may have new ideas and knowledge
to bring to classrooms and schools” (Participant 12) and “men-
toring forces one to reflect on their own abilities” (Participant
16). Teachers’ professional growth can include mentoring
processes (Avalos, 2011) where, in the mentor’s role, leader-
ship capacities can be nurtured.
Several participants were firm on why they were in or
wanted to be in a leadership position. For instance, Participant 4,
who was in a leadership role, stated unequivocally, “I need to
challenge my teachers to be effective mentors and build the
capacity of our future teaching workforce—not just have them
for 4 weeks and say ‘well done’”. Participant 18 recognised that
mentoring preservice teachers “provides opportunities for lead-
ership for class teachers; promotes discussion and reflection of
pedagogy” and that “every teacher (especially preservice
teachers) needs a mentor, or a support person throughout their
teaching careers” (Participant 19). Two participants emphasised
the capacity building of mentoring by drawing on the expertise,
to illustrate: “valuing and empowering these preservice teachers
to provide education that is of the highest quality and makes a
difference” (Participant 17), and “They are our future. So many
years of experience is worth so much and the heartache we’ve
been through at different times can be of benefit—there was a
reason for the pain” (Participant 24). This presents a transfor-
mational leadership approach where values and ethics appear at
the centre of building capacity for achieving the organisational
goals (see Avolio & Bass, 2002; Geijsel et al., 2003).
Organisational Goals, Professional Skills, and
The participants were asked to think of an inspirational
leader and determine the leader’s practices that inspired them.
There was not one response that pointed to a single inspira-
tional attribute or practice, instead they had multiple responses
about inspirational leadership, for instance: Participant 12 out-
lined an inspirational school leader who “has both a working
relationship and a social relationship with staff, available to
provide support and leadership with classroom issues (e.g. stu-
dents) and practices”, Participant 1 wrote “Her enthusiasm and
organisational skills and the perception that she had enough
time to do everything effectively”, and:
How they were able to improve the quality in the teaching
going on in classrooms using various strategies. Their ability to
inspire others to reach high expectations. Supportive of the
teaching staff in every shape and form; being available to dis-
cuss positives and grievances; able to improve standards (from
dress code to thorough planning). Great conflict resolution
skills. (Participant 17)
Yet, their responses could be collated into three theoretical
themes on inspirational school leaders, namely: 1) organisa-
tional vision and goals, 2) professional skills, and 3) personal
attributes (Figure 1).
Leaders were considered inspiring if they were active and
had clarity on the school’s goals, projecting a shared vision and
ownership for achieving the goals. For example: “Clear articu-
lation of personal vision and values; ability to persuade and
motivate others so the vision becomes shared (collaborative
ownership); delegating responsibility for outcomes and en-
couraging ownership” (Participant 20). Organisational goals
were further linked to how an inspirational school leader would
assist the teacher to meet these goals. Instigating teachers’ re-
flective abilities appeared as a key for focusing on these goals,
to illustrate: the leader’s “ability to make you reflect on your
own practice with an excellent knowledge and understanding of
curriculum” (Participant 14). There were multiple professional
skills of inspirational school leaders indicated by these partici-
pants, but knowledge, acknowledging individuals, realistic
expectations, and communication dominated their responses.
To illustrate, one of these professional skills was acknowledg-
ing individuals, which was claimed to instil confidence to suc-
ceed, demonstrated through the following four comments:
● Currently at my school my principal inspires me to con-
stantly strive to enhance my teaching practices. She is in-
Synergies between inspirational leaders and mentors.
Open Access 91
spirational as her leadership and diverse practices lead me
to believe more in my own abilities as a teacher (Participant
● She never failed to comment on your achievements and no
matter how small (Participant 6).
● A strong belief in the potential of others around them and
the willingness to give opportunities to other staff members
—not just the big noters and noise makers of the group.
Their belief in me (Participant 24).
● Their understanding of communication skills—importance
of valuing and listening, non-judgemental of the small is-
sues, guide with the big issues. Be real—understand we all
need mentoring and coaching to be the best we can be (Par-
Inspirational school leaders were identified as having spe-
cific personal attributes that allowed them to interact success-
fully with others. Integrity, active listening, conflict resolution
and enthusiasm (passion) were among the attributes, demon-
strated in the following:
● A personal approach that showed integrity, which was used
at all times with parents, staff and students (Participant 3).
● Ability to listen and understand and support through action
and resolving of conflict through a plan. They were pas-
sionate—had a bigger picture about the care of people (not
tasks) (Participant 5).
● Energy and passion towards the advancement of education
(teaching and learning practices); willingness/openness to
ensure a shared or collaborative process (Participant 16).
● Willingness to actively listen; willingness to have hard
conversations and make hard decisions (Participant 9).
After these participants wrote about their inspirational school
leaders, they wrote words that described their inspirational
leaders on individual “Stick It” notes and then categorised on a
word wall (i.e., notes were placed on a wall) where one group
then attempted to categorise these responses. Table 1 presents
these words aligned with three theoretical themes, viz: 1) or-
ganisational vision and goals, 2) professional skills, and 3)
personal attributes. At the conclusion of the exercise, partici-
pants were invited to highlight any word that did not align with
being a mentor. This presented as a high-level cognitive task as
they evaluated words to determine which ones may not align.
Surprisingly to the participants, they did not find one word not
aligned with mentoring and, instead, comments from partici-
pants concurred that, in the words of one participant, “if you
mentor then you lead” and “they (pointing to the words) apply
to both roles”.
Narrative about Inspirational School Leaders
Six small groups of participants stood in circles and were
provided 15 minutes to talk about a school leader who had in-
spired them. One person from each of the six groups was pro-
vided with an audio recorder and their narratives were later
transcribed by an experienced research assistant with a PhD. A
leader’s personal attributes (e.g., enthusiasm and charisma) and
professional skills (communicative) tended to be emphasised in
their narratives, for instance, a male participant said:
One of the first principals I taught under was a principal at a
private Christian school. He was charismatic, passionate, pa-
tient, knew how to speak to people to get the most calm sensible
thing out of the most crazy, aggressive or emotional person. He
spoke and people just listened.
Nearly all participants had a specific narrative with an identi-
fiable inspirational school leader. However, one female partici-
pant explained how difficult it was to identify only one inspira-
When I’m thinking about a leader but I find to get someone
who has all the things you look for in a leader I think is really
difficult. Often you get little bits and pieces from everyone so
you could put them all together and they’d be this person on a
pedestal. But everyone brings something to the profession and I
don’t know I find it difficult to pick out just one person but dif-
ferent traits from each person and sometimes, someone might
have the humour that I think is necessary in teaching but
someone else might have the organisational skills, bits and
pieces from everybody. I think ability to consider somebody
else’s opinion and acknowledge the benefit of that even if you
don’t implement it is important and not just to put it aside.
Another participant focused on herself in a beginning teacher
role and identified a colleague as an inspirational leader be-
cause of her mentoring. Synergies between leadership and
mentoring were made very clear through her narrative. To il-
When I first started teaching the person who I was put beside
probably sticks in my mind a lot. She was probably a mentor to
me as such and she just gave me the confidence. She inspired
me to be the best teacher I can be, to be like her I guess. And
yeah, I guess she took on a mentoring role without me probably
knowing it at the time. Even the following year, I remember
having heart failure because I wasn’t going to be beside her
anymore. But she had a way about her ... lots of the things that
she taught me have stuck with me and she was just a good sup-
port and brought out the best in me.
She inspired me to be better and to do better so I am better.
She commands respect but the main thing about her is she
walks the walk. She doesn’t just talk, she leads by example.
She’s very charismatic, she’s quite an inspirational speaker in
the staff meetings you find yourself captivated by her. As a
leader she’s very, she’s just really supportive. She wants the
best fo r all teache rs .
She would pick up on what she thought was your strength
Words describing inspirational school leaders.
Category Descriptive words
Organisational goals innovative (n = 11), motivational/enabler (9), goal driven (8), visionary (5), organised (4), willingness to change (3), high
Professional skills knowledgeable (n = 11), acknowledges individual’s achievements (11), realistic expectations (7), communicative (6), conflict
resolution (6), supportive (3), positive role model (3)
Personal attributes integrity (n = 8), attentive listener (6), sense of humour (6), charasmatic/confident (5), empathetic (3), approachable (3), respectful
(3), consistent (2), enthusiastic (2), maintaining positive relationships (2)
Noe: Numbers represent the number of participants aligned with these words. t
and then she would tailor you into doing more and more and
more in your strength area and she really brought out, made
the people shine, so it made you feel special and recognised.
Further Leadership and Mentoring Connections
They were asked what they intended to gain from this pro-
fessional development, which was collated as: Knowledge and
skills for mentoring (n = 15); leadership skills (10); achieving
education system aims (6); and confidence to mentor (2). One
participant wanted the professional development as a way to
critical reflect on mentoring practices and another participant
wanted connections with university. Examples of participant
quotes about the knowledge and skills for mentoring included:
“A specific mentoring program/module to present to teachers -
encourage, promote, persuade, mentoring at our school” (Par-
ticipant 21), “Personal knowledge and skills about effective
mentoring” (Participant 4), and “Refine my own mentoring
practices” (Participant 16). Only two specifically used the word
leadership when asked what they hoped to gain from the pro-
fessional development (e.g., “Further develop mentoring, and
thus, leadership skills”, Participant 18; and “Confidence and
leadership skills and ability to pay it forward for children’s
benefit in general”, Participant 1). Nevertheless, eight other
participants expressed leadership in different ways, for instance:
“Empowerment—help others to mentor” (Participant 8) and “I
hope to gain an understanding of how I can develop mentoring
skills among my staff so that mentors can be used across the
school for a variety of purposes including preservice teachers”
(Participant 20). Capacity building also inferred leadership,
such as the comment from Participant 22: “Build capability of
teachers to learn from each other in context to develop peda-
gogy to improve student achievement”.
These participants were asked why they wanted to be men-
tors, for which 15 indicated to develop successful, quality fu-
ture teachers, particularly nurturing preservice teachers in sup-
portive classroom environments. Their comments included: “To
be able to share and develop in others ‘best’ practice. I believe
in the importance of building capacity” (Participant 9), “I want
to have the opportunity to be involved in increasing the amount
of ‘quality’ teachers in state education” (Participant 12), and “I
enjoy working with others and have a desire for them to suc-
ceed” (Participant 6). Participant 8 stated simply, “I’m a nur-
turer—‘beginners’ need to feel safe to risk take”. Leadership
must embed capacity building to ensure an organisation con-
tinues to grow (Dimmock, 2012). Indeed, there were 11 par-
ticipants who wanted to share knowledge and experience on
teaching practices (including praxis) with 4 who wanted to help
school students as a result of their mentoring. Three were mo-
tivated to provide more effective mentoring experiences be-
cause of their own inadequate mentoring experiences as men-
tees. For example, Participant 11 wrote, “Going through uni-
versity I had one mentor who I felt didn’t support my growth as
a teacher and I didn’t want that to happen to someone else”
(Participant 11) and
I had a terrible experience as a preservice teacher when I
was 18 and as a result did not enter the teaching profession
until 10 years later! I have had a good experience when men-
toring and believe I am supportive and owe it to others. (Par-
There were values, ethics and morals intertwined within
various comments, such as “so that preservice teachers don’t
see it as a job but a privilege to make a difference to a child’s
world” (Participant 17) and “to inspire the passion of teaching
children” (Participant 3). Two participants wanted to mentor
more effectively as they believed that the university provided
theory but the schools were required to ensure preservice
teachers had theory-practice connections, for example, “I al-
ways felt with uni that you were given plenty of theories, but
not enough time for prac—where you put these theories into
action and learn the most” (Participant 19) and “I firmly believe
that practical classroom experience for preservice teachers is
extremely important to put theory and research into practical
real-world situations” (Participant 2). Teachers step into lead-
ership roles where they identify gaps that require addressing
(e.g., Hudson, English, Dawes, & Macri, 2012; Ritchie &
Hudson, 2009), for which these two participants in this study
claimed gaps in contextualising university learning, where pos-
sibly unknowingly, these participants have stepped up into
leadership roles. Finally, two participants highlighted the pro-
fessional development on mentoring as a way forward in lead-
ership: “I believe it will make me a better leader. I wish to fur-
ther develop my ability to provide feedback and improve my
relational leadership” (Participant 20) and “Transfer to others
my skills and beliefs around teaching and learning and inspire
others to become good teachers” (Participant 21).
A valuable aspect of mentoring is the mentor’s reflection on
the mentoring process and relationships not only with the men-
tee but also with other colleagues (Beutel & Spooner-Lane,
2009). As a result of this Mentoring for Effective Teaching
(MET) professional development program, these participants
had opportunities to critically self reflect on practices about
mentoring and leadership. Correspondingly, critical self reflec-
tion can enhance a mentor’s own outcomes with evidence cited
to include: revitalisation or re-engagement with the profession;
the gaining of new ideas, perspectives, teaching styles and
strategies; increased confidence in their own teaching; in-
creased empathy of the needs of their mentees; and satisfaction
and pride in their own and their mentees’ accomplishments
(Hobson, Ashby, Malderez, & Tomlinson, 2009). Experimen-
tal-control group studies (Giebelhaus & Bowman, 2000; Hud-
son & McRobbie, 2004) also show that professional develop-
ment in mentoring can make a difference to the quality of men-
toring received by preservice teachers.
This study presented clear evidence that mentors are in lead-
ership roles and that classroom teachers who take on mentoring
roles become leaders. For many mentors, this may be their first
opportunity to display leadership attributes and practices.
Leadership comes in many forms with past research identifying
leadership in terms of traits, behaviours, and characteristics
(Bush, 2003; Burns, 1978; Yukl, 2006) and extending to trans-
actional, transformational (Avolio & Bass, 2002), and distrib-
uted leadership (Gronn, 2002). Scandura and Williams (2004)
outline that transformational leadership with inspirational mo-
tivation and respect produces commitment to the work and
appears consistent with mentoring relationships. In addition,
mentors provide opportunities to their mentees based on indi-
vidualised consideration. However, this current study does not
categorise participants’ identification of inspirational leadership
attributes and practices in terms of previous models but instead
presents a view that leaders and mentors considering these at-
tributes and practices may assist to inspire others in their work.
More research is needed to uncover how inspirational leader-
ship attributes and practices can be presented as a complemen-
tary or alternative model to existing models. Nevertheless, there
were inferences that the leadership attributes and practices in
this study may be indicative of transformational leadership and
distributed leadership with particular links to mentoring situa-
tions. Distributed leadership can act in co-leadership ways such
as co-principalship (Gronn & Hamilton, 2004); similarly men-
toring often extends to co-teaching situations. Distributed lead-
ership holds promise for understanding mentor teachers who
take up a leadership role in guiding their mentees towards
pedagogical autonomy. It is argued in this paper that an effec-
tive mentor distributes the leadership role to the mentee as a
form of progressive pedagogical development.
In this study, there were strong synergies between mentoring
and inspirational leadership. The theoretical contribution in-
cluded determining similarities between leaders and mentors.
According to the 25 participants, leaders were considered to be
inspirational when they articulate organisational vision and
goals, and have professional skills and exhibit personal attributes.
When these participants reflected on the attributes and practices
of inspirational school leaders and were provided opportunities
to reflect on how these connected with mentoring, not one par-
ticipant could single out an “inspirational school leader” attrib-
ute or practice that would not apply to a mentor teacher. That is,
it was highlighted by the participants that organisational vision
and goals, professional skills and personal attributes of inspira-
tional school leaders also apply to inspirational mentors.
School leaders and mentor teachers need to take note on what
constitutes inspirational leadership as a way of re-thinking their
own attributes and practices. Indeed, mentor teachers can draw
upon the attributes and practices of inspirational leaders to in-
spire their mentees in teaching. Simultaneously, this research
shows how school leaders can consider the inspirational attrib-
utes and practices outlined by these participants to inspire
teaching staff. For example, an awareness of attentive listening,
motivational and visionary practices, and acknowledging indi-
vidual achievements can guide school leaders and mentors to
inspire others for achieving organsational goals. More research
around the alignment of practices and attributes between lead-
ers and mentors may uncover models to assist mentors in their
This work was conducted within the Teacher Education
Done Differently (TEDD) project funded by the Australian
Government Department of Education, Employment and Work-
place Relations (DEEWR). Any opinions, findings, and conclu-
sions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of
the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
DEEWR. I would like to acknowledge Dr Sue Hudson as the
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