Teacher Empowerment and Teacher Perceptions of the Principal’s Servant Leadership

May 25th, 2018 | Category: Research in Education
By Helen G. Hammond

Background of the Study

School leadership continues to be an area of focus particularly as it relates to teacher burn-out and teacher turn-over (National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future, 2012). As a result, researchers have placed focus on leadership-theory application and the influence of leadership style on students, teachers, and schools (Afshari, Bakar, Luan, & Siraj, 2012; Angelle, 2010; Meirovich, 2012). This paper will explore the relationship between school-principal servant-leadership and teacher empowerment. Findings of significant positive relationships would provide new information to school leadership educators regarding the value of servant leadership in effective school leadership.

Servant leadership is a follower-focused approach to leading that is rooted in trust (Choudhary, Akhtar, & Saheer, 2013). Introduced by Robert Greenleaf in 1970, servant leadership comprises characteristics of listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and community building (Black, 2010). Recent empirical research has explored the application of servant leadership in academic settings including its relationship to school climate (Black, 2010), school culture and school performance (Williams & Hatch, 2012), academic advising (McClellan, 2007; Paul, Smith, & Schney, 2012), and teacher job satisfaction and intent to stay (Shaw & Newton, 2014). These studies add to the body of knowledge and provide evidence of the value of the practice of servant leadership in academic settings.

Teacher empowerment is a process that engages teachers in taking ownership and action in their own growth and problem-solving capability (Short, 1994). Past studies of school teacher empowerment have explored its relationship to school-principal-leadership orientation (Short, Rinehart, & Eckley, 1999), student-conflict resolution (Pinchevsky & Bogler, 2014), organizational commitment (Sharif, Kanik, Omar, & Sulaiman, 2011), and teaching effectiveness (Adedoyin, 2012). These studies illuminate the interest in teacher empowerment and prompt the inquiry to what may lead to empowered teachers. This study explores the strength, direction, and significance of the relationship between teacher school-principal servant leadership and teacher empowerment.

Theoretical Foundations

There are two theoretical foundations for this study: servant leadership, and teacher empowerment. The research questions and measurement justifications were explored through the lens of Greenleaf’s (1970) seminal servant-leadership theory, which was also used to describe how servant leadership and teacher empowerment were related. Barbuto and Wheeler (2006) operationalized servant leadership through the lens of the Servant Leadership Questionnaire (SLQ), using the five conceptual characteristics of altruistic calling, emotional healing, wisdom, persuasive mapping, and organizational stewardship based on Greenleaf’s (1970) leadership philosophy of servant leadership.

It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test is: “Do those served grow as persons, do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” (Greenleaf, p. 4).

Greenleaf (1970) first introduced the term servant leader in his seminal work, though he was not the first to introduce the concept. Jesus Christ taught leading by serving and is identified as the first servant leader having lived a life which was servant-leadership demonstrated (Blanchard, Hodges, & Hendry, 2016). In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus explained that he was not sent to earth to be served, but rather to serve (Mark 10:44-45). Prior to these verses, Jesus explained to several of his disciples about their thoughts of His status and their role in the kingdom. Jesus explained to his followers that while leadership of the time was ‘of the world’—it was not how they would lead. Instead, Jesus explained “But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else” (Mark 10:35-44, NLT). The ultimate sacrifice of a leader is to put the needs of followers first, and to lead by serving (Hine, 2014; Parris & Peachey, 2012).

Momentum and interest has emerged in the study of teacher empowerment as a result of efforts in school improvement, reform, and effectiveness efforts (Angelle, 2010). Short (1994) explained teacher empowerment as a process of sharing administrative power, allowing teachers autonomy, the opportunity to take risks, grow, make decisions, and develop new skills. The influence on teacher empowerment with a school-principal servant leader was explored through this definition and operationalized using the School Participant Empowerment Scale (SPES) developed by Short & Rinehart (1992) using the six themes of decision making, professional growth, status, self-efficacy, autonomy, and impact. The research question of this study directly aligned to the theoretical foundations of teacher empowerment and servant leadership. The research question was “What, if any, significant relationship exists between teacher perceptions of principal servant leadership characteristics of altruistic calling, emotional healing, wisdom, persuasive mapping, and organizational stewardship as measured by the SLQ individually and collectively and teacher self-empowerment as measured by the SPES?


Quantitative methodology and correlational design were used in this study. Characteristics of quantitative research including the measurement of variables using numerical data, the testing of hypotheses, and conducting statistical analyses to explore the relationship among variables (Meyers, Gamst, & Guarino, 2017) were relevant to this study, making quantitative methodology an appropriate choice. The strength of all pairs of scores between variables was assessed using Pearson product moment correlation coefficients. Standard multiple linear regression analysis was used to assess the strength of the combined relationships between both criterion variables and the five predictor variables (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013). The intent of this study was to explore the strength, direction, and significance of the relationships between teacher perceptions of the servant leadership characteristics of their school principal, and teacher self-empowerment. A quantitative methodology and correlational design was therefore the best research approach.


The five predictor variables used to measure servant-leader attributes of the school principal were based on the five subscales of the Servant Leadership Questionnaire: Altruistic Calling, Emotional Healing, Wisdom, Persuasive Mapping, and Organizational Stewardship (Barbuto & Wheeler, 2006). The criterion variable in this study was teacher empowerment based on the defining characteristics (subscales) identified by Short and Rinehart (1992) in the School Participant Empowerment Scale (SPES). The six characteristics of the SPES include Decision Making, Professional Growth, Status, Self-Efficacy, Autonomy, and Impact (1992).


The instruments chosen for this study align with the research question because they measure teacher perceptions of the variables. Two validated psychometric instruments were chosen for this study: the Servant Leadership Questionnaire (SLQ) and the School Participant Empowerment Scale (SPES). The SLQ was used to measure teacher perceptions of the servant leader attributes of their school principal. The 11 key dimensions of servant leadership (calling, listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, growth, and community building) were used by Barbuto and Wheeler (2006) to operationally measure servant leadership. The SLQ measured servant leadership using five continuously scaled factors of altruistic calling, emotional healing, persuasive mapping, wisdom and organizational stewardship and has been used in empirical research conducted by Mahembe and Engelbrecht (2014), Paul, et al. (2012), Barbuto and Hayden (2011), Barbuto, Singh, Wilmot, and Story (2012), Garber, Madigan, Click, and Fitzpatrick (2009), and Melchar and Bosco (2010).

The SPES was used to measure teacher perceptions of their own empowerment, based on six themes identified by Short and Rinehart (1992) which were revealed using exploratory factor analysis. The six continuously scaled themes of the SPES are decision making, professional growth, status, self-efficacy, autonomy, and impact (1992). The SPES has been applied in recent research studies to measure teacher empowerment, including studies conducted by Klecker and Loadman (1998), Pinchevsky and Bogler (2014), Sharif et al. (2011), Adedoyin (2012), and Short, et al. (1999).

Study Sample

All full-time K–12 teachers in the chosen Christian school district were invited to participate. The accessible population comprised 700 teachers from 63 Christian schools located in the Southwest United States. The survey was administered electronically and the sample comprised 236 teachers. The electronic survey included a participant demographics section for the purpose of better understanding the sample. The following questions were included in the participant demographics section:  gender, highest level of education, years in the teaching profession, and years at current school. Descriptive statistics were then used to identify key characteristics of the sample. Study participants included 164 (69.5%) females and 72 (30.5%) males. More than half (58.1%) of participants reported an earned master’s degree. Half of the respondents indicated at least 5 years of service at their current school, and the average number of years reported in the teaching profession was 16 years.


Prior to data analysis, data were cleaned and screened. The assessment of assumptions included normality, linearity, and homoscedasticity of residuals to determine the acceptability for the use of the standard multiple linear regression analysis. The IBM SPSS computer program was used to complete data analysis and all assumptions were met.

The strength, direction, and significance of the predictor SLQ variables of altruistic calling, emotional healing, wisdom, persuasive mapping, and organizational stewardship were compared to the criterion variable of SPES using standard multiple linear regression. All bivariate correlation coefficients demonstrated moderate positive relationships that were significant (p < 0.001). Bivariate correlations between all pairs of variables are presented in Table 1. The strength of the significant correlations falls within the moderate (± 0.40 – ± 0.70) range according to Guilford (1956). The multiple correlation R = 0.526 of the combined predictor variables to the criterion variable was significant (p < 0.001). The shared variance of the model predictor variables to the criterion variable was R2 = 0.276 (adjusted R2 = 0.261) indicating approximately 27.6% of the variability of teacher empowerment was explained by servant leadership.

These findings indicate that the model of the five combined predictor variables of teacher perceptions of the servant leadership characteristics of their school principal significantly predicted teachers’ perceptions of their own self-empowerment. Two individual predictor variables were significant to teacher self-empowerment: emotional healing (t = 2.460, p = 0.015) and organizational stewardship (t = 2.398, p = 0.017). The SLQ factor of emotional healing identifies a leader’s focus on spiritual and emotional recovery through the creation of a safe environment of listening and empathy to facilitate healing (Barbuto & Wheeler, 2006). The SLQ factor of organizational stewardship recognizes the leader’s role in preparing the organization to contribute to society at large (2006). The post hoc effect size of R2 was f2 = 0.381 (large) and post hoc effect size of the R2 was power = 1.0. This means that there was 100% chance of correctly rejecting the false null hypothesis in favor of the alternative hypothesis with an f2 = 0.381, a = 0.05, N = 236, and five predictor variables.


















2. Altruistic Calling







3. Emotional Healing






4. Wisdom





5. Persuasive Mapping




6. Organizational Stewardship



Note: M = Mean, SD = Standard Deviation, N = 236, *p < 0.001

Table 1:  Bivariate Correlations, Means, and Standard Deviations for the Scores on the SPES, Altruistic Calling, Emotional Healing, Wisdom, Persuasive Mapping, and Organizational Stewardship


Summary of Findings

The purpose of this study was to build on Greenleaf’s (1970) model by identifying the strength, direction, and significance of the relationship between servant leadership and teacher empowerment. This study therefore may add value to the body of knowledge related to these two constructs. The results support the relationships between the constructs. All factors associated with teachers’ perceptions of principal servant leadership positively and significantly correlated to teacher’s perceptions of their own self-empowerment. The most significant and consistent predictors in the model of all predictors of principal servant leadership to teacher self-empowerment were SLQ Emotional Healing, and SLQ Organizational Stewardship. Teachers’ perceptions were that higher levels of servant leadership among their principals related to their having higher teacher self-empowerment.


Interpretations of findings may be limited by the target population for the study. Only full-time K–12 teachers were invited to participate. Purposive sampling was utilized, and this district was chosen because of its servant-leadership practice. The homogeneous nature of the sample could influence findings. It could be that a different population of teachers would yield different results; for example, different regions of the country, non-Christian teachers, those teaching in a public school setting versus a private Christian school. Another limitation involved the propensity for only individuals with the most extreme feelings (positive or negative) to comprise the majority of respondents (Simon & Goes, 2013). Finally, the limitation of the potential for bias of self-report should be noted, as the instruments deal with self-report perceptions. Honesty, social desirability, understanding, and response bias can result from self-report instruments (2013). Participants may not be truthful in their responses or unable to recall specific events/information needed to truthfully answer the questions.

Future Research

The following should be considered for future research related to the constructs of servant leadership and teacher empowerment. First, a mixed methods design could be employed to further investigate the relationships between servant leadership and teacher empowerment using interview and observation in addition to survey-data collection. Second, future research should consider the principal-to-teacher ratio. The number of teachers per school within the sampled district varied from 10 to 100 school teachers. This variance could impact findings if a higher number of teachers from any one school responded. It is recommended that the relationship of the number of full-time teachers in each school to servant leadership and teacher self-empowerment be a focus in future research. Third, the three servant-leadership characteristics of altruistic calling, wisdom, and persuasive mapping were not as strongly correlated to teacher perceptions of self-empowerment. Further research should explore why these characteristics were not as strongly correlated as emotional healing and organizational stewardship. A qualitative study with interviews might give more of the nuances that could be inherent in teacher perceptions. Asking further questions that explore these perceptions at a deep level might eliminate or reveal some of the biases identified in the limitations and allow for deeper understanding of the SLQ characteristics. This could uncover why emotional healing and organizational stewardship are more significantly correlated. Finally, it is recommended that future research explore various leadership styles. Comparisons between leadership styles could further clarify understanding of the unique contribution of servant leadership on teacher empowerment.


Prior research has identified teachers who are empowered are motivated and satisfied at work (Lyons, Green, Raiford, Tsemunhu, Pate, & Baldy, 2013; Vansieleghem & Masschelein, 2012). Empowered teachers have improved communication and fewer conflicts, in addition to improved student achievement (Noland & Richards, 2015). Further, Shaw and Newton (2014) established a strong correlation between perceived servant leadership and teacher retention. Given the finding that the SLQ factor emotional healing was associated with and a predictor of teacher empowerment, it is plausible that teachers may benefit from supplementary emotional healing support as provided through the leader practice of servant leadership.

Practical implications include the potential for teachers low in self-empowerment to become more empowered under the supervision of a school principal with a servant-leader orientation. In addition, emotional healing and organizational stewardship appear to play significant roles and provide significant advantages that may impact other activities within the school community and aspects of school environment. The relationship of SLQ emotional healing and SLQ organizational stewardship should be further explored to identify what other aspects of teachers and the school environment may be influenced.


The study findings provide opportunity for several recommendations of future practice that, in turn, could lead to stronger schools with empowered teachers resulting from school-principal servant leadership. First, the findings could serve as a springboard within a district for school principal servant leadership development aimed at the development of empowered teachers. Second, the findings provide an opportunity for exploration related to how servant leadership (particularly SLQ emotional healing and SLQ organizational stewardship) may influence other aspects of the school environment. Further adaptation of servant-leadership training curriculum in district professional development should be encouraged in light of the positive relationships identified. New knowledge resulting from this research with regard to positive relationships between teacher empowerment and school-principal servant leadership may result in changes to curriculum in education administration programs. Finally, these findings could be used in the selection-and-hiring processes of school principals that embody servant-leader characteristics. Given the need for teachers, this study points to a focus on the school-principal selection process. The study suggests a focus on recruitment and retention of teachers, given the relationship between perceived servant-leadership and teacher-empowerment outcomes identified through this study. LEJ


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Author Information

Helen G. Hammond, Ph.D. is faculty in the Colangelo College of Business at Grand Canyon University. Her career in higher education began following the completion of her bachelor’s degree in 1999, serving at her alma mater, Concordia University – Nebraska. Her research interests include selection instruments, hiring practices, employee retention, and servant leadership.

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