Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)

The Importance of Transactional and Transformational Leadership Within Multi-Tiered Systems

by Dawn Durham

Leadership, identified by the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN), is one of the key implementation drivers within the systems change process, particularly if we want our efforts to be sustainable, or long lasting. Within tiered systems of support, we view leadership as an activity that is most impactful when it is highly visible and uniformly shared and/or distributed.

Transactional leadership is characterized by a focus on desired outcomes, recognition of accomplishments, and provision of praise and constructive feedback to staff. Transactional leadership is about actively monitoring standards set forth for the team and addressing any issues that arise. Transactional leaders are often in response or management “mode” to real situations in real time.

Conversely, transformational leadership focuses on transforming the system. Transformational leaders establish challenging expectations and influence from a position of moral imperative and ethics. They stimulate new ways of looking at old problems through coaching, mentoring, and empowerment. Transactional leaders do not react to the environment. Instead, they join with others to co-construct and/or co-create a more ideal environment based upon collective visioning.

Transactional and transformational leadership work synchronously within the systems-change process. Both are necessary! The goal is to counterbalance day-to-day transactions like scheduling and the establishment of tiered services and supports within bigger imperatives – like helping all students access high-quality core literacy instruction within a culturally responsive, positive school climate.

Within multi-tiered systems, first order and second order changes are present. A first order change is a change that is an extension of past practice; it is an incremental change and is usually the most obvious next step. First order changes are usually not met with resistance because they generally do not push on our fundamental beliefs. A second order change usually manifests as a visible departure from past practice. Second order change happens because we see new ways of thinking and acting. We see different ways of solving problems. Like with transactional and transformational leadership, we need both first order and second order changes.

To make systems-level change that is sustainable, there is not one manner of leadership nor one mode of change necessary. This graphic should help solidify transactional and transformational leadership within multi-tiered systems.

To learn more about leadership and systems-level change, visit The National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) at

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