EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP: By Default, or By Design

Leadership is an essential component for ensuring that every child gets the education needed to succeed
Representational Image
Representational Image Flickr [Creative Commons]

The insidious world issues have created a global imperative to change the face of education in the twenty first century. It is every student’s educational birthright to have access to competent, caring and qualified teachers who facilitate lifelong learning. Leadership is an essential component for ensuring that every child gets the education they need to succeed.

Developed nations across the globe have woken up to this reality and are investing millions of dollars into research and development to enhance the efficacy of student achievement. Research has shown that there is virtually no documented evidence of schools efficiently improving their standards in this endeavor without the intervention by a powerful leader. There may be a myriad of reasons behind the success of an educational institution but leadership is definitely the catalyst that provides the perfect impetus for the entire process.

Libraries, archives, the internet; tap any resource for research and you will come across a humongous amount of literature on education and leadership management in developed countries. Schools, students, teachers, principals, administration, management have all incited a deeper reflection in the minds of thinkers, of almost all the continents, who wish to make a visible change in the educational landscape of the 21st century. A comparative analysis reveals an appalling and alarming lack of concern of the same in the Asian context.

Indians abroad are making a significant contribution to the growth and development of society in every conceivable field. They are earning recognition and name and are bringing pride to their country. The leaders of this once successful nation complacently bask in their reflected glory without waking up to the realisation that the stimulating environment and the opportunities required to prove their inherent mettle were sadly not provided by their own country but by outsiders in a foreign country on foreign soil hence claiming victories for achievements that rightfully deserved the brand of “Made in India”. An anomaly of such vast proportions perplexes the thinking mind! Complacency and mediocrity are the death knell of a successful nation. The effects of such ennui will have far reaching consequences that will affect generations to come. It is time to heed the clarion call of the 21st century as India marches ahead into the new millennium.

India is a nation which has a population exceeding a billion with every state having its own educational board, where every year hundreds of thousands of students appear for various state level or central board examinations. Teacher training colleges are mushrooming all over the country offering TTC, B.Ed and a plethora of other teaching degrees and diplomas and yet the schools across the nation fail to provide an appreciable standard of education to its stakeholders- the students- who invest the better part of their lives with the hopes of making a mark in the global arena. It is indeed a dubious logic that a nation that requires the ubiquitous paan (betel leaf) shops to acquire a license before they set up their establishment have no stipulation for standards or accreditation for entrepreneurs venturing to establish the schools, and coaching factories that shape our future. NEP2022 is a step in right direction but there are many uneasy questions that merit answers and direction.

It has been ascertained that the key ingredient for a successful school focusing on high student achievement is effective leadership. Principals play a vital role in setting direction for the schools and their chief priority is developing and supporting their school leaders who in turn shape schools into vibrant learning communities. Our under-performing schools and children are not likely to succeed until we get serious about leadership.

Contemporary school leaders are no longer educators finishing out their careers as principals. Today’s principals are energetic and entrepreneurial leaders who have a vision of where they want the school to go and are able to harness the power, the enthusiasm and the skills of their faculty to ensure that it moves in the right direction.

“Excellent teachers deserve excellent leaders.” Education is a people’s business and hence leadership is of prime importance for if we wish to attract the right people we need to create the circumstances that will attract the right people.

“Pick the right school leader and great teachers will come and stay. Pick the wrong one and over time good teachers leave, mediocre ones stay and the school gradually declines…. Reversing the impact of a poor principal can take years.”[Christopher Cerf- New York City- Deputy Schools Chancellor]

Recruiting a principal for any school is a critical mission and if the requisite level of care, resources and hard-work are not invested then the resultant anarchy can be detrimental to the growth and success of the school. A post mortem of the problem plagued schools dying in the face of adversity due to their very failure to sustain student achievement of any remarkable standard will reveal the same prognosis. The common denominator in all cases will undoubtedly point towards a weak or insalubrious leadership. The reasons for a weak leadership could be many and varied:

Selection without having to demonstrate either the potential or the intention to assume a school leadership position, curricula and knowledge base that may be insufficient to fulfill the needs of schools or the increasingly diverse student bodies, weak connections between theory and practice, faculty who may have little or no expertise or experience as leaders. A prerequisite for survival of the fittest in the 21st century is a change in preconceived perceptions, relinquishing outdated concepts and ideals and replacing them with research based and experiential intelligence that accepts the cognitive responsibilities inherent in every individual that guide it towards a better and clearer understanding of contemporary norms and practices that direct the very growth of an individual, a culture and hence a society.

Single-handed leadership is a dead-end paradigm, today’s leaders are not expected to be a one man army fighting a losing battle with time by expecting the job to be done by the sheer force of their personalities. Today there is a natural gravitation towards an evolving paradigm of successful school leadership that is all about a shared commitment and building a cohesive leadership team.

The new paradigm of school leadership focuses on:

Setting directions: the school leader articulates a vision for shared organisational purpose, setting high expectations and monitoring performance

Developing people: the school leader creates stimulating opportunities and provides models of effective practices and individual support

Redesigning the organisation: the school leader strengthens the culture of the school and modifies organisational structure and practices as needed to achieve the shared vision of effective teaching and learning

Managing the organisation: the school leader strategically allocates resources and support.

In the final analysis the principal is accountable for the school’s success or its lack thereof.

Identifying the instigator of the success of a school does not resolve the quandary that permeates the realm of educational leadership. Research based data collected from developed nations listed the following essential criteria as a precondition for a 5 star rating for a good principal:

Communicates a vision of the school to the staff

Is supportive and encouraging

Effective at encouraging professional collaboration

Works with staff to develop and attain curriculum standards

Encourages staff to use student evaluation results in planning curriculum and instruction

Facilitates professional development for teachers

Stimulates teachers to think about what they are doing for their students

Is aware of the unique needs and expertise of each staff member

A source of new ideas for professional learning

Pays more attention to the needs of the low performing students

Sets a good example of ethics and values

A tall order indeed, but the pervasive and long standing problem is where can one find such an epitome of virtue for each school. This brings to mind another debatable issue – are good leaders born or made; is educational leadership by default or by design?

It is imperative to create systematic learning opportunities for school leaders that will help them develop the complex skills needed to lead and transform schools. Leadership training programs are the only solution that can prepare the leaders of tomorrow for the demands of their job. The new paradigm of school leadership is an attainable concept and what is achievable is definitely trainable.

The essential components of an exemplary leadership training program include:

Clear focus and values about leadership and learning around which the program is coherently organized

Standards based curriculum emphasizing instructional leadership, organizational development and change management , Create opportunities for collaboration and team work in practice oriented situations

Active instructional strategies that link theory and practice

Proactive recruitment and selection of both candidates and faculty from among the instructional leaders

Strong partnerships with schools and principals network pursuing specific topics such as analysing teaching and student work, designing professional development on particular instructional topics, developing peer coaching models etc

Coaching from instructional leaders, assistant superintendents and mentor principals

Use standards and accountability to guide and transform programs through licensure assessments and accreditation of programs

Provide fiscal support for training of candidates for principal ship

Create a continuum of ongoing learning opportunities e.g. providing induction supports to new principals, learning on how to develop and evaluate instruction

Field based internships with skilled supervision. Full time internship is an influential component of any leadership program because working alongside someone for a year exposes an individual to different situations that provide scope for learning how to be a problem solver and thinking outside the box.

Schools are powerful agents of change because positive transformation of individuals is possible only through education. We as educators have that power, we should judiciously use that power to make a difference that matters in the ultimate equation.

Dr. Farooq Ahmad Wasil, a published author, and an educationist, is Consultant and Advisor to TSPL (Thinksite Services Private Limited). He has over 3 decades of experience in the field of Education Management – setting up, operating and managing schools.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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