A wind of change is blowing through many Barbadian schools. Over the last few years many competent and experienced principals have retired and have been replaced by new and inexperienced school leaders. This process continues apace and is quite evident at both the primary and secondary levels of education. There was a recent training seminar which was organized for no less than 38 new primary school principals. The sheer number of new principals must be a source of great concern for our education authorities, since they do not want to compromise or dilute the quality of the education which is delivered in our schools. It will take a substantial period of time for most of them to demonstrate whether or not they can handle the myriad challenges of the principalship.
The principal is the main official determinant of school effectiveness and performance. There is much support for this view in educational literature and practice. Deep thought has to be given to the selection of new principals in the first place. Interviewers must meticulously seek the best candidate. The “best” being defined as the one who most clearly possesses the knowledge, skills, competencies, vision and mettle needed to move the school forward. Those who seriously lack these qualities should not pursue positions of leadership.
The selection of a new principal, however, is not the end of the matter. It is just the beginning. Many new principals are thrown into the deep end of the management and leadership pool before they are fully ready and are left to swim or drown. They are qualified and professionally trained for the job and yet they find that they are not equipped to deal with many of the problems they meet on a daily basis.
These problems do not show up in the education legislation, training courses, professional literature or professional development seminars for new school leaders. There are no ready solutions for them and the consequences of making a wrong decision may be grave. Inexperience, hesitancy, fear and lack of self-confidence often become the unwelcome companions of new principals. They have to think on their feet and some find that difficult and risky. Others are reluctant to make tough decisions because they do not want to lose friends among the staff or face the wrath of a teachers’ union, an influential parent, a lawyer or the Ministry of Education. The principal’s office can be a lonely place.
In order to shorten the learning curve for new principals and increase their self-confidence and effectiveness, we need to establish a formal system of mentorship for them. By so doing, we can ensure that there is no palpable decline in the quality of management and leadership in our schools in spite of the retirement of so many competent principals at the same time.
The mentors can include successful, practising principals and retired principals who have a proven and respected track record of leadership during their tenure. There should be a known list of mentors and mentees and, of course, a mentor may have more than one mentee. Modern communications technology would allow them to contact each other at any time in order to solve urgent or emergent problems in the schools on a daily basis. The two Associations of Principals, Primary and Secondary, and the Ministry of Education would be involved in this programme.
This kind of support for new principals would certainly reduce the current level of apprehension over the fate of so many schools with new leaders at this time.
- Building a Mentor-Mentee Relationship (realworldmentors.wordpress.com)