Courage for School Leaders

A common requirement of leaders at all levels is having the courage to make tough decisions and take difficult actions.  – David Cottrell and Eric Harvey.

I first came across Amelia Earhart’s poem Courage, in Leading from Within; Poetry That Sustains the Courage To Lead. Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner, Editors.

Courage – Poem by Amelia Earhart

Courage is the price that Life exacts
for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not
Knows no release from little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter
joy can hear
The sound of wings.
How can life grant us boon of living,
compensate
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant
hate
Unless we dare
The soul’s dominion? Each time we
make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the resistless
day,
And count it fair.

There is no doubt that effective leadership requires courage.  Principals and other school leaders create the learning environment and school culture by their daily actions or inaction.  They must demonstrate courage daily or they will become ineffective and this ineffectiveness will lead to low standards of performance and lack of commitment throughout the school.  Teachers and students will be affected.  School leaders must keep everyone accountable and focused on the task.

School leaders should do everything possible, within reason, to develop good relationships with members of staff, and they must also embody the mission, vision, and values of the school.  They must create policy to uphold those three guiding lights and implement necessary change with courage and self-confidence.

When leaders make tough decisions that some persons do not like, they must be willing to accept the risks and challenges that ensue, and still press on with their decisions.  They have to do what is best for the students and the school.  The first priority is to improve teaching and learning.  School leaders must, therefore, have the courage to make unpopular decisions.

Sometimes it is necessary to suspend or expel the children of close friends, neighbours, or influential persons in the society.  At times you cannot reassign a temporary teacher because of the teacher’s poor performance despite efforts to help him or her to improve.  It is sometimes necessary to confront delinquent or difficult teachers, sometimes even Senior or experienced teachers.  This confrontation and conflict is necessary, in the best interests of the students and school, since problems do not go away if you ignore them; they become worse.

In many cases school leaders, mainly principals, must have the courage to stand up to uncooperative and irate parents, members of the School Board, and even occasional policy dictates from the Ministry of Education that seem more political than educational or just plain impractical in your particular school environment.

School leaders also have to control difficult or emotionally disturbed students who may be inclined to violent behaviour.  Leaders have to make decisions and defend them at all costs since they are responsible for the safety of everyone at the school.  They must also deal fearlessly and sensibly with unauthorized intruders on the school premises.

These actions by school leaders often cause tension and negative changes in the relationships between the leaders and those reprimanded or sanctioned.  However, provided that the leader is acting fairly, consistently and in accordance with accepted practice and the stated mission, vision, policy, and the values of the school, most of the persons involved will respect the decisions taken.  The key is that these decisions must be made in the best interests of the students and the school.  School leaders must have the courage to make tough decisions even in the face of internal institutional political factionalism among sections of the staff.  One cannot please everyone all the time.

Many successful leaders have said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to take the right action despite any fear one may feel.  Some school leaders fail, not because they do not know what to do, but because they do not have the courage to do it.  I want to remind readers at this point that school leaders must develop positive relationships with their staff and students, and involve them in decision-making whenever this is possible or feasible. This will assist in building the trust that will allow staff and students to accept the tough decisions that school leaders will make from time to time.  School leadership is not a profession for the faint-hearted and leaders cannot be afraid to reprimand their friends or colleagues when it is necessary to do so.  Similarly, they cannot allow themselves to be intimidated by the possibility or reality of adversarial encounters with lawyers or trade unions in the legitimate execution of their duties as school leaders.

 

 

 

 

 

Up-To-Date Teachers

Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence.”  – Abigail Adams.

In order for teachers to remain effective over the years, they must keep up-to-date with constant changes in educational research, development and policy.  There are frequent changes in curriculum, assessment modalities, and economic realities that affect the teaching and learning environment.  Teachers have to keep pace with these new developments and trends or fall behind, lose their competitive edge and place their students at a disadvantage.

As in other professions, teachers must find the time to practice lifelong learning in their subject areas and pursue continuing professional development (CPD).  They need to keep up-to-date with new pedagogical methods and best practices in their field.  These measures are equally important for inexperienced and veteran teachers.  Time does not stand still and students have differing needs.  Teachers cannot continue to teach the same content in the same way, in every class, from year to year.  The educational context keeps changing.  In other words teachers must keep their subject knowledge, pedagogical skills and communication skills up-to-date on an ongoing basis.

They promote high standards of work and have high expectations for their students.  They should also make it a point to share their new knowledge and skills with colleagues and students so that the whole institution benefits. They can also share with other schools through professional organizations or personal networking.  Everything should be done to enhance student attainment.

There are many ways for teachers to keep their practice up-to-date.  The internet is an invaluable tool in this respect. Enormous amounts of information on any subject are available online.  So is the latest in professional development and communication skills.  Educational technology is there for the taking and teachers can take full advantage of it. Bring it more fully into classroom practice and homework.  Read educational blogs, newsletters, access podcasts, follow webinars and relevant social media pages.  There are also helpful e-books and audio books.  You can create your own personal learning network (PLN) online.

Mentors can be very helpful in helping to keep teachers up-to-date.  They can provide needed information and help to hone your teaching skills.  Teachers should also join or form professional subject organizations and participate in departmental activities that promote excellence and best practices.  Each teacher must read educational literature since you need to locate your practice within appropriate educational theory.

Conferences, seminars, Edcamps, research, and projects also play a definite role in keeping teachers up-to-date. Short courses, upgrades of qualifications or professional training, where necessary, can also increase teacher readiness and effectiveness.

Many educational experts recommend the suggestions given above to keep teachers current with any new developments or requirements.  They also agree that teachers who remain up-to-date increase their expert power. Their students learn more and their colleagues look to them for leadership.  Up-to-date teachers quickly notice any changes in the educational environment and they prepare their students for them in a timely manner.  They are also up-to-date with their daily planning, preparation, curriculum pacing, and record keeping relative to their students.

School Effectiveness

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  – Winston Churchill.

All principals want to improve the effectiveness of their schools.  This is a never-ending concern.  It leads to constant evaluation of school performance and an ongoing search for strategies to improve school performance, based on the improvement of teaching and learning.

Dr. Lawrence W. “Larry” Lezotte, an American educational researcher, was a leader in the Effective Schools Movement which began around 1966.  Before this movement many people, like sociologist James Coleman, were convinced that students’ academic progress depended mainly on demographics and the socio-economic status of the family and the given community.  The prevailing belief was that schools could not do much to improve students’ academic performance in this context.  Dr. Larry Lezotte has a different view.

Wikipedia informs us that in 1991, Lezotte published “Correlates of Effective Schools: The First and Second Generation. He asserts that they are common to all effective schools and stated that they were:

  1. Instructional leadership.
  2. Clear and focused mission.
  3. Safe and orderly environment.
  4. Climate of high expectations.
  5. Frequent monitoring of student progress.
  6. Positive home-school relations.
  7. Opportunity to learn and student time on task.

These seven correlates have proved their effectiveness when applied in many other schools.  Dr. Larry Lezotte also published “What Effective Schools Do” in 2010.  This book sought to prove that schools could improve student attainment levels significantly despite realities such as socio-economic status and race.

Dr. Larry Lezotte’s seven correlates of effective schools give us a solid framework which we can use to improve school effectiveness.  Students and teachers alike will benefit from it and school culture will change for the better.  Following the lead of olsond6, who has reblogged this post after reading it, I now take this opportunity to ask other readers “how is your school doing in each of these seven correlates?”  

Capacity Building

Check the position of your capacity gauge, before tackling any challenge as it may take more or less than you “have.”  – William Maphoto.

Let us take a brief look at capacity building in schools, on the individual or personal level.  Michelle Maiese in “Capacity Building” (August 2005) stated: “capacity building aims to strengthen parties’ ability to work together for their mutual benefit by providing them with the skills and tools they need to define problems and issues and formulate solutions.”

Principals must constantly seek to build capacity in members of staff at all levels, teaching and non-teaching alike.  This will include constant monitoring, along with encouragement and support in upgrading qualifications and professional training.  This is a sure way to develop people and institutions and some individuals will be led to develop themselves way beyond all expectations.

They must be given more responsibility and freedom of action once they have proved themselves.  This brings me to the story of Mr. Michael Crawford, an outstanding teacher at my former school.  His story has already been told in the Nation Newspaper in Barbados and many people have been inspired by the former groundsman and porter at The Lodge school, Barbados, who became a teacher at the same school.  At present Mr. Crawford is the Acting Head of the Business and Computer Studies Department at The Lodge school, and from all reports he is doing a great job.

Mr, Michael Crawford left school at age 15 with no qualifications and first worked as a labourer and sugar cane cutter.  He came to The Lodge school as a groundsman in 1979.  His fine intellect was discovered by Mr. MacDonald Fingall, a dynamic and outspoken former physical education teacher, who often operated above and beyond the call of duty and who motivated and inspired many students who went on to become brilliant athletes, sportsmen, professionals and entertainers.

Mr. Fingall became Mr. Crawford’s mentor and drew his intelligence to the attention of the administration.  With encouragement and support from Mr. Fingall and Mr. Ishmael Roett, the owner of a private educational institution named ” The “O” Level Institute,” Mr. Crawford enrolled in evening classes and in due time passed his Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) certificates.  Then, in 1997 he sat and passed advanced level accounts.  In time, he registered as a student at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, in Barbados.

Throughout his studies he received the full encouragement, attention and support of the Board of Management, principal and staff of The Lodge School.  We made sure that he had the academic support and time that he needed.  Today, he holds a Bachelor of Science, Upper Second Class Honours Degree in Accounts, a Diploma in Education, and a Master’s Degree in Project Management.  He is a respected acting head of department and an excellent teacher as well.  He has come a long way and continues to serve his school in even greater measure.  Before I forget, he has also represented our school in cricket.

After I became principal we would talk about his progress from time to time and I assured him that the Board of Management, the staff and I would love to have him on the teaching staff.  He was still a porter at that time.  One of the happiest days of my tenure as principal was the day I publicly welcomed him as a member of the teaching staff of The Lodge School.  He has been an inspiration to many students and members of the non-teaching staff.  The Michael Crawford story is not an isolated case at The Lodge school.  Since then, a few other members of the non-teaching staff have gained university degrees with the full encouragement and support of the administration.

The Purpose of Schools

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail.  What you gain at one end you lose at the other.  It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail.  It won’t fatten the dog.”  – Mark Twain.  

This post is related to the previous one.  Here are some perspectives on the purpose of schools as revealed by various individuals.  As can be expected, these perspectives vary from person to person, but there are also common elements.

What does my daughter’s style of dress have to do with her capacity to learn?”  – These are the words of an irate parent, whose daughter is in breach of the school’s dress code, to the principal.

Why do teachers get so much time off?” – This was asked by a parent who believes strongly in the baby-sitting function of the school.

Many years ago, John Dewey theorized that the purpose of schools was to transfer knowledge and equip students to participate in America’s democratic society.

George Counts argued that schools should prepare students to function well in society.

In 1982 Mortimore Adler stated in the Paideia Proposal that the objectives of schooling were:

  • The development of citizenship
  • Personal growth or self-improvement
  • Occupational preparation

In The Purpose of EducationNoam Chomsky asserts: “Education is really aimed at helping students get to the point where they can learn on their own….”

Many businessmen and politicians believe that the purpose of schools is to prepare students for the workforce and facilitate upward social mobility.

Here are some notable objectives embedded in the purpose of schools today:

  • Imparting requisite knowledge, skills, values.
  • Providing credentials for students.
  • Teaching how to think critically, solve problems, and make effective decisions.
  • Providing practical experience.
  • Socializing students.
  • Social and emotional development of students.
  • Teaching good citizenship.
  • Social role selection.
  • Preparation for life in a globalized world.
  • The pursuit of individual and team excellence.
  • National development.

Students who acquire the intended emotional, social, and professional skills infused in the purpose of schools, should eventually make a positive contribution to their own development and that of their families, communities, and indeed, the wider world.

Philosophy of Education

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  – William Butler Yeats.

You are always a student, never a master.  You have to keep moving forward.”  – Conrad Hall.

Everyone who is involved in education should have a personal philosophy of education.  This philosophy should, of course, be compatible with the mission, vision, values, and goals of your particular school or office.  Administration, teaching, and learning cannot flourish in a vacuum; they need a clearly defined conceptual context.

I believe that each child is important.  As stated in the white paper on education reform for Barbados (1995), “Each one matters – Quality education for all.”  This document was produced by the Ministry of Education in Barbados.  The same view was echoed by another document: “Curriculum 2000, Barbados,” which also emanated from the same Ministry of Education. No child should be written off as hopeless.  We have to help them understand and solve their learning problems.

The highly controversial “No Child Left Behind Act,” which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002 was also an effort to ensure that all students in schools in the USA would get a good education regardless of race or socio-economic status.

The school must create an educational climate and organization in which the maximum potential of each student is developed to the fullest.  In some students this potential will be academic, in others it may be technical, artistic, musical, athletic, or something else.  It is the business of the school to identify it and foster it.  Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences can be very useful in this regard.  Teachers also need to understand the different learning styles of their students.

Teachers must be professionally trained to use various methodologies to facilitate maximum learning for each student.  Students must be encouraged to strive for excellence in all school activities, academic and extra-curricular, and to behave in an orderly, respectful and caring way.

I align myself with those experts who opine that students must be taught the foundations of learning: listening, speaking, reading, writing and mathematics.  They can then use the basic knowledge and skills learned in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies and technology, to communicate, calculate, reason, and solve problems.  These are philosophical views that I share.

In short, the child is at the centre of the school.  Teachers exist because there are students.  All decisions in schools should be made with the best interests of the students foremost in mind.  Political considerations are of lesser importance.

Getting Promoted

Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work.  You have to fall in love with your work.  Never complain about your job.  You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill.  That is the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”  – Unknown Quotes.  Added by Oswald.

There are not many opportunities for promotion in the teaching service so competition for them is fierce.  However, there are things that you can do to stand out from the crowd and enhance your chances of promotion.  They are all centred on hard work:

  • Upgrade your qualifications and skill sets to position yourself at the top of your field.
  • Pursue professional training.  This increases eligibility for promotion.
  • Develop a very positive work ethic and attitude.  You must have a huge appetite for work.  You learn and achieve mastery by doing things; not by reading about them alone.  This expertise is useful during interviews for higher positions, since you are speaking from actual experience and not educational theory alone.
  • Ask your principal for more responsibility.  Show him or her that you can successfully manage heavy workloads at levels above your current positional level.  You can join the timetable team, for instance, or help with curriculum design, special projects, event planning or public exam entries.  This way you will help to move the entire institution forward.  Show that you can move beyond the narrow classroom, department, and year group levels and see the big picture.
  • Never make excuses or blame others for your failures.  Accept responsibility and find solutions for the problems yourself.  Competent problem-solvers generally get promoted.  Be proactive.  Do not run to the principal when you have a problem.  Solve it yourself.  If you must go to the principal, make sure you have a solution to offer as well.  This way, the principal will see how capable you are.
  • Seek a mentor who is successful at the level you want to reach.  He or she can give you priceless guidance in your career path and inform others who matter, about your ability to function at a higher level.  Plan your career thoroughly and learn how to deal effectively with interview questions and scenarios.
  • Be loyal to your principal and do all you can to help him or her to achieve stated school goals.  This way you become a key member of the team and the principal will support your bid for promotion.
  • Be a mentor yourself to other members of staff.  Help them to develop their instructional skills, classroom management, pastoral care, professionalism, and engagement.  This enhances mutual trust and respect among all team members.  The entire institution will benefit.
  • Be professional and well organized at all times.  Pursue excellence and be a role model for all staff members.  Be consistent, dependable, and always offer ideas to improve school effectiveness.
  • See challenges as opportunities to demonstrate your ability and opportunities for growth.  Do not fear them.

There is no guarantee that any given individual will be promoted, as there are too many candidates chasing too few available positions in the teaching service.  However, there is general agreement among educational administrators that the recommendations given above can definitely improve your chances of being promoted.  In spite of political considerations, I believe that merit and hard work are still rewarded most of the time.