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,
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant
Unless we dare
The soul’s dominion? Each time we
make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the resistless
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.







Teacher Power

What a teacher writes on the blackboard of life can never be erased.”  – Author Unknown.

French and Raven (1959) identified five forms of power that teachers and other leaders use: Attractive (Referent) Power, Expert Power, Reward Power, Coercive Power, and Position (Legitimate) Power.  These are all used in varying degrees and combinations at different times in the classroom and any other workplace.  Hurt, Scott, and McCroskey (1978), state that in the classroom “a certain degree of teacher power is always present.”  Indeed, if teachers do not exercise the various forms of power at their disposal, they would not be able to manage their classrooms properly.

However, the purpose of this post is not to examine these five forms of teacher power in detail, in an abstract manner,  but within the context of the power that teachers have to develop their students and shape their future lives.  The power to turn them on or off academically, stimulate or dampen their minds and heighten or destroy their engagement and intellectual curiosity. Students never forget good or bad teachers and many of them return, years later, to thank the good teachers who inspired them and helped them to achieve success in school and in life.  This is one of the highest rewards a teacher can receive.

Highly skilled and caring teachers, who earn those rewards, understand that coercive power and position power alone are not enough to create nurturing relationships and a classroom climate which is conducive to optimal student learning. Sometimes these teachers are more influential than parents and they must take this responsibility seriously.  Skilled teachers rely more on communication, student participation, and positive relationships to get students to work.  Students should be heard in the classroom.  Their views are important and they should be expressed without fear of failure or ridicule.

Teachers who use their power wisely are keenly aware that they have multiple responsibilities towards their charges. They are equally aware that their students’ behaviour and academic progress depend to a large extent on how well they, as teachers, meet those responsibilities.  In terms of discipline they are firm, fair and consistent.

They never shortchange their students.  They respect their responsibility to do all they can to enhance student learning.  To this end, they take responsibility for their own professional development and seek every opportunity to improve their teaching.  They often sacrifice personal time to assist struggling students.  They also take the time to know their students and their individual social, emotional, and academic needs.  These teachers tend to concentrate more on their attractive, expert, and reward power.

They know that getting students to like them, within reason, is half the battle won.  An attractive personality is an asset and it is a fact that students generally work harder for the teachers they like and respect.  It is also known that students are impressed by, and tend to admire and emulate teachers who are experts in their subject areas. Rewarding students for good academic performance and conduct speaks for itself.  The judicious use of teacher power is a valuable tool in shaping student performance and in the attainment of school goals.

Raven (1965) added a sixth form of power: Informational Power, to the list.  This is demonstrated when you give information to someone which causes them to change how they think and act.  Constant awareness of teacher power leads to more effective teaching.

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.

Time Management – John Adair

” You will never find time for anything.  If you want time you must make it. ”  – Charles Buxton.

” Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today. ”  – Benjamin Franklin.

Time is a precious resource which leaders should use wisely and productively.  John Adair and many other leadership and management theorists agree that one must be able to manage time efficiently if one is to be successful in managing anything else.  In other words good time management is a prerequisite for leaders to keep their people on track and achieve organizational goals.  It has a direct bearing on productivity in the workplace.

Proper time management reduces stress in the workplace and gives everyone more time to complete tasks.  One must never forget the basics: punctuality, regular attendance, a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, and one must be well organized at all times.

Leaders must prioritize objectives and lists of daily tasks to maximize efficiency and productivity.  Important and urgent tasks should be done first; ahead of routine tasks.  Time wasting should be drastically reduced and deadlines should not be missed.  Priorities should be reviewed and changed if there are changes in the work environment or if new information emerges.  Unnecessarily long meetings should be shortened.

In his book How To Manage Your Time: Guildford: Talbot Adair Press, 1987, John Adair listed ten principles of time management which are extremely helpful and relevant in any organizational context.  Here they are:

1.  Develop a personal sense of time.

2.  Identify long-term goals.

3.  Make medium-term plans.

4.  Plan the day.

5.  Make the best use of your best time.

6.  Organize office work.

7.  Manage meetings.

8.  Delegate effectively.

9.  Make use of committed time.

10. Manage your health.

Adair’s ten principles of time management are comprehensive and will deliver increased efficiency, quality, and productivity in any public or private sector enterprise; from a school to a factory.

As one can see from this and the previous three posts in my blog, John Adair presents an integrated system of leadership and management through which effective leaders can be trained and developed.  His ideas contradicted The Great Man Theory of Leadership which was prominent in the 19th century, and which states basically that ” Great Leaders Are Born, and Not Made. ” Interested readers can visit Adair’s website or get hold of his books.


Motivating People – John Adair

” Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it. ”  Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In order to attain goals and achieve success in any organization, leaders must know how to motivate their teams and individual workers.  Motivation is key in the pursuit of good results and it comes to life when leaders inspire, challenge and encourage those they lead, on a daily basis.  John Adair said a lot about motivation and his theories are compatible with those of motivational theorists like Maslow and Herzberg.

The 50:50 Rule: In his book Effective Motivation Adair asserts: ” 50% of motivation comes from within a person, and 50% from his or her environment, especially from the leadership encountered therein.”  This is a very telling and useful observation. Good leaders are self-motivated and must know how to get the best out of their followers.  John Adair came up with 8 rules for leaders, in motivating people.  Here they are:

1.  Be motivated yourself.

2.  Select people who are motivated.

3.  Treat each person as an individual.

4.  Set realistic but challenging targets.

5.  Remember that progress motivates.

6.  Create a motivating environment.

7.  Provide fair rewards.

8.  Give recognition for success.

Leaders, in any field, who consistently apply Adair’s 8 rules for motivating people, will find it easier to achieve their organizational goals and earn the trust, respect and support of those whom they lead.  Interestingly, Adair also expressed the view elsewhere that 50% of team building success comes from the team and 50% from the leader.


Action-Centred Leadership

” A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better. ”  – Jim Rohn.

Action-Centred Leadership is a model of leadership which was created by John Adair, a British academic born in 1934, who is seen as one of the most prominent leadership thinkers in the world.  He wrote more than forty books on leadership and management.  His model shows what effective leaders need to do.  It also shows that good leadership is a skill that can be learned and not necessarily an innate skill.  It is a guide to good leadership and management for those who head teams, groups, schools, businesses or any other types of organizations.

According to John Adair, there are three elements that all leaders must focus on.  They are:

1.  Achieving the task.

The task refers to the purpose, mission, and goals of the organization.  In a school this would mean achieving the agreed curricular and extra-curricular goals on a termly and yearly basis.  The emphasis would be on the setting of SMART goals, planning, performance standards, monitoring, evaluation, and keeping everyone on task and on course.  Excellence should be the watchword.  The task is the reason for the existence of the team and the individuals.

2.  Developing the team.

The task can only be achieved through successful teamwork.  The team must understand the mission, goals, time-frame and process, and work towards a common purpose.  The leader has to pay attention to performance management, discipline, focus, conflict resolution, team-spirit, and good communications in the team.  He must also provide timely feedback to team members to enable constant improvement.

3.  Developing individuals.

The team can only function well if the leader develops each individual member as far as possible.  This leads to stronger teams and greater effectiveness and efficiency. The leader must provide personal support and advice for each individual according to his or her personal needs.  Leaders must also provide training and mentorship for each individual and use each individual’s strengths for the benefit of the team and the organization.  Individual weaknesses should be gradually eliminated. Delegation of tasks is a good way to develop individual capacity.

These three elements are usually represented by three overlapping circles.

Leaders must never fail to recognize and reward good performance by any individual or team.  Public recognition and rewards increase motivation and productivity along with the three elements of Action-Centred Leadership.  The leader must meet the needs of the team and the individuals to motivate them and facilitate the achievement of the task. Finally, he or she has to balance the three elements carefully since they are inter-dependent.

A Principal’s Joy

I must begin this post by giving a brief statement of my philosophy of life and work.  I believe that our purpose in life is to be of service to others and I share the view that work is a form of worship.  Through honest work we help others.  Educating myself and others has always been the main purpose of my professional life, so it is not surprising that I became a teacher and eventually a principal.  Students must be at the centre of every educational initiative.  We have to make sure that they reach their full academic and human potential by providing them with top quality education.  We must seek continuous improvement in teaching and learning and identify the strengths of individual students.  This is the context in which I want to share some of the principal’s joy I experienced during my tenure and I am speaking from the perspective of a retired principal.

I really enjoyed working with young people.  One has to love young people in order to become a caring and effective teacher.  They are so vibrant, funny and full of untried ideas that it is a pleasure to interact with them on a daily basis and help them to navigate the challenges of school and life.  They keep teachers young and open-minded.  Sometimes it is difficult to keep a straight face while dealing with them.

It was a joy to watch the camaraderie among the students, how they helped each other and looked after the few who had physical disabilities.

I loved the fact that each day at the office was very different from any other day.  There was no boredom.  Anything can happen at any time in a school and several things often happen at the same time, which all call for the principal’s intervention.  I enjoyed those challenges.  They caused me to postpone the tasks on my daily to-do lists and made my days longer, but they dispelled monotony.

One of my great Joys as a principal was the ability one has to help students, teachers and parents in many ways.  There was deep satisfaction in helping them to solve problems and develop their own abilities, and in opening various doors of opportunity for them.

Instructional leadership and its outcomes contribute to a principal’s joy.  It was satisfying to chair meetings, visit classes, discuss new ideas and best practices and empower teachers through mentoring, delegation and training.  Working with students and teachers to advance learning and teaching contributed to the development of a real learning community.  Several learning and teaching problems were solved.

A lot of the joy for me, as principal, came from relationships with many students and teachers.  Getting to know them as individuals and discussing schoolwork, life and various issues with them.  Hearing their ideas and inspiring them to work harder and take responsibility for their own progress.  As a result of this many students improved their academic and extra-curricular performance and many teachers furthered their professional development.  Positive relationships with many parents were also beneficial.

Of Course, much of the joy came from seeing the school do well as a result of our efforts.  It was a pleasure to see students do well academically and in extra-curricular activities, winning scholarships of various types and trophies of all descriptions.  It was a joy to see them graduate from school as accomplished young ladies and gentlemen and move on to higher education or the world of work.  This meant that the staff had done well also.

Seeing at-risk students make positive attitudinal and behavioural changes through our character building and social and emotional learning modules was a distinct joy for me as well.

Leading a school involves facing many stern challenges on a daily basis but there are just as many, or more sources of joy for a principal who is willing to rise to these challenges and improve the effectiveness of his school nevertheless.  A principal’s joy, however, is always tempered with humility when successful past students tell him or her that they owe their success in their chosen profession and in life to inspiration from the principal when they were at school.