11 July, 2010

Changing Paradigms of Educational Leadership in Schools

By Radhakrishnan Chettour

Today we are living in the midst of Information and Communication explosion. We are surrounded by the world of technology, computers, the Internet and wireless communications. Every advance in technology leads to even greater faster advances in communication until it is almost impossible to keep up. Even this change is felt in our schools and classrooms. Side by side, around the world, management practices are also changing swiftly. The word ‘Management’ itself has changed in meaning and concept. Today it implies leading and inspiring – more about how we tackle intelligently and tactfully human emotions and behaviours for taking the best out from each individual for the institutional or organisational benefit.

As educational leaders do we updated ourselves? Do we really ready to be a change catalyst? If the answer is no, then, we are outdated and willingly leave the field before ruining the future of the coming generations. As leaders of schools we should role model not only for students but for teachers and even for educators who aspire to be educational leaders of tomorrow. Survival and success of every educational leader depends mainly on the pace at which these leaders adapt to the various changes that take place in curriculum, methodology, management and aspirations of the students and parent community and all other stake holders of the school system.

Do principals factor in school success?

I can answer this question from my experience only with a resounding YES. In fact highly effective principals are considered the key to initiating, implementing and sustaining school success and imperative to high student success. Consequently, principals are expected to promote and develop the school vision, empowering stakeholders to build and maintain the conditions necessary for the success of all students.

Institutional success is to a great extent depends upon the leadership. In this context measuring leadership impact and how leaders make a difference is one of the biggest challenges facing the field today. If the belief in leadership is currently high then all involved in the study and practice of leadership should prepare to explain how they know leadership is so influential. We know that leaders’ effects tend to be indirect rather than direct because they work with and through their staff, in particular teachers. Teachers have the greatest effect on students’ learning, followed by leadership. Not only do we need to know the pathways, by which leaders’ influence others, but also how they influence the quality of teaching. These are not easy matters to unravel – it needs concentrated research by scholars and stake holders. But of all the school leadership issues this is perhaps the most important issue we face and the one the research community must address.

School leadership has been the focus of intense study in recent years as researchers try to define not only the qualities of effective leadership but the impact of leadership on the operation of schools, and even on student achievement. Authors Leithwood, Seashore Louis, Anderson, and Wahlstrom make two important claims about school leaders. First, “leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school”. Second, “leadership effects are usually largest where and when they are needed most”. Without a powerful leader, troubled schools are unlikely to be turned around. Many other factors may contribute to such turnarounds, but leadership is the catalyst”.

Present Scenario

The nature of principals’ role has changed drastically in the last ten years from primarily managerial to that of management and leadership. Despite the recent emphasis on instructional leadership, principals continue to be responsible for traditional duties such as facility management, budgeting, school safety, pastoral care and student discipline-task that continue to absorb a continuous amount of their time.

Due to the increasing number of responsibilities required of principals, it is not surprising to find that long hours are spent on the job. Although it is generally agreed that the principals’ role has evolved in recent years, there is no clear definition of that role and no method to balance the responsibility of instructional leadership with the myriad of other demands on their time. Given the competing demands for precious time, it is imperative that not only the principals do their work well, but also that they do the right work.

One essential ingredient for success in education or in any business, for that matter, is effective leadership. If we have to succeed as an educational enterprise in a highly competitive world, then we must embrace leadership development-not in a cursory fashion, but rather in an ongoing, comprehensive, and sustained manner.

In our country lack of training facilities, dearth of highly motivated and visionary mentors and highly centralised school administrative structures make it almost impossible for ordinary educators to get prepared for taking up challenging responsibilities to become a change catalyst in this sector. If the present scenario continues as today, we are going to face a very serious leadership crisis.

What Qualities do we Develop Among Aspiring Leaders?

In this context it’s very essential to discuss, what qualities we have to foster among aspiring-young educational leaders of tomorrow? Broadly speaking the new generation school leaders should have the following core abilities.

1. Setting direction: If these leaders are trained to develop among their staff members a shared understanding of the school and its goals and activities, this understanding becomes the basis for a sense of purpose or vision. Such a vision helps people make sense of their work and enables them to find a sense of identity for themselves within their work context. To be an effective principal, they should know direction setting. They should know that an investment of time is required to develop a shared understanding of what the school should “look like” and what needs to be done to get it there. They should understand that teachers who are asked to engage in open and honest communication with the principal, to contribute their suggestions, and to voice their concerns are much more likely to follow the direction set by their leader. School Principals have to be trained to guide teachers in setting school goals, individual goals and team goals. It’s difficult for schools to make progress without something to focus their attention, without any school goals, individual goals and team goals.

2. Developing people: Much of the focus in education research regarding the principal’s role in developing staff members has been on instructional leadership, which emphasises the principal’s role in providing guidance that improves teachers’ classroom practices. But now, in addition to instructional leadership, researchers also are paying close attention to what is being termed a leader’s emotional intelligence—his or her ability and willingness to be “tuned in” to employees as people. Recent evidence suggests that emotional intelligence displayed, for example, through a leader’s personal attention to an employee and through the utilisation of the employee’s abilities, increases the employee’s enthusiasm and optimism, reduces frustration, transmits a sense of mission and indirectly increases performance. In my eight years of stint at Tata’s Highrange School, I have seen and personally experienced and benefitted out of wonderful instructional and emotional leadership (especially under Mr. Santosh Kanavalli) that goes deep into each and every member of the faculty. As a result, on a day-to-day basis every one contributes and innovates in their area of interest and finally, every day becomes a memorable day in the life of students and teachers alike. This is what real people development. So it’s very essential to develop among aspiring leaders specific leadership practices to stimulate teachers intellectually, provide teachers with individualised support and provide teachers with an appropriate model.

3. Redesigning the organisation: To succeed, leaders should be able to understand ‘Brute Facts’ and resist organisational pitfalls of the school. They should be purposeful about turning their schools into effective organisations. They can do this by developing and counting on contributions from many others in their institution to strengthen the school’s culture, modify organisational structures and build collaborative processes. Principals can strengthen school culture when they clearly and consistently articulate high expectations for all students and teachers, including subgroups that are too often marginalised and blamed for schools not making ample yearly progress. Principals can adjust organisational structures, for example, by changing schedules to ensure that teachers share common planning time and use that time to discuss improving classroom teaching. This kind of restructuring also reinforces the use of two-way processes among teachers. Given sufficient time and consistent messages about the value of collaboration, teachers learn to trust their colleagues and are more willing to share their best practices and challenges.

Redesigning the organisation thoroughly requires that leaders identify and capitalise on the strength of others. As author Carl Glickman observed: “In successful schools, principals aren’t threatened by the wisdom of others; instead, they cherish it by distributing leadership”.

In short our aspiring educational leaders should be able to set school goals, empower others to make significant decisions, provide instructional guidance, redesign school administrative structure and develop and implement strategic and school improvement plans.

Educators who want to make a difference to children’s and young person’s lives and learning pick up the role of educational leaders. To become a true educational leader you should have a passion in teaching, leadership and life long learning. For such leaders, leadership is not an end in itself, rather, it is a means to enabling children and young people to learn achieve and develop. But, can such leaders survive in the present scenario? The answer is of course a big no because schools are only evaluated on a narrow set of cognitive learning outcome measures. So it is high time for us for broadening of what counts for good schools and wants to see a wider range of measures adopted to take in excellence and equity, cognitive and non-cognitive and personal and social skills. Leaders who make a difference to the students they serve invariably attend to all of these skill areas. In this context the current revolutionary evaluation reforms undertaken by CBSE in our country is worth appreciating. These reforms will help not only in reducing stress among children but also in creating good young educational leaders who have a vision to change school system in our country.

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