06 May, 2012

How to determine if a School is effective before admitting your ward or before joining for a job?

By Radhakrishnan Chettour

Most of us get confused to decide or determine whether the school is good to admit our children or to join as a faculty or staff. Today it’s more complicated because of the mushrooming of school brands and their aggressive marketing strategies. How do we know if the school where we are teaching is the right one for us? How can you tell before you even take a job there? What are some of the key characteristics of effective schools? Here are 10 ways to know if your school is effective.

1. Attitude of the Office Staff

This might seem an odd first choice. However, the first thing that greets you when you enter a school is the office staff. Their actions set the tone for the rest of the school. If the front office is inviting for teachers, parents, and students, then the school leadership values customer service. However, if the office staff is confused, unhappy and rude, you must question whether the school as a whole including its Principal has the correct attitude towards customer service and teamwork. Be wary of schools where the staff is just not approachable. You as a teacher will probably find that if the staff has a pervasive unhelpful attitude they will not provide you with the support you need throughout the year.

2. Attitude of the Principal

Just as with the office staff, you will probably have the ability to meet with the Principal of your school before you actually begin working there or admitting the child. His or her attitude is extremely important for you and the school as a whole. An effective Principal should be open, encouraging, and innovative. They should be student-centered in their decisions. They should also empower teachers while providing with the necessary support and training to grow each year. If you could ‘t meet the Principal on the given time of appointment you can make sure that after joining for duty to meet such a Principal will be very difficult. Analyse after meeting with the Principal how the Principal answered your queries on duties and responsibilities, pay and perks, professional development, performance appraisal system, etc.  Suppose the Principal could answer your queries in a satisfactory and convincing manner, then you can perceive that the school has certain system and procedures. If the Principal asks other than the subject you applied which all subject you can handle, guess that at any moment of time teachers used to leave the school and other teachers are given the responsibility of teaching those subjects. Principals who are never present, who have horrible customer service, or who are not open to innovation will be difficult to work for and will probably result in many disgruntled employees. After the interview process look at the coordination part of the interview board and check whether there were contradictions within the board while you were interviewed. If you find contradictions within the board you can make sure that top level management has difference of opinion and to work in such an organization will be difficult. Finally, watch around the office and tables to get an idea whether the Principal has organizational and management traits. If the office is in disarray, you can guess that the Principal lacks organizational skills and that will reflect on the way the school runs.

3. Mix of New and Veteran Teachers

New teachers come into a school fired up to teach and innovate. Many of them truly believe that they can make a difference. At the same time, they often have a lot to learn about classroom management and the inner workings of the school system. On the other hand, veteran teachers provide years of experience and understanding of how to effectively manage their classrooms and get things done in the school. At the same time, they are also sometimes stuck in their way of teaching a subject and might be wary of innovation. Only through a mix of the new and old can both learn and grow. So check the retention rate of teachers before you join. Google through the web you can find how many times and at what frequency the school posted job ads and for what all posts. Repeated frequent ads shows poor retention rate and lack of job security. This brings me to my next item...

4. Student-Centered Attitude With Core Values

To be truly effective, a Principal must create a system of core values which the entire staff shares. To do this, the Principal must involve the teachers and staff each step of the way. A common theme to each of the core values must be a student-centered view of education. When a decision is made in the school, the first thought should always be "What's best for the students?" When everyone shares this belief infighting will lessen and the school can focus on the business of teaching. If a conflict occurs between staff members, then they should first meet and together decide what is best for the students. With this focus there is no doubt that the final decision will be more effective and much easier to accept by all parties.

5. Mentoring and induction Program

Most schools provide new teachers with a mentor during their first year. Some have very formal mentoring programs and others are more relaxed. This should happen whether the teacher is fresh out of college or coming from another school. Effective schools have strong core values that each teacher knows. Only by pairing a new teacher with a mentor who truly believes these core values will the school's mission be fulfilled. On a more practical side, a mentor can help a new teacher learn the ropes. They will introduce them to key office staff and help them navigate the procedures involved with items such as field trips and procuring items from the store. Many schools even conduct group induction programs or individualized induction programs to introduce the new staff to the school culture and practices. This will help in creating ‘a feel good’ feeling for the new faculty. Most of the time new teachers become a laughing stock because they get involved into things that they are not expected to in the school. Lack of knowledge of systems and procedures of the new school is the reason for this embarrassing situation. This kind of situation may lead to disappointment at the very outset and can even lead to attrition. This issue can be well tacked by group or individualized induction program.

6. Departmental Politics Kept to a Minimum

Almost every department in a school will have its share of politics and drama. For example, a Mathematics Department might have teachers who want more power or who try and get a larger share of the department's resources. There will probably be some sort of seniority system set up for picking courses for the following year or determining who gets to go to specific conferences. However, a quality school will not allow this type of behavior to undermine the quality of teaching students. Again, this starts with quality leadership from the Principal on down. The school leadership should be clear on its goals for each department and work with the department heads to create a collaborative environment where politics are kept to a minimum. For this to happen Principal should keep himself/herself away from partisanship and balance delegation of responsibilities between departments.

7. Faculty is Empowered and Involved

When the faculty is empowered to make decisions backed up by the administration, a level of trust grows which allows for greater innovation and more effective teaching. An individual who feels empowered and involved in the decision-making process will not only have greater job satisfaction but will also be better able to accept decisions with which they might not agree. As before this starts with the Principal and the shared core values that all relate back to determining what's best for students. A school where teacher opinions are not valued and they feel powerless will result in disgruntled teachers who do not have the desire to put as much into their teaching. You can tell this type of school if you hear phrases such as "Why bother?"

8. Teamwork Amongst the Faculty

Even in the best of schools there will be teachers who do not want to share with others. They will be the ones who get to school in the morning, close themselves in their room, and don't come out except for mandatory meetings. If the majority of the teachers at your school do this, then the school has a problem. Instead, a quality school will create an atmosphere where teachers want to share with each other. This should be something which the school leadership should model. Schools which reward intra- and inter-departmental sharing will see a huge increase in the quality of classroom teaching. It is a proven fact that an integrated curriculum is more effective for the student than learning each topic in isolation.

9. Communication Is Honest and Frequent

The school leadership in a quality school provides teachers, staff, students, and parents with frequent communication about what is happening. Rumors and gossip are rampant in many schools. Many of these rumors can lead to disgruntled employees. If the school is not communicating the reasons for decisions or upcoming changes as soon as they can, then rumor mills will take effect the results can be devastating. Therefore, it is important that the school leadership models frequent communication and has an open door policy so that teachers and staff can come forward with questions and concerns as they arise. Make sure that the school and the leadership are an open book.

10. Parental Involvement

Many schools do not stress parental involvement in their child's education. It is the school's job to pull parents in and help them understand what they can do. Some teachers do not want to bother. However, the more you as a teacher involve the parents, the better the children will behave and perform in your class. Many parents want to know what's going on in class but have no way of figuring out how to do this. A school which stresses parental contact for both positive and negative reasons is one which will only grow more effective over time. Thankfully, this is something that each teacher can institute even if the school as a whole does not stress this involvement. School leadership must also take initiative to conduct frequent parental workshops and interactive sessions with teachers for guiding parents on what they can do to help children do better in academics, co-scholastic activities and emotional aspects.

For your Success and Glory!

Read, Learn and Flourish!

02 May, 2012

Real Leaders - Take the Blame and Give the Credit

Radhakrishnan Chettour

It's hard to hold a team together when mistakes happen. The temptation to point fingers may be hard to resist. Read how real leaders beat the blame game.

Good leaders take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit. Unfortunately, most leaders take more than their share of the credit and less than their share of the blame. They are not respected. When errors do occur, are you ready to support heroic efforts even in the face of failure?

After only two weeks on the job of Data Manager, Ramu had made a critical error that took the school computer system down. Coffee time to discuss performance of students with the parents has scheduled for the next day. He went to his Academic Supervisor (AS) immediately and said, "I think I just made a big mistake." AS replied, "I'm sure it is not as big as you think it is." He confided, "I think it could be bigger."

AS’s eyes got large as Ramu described the system crash and his lack of a data backup of students. In the midst of problem solving, his boss entered in low-brain function, that sub-cortical reptilian area that runs on more emotion than intellect. For fifteen minutes AS might have shouted at for Ramu's mistake. But he went on a silent mode.

Ramu was sure he was history. All Ramu could think of was at least his resume was current; he wouldn't even have to admit that he had ever worked at this school!

AS took the heat for Ramu's mistake. Not once had he even mentioned his name. It would have been tempting. All he would have had to do was to point his finger at Abhi and say, "There HE is. He's new, and he's defective!"

After the Principal ran out of steam, she said, "This shouldn't have even happened!" Ramu's AS replied, "It did, and I take full responsibility. This is my department. But every minute we are spending here means we are that much later in getting the system back up." The Principal left the room, leaving Ramu alone with his AS. AS did not look at him. Instead, he stared at the door, closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. He opened his eyes, a smile formed on his lips, he looked at him and said, "Don't do that again."

He all but fell over his own words of apology. He stopped him, "I think you are going to remember the importance of backup. And if this continues to be a problem, we will have a different kind of conversation. But you took responsibility for your mistake. Most of the time, I have to search to find them. I respect what you did. You're the kind of person I want working on my team. Now, I'm going to need your help to get this system back online at the earliest to avoid an embarrassment tomorrow for the coffee time with parents."

What happened after this conversation was the real leadership mantra for all leaders. The techno-savvy AS accompanied Ramu to the data room and started working with Ramu till late night to restore the data lost. Finally, they could finish the work and next day’s coffee time became a great success.

At the end of the day Ramu went to the AS’s office to apologies for the mistake. But before he could apologies, the AS stood up from his seat and thanked him for working beyond duty time and even appreciated his computer skills and ability to deal with emergency situations. Ramu was really surprised and thanked God.

Weeks, months and year’s went on, Ramu continued serving the school with the same boss. One day one of his colleague asked him, why does you are so sincere to that person? Ramu replied him by narrating the incident that had happened after two weeks of his joining the school and asked him to look at his business card and said, "You can't see it, but every day I write in invisible ink - 'SLAVE.' I would do anything for that AS!"

Leadership may not be as complicated as we make it. The late Bear Bryant, the great football coach, shared the same truth Ramu's boss lived when he said: "I'm just a plow-hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm down the others, until finally they've got one heartbeat together, a team. There's just three things I'd ever say: If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That's all it takes to get people to win football games for you." Those are wise words on leadership no matter what kind of team you lead.

For your success and glory!

Read, Learn and Flourish!