Sunday, 19 October 2014

Save Our Schools From The Leadership Crisis

“I cannot conceive of a greater loss than the loss of one's self-respect.”- Mahatma Gandhi
Have you ever wondered for a moment or perhaps two, the reasons why the Jamaican public has lost respect for the nations teachers?  I have and have concluded that there are two broad based explanations for the rapid decline in respect for the nation’s teachers.
Too many of our teachers have lost respect for themselves. This lack of self respect among teachers has led many of them to enter into inappropriate sexual relations with students. The profession of teaching has been brought into a state of disrepute by these individuals. This fact was highlighted by a news report of May 8, 2014 with the caption “Pervert Teachers”. According to the Children’s Advocate some teachers are exhibiting predatory sexual behavior towards children in schools. Disturbingly, the Children Advocate added that other members of staff including the school leadership are choosing to cover up these cases of child abuse to protect the name of their school.
This is such a sad and distressing commentary about the teaching profession and clearly the time has come for all stakeholders in the education system to work together to weed out those teachers who exhibit such predatory sexual traits.
Jamaica is oftentimes said to be a God fearing country. Disturbingly, teachers displaying predator behaviours are allowed to continue working in the education system because there is a culture of silence among their colleague. This is why the licensing and registration of teachers is so critical to safeguard the interests of all the stakeholders in the education system.
Where are the decent and God fearing teachers who by their continued silence to speak out against these abuses inevitably give their consent to these perpetrators of sexual offences to continue. Who will stand up and be counted and speak out? Who among you will break the cycle of silence on such a sensitive and important matter is worth the life of child.  What if the student being molested was your child?
My second explanation regarding the lack of respect for our teachers has its genesis in other actions for school leadership. This plays out in the scandalous and arbitrary manner in which some principals hand pick vice principals. Gone are the days when consultation and discussion were the order of the day and viewed as best practices for such appointments. One can argue we now live in a modern time and it’s all about situational ethics. This dictatorial practice is clearly a breach of trust and an abuse of power by those principals who pursue such policies. Of course not all principals are guilty of this; some are professionals and refrain from the temptation from so doing and engage in meaning consultation with their staff.  
It bears thought, though what is the minimum requirement for one to become a vice principal. We already know the obvious one, that being the principal’s friend or being highly favoured by the principal.  Does the Ministry of Education has a policy guideline regarding the appointment of vice principals? If not, why not?
What do you do as a vice principal when you know within yourself you are unworthy of such a promotion? Did someone say nothing? What do you do as a vice principal when your neither staff nor students have any respect for you as a person? It’s a sad day in Jamaica when we have school leaders who do not have the moral and or the professional authority to speak to their staff members. Where this occurs such schools are doomed to failure.
What is the role of the other stakeholders in this discourse?
Is there a role for school boards in the promotion/appointment of vice principals? The appointment of vice principal is usually done after the School Board recommends the individual. However, many of our school boards are not functioning and only serve as a rubber stamp for the whims and fancy of principals.
As a society we continue to play a game of Russian roulette with the education of the next generation of Jamaicans by celebrating and rewarding unprofessionalism. The time has come for us move away from this sub standard behavior and move towards creating a cadre of professionals within the education system capable of inspiring and motivating our students.
Should the education ministry in collaboration with the Jamaica Teaching Council begin to conduct background and personality disorder checks on those who are in middle managers or who aspire to be in our schools?
No wonder almost seventy percent of all schools in the public education system are deemed as unsatisfactory. Unless we change our modus operandi we will continue to have the situation where a few schools are seen as schools of choice and the majority of schools are viewed as places of last resort.
The need for transformational leadership is woefully lacking in a significant number of our schools. We have allowed the politics associated with education to rob our students of an education. It appears that politics and the politics of education have joined in an unholy alliance to prevent the masses from receiving a quality education.  
In an era where authoritarian power is being questioned in all spheres of leadership the emerging research is showing that humility is more effective and powerful in terms of leadership. According to a study from the University Of Washington Foster School Of Business, humble people tend to make the most effective leaders and are more likely to be high performers. There is a tendency to associate humility with weakness, however, the opposite is true, it is a strong and forward thinking leader who displays this leadership trait.
The saying kisses goes by favour is so profound in this regard since a significant number of those in leadership whether in the boardroom or the school setting did not get there because they are more intelligent or did better on the interview.
 As a result, there is no need to begrudge anyone who has had to prostitute him/herself in order to get a promotion.  Many have had to scheme and gossip in order to be promoted. As the psalmist David says in Psalm 75 verse 6 such inward schemes cannot gain for them advancement unless based upon the fear and love of God.
The wider society will continue to show disrespect for the nation’s teachers if these sorts of “poppy show” and outrageous promotions are allowed to stand. Have you ever wondered why some schools are perpetually in the failing schools list category? We need to move away and reject mediocrity. The time has come for the education system to rebrand itself and reward hard work and professionalism and stamp out corruption and favourtism.  
A positive school culture is what is missing in most of our schools. This squarely rests with the administration of the schools. In order to improve staff well being respect is vital. Respect creates a positive school environment which will invariably have benefits for the teaching and learning process. Respect contributes to a context of safety and openness. Respect appears to be a fleeting ideal within most of our schools. Those in authorities at times feel that they can talk to their teachers in any manner forgetting that respect begets respect. This lack of respect from school leadership fosters a culture of cliques in all schools. In many Jamaican schools the existence of cliques runs counter to having a positive school culture. In fact the continuation of cliques in our schools is an admission that some teachers are excluded from certain activities and this contributes to a poor school climate.
The lack of effective communication within our schools is one contributing factor why so many of our schools are failing. If the school leadership creates the right working environment so that teachers feel a sense of belonging we will have less conflicts and have a much better working environment.
Karen Dyer of the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina puts it best. ”teachers will move from mere compliance to commitment” if the right working atmosphere is created. The ball is in the principal’s court.      
A culture of school success cannot be achieved if the school leadership pursues a culture of exclusivity. There is no place for arrogance and vindictiveness as a manager in the 21st century. A school leader who is forward thinking and transformational will put in place measures to foster a positive school climate in which respect is paramount. We need to remember that education is about preparing our students for the future and not about our past. Those who are called to lead must be held accountable.    
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Malcolm X
Wayne Campbell