Saturday, 30 July 2016

School Leadership: A Game-Changer

School leadership continues to be an issue of great concern for all stakeholders in the Jamaican education system. Without an educated workforce the society will not have sustainable development and will continue to have anemic economic growth. The National Education Inspectorate (NEI) report highlights that in 41 per cent of high schools in Jamaica, leadership is unsatisfactory, and in 47 per cent of cases, leadership is just achieving the minimum set targets. Disturbingly, 1 per cent of high schools have exceptional leadership. It is clear that the society has a culture of weak school leadership. It is also obvious that there needs to be a public-private partnership to reverse this issue of ineffective school leadership.
Jamaica National Building Society, through their JN Foundation recently organized a School Leadership Summit, which was held on July 25 & 26. Jamaica National is not new regarding their involvement and scaffolding of matters concerning education. Jamaica National has been an important partner in the creation of the Centres of Excellence Programme, which have transformed many under-performing schools into schools of first choice. The Education Revolution, as the Summit was branded, was ground breaking as much as it was intellectually stimulating as it brought together scores of school administrators, board members, officials from the education ministry, bloggers, local and international experts to arrive at workable solutions affecting school leadership. A revolution is usually a process and begins in the mind.

A revolution also has a historical point of reference and the JN education revolution is no exception. In February of 2004, the then government established a Task Force on Educational Reform. The Task Force was mandated to create an action plan to arrive at strategies for a world-class education system which would generate the human capital and produce the necessary skills set for Jamaicans to compete in the global economy. The theme of the conference was: Innovate! Impact! Lead! Among the remarkable presenters were, Dr. Christopher Emdin, who spoke on “When Innovation and Magic Collide in Education”. Dr. Emdin, a Science professor and Activist uses Hip Hop music in the teaching of Mathematics and Science. Salome Thomas-El, principal and author spoke on “Creating an Atmosphere of Success in a School. Mr. Thomas-El over the years has transformed the attitudes and strategies of academic staff, parents and other stakeholders to assist troubled students.  The electric atmosphere of the School Leadership Summit went into over drive when Dr. Emdin announced that he would be establishing a Science Genius Academy on his return to Jamaica. Best practices regarding transformational versus instructional leadership were also explored.
In his address to the audience, Prime Minister, Andrew Holness stated that the best investment any country can make is in the education sector. The Prime Minister added that quality education was the next frontier to be tackled by the government. Quality education is not achievable without good and exceptional school leadership. Additionally, the public perception is of such that some schools are better than others regarding students outcome and school management. As a result, parents and guardians avoid sending their children to those schools. A critical element of school leadership which requires more attention is the composition of our school boards. We need to re-examine how we go about appointing members to school boards.
The JN Foundation Summit on School Leadership had an abundance of information shared over 2 days. There was a buzz on social media, as well as, traditional media going into the School Leadership Summit which helped to fuel the high expectation school administrators had of the Summit.  One can conclude that those expectations were met as was evident in the interaction between presenters and the audience. All the presenters were exceptional and delivered effectively resulting in all the sessions recording high levels of audience participation. The stimulating atmosphere started on the first day and continued throughout. It would be useful for Jamaica National to make copies of the School Leadership Summit and distribute same to all schools. Jamaica National Foundation should be commended for their effort in facilitating a world-class conference.  We need to continue and expand the conversation regarding the education revolution in Jamaica. In the words of Donald H. McGannon, leadership is action, not position.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
#JNFEducationRevolution #leadership #education #schools #policy #gender

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Collaborative Leadership: A Way Forward in Education

Leadership is an opportunity to serve. It is not a trumpet call for self-importance. J. Donald Walters
Jamaica’s education system is faced with many challenges; however, the most pressing is the weak leadership in many of our schools which for some reason we have failed to address, sadly to the detriment of our students. The weak leadership school culture has not gone unnoticed as the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) has documented that only 1 per cent of high schools fall into the category of exceptional leadership. This is most disturbing and requires a call to action to reverse this negative trend. The NEI Report of 2015 highlighted that more than 40 per cent of high schools, or 4 out of every 10 have unsatisfactory leadership and require immediate support. Despite these alarming findings, it is clear that this ‘immediate support’ is not quite forthcoming and as a result our students continue to suffer under an education system which does not adequately addresses the diversity of the student population. Despite spending billions of dollars over the years to reform and modernize an education system which was inherited from the British, there is still much work required to create an all inclusive education system for all Jamaicans. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves how did we get here? How did we arrive at a culture which fosters ineffective leadership throughout a significant number of our schools? The ‘how’ is rooted in the interference of how we go about appointing principals, even in the era of the establishment of the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL).
We need to move away from the old style ‘bucky massa’ approach to a culture which creates and embraces collaborative leadership. What is Collaborative Leadership? Collaborative leadership is the type of guidance required to get effective and efficient results across internal and external organizational boundaries. However, collaborative leadership is lacking in most of our schools. Instead, there is a personality like culture which very often is not conducive to an environment which fosters teaching and learning. At the end of the day, the nation becomes poorer for the failure of policy makers to do their job without fear or favour. There is a total breakdown of supervision of the education system. There is hardly any accountability across the many layers of the school system. A total shake up is needed where principalship is concern in Jamaica. Leadership is about bringing individuals together, however, in many instances, we operate on the basis that popularity is leadership. We cannot continue as a society to relish in the pockets of exceptional school leadership. We need to duplicate exceptional leadership across all levels of the education system.
A collaborative leader invests time to build relationships; he/she handles conflicts in a constructive manner and shares control. However, most of the leadership in our schools do not subscribe to the collaborative leadership approach.  In contrast, traditional leadership is often the preferred leadership style for our principals which embrace the autocratic approach where the leader takes absolute control over his/her team and takes decisions without consulting team members. This approach to management often alienates team members and the organization and students suffers in the end. We need to engender a culture of collaborative leadership style among our principals in which everyone on the staff have a voice and where there is diversity of a group approach in problem solving at the institution. It is with the collaborative leadership approach where middle management and their subordinates are equally valued.  It only when this approach is used the institution will get one hundred and one per cent from the staff which will move the institution forward. We need to move to a place in our education system in which students are allowed to evaluate their teachers and teachers much also evaluate their principals. The data should not be used as a tool of witch hunt but as a process in a journey to get the school moving forward. There is currently a culture of fear and vindictiveness which many principals use over their staff. The divide and rule approach to education has no place in the 21st century. It is a remnant of a bygone era which is not in keeping with teaching and learning. We need to strive to rid the system not only of this spirit of fear, but of those who subscribe to such for the benefit of all students and stakeholders in the education system.  Our leaders need to arrive at the place in which they become more accountable.
To all those who aspire to leadership position remember the words of Donald H Mc Gannon; leadership is action, not position.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
#leadership #education #education #principalship #gender #culture #position #meritocracy #sustainabledevelopment  #autocratic #collaboration #values #teaching #learning #schools.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Overtesting Culture Endangers Students

Jamaica tends to look at her powerful North America neighbor the United States of America for guidance and ideas regarding policies from time to time. It is well established that the USA has a culture of overtesting their students and Education Minister Ruel Reid’s plan to introduce a new diagnostic test for grade nine students could be seen as moving Jamaica towards a culture of overtesting.  The pending introduction of a National Grade Nine Diagnostic Test should begin in the academic year 2019/2020. It is noteworthy that some grade nine students already do a diagnostic test in the Grade Nine Achievement Test (GNAT) which is used to transfer students from all age and junior high schools to the 10th grade in secondary schools.
Under the National Grade Nine Diagnostic Test proposal all students in grade nine irrespective of whether they attend all-age, junior high or secondary schools will be required to sit this examination which will be used to promote students to the tenth grade. Currently, all schools utilize their end of term/end of year examinations to promote their students. What will become of internal examinations? Will we abandon end of year examinations?
Interestingly, high performing nations such as Japan, Singapore and Finland do not allow for so much standardized testing of their students, yet those countries are far ahead in student outcomes than those who are embedded and fixated in a culture of overtesting.  Why are we choosing this route to test our already overtested students? Our students are tested at grade four in primary schools, when they sit the Grade Four Numeracy and Literacy Tests. Additionally, students sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) which is used to transfer students to high schools.
In grade three, students are also required to do the Grade Three Diagnostic Test. There is also the Grade One Readiness Inventory Test. Let us not forget that there is also the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the e-Learning Company Jamaica Limited Grade 9 Diagnostic Test. I suspect that some of these standardized tests, especially those done at grade nine, will now become redundant. Our students, like all other students in the English speaking Caribbean also sit the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) in grade eleven.  
It is no wonder that a significant number of our students are burnt out by the time they reach  high school. We must tread carefully along this tradition of overtesting as it quite likely that our students are being denied an authentic educational experience. We are slowly moving towards a culture of anxiety and tension among our students. Yes, standardized tests do have a place in the education system. Yes, we must administer tools of assessment to know where our students are. However, learning should also be fun and we should not rob our students of a rich and diverse teaching and learning experience solely for data gathering.
Wayne Campbell