Wednesday, 31 May 2017

School Leadership Lacking

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”- Warrren Bennis
Leadership is not easy. It is often said, uneasy lies the head which wears the crown. After years of poor and ineffective school leadership The National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) was established in 2011 to develop excellence in educational leadership and school management. The lack of accountability and transparency at the level of principalship at both the primary and secondary levels is quite appalling and urgently needs attention. Undoubtedly, there are some principals and schools which are doing exceptional well in meeting the needs of their students. The focus and conversation however, should shift to those who are not despite the support and encouragement from stakeholders. In most instances principals across the educational landscape are more than qualified for their positions, however, holding the requisite qualification and the ability to effectively manage a school are worlds apart. In order to improve student outcome and to maximize the true potential of all students it takes more than having letters behind one’s name. A critical area where a lot of principals score poorly in is that of enabling an environment for effective teaching and learning. Too many of our schools are underperforming due primarily to the poor leadership in place. The 21st century education system must be meaningful for all learners. The weak structure of some School Boards and the manner in which School Board members are appointed leaves much to be desired.  Unfortunately, in some schools, the Office of the principal and the Office of the School Board are blurred and compromised giving principals a free reign to do as they wish. The 2004 Task Force on Educational Reform serves as a platform to the modernization and transformation of Jamaica’s education system.  As a result of the Task Force the Education System Transformation Programme (ESTP) was birthed to improve standards of performance and greater accountability of all levels of the education system. Regrettably, some of whom have the title of principal are shallow, void of integrity, vindictive and unworthy of such positions. Those principals who fall in such a category should be grateful daily to their luck and connections, since many are indebted to third parties whether political, religious or civic associations for the position they hold. In the interim, many students and teachers are held to ransom in the power play which takes place in many of our schools. Many excellent teachers become frustrated and this frustration as well as the high levels of stress is played out many times in the classroom while the teaching and learning experience is hijacked on an altar of cronyism and favoritism. Our children deserve better! Too many upstanding teachers leave the classroom yearly, abandoning their dreams and aspirations for the sake of peace of mind. Additionally, some principals who are aware of their limitations have purposefully ventured into building divisions among staff. Unfortunately, there are those in positions of principals who instead of building bridges in order to unite their staff in a spirit of collegiality choose to sow chords of mischief and hatred. It is unfortunate that the process of engagement between principals and staff in a number of schools is non-existent. As a result many teachers are unaware of the School Improvement Plan (SIP) which outlines the expectation of individual teachers during the academic year. It bears thought that as a society we need to shun such individuals from all areas of leadership.
What is Self-Efficacy
Self-efficacy is also known as personal efficacy, and is defined as the confidence in one’s own skill sets to accomplish intended goals and assigned targets. Self-efficacy is situation specific and varies regarding the events in our lives.  A principal’s sense of efficacy is an assessment of his or her capabilities to structure a specific course of action to improve student outcomes. According to Tschannen-Moran & Gareis (2004 the major influences on efficacy are assumed to be attributional analysis and interpretation of the four sources of efficacy information: mastery experience, physiological arousal, vicarious experience and verbal persuasion.  It is quite likely and acceptable that a principal might feel secured in one area of leadership and rather inadequate in another area. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Some principals are intrinsically motivated while others are not. Success in leadership is not a sprint but a marathon. The weak principal today may become the transformational leader within a few years. This cuts across the board for all who are in leadership positions.    
Forging Ahead Towards a 21st Century Education System
In this age of accountability and transparency it is critical that we fast tracked the transformation process in order to have a 21st century education system. The society needs to demand more from our school leadership. It cannot be that principals with a track record of underachievement are given extension after reaching the retirement age. This is a bad and retrograde practice which has no place in the 21st century. The Education Act does not guarantee any extension to any principal upon retirement. Too many in the society who should know better are complicit in supporting ineffective school leadership. A rigorous discourse on way forward regarding how to improve the culture in many of our schools, as well as, in building professional trust is needed.  For educator, Regie Routman professional trust means that teachers and leaders at a school can depend on each other’ that everyone on staff is fully committed to all students, and that ongoing, high-quality professional learning ensures that all teachers do an effective job”. As a nation we need to be adamant in our resolve that such principals are retired in the interest of the nation’s children and the country at large. We need to redouble our efforts in bringing back professionalism and honour to the position of principalship. Sadly, there are many principals whose words are meaningless and they have become a laughing stock among their peers.  There are many principals who are not respected by their staff, parents and students, due mainly to their unprofessional and unethical ways. The learner of the 21st century requires leadership which is both transformational and instructional. The fruits of a transformed education system hinge itself on the quality of leadership in place in our schools.  We need to recapture the mould of principals of yesteryear who were role models and mentors for both their students and the wider community. It can and must be done as education is the only way Jamaica will pull herself up and out of the crisis the society is grappling with. We should be reminded that untruths and fear are not qualities that build a school, nor fosters a culture of excellence. Distressingly, too many principals lack the motivation to inspire their staff; too many see their role primarily as perfunctory, disregarding the need to build relationships with stakeholders to enhance the teaching and learning journey. School leadership is not a responsibility for those who do not have a love for teachers. The time is now for the society to reclaim their collective voices in denouncing ineffective school leadership to safeguard the well being of the nation’s most vulnerable asset, that of our children.  Educational equity is a right not a privilege!
In the words of Robert John Meehan educational leadership is about letting go the urge to control others and holding on to the purpose of setting them free.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.