When leadership meets learning


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

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Leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation. — William Arthur Wood

The much-anticipated 2017 ranking of the nation's secondary schools is out. The rankings have become an annual feature of the educational landscape and provide much food for thought for analysts not only in support for the various talk show programmes but also as a way to drive policies in making our education system more inclusive.

The rankings are based on the performance of students in the grade 11 cohort who obtain five or more subjects, including mathematics and English language in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations.

The top-10 ranked schools over the years have remained relatively unchanged. Campion College and Immaculate Conception High School have swapped the number one ranking since the publication began. Interestingly, both schools are Roman Catholic-run institutions and highly sought after institutions. In fact, all the schools ranked in the top 10 are either church-owned or trust-owned. However, the concern we must all share is not one regarding who owns the schools but one of the continued underperformance of a significant number of our schools.

In comparing the rankings over the years it is clear that some schools have become permanent fixtures at the bottom. Our students enter and leave educational facilities at regular intervals, so too our teachers; however, in a number of instances the principalship is the one constant factor in a significant number of these schools. It can be argued that a major reason for the interest in the association between leadership and student outcomes is the desire of policymakers to minimise the persistent disparities in educational achievement between various sub-populations in the education system. As a society we need to build confidence of the public in the capacity of the school manager to make a considerable difference to student outcomes.

Instructional leadership

Instructional leadership theory has its empirical origins in studies undertaken during the late 1970s and early 1980s of schools in poor urban communities where students succeeded despite the odds (Edmonds, 1979). Research indicates that schools with this type of leadership usually have a learning climate free of disruption, a system of clear teaching objectives, and high teacher expectations for students.

Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership theory has its origins in James McGregor Burn's 1978 publication in which he analysed the ability of some leaders to engage with staff in ways that inspired them to new levels of energy, commitment and moral purpose. Sadly, these leadership theories are lacking in a significant number of our schools.

Instead, what we have is an archaic type of leadership void of transparency and accountability. This type of old-fashioned leadership must be held accountable for the poor student outcomes of their respective schools. Correspondingly, this type of behaviour is parallel to some of our politicians who have no idea when it is time to exit the stage. The positioning of schools, whether at the top or the least-ranked is grounded in the quality of leadership provided at the institution.

The National Education Inspectorate, in a 2015 report on public schools inspection, mentioned that school leadership and management were unsatisfactory in 40 per cent of schools inspected at that time. It bares thought that students in schools with superior leadership and management tend to perform better than their counterparts. While much work has been done regarding the leadership deficit in our schools, much more work is required in order to bring all schools on as level a playing field as is humanly possible.

There is a tendency in the society to speak of school boards merely in academic terms regarding school leadership and management. Perhaps this attitude is one reason many of our schools boards and schools are performing unsatisfactorily. Obviously, all stakeholders need to redouble their efforts in working assiduously in order to change the public's perception surrounding school boards and management.

We need to look closely on the composition of school boards since in too many instances board members are rotating from position to position, instead of being replaced after serving a three-year term — which is what is recommended. Is it that the leadership deficit is so widespread that we are unable to get qualified and motivated volunteers to serve our educational institutions?

In order for our students to excel we must find ways and methods to rid the education system of the small portion of such principals who believe and behave as if they have a sense of life entitlement to such positions. If, as a principal, you are not performing or perhaps you are unable to perform then it is simply, do the nation a great service and walk away, quietly. The practice of extending the tenure of underperforming principals is not in the best interest of our students.

We cannot afford to continue playing a game of Russian roulette with the future of our children by endorsing a skewed strand of principalship which focuses on the control of teachers rather than the focal point of a school, which is ensuring that effective teaching and learning takes place. The State needs to get proactive and guarantee that all schools, especially struggling schools, have in place inspired, instructional and transformative principalship. In the wise words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Send comments to the Observer or / @WayneCamo.

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