Making schools count

The young Turks were becoming a little rebellious, questioning his authority now and then. And in a bid to quieten the voice of dissent and stamp his authority, my former school principal had to remind his charges that he was the ‘Alpha and Omega’ of the school and that his word should prevail.

Taken out of context, this could be interpreted as something bordering on dictatorship. But this declaration gives a little more insight into the position of the school principal at the time - the powers the position wielded and the clout it carried. On matters of providing instructional direction, the school principal offered unparalleled leadership.

The school principals on matters of instructional leadership used to be the ‘undisputed kings of the ring’ and the life of schools effectively revolved around the vision of their leaders. As they say, a school is as good as its leader. Almost every facet of a school reflected the character and vision of the principal. Fully conscious of the fact that the buck stopped with them, school principals were fully accountable, taking all responsibility of what was happening and not happening in their schools. When results were not going their way, it was a rarity for the school leaders to transfer the responsibility to external factors beyond their jurisdiction. That was accountability at its best! Across all levels, the management team was manned by two people, the principal and deputy and in larger and little more complex establishments like unified secondary schools, an additional post of assistant headmaster was created for purposes of strengthening governance.

The team of managers was kept lean and not overweight deliberately for a purpose. The advantage of the system was that it placed few hands on governance while leaving many hands on classroom instruction. The business of improving teaching and learning assumed precedence over any other consideration. The system and indeed the learners in the classroom enjoyed top-notch services coming from a good blend of experienced and inexperienced hands. Many hands were placed on deck from the deputy school principal, HoDs, senior teachers down to ordinary teachers. The novice teachers got inspiration from teaching alongside veteran and experienced counterparts. In some schools that were particularly distinguished by high performance, school principals occasionally left the comfort of their offices to take part in classroom instruction.

In the book Strategy in Action, Rachel E. Curtis and Elizabeth A. City observed, “the team (of managers) must be small enough to be nimble and include the decision makers who were able to drive the systemic improvement. Common wisdom is that senior leadership teams should be lean, with few members often thought to be optimal even in large systems.”

But when our schools grew in size in terms of demography and physical developments, a need arose to ease the burden of administration that principals and deputies had been carrying over time by getting more handing into management. To achieve this end, additional management positions were created. The system now boasts posts of head of departments (released from teaching responsibilities) and several senior teacher posts - dispensing instructional direction in their respective subject areas.

The new dispensation created opportunities for professional growth and promotion in the teaching profession. Before this dispensation there were a lot of frustrations as opportunities for promotion were slim and almost non-existent.

Reacting to limited opportunities, a colleague once said there are no posts to compete for and those aspiring for positions would only benefit from attrition. While drastic improvements have been made in the composition of school management, sadly the same cannot be said about the quality of teaching and learning. Student learning outcomes continue to be a source of grave concern for both parents and government.

While school management appears a little heavier and overweight, it is yet to yield expected learning outcomes. The system should apply its mind on who should be in the management team.

Elizabeth City contends that, “often team slots are allocated according to job title rather than expertise. The job title approach makes sense on a practical and political level. But lacks the intentionality and orientation toward the purpose the team needs if it is going to effectively drive the system’s work.” At all times the question should be “how will this (change) improve the quality of student learning and teaching? Anything short of this will always be found wanting.

Editor's Comment
More resources needed to fight crime

The Fight Crime Gaborone Facebook page is always filled with sad complaints of hard working Batswana who were robbed at knife point at some traffic lights or at their home gates when trying to get inside.These thugs have no mercy; they do not just threaten victims, they are always ready to use knives, and sadly, they damage car windows. While this happens at different traffic lights, there are those where such incidents happen more frequently...

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