Making schools count

The centrality of school leadership in the teaching and learning process cannot be over emphasised. The Ontario school leadership framework has established the intimacy and strong connection between leadership and learning outcomes and the well-being of a school.

There is no school that is beyond redemption. Good leaders can redeem and turn around chronically low achieving schools, even if perceived hopeless. The big question is what makes some school principals tick and others less successful? Effective and successful school principals share a lot of common qualities and professional practices. Tone setting plays a pivotal role in determining how high and how far a school can go. They say first impressions last longer. The quality and mood of a school is decided on day one.

The key is clarity of purpose. The why part of things. Defining a common purpose and sharing this with the team creates a sense of oneness and togetherness. Purpose driven teams stand a better chance of success. It should not just be about what to teach (content) and how to teach (pedagogy) but most importantly the why (purpose) should form part of the tone setting. The very thing that matters most should be defined, the reason for doing it and how to go about it.

The American successful school principal and Linda Cliatt-Wayman’s approach to school management was purpose driven. She brought her purpose in life to the school she led. She grew up poor and had first hand experience of schools in poverty stricken backgrounds. She had seen the injustice that schools commit against learners from less privileged backgrounds. When she got the privilege to teach and run schools, her purpose was to end the injustice by raising the standard of instruction. Purpose gave her the inspiration to give her all and the power of her Midas touch was felt in the broken schools she fixed. The second component of tone setting is sharing expectations.

That maiden address to the school staff and students can make or break a school. Effective leaders win the confidence, support and commitment of staff and students on the few first days of professional interaction. Without any fear or favour, the school principal should communicate high expectations of learners and staff, defining the rule of the game. As Wayman said when immersing the learner into the school culture of the school, there should be a list of “negotiable and non-negotiable” issues (dos and donts). The school principal should enlist the support of everyone in the enforcement of agreed set of rules. The bar should be set high and numeric targets must be set, disseminated widely and monitored. The third factor is creating and instilling positive attitudes. Wayman always got the best of learners because she believed in their potential and made them realise that their abilities are to learn and succeed later in life. And the power of hope and positivity should also apply to staff.

Teachers should believe parents gave the school the best children they got and that all learners are teachable. It is vitally important for teachers to have confidence in their students. In Botswana senior secondary schools, Professor Jaap Kuiper has identified streaming of learners according to ability in science as a big challenge. The categorisation of students according science programmes creates two schools in one. One school of top achievers and another school of (perceived) low achievers. “The streaming of students according to the science programme they follow creates two schools within one: one school of the top streams that will succeed. One school of the other streams, most of whom will fail.” This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: students feel they are labelled as weak, they see themselves as weak, the teachers see them as weak and give them little attention, they then are ill-prepared for the examinations and thus they fail: apparently fulfilling the prophecy that everyone knew they would do so.” It is important to shed negativity because it can be a powerful destructive force. School principals should have faith in their teachers too, believing that all teachers are fundamentally good.

Teachers are the best asset at the disposal of the principal. The principal should know his or her teachers well. Data about teachers informs proper and appropriate deployment. Data should determine who is best placed to handle a foundation class or a completing cohort. Deployment of teachers on the basis of rotation can be counter productive. It should be a case of saying I taught Standard Six last year and allow me to have a feel of Standard Seven. At all times, principals should ask themselves what role they can play in improving instruction.

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...

Have a Story? Send Us a tip
arrow up