Making schools count

School principals wield sufficient powers, influence and clout to change the trajectory of schools under their care. Effective school leaders are always armed with a fearless approach.

In the words of Linda Cliatt Wayman, a prominent school Turnaround Champion, “if you are going to lead, lead.” Wayman made an interesting observation that not all buildings purporting to be schools are schools. Some are serving the purpose for which they were built and while others are falling short of achieving expectations. A real School should be characterised and distinguished by discipline and order, a culture of mutual respect where students respect teachers and likewise teachers respect their students.

Rules are rules and they should apply without any fear or favour. And school principals should leave no stone unturned in their quest for change and improved learning outcomes. Paying attention to details should be the standard practice. Effective management of schools necessarily entails winning small battles. This begins with order and discipline. Once rules and norms have been developed and agreed upon, sanctions should be applied to reinforce positive behaviour and punish non-compliance. The behaviour of every member of the school community from the cafeteria, security, and teacher should be consistent with expectations and the vision of the school. Preparation and handling of food in the kitchen, the conduct of the man at the gate and that of the teacher in the classroom must reflect the desire of the school to effect positive change. For instance, leaving a gate unmanned permits visitors to enter and leave the school as they please without scrutiny. If the gate is porous, dangerous weapons and illegal substances could find their way into their school undetected.

When allowed to happen, this could upset and dilute the institutional culture. The same discipline applies to the cafeteria. The kitchen staff must always be on top of their game, get it right and provide timely and top-notch service to students.

Delayed service can demoralise students while impacting negatively on the teaching and learning business. Discipline in the classroom entails making thorough preparations, administering tests as scheduled but also giving learners appropriate and timely feedback. Many teachers executive their teaching functions very well but some are wanting on students’ feedback.

Frequent feedback keeps learners on their toes and gives them an opportunity to close gaps identified. School principals must always keep the watch and monitor carefully the pulse of their schools. Allocation and utilisation of scarce resources like time is important. All members of the learning community must respect time and adopt a business-like atmosphere.

They say punctuality is the soul of any business. In a chaotic, laisser-faire environment the sound of the siren does not do anything. The school principal and senior team leadership should display exemplary conduct, time management and the rest normally will follow suit. Every activity must be conscious of time ranging from school assembly, meetings, and co- curricular activities to the classroom. Students’ behaviour in particular should be monitored when shifting from one lesson to the other. A lot valuable teaching time could be lost during the process of shifting.

And the sanctions should be applied to promote effective use of time. The behaviour of students should be treated as feedback. Sometimes when dragging their feet to a particular lesson, the students could be communicating a message about the quality of classroom service. Body language is valuable data, which should be analysed so that appropriate remedial measures are taken to address gaps identified. The holding of long meetings without a clear agenda is a recipe for disaster.

Meetings should be focussed. Efforts should be made to hold separate meetings dealing with staff welfare matters and classroom instruction. Trying to deal with too many competing priorities in one single meeting can lead to a situation where some issues do not receive sufficient justice. The one thing school principals must not accept is mediocrity.

As the Harvard Graduate School of Education put it, “mediocrity is a sin. Average performance means not too bad and not good. If the principal tolerates mediocrity it is possible that many could sit in this comfort zone. Special attention should be paid on average performers so that they could raise the bar.

Editor's Comment
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