Making schools count

School principals must never behave like politicians who are forced by the nature of their profession to engage in a popularity contest. When executing their functions, school principals should endeavour to place interests of learners at the centre.

The ‘learner first’ approach entails a consistent search for opportunities to improve instruction. This is vitally important because the quality of instruction is second to none in the quest for improved learning outcomes. Rachel Curtis and Elizabeth City placed emphasis on the need to place bets on teaching. ”Every school system that is rapidly improving student learning places its bets on strategic objectives and initiatives with direct connections to the instructional core.”

The emphasis is on ensuring that every activity is geared towards raising the bar in the classroom. It should be borne in mind that the quality of any school system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. Teachers are the king pin and what they do matter most. And the eyes of school principals must be fixated on ensuring that teachers bring their best selves to the system. The position of a school principal requires nerves of steel.

Principals should never be afraid to take risks and sacrifice popularity for the sake of the greater good. One of the most energy sapping tasks that principals must handle with great care is the management of a process of change. Managing change cannot be a walk in the park but rather it is a painful affair. Change itself is a risky undertaking.

Change equals loss of comfort zone and it can precipitate conflicts. For instance, a new principal emphasising on high level of classroom rigour, collaborative planning, team teaching and adherence to the dress code can attract stiff resistance and risk his popularity. The comfort zone is always sweeter and it is not easy for old habits to die.

It is important for school leaders to anticipate and accommodate some pockets of resistance as normal human behaviour and make preparations for successful management of passive resistance.

The best of way of bringing desired change is to win the trust of members of staff.

Eliminating a culture of mutual suspicion is equally important. More often than not, schools spend energy on the blame game rather than on remedial actions. Emphasis on positivity builds mutual trust and respect. School Principals must make teachers feel good by impressing upon them that they are technically equipped to deliver quality education. However, leaders must be on the lookout for quiet resistance. Simply agreeing with the principal that the current cultural setting is not good for learning does not necessarily guarantee change.

A school superintendent in the USA once observed that, “my classrooms visits are quite illuminating, the principals have been talking a good game in our monthly meetings, but when we get into classrooms, teachers are asking low level questions and students are bored.’’ It is the duty of the principal to ensure that teachers mean what they say and say what they mean. Classroom activities, test scores, students’ behaviour in and out of the school uniform and the presence of a strong collegiality spirit are good indicators of progress.

Pushing for positive change begins with an accurate diagnosis of the problem. School principals must make a distinction between a problem and symptoms of a problem. Addressing symptoms is merely tinkering on the surface and not dealing with the root cause. For instance, non-attendance, late coming, desertion, dropouts might speak volumes about the rigour of instruction.

City and Curtis say these are “observable, measurable manifestations of a deeper problem.” School leaders should rely on data driven decisions. It is risky and dangerous to draw interventions based on assumptions. Pushing reluctant students into class might be an exercise in futility when principals do not endeavour to improve instruction.

Blaming external factors for what it is essentially a school problem cannot bring about change. Learners relish engaging and exciting classroom instruction. This is why the behaviour of students and test scores vary from one class to another.

Most schools are not facing a learner or parental problem but an instructional challenge. The best reforms school principals can ever make is to fix the instructional challenge.

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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