Making schools count

Ideally in a school setting, learners should be the epicentre of everything. The children are the sole reason why schools exist and why teachers, support staff and school managers come to work every day. Every activity should be geared towards advancing the interests of learners.

Other things are secondary. Rachel E. Curtis and Elizabeth A. City say a school system should all times “remember children.” And this reminds me of an experience I had with one of the foreign education consultants then engaged in the production of Botswana’s Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP).

I had returned from a long education meeting dealing with the subject of customer satisfaction as it relates to payment of suppliers. And he asked whether anybody in the process of the meeting mentioned the word learner. Nobody did, I honestly answered.

His conclusion was that the meeting was not worth attending. To him no activity in the Ministry of Education is pursued in vacuum but rather any activity should connect with providing more and better learning. So Education leaders should always put a higher premium on the interests of learners and avoid giving undue attention to distractions. Sadly, schools are overwhelmed.

Schools contend with too many peripheral issues which consume a huge chunk of resources but at the end of the day yield very little. School principals, especially in low achieving schools, are often preoccupied with what has become known in management circles as ‘fire fighting’.

This means navigating and dealing with powerful distractions on a daily basis. This is a situation where a school plan completely goes off the rails and there is a total loss of focus. When besieged with a lot unexpected issues, schools would degenerate into a reactive mode. Schools that are governed by distractions cannot serve children well. According to City and Curtis ‘’budgets crises, tough contract negotiations, ugly school board politics, bad press” are some of the powerful distracters inhibiting good service to the learner in the classroom.

It is therefore important for school principals to create and sustain a learner-focused environment. Efforts should be made to minimise distractions. Also it is equally important for school principals to guard against a culture of compliance.

Compliance is doing everything that a system requires without any scrutiny. In a school context, it is a repetition of ritual of lesson planning, submission of scheme books, lesson attendance registers and lesson observations and response to data requests, without worrying about the value that these activities add to the teaching and learning process.

A culture of compliance takes root in a situation where data is used seldomly. Key decisions affecting teaching and learning should be anchored on data. Data should define deployment of teachers, who can teach low achieving students and who can handle high achieving students.

Even when working out lesson observation timetable, school principals should be guided by data. Data should identify classes and teachers deserving frequent attention and those requiring less attention.

For instance there is no need to frequent high achieving and disciplined classes while trouble prone and less achieving classes get lesser attention.

School principals should avoid the temptation of making arbitrary decisions unsupported by any empirical evidence. A school can also switch to a compliance mode where there is a culture of fear occasioned a by a dictatorial system of administration.

A strategy serves no good purpose if it exists only in the head of the leader. School principals must not only develop their visions but should ensure a buy in. When there is no buy-in, people can just comply to simply satisfy the requirements. So it is important for school principals to get the attention of their charges fixated on classroom matters.

Distractions are wasteful. One way of achieving total focus on instruction is through establishment of an instructional team. Positions should not be used as criteria for deciding members of the instructional team.

Rather performance in the classroom should be a determining factor. Each school has model teachers with a proven academic track record. The instructional team should be manned by model teachers who have common understanding of what effective instruction is all about.

It should be composed of teachers who have the big picture in mind.

These are selfless teachers who are able to subordinate the interests of individual departments to those of the organisation. Such teachers can inspire confidence on colleagues and students.

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