Posted by: Principal/Editor | January 29, 2010

Education Reform: Challenges to School Leaders

Singapore actively prepares itself for the challenges – real or imagined—that would be brought about by the advent of Knowledge-Based Economies (KBEs). One of the key sectors in Singapore that would be greatly affected by these challenges would undoubtedly be the education sector. Especially since education has been seen as a “strategic instrument” of the state to pursue national development goals[1].

Upon closer examination of the Singaporean education sector as it makes sense of the radical changes that it experiences, the role of school leaders comes under careful scrutiny. Scholars as well practitioners have argued how school leaders are fundamental in reform initiatives[2].    As decision-makers, implementing agents and as key personnel providing direction, vision and concrete actions in the midst of reform, school leaders are very much in the front-line of the skirmishes and the greater battles waged in the education arena.

Let’s step back a bit, reflect , and try to fathom the kinds of issues and challenges that school leaders –particularly in a Singaporean context —  confront as they make sense of radical and seemingly continuous reforms.  If we were to list down the top three issues that I, as a school leader, would carefully look out for during periods of dynamic reform what would these be? Would it be the mission of the school as typified in its shibboleths?  Or would I make sure that the welfare of my staff is properly taken care of? Or should I concern myself with the results of my students in high-stakes tests? What about my other key stakeholders: MOE, parents, the general public?


[1] L. Low, M. H. Toh and T. W. Soon, Economics of Education and Manpower Development: Issues and Policies in Singapore (Singapore, 1991).

[2] The Wallace Foundation. (2007). Education Leadership A Bridge to School Reform. Paper presented at the The Wallace Foundation’s National Conference October 22-24.  See also Singapore Teachers’ Union. (2000). Towards a World Class Education System Through Enlightened School Management/Leadership and Meaningful Educational Activities (pp. 1-75). Singapore: Singapore Teachers’ Union.

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Responses

  1. As a school leader, I would be most troubled by a rising developmental approach and marrying it to a performance driven educational system. My second problem is the corporatising of education in Singapore to treat schools as corporations as well as to market them with coporate strategies. Thirdly, in the midst of the dynamism, there seems to be a lack of a clear direction of the intent of education and the result is a cauldron of pedagogical tools, curriculum initiatives and analysis tools struggling to stay afloat. This is exacerbated by the dissonance of a global mindset and the geopolitics of statehood.

    With regards to stakeholders, I am most fortunate to say that besides the usual Parent-Teachers meetings, a good number of parents in my school are very proactive in many ways and form a support group for the school. They will cook for the teachers and a close camaraderie relationship is formed when we deal with their children together. The parents also help in the fund-raising for the less well-off students in my school. Also the school garners a lot of support through constant emails to them to update them on the school’s activities. Of course, I must acknowledge that not all parents are involved in the programme or the support group and that is the crux of the issue.

    Dr. Chong suggested a video presentation in our MLS Management course on Ganz’s 5 facets of core elements to strategizing for a communal type of leadership. I am most in favour of ‘Motivation and Relationship Building’. I am a strong proponent of building a genuine and honest relationship with parents from the ground level up. Though we yearn to be diplomatic, I rather we dish out frank advice in the best interest of the students under our charge. Furthermore, to first establish a sincere relationship, a school should first encourage ‘Parental Education’ which is lacking in our educational context. Currently, most parents, I presume, have abdicated their roles as parents to the school. That is evident by the government encouraging more fathers to take charge of their families and let them feel their presence – which is the missing link to positive growth of children. In such a Parental Education, once a shared vision is proposed to them, a situational, task-based or problem based leadership model can be offered for the Parental Support Group to take charge. The school must also be prepared to release their control of CCAs for the parents to get involved and take charge. This will then prove to be a very strong stakeholdership as the parents will feel responsible and more accountable – not only for their children but for the school as a whole. I surmise that this form of leadership will not lead to unnecessary politics as it is not performance-based or linked to wealth generation. It is more akin to a social enterprise. Parents will then be encouraged to take up whatever that they feel that they can contribute to instead of being tasked to do it.

    • I agree more can be done in the professional development of parents with regards to leadership or as you have mentioned, Parental Education.

      Though the practise, I suppose, has been to leave the chairman to lead and mobilise the group for school needs and activities, whether planned or on a ad hoc basis, increasingly, more school leaders recognise the need for greater conversations with parents. Just an example, as an attempt to work more closely with our parents to allign the school’s VVM with the PSG efforts, my school involves parents in our yearly end-of-year review of programmes. Briefing of programmes are also conducted to explain intent, not just the procedure on what to do. These sessions provide a good platform for parents to see and understand the rational and the realities and challenges of implementation.

      • Hi Alice I agree with your opinion. Parents are an important role in Today’s students education, they are more care about their children’s learning, and spend more time on children’s education. As a teacher or school leader should work close with parents. some parents like to help school and join school’s some big events ,like race harmony celebration, children’s Day celebration…… provide more opportunitys for parents to do activities with their children, it is good experience for students also.

    • Hi Paul

      Your concern about the rising developmental approach and marrying it to a performance driven educational system is real. But this is indeed the reality to educators like us. The developmental approaches in teaching and learning that MOE is cascading to schools are crucial to ensure that our students are equipped with the 21st century skilsl. However, the myriad developmental approaches to education are lost in our enthusiasm to produce results and perform. This conflicting phenomena will cause a ripple effect in Singapore in the long run. Are we to be known only as a developed country with regurgitators and paper-chasers but greatly lacking in soft skills? It’s a scary thought, isn’t it? The research conducted by Dr Vincente Reyes and Dr Gopinanthan (2009) evidently showed us that there is no correlation between academic results and the new economy competencies. So are the implications to us as educators?

      We need to change our mindset and not make academic achievements our main and only priority. Education IS important but it is not the only thing. I know that this is indeed easier said than done. With that being said, the direction must come from MOE and school leaders to not place so much emphasis on high stakes exams but again this is an oxy-moron statement. Why? In our meritocratic system, it is quite impossible for us to eradicate this mentality of not doing well in school as citizens are ‘rewarded’ based on ‘merits’ and academic achievements. As long as Singapore holds dearly to this meritocratic belief, schools, leaders and teachers are not going to change.

      It’s a vicious cycle. To me this issue is not so straight-forward as it stems at the systemic level. I’ll wait for that day to come.

  2. The demand for school reform has transformed role the school leaders to become agent of change. The pressure are multi-facets, demanding parents, meeting academic standards at milestone examinations, new and various forms of assessment, new curriculum, pedagogy and instructional demands, and pupils who are digital natives.

    The goal of the school leader is student achievement. Student achievement used to be simply academic excellence. Achievement is defined in other ways now. Better communicators, concern citizens, active contributors and the passion for learning are some of the criteria to determine the success of our pupils.

    The challenge is for school leaders to handle tension and conflict with ease. They need to make the right decision at the right moment addressing the right group of people. Roger Martins (2007) stressed the need for leaders to possess the Opposable Mind, where they can hold two diametrically opposing ideas from a broad range of contexts in their heads without panicking or settling for one or the other idea, and produce a synthesis idea that is superior to either opposing idea.

    Firstly, as a leader, I would focus on the context and situation in my school first. I would focus on the strength of the school, consider the SES of my pupils and immerse myself in the culture of the school. I would continue to support the niche in the school even though that might not be my forte. I can always learn from the teachers and give my input from my experience. This integration of ideas is very powerful, especially when we need to innovate and improve the existing programmes in schools (The Medici Effect). The key here is to feel the ground first before major reform can take place. The leader needs a strong vision as well as the capacity to realise the vision with success. There must be milestones and clear targets to indicate that the school is heading the same direction.

    Before finding new directions, the school leader needs to understand the nature, needs, strengths and limitations of the staff. We need to know the and understand very clearly, the need, practicality and complexity of the reform. A simple reform like changing the structure of a level meeting impacts lesser teachers compared to introducing UbD in the entire school. Check the readiness of the staff. Consider their prior experience. This is especially important when new teachers join the school, and were all lost when the school is already in it’s third phase of a UbD journey.

    Spend time to invest in the teachers. Create an inviting and engaging school climate that begins with the teachers earning the respect and trust of the parents and the pupils. The quality of the education system is as good as the quality of the teachers. Provide them with the necessary training such as AR or other pedagogical tools for them to do their job well. Create opportunities for teachers to engage in Professional Learning Committees. Be involved in their work.

    These actions, hopefully, will improve the quality of instruction in the school Parents are confident that their children are in good hands. Engage the parents by reaching out them through the new media. Get them involved in school activities such as CCAs, Sports Carnival, reading programme, breakfast programme etc. When they see the meaning and the intention of carrying out certain activities, they can better support the school and hopefully, encourage more parents to join us. How can we reach out to more parents and get them involved? What are the avenues for us to gather their feedback?

    I would like to conclude that change usually happens when there is a crisis. Professor John Kotter said, when change happens when there is a sense of urgency. Can school leaders create this sense of urgency even though the school has been doing well for the past few years? Do we really need to dig up problems even if there isn’t any at the moment? Do we reform for the seek of reform? Does major change be really good for our pupils?

    Fashion trends return after a period of time. Retro fashion is back again? After the school has made its reform after many years of hard work, will it come a time for the school to change to it’s original state again after a few decades?

    • Hi Swee Nee

      I also agree with what Professor John Kotter said that ‘change happens when there is a sense of urgency’. But do we have to wait for a crisis to happen and befall on Singapore before we introduce change? To me that would not be change leadership, that is instead fire-fighting. You asked these questions:

      1. Can school leaders create this sense of urgency even though the school has been doing well for the past few years?
      My answer to this is why not! Just because a school has been doing well for the past few years, does not mean that it can rest on its laurels and be complacent, right? I remember the book, the same book you were referring to I think, written by John Kotter, ‘Our Iceberg is Melting’. The penguins in the book thought that nothing would ever happen to their iceberg and didn’t believe Fred, the smart and observant penguin who first noticed the degrading quality of the iceberg. Yes, Singapore has been doing well in many aspects. But do we stop working hard as she is already somewhere in the world map? Do you think Singapore can afford to wait for something to crop up before coming up with solutions to solve the problem? I think if that day comes, we will all ‘sink’ and our economy will be adversely affected. It is by the virtue of the fact that because of Singapore’s small size and barren natural resources, she has to keep on pre-empting future ‘problems’ that might crop up. From these pre-empts, solutions in the form of reforms are cascaded to society. It is thanks to the ‘psychic’ ability of our leaders that we’re enjoying what we have here in Singapore – security, economic stability, social cohesion. Our leaders are not perfect, nobody is. But they have brought Singapore this far. They must have done some things right. To me, the main problem with our leaders is that they fail to clearly communicate the rationale of the reforms and how we should manage reforms. The ambiguity of the reforms irks many people. However, if we were to look at it from a different perspective, isn’t ambiguity an advantage for us? We can interpret the reforms and work on them according to our school’s needs and customise them for our schools. Don’t you think so?

      So how could we create this sense of urgency in schools to prepare educators for the future. I believe in using the SWOT analysis to plan and strategise. Through the SWOT analysis, I can clearly observe the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that the school or my department is faced with. This activity must be done with the rest of the teachers in my department so they are able to see clearly my point of view and the changes that are going on around us. Through this activity, the teachers in my team will be able to understand how I strategise and work out the department’s work plan. And once they understand where I’m coming from and how I got there, they will be able to see explicitly the urgency we are faced with. This collaboration also brings about shared vision and buy-in. :-)

  3. The responsibilities and accountibilities of a school leader are myriad and multi-dimensional, affecting variuos groups of stakeholders. Hence, the decision made by a school leader is critical to ensure that education reforms are followed through based on the needs of the school and also the repercussions that this decision will have on the staff, students and parents. Will the decision go well with the rest of the staff? I’m sure many principals out there worry as to whether the decision made would ensure buy-in from the rest of the school community. But of course, decisions which are ‘popular’ might not necessarily bring in the outcomes.

    I emphathise with the school leaders of today who have a challenging task of ensuring balance in the organisation and at the same time meeting the needs of Singapore.

    If I were a principal who has to make such decisions, there will be several factors which I would bear in mind are:
    1. to tweak the education reforms to suit the school and the profile and competencies of the students and staff.
    2. to find out whether the existing reform is similar to a certain extent with any other reforms my school is involved, so that we could ‘kill many birds with one stone’.
    3. how ready are the teachers in my school and if they are not, what measures must I take to bridge the gap.

    The most critical factor to me is ultimately communication – how well I communicate my vision with regard to the new reforms to ensure buy-in. Even if I strongly believe in the reform but the staff are not, the reform will still fail as the best of plans will only work with the right people.

  4. I agree that as a leader, major changes implemented in schools must be based on the context of the school. The intention and rationale of changes or innovations implemented must be genuine, for improvement in schools and the rationale must be transparent to all parties involved.

    It is important to ‘feel the ground’ and to know where the perspectives and concerns of different parties are coming from. Proper and meticulous planning of any major changes (including stages to meet, milestone) is essential to help teachers and students experience little successes every step of the change process. With little successes comes confidence, change in mindset and beliefs, motivation and determination to carry on.

    With the presence of the most proper and detailed planning, there will still be unforeseen challenges during the implementation. It therein lies with the leader together with his or her team to ‘iron’ matters and seek for the best possible solutions. At times, this is where the people need a leader, to make sense out of ambiguity, to make complexities simple and provide strength and wisdom in times of adversity.

  5. (so sad – just posted my comments and it got lost in cyberspace).

    In light of these 21st century challenges, I had suggested that the school Principal take a look at the concept of ‘Distributed Leadership’ (DL).

    Dr Willaim Choy shared at this morning’s MLS leadership lecture that DL is being explored as the concept encourages pooling of different expertise and iniatives, of building capacity and capability. It also works in a culture of trust.

    It makes sense for a school principal to garner a team of leaders who can provide varied expertise to meet the challenging times. DL however, also requires the principal to dare to critically review his own current leadership practices and beliefs. He must be prepared to ‘distribute’ certain authority to different team members and yet be ultimately responsible as a school principal. DL calls for creating a learning system and the need to address the following:

    “How to develop the high level of trust where all are open, honest, and willing to speak out/object, suggest, etc.
    How to develop the vision/ethos so that people will share, debate, critique, etc.?”

    Ultimately, it is a question of choosing between investing resources to develop your leaders or doing everything yourself (if that’s even possible)?

    I suppose we could also explore the benefits of transformational and/or servant leadership for another perspective about how leaders may be ‘grown’.

    Finally, I think it is both impt and urgent that HODs also look at how they might involve their team of teachers to take advantage of the possible benefits of DL. If this concept is effectively implemented with teachers, teachers themselves may then develop capacity and capabillity and hopefully go beyond being a classroom teacher to being a curriculum leader, capable of being a critical gatekeeper….

  6. The top 3 issues i would carefully look into:
    1. the alignment of the goals of the reforms with the school’s mission, vision and values;
    2. the involvement of the middle management and their roles as entrepreneurs of the reforms;
    3. the support and resources needed to ensure the intended outcomes for the students
    The school’s mission and vision are constantly reverberated in the daily business in school and values are deeply entrenched in every member of the school community. As such, the school leaders need to align the goals of education reform with the school’s beliefs in order for the staff and pupils to understand and appreciate the change(s). Upon introducing and implementing any new movement in a school, the school leaders take the role to educate the school, thus the approach is one of familiarity to all.
    The initial phase in preparing the school about on any reform is to first garner the support of the middle management – the Heads of Department. The vision and directives must be captured by a smaller team of leaders who are empowered to influence and impact the staff. They become the entrepreneurs of the initiative and are able to lead teams of teachers to put plans into actions. They will be the ones to reinforce the first-hand information passed down from the school leaders, to ensure that there is buy-in of the ideas in which teachers are willing to work on it, and to act as mediators to communicate concerns to the school leaders when necessary.
    Human and physical resources are essential factors to contribute to the success of an event. In the process of any reform, school leaders and managers must be the pillar of support to the teachers, making them the champions for the reform. The administrative support and physical resources must be made available to teachers if it is necessary to carry out the work. Training programmes, funding and welfare are also important concerns to address by the school leaders.
    Other stakeholders – students, parents and general public, are just as important in the process of any education reform. Their opinions are valuable and support is much desired. However, half the battle is won when they see that the school leaders and teachers are firm in believing what they do and have the confidence to implement changes for the benefit of the school community.

  7. The culture and the running of the school are determined by the people working in the organization. A school leader can have many new ideas and will like to initiate programmes that will benefit the students and the school. However, the success of these programmes will depend on the staff. Hence, a school leader needs to get the right people and deploy them for the different roles based on their strengths. The buy-in, the level of staff engagement and satisfaction are important factors to move a school to the next level. Teachers need to feel that their contributions to the school are appreciated and they have the support from the top before they can give their best or continue to give their best for the school. It will be easier for a school leader to implement changes and produce results when he/she knows that the teachers are right behind him/her.

  8. As a school leader, I would see the school in terms of its vision, and in my case is every life enriched. What lives are we talking about here? We are talking about the lives of the future passing through my hands everyday. It all boils down to my leadership/reaching capabilities to determine what happens to the students, staff and other stakeholders, the parents and the general public. I always see that every life would be affected by the welfare of the staff, results of high-stakes tests and other key stakeholders be it to a small extent or to a large extent. It is my role to lead these lives because they are in my hands for such a time as this so that they will be ready to lead others in the future.

  9. One of the issues which I, as a school leader, would like to raise is relationships with the school community especially my teachers. You see in order to implement these reforms, I need to first get my teachers to be on my side and get them to understand the need of these reforms. Ultimately, they will be the ones to assist me in getting the students to attain results. After all, they are the ones who will influence and shape the students as teachers are so-called the forefront in serving their students. The quality of relationship I have with my teachers does significantly impact their work, decisions and sense of satisfaction. So what drive them to achieve something will eventually affect the students and the school as a whole.
    Apart from my teachers, the need to get the stakeholders(parents) see eye to eye in my decision is of utmost importance as I need their support in order to ‘market’ my school.
    However, due to globalisation and the need to prepare our students in the era of Knowledge-Based Economies, we may get too caught up with performance driven results that we fail to equip our students with the new economy competencies. These are soft skills which students need to have in order to getting themselves ready for globalisation.
    The then Education Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam (2004a) said: “We need to give Innovation & Enterprise more emphasis and more focus. “
    He also mentioned that school leaders can play their role in developing the pupils’ strength of character.
    He added: “The ability to bounce back, try again and the willingness to stand in a team.”
    The above carries the notion that it is vital for school leaders to create opportunities for our students to socialise and interact. Opportunities like this will somehow strengthen our students’ soft skills.
    Despite the government’s good intention to move away from the emphasis on examinations, the general mindset is that academic achievement is still paramount. No doubt, school leaders are still reliant on academic performance as a yardstick of success.
    The essential point here is to strike a balance between performance driven results and instilling the new economy competencies to the students in preparing them for globalisation.

  10. The marketing and strategy planning elective at MLS made me realise how sometimes schools fail to carry out its vision and mission. they look good as a shell. what we are after are the ingredients in it – the content of its people.

    Words look ‘beautiful’ on the walls, but are we carriers and workers of such words yet when put together? how truly and closely has it been carried out BY and FOR all, ie. management, staff, teachers, students and all stakeholders, eg. parents.

    sharing and transferring from words to actions (the hardest part), the school’s vision and mission, are not solely the school’s effort. the whole group needs to work in togetherness, including its stakeholders, throughout proactive leading in events and activities.

    school leaders are indeed fundamental people to reforming initiatives. these intiatives should always align with the school’s vision and mission. it is my hope that management, teachers and staff live out these values before they can expect the same of their students and importantly, spread forward thereafter onto their stakeholders. Then i can confidently say that we’ve achieved it.

    never underestimate the value of staff’s welfare being taken care of well and sufficient. They are pillars of the school – with hearts, spirits, will and mind. They have a voice to speak with..they have a mind to listen to..they have the spirits and will to make things happen or break it.

    sure the school and its people alone can’t make things work. we need MOE’s support through understanding the real situations, the struggles, the needs the opportunities. School leaders need time to nurture, the people need time to mature, then you will gain a good harvest. Or are we going to continue to live in the cause-and-effect syndrome..

    country’s needs to pursue national development goals/need for industrialisation >
    MOE changes educational reforms and policies change >
    parents’ and teachers’ respond and teachings change..

    the ones who are affected in these changes are the students..is it for the benefit of the country, the school or the parents?

  11. I would argue that as a school leader, I serve mainly my students and the nation. Of course, I have other stakeholders such as teachers, parents, the general public, and not forgetting MOE, but still, my responsibilities are foremost to my students and the nation. It is after all not a coincidence that MOE’s mission is “to mould the future of our nation”, by moulding the people who will determine the future of the nation.

    So when it comes to deluge of new policy initiatives from MOE, I think we should first try to understand the context in which these initiatives are framed. Why have they been promulgated by MOE in the first place and whose interests do they serve? Presumably, MOE has taken care of the wider national interest. Then we have to ask ourselves who the target audience is and whether and how the implementation of these initiatives would benefit my students, given their profile. It is impossible to adopt all the initiatives at the same time – even if schools have the bandwidth and resources to cope with the implementation, the students would suffer from indigestion. In any case, schools are not expected to do so, but should choose wisely from the buffet spread and prioritise intelligently.

    However, when adopting the initiatives, we will need teachers to implement them. So unless we want to micromanage their professional lives, we had better ask and listen to them too to ascertain that their worldviews are aligned with the initiatives (which should hopefully be consistent with the school vision/mission by rights). If not, then we have to ask ourselves whether the initiatives are beneficial enough to our students for us to change the teachers’ worldviews, which will be a tough job. Also, we will need to be mindful of our teachers’ abilities – both their strengths, which may determine the sort of initiatives we take up, and the amount of work they already have and their ability to cope with fresh work. I personally don’t like the word “welfare” to describe the latter, because it suggests we are sacrificing good work just to keep our teachers happy; I prefer “bandwidth” which I had used earlier in this post.

  12. I would like to consider the issues and challenges that school leaders confront in terms of linkages, or the “broken links” that they cannot afford:

    1. School leaders as the link from Ministry to teachers and students in the school. In the Singapore context, in which there is such strong alignment between Ministry and schools, school leaders play the critical role in that alignment. However, they would thus have to contest and negotiate this alignment. If a school were to take on all the initiatives promulgated by the Ministry, it would only be understandable that the school would be strained to achieve all or any of them effectively.

    2. School leaders as facilitating the link for students from their previous level of education to the next level or the future work place. High-stakes testing, authentic learning and teacher professional development would find their place here. If high-stakes testing is seen to be important for students’ advancement, then this should not be downplayed or diluted by new initiatives. If authentic learning is seen to be key, then this should be supported or complemented by reforms. If teacher professional development is seen as critical for them to enable student learning, then this should be the focus of what the school would take on.

    3. School leaders as facilitating the link between students, teachers, parents, community and other stakeholders in the school. The focus should be on bringing these various stakeholders together, instead of focus on any particular at the expense of others. For instance, in Parent Education, the focus should be on bringing the school and parents together, instead of “educating” parents per se.

    In these areas, the school leader cannot afford for the linkages to be broken. Were the link from the Ministry be broken, students’ learning opportunities and resource support for the school could be compromised. Were the link for students on their education pathway be broken, their future could be compromised. Were the link between stakeholders in the school be broken, the network of support for students’ holistic education would be compromised.

  13. Definitely there are several issues and challenges school leaders will face when it comes to reform. I see the challenges in 4 aspects (1) School Direction (2) Staff (3) Students (4) Other Stakeholders.

    1. School Direction: The school vision and mission is crucial to determining the direction the school is going towards. When there is a reform, the question is “Do we have to change our vision and mission?” There are schools that change their vision whenever there is a change in leadership. However is it healthy? Personally I think that vision may be modified but not changed completely. By changing the vision and mission would affect the staff.

    2. Staff: There are usually two different reactions to changes, positive or negative. There will be people who will be able to embrace changes and go along with the change. However, there will be people who will resist change and just would like to stay status quo. As school leaders, the challenge is to convince everyone to accept reform. Different people response differently and hence different approaches may be required. There will definitely some whom school leaders will face difficulties with. Personally I feel that leaders should not spend too much time and effort on these staff as they do not usually form the majority. Usually the reason why people do not like changes is due to their fear of failing.. I believe that if majority can be convinced, the rest may be moved due to pressure or because they see positive results or evidences. Changes also cause stress for the staff. School leaders have to look into the welfare of the staff. As leaders, we need to provide support for the staff and ensure that their welfare is taken care of. We do not want to lose valauable staff due to lack of support and care for the staff during times of reform.

    3. Students: With reform, are we guaranteed better results in this result oriented society? I guess one big concern school leaders will have is whether results will be affected. After all, we are answerable to the parents for their children’s results. Schools are ‘ranked’ based on academic results. Are school leaders ready to risk their school’s ‘reputation’ in terms of results? Will it affect their students intake in the future? I guess these are some concerns the leaders will have when considering going into a reform. As leaders, we have to understand that changes may not lead to positive results immediately. Sometimes results come only after a few years.

    4. Stakeholders: It is always difficult to ‘answer’ to the different stakeholders like parents and the community. A lot of communication would be required in order to gain the support of the stakeholders. A lot of trust would be needed from the stakeholders in order for the change to go through smoothly. As school leaders, it is also important to get the stakeholders to work with the school in the change. By getting them involved, I believe that it will be more beneficial for the students.

    In conclusion, if we truly believe that change will benefit the students, then I would say go ahead with the change. We should be more concerned with the development of the child as a whole. As educators, we should be looking at ways to improve the overall development of the students and not just results of the school. If we are able to develop the child as a whole, positive results will surface eventually.

  14. The recent bad press on teachers and a school leader has tainted the name of the teaching profession, many say.

    Perhaps it is also time to examine the entire paradigm of our work in the education system. Over the past ten years, we have had awards given out for things such as Character Education and National Education. With school leaders hung up about target-setting, SEM and external validation, teachers are left cold with cynicism.

    In Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’, he illustrated the paradox of extrinsic rewards on motivation, using the Swedish experiment of paying blood donors for giving blood. It was found that adding a monetary incentive did not lead to greater desired behaviour. It tainted an altruistic act and ‘crowded out’ the intrinsic desire to do good. He concluded that ‘mixing rewards with inherently interesting, creative or noble tasks- deploying them without understanding the peculiar science of motivation- is dangerous. By neglecting the ingredients of genuine motivation- autonomy, mastery and purpose- these rewards limit what each of us can achieve.

    Like all extrinsic motivators, goals narrow our focus. And because they concentrate the mind, they can be effective. However, this narrowed focus exacts a cost. And I feel this is where things get complex and dangerous.

    Allow me to suggest another perspective in line with the above analysis on motivation and make the reference back to where I started- the question of moral behavior of our colleagues in education.

    Like it or not, we operate within a transactional paradigm in our work life. Since the education system expects us to give so much of ourselves at the work that we do, I suspect that some of us may feel the need to compensate ourselves for what we have given with returns that cross certain socially-accepted boundaries. For the competence we demonstrate in the classroom, for the tremendous ability to juggle the different demands on our time and energy in the school, some of us may feel that we should be entitled to their own private space in our personal life.

    This thinking becomes more acute when we realize there is no more congruence between what we believe in and how we conduct ourselves externally.

    Schools winning Character Education awards are validated and assessed on the processes that they put in place, not on the outcomes. In a similar vein, teachers can also take it to mean that- as long as I spend one hour delivering my Moral Education lesson and do it extremely well every time, it does not really matter if I believe in what I am doing.

    This thinking is confirmed by listening to teachers’ talk on the ground which goes something like: ‘As long as we do what is required, there is no need to think or believe too much’. Cynicism is so widespread that it would take herculean efforts to change mindsets. Teachers who used to question have left the service. Earnest teachers who are still around in the system grapple with incongruence every day.

    The fact that we need an external award to foster Character Education or National Education signals that there is little value accorded to the intrinsic beliefs of the teacher to do good in the classroom. Since the system believes us as such, is there any wonder why there is little motivation to be noble and do good?

    I am not making excuses for colleagues who have crossed those OB markers. Many will say that these are cases of brazen immorality. To others, these cases reflect inadequate personal mastery. But then again, the wider system at large is not without blame and will have to bear some responsibility for the failings of those who live and work in it.

  15. i think as leaders we face many challenges. the main thing is that our decisions must be carefully analysed before implementation as the decisions affect not just the students, but also the teachers and the rest of the community. Every decision therefore must be therefore studied in detail before the decisions are made.


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