2 Working with stakeholders
The SDP is the principle tool for planning ongoing school improvement. It is now part of educational legislation and is a central element in the government’s approach to decentralising decision making to schools through the Right to Education Act 2009 (RtE). The Act states:
The school management committee shall perform the following functions, namely:—
- a.Monitor the working of the school;
- b.Prepare and recommend the School Development Programme;
- c.Monitor the utilisation of the grants received from the appropriate government or local authority or any other sources;
- d.Perform such other functions as may be prescribed.
The RtE 2009 has made schools and their SMCs more accountable and ensures that they, rather than a distant education office, take responsibility for the quality of learning in their school. Decentralisation also helps in the ‘creation of spaces where local-level representative institutions can work closely with teachers to enhance efficiency as well as co-operation between decision-making bodies’ (NCERT, 2005).
Under the RTE 2009, every school must establish a school development committee that can act as an executive body of the SDP. The committee should comprise school administration, teaching and non-teaching staff, and community members.
An SDP should be an agreed, shared document. It will be developed mainly by the school leader and the teachers, but valuable insights will be provided by parents, community and students. The final document needs to be agreed by the SMC (primarily) or the SMDC (secondarily).The key stakeholders are you and your staff, the SMC, parents, and students.
Working with the SMC
The key to developing an effective relationship between the SMC and the school is that of partnership. The relationship is interdependent and, as the school leader, you need to build a strong relationship with your SMC. To do this, you could:
- communicate regularly so that they feel part of the community
- invite them into school in order to celebrate successes
- listen carefully to their advice
- use their expertise to enhance the curriculum.
Activity 3: An enthusiastic or domineering chair
In an SMC the key is to establish trust and an atmosphere of openness and honesty. However, one challenge that a school leader can face is an enthusiastic or domineering chair who wants to exert their power and influence.
Think about what you would do in the scenario below and record your findings in your Learning Diary.
The SMC’s new chair is very enthusiastic and has already had a number of meetings with stakeholders and some staff. He is committed to more extra-curricular activity and has, as a result, drawn up a detailed plan that he wants you to approve. How do you respond?
On the positive side, you want to recognise the chair’s enthusiasm and commitment, and be positive about improving extra-curricular activities.
However, you need better teamwork and communication with the chair so that activities are not undertaken in isolation and possibly in conflicting ways. You will have information and a view on extra-curricular activities, and would want to make sure that any consultation is based on a considered approach – not just talking to some people who may not be representative of their groups.
This is where having an SDP in place is helpful. You should draw the attention of the chair to the plan, highlighting any sections on extra-curricular activities and examining the overlap with his plan. If this is not something that is in the plan (because there are already activities going on that he may not know about), explain the school improvement cycle and invite him to carry out a review of extra-curricular activities.
Neither the school leader nor the SMC chair should be drawing up plans alone – all new initiatives should be considered in the context of the collective vision, the self-review and the agreed development plan.
Working with your staff
You and your staff will be responsible for carrying out the actions identified in the SDP. From your point of view, delegation will be important, but you need to make sure that your teachers are involved in the development planning process. Case Study 2 shows what happened to Mr Shah when he ignored the concerns of one of his teachers.
Case Study 2: Mr Shah learns the hard way
Mr Shah is school leader of a school with Classes VIII–X. He attends the SMC meeting.
I was nervous about the SMC meeting because we were due to discuss the SDP. The rest of the staff and I were excited by the plan as we had some quite radical items. In particular, we had agreed that twice a term, we would have a day off from the timetable and organise a cross-curricular day. This would enable students to undertake extended projects and to study important environmental and social issues that cut across subject boundaries. Most of the textbooks have chapters at the back of the book on these sorts of issues and there is considerable overlap between subjects. We were convinced that we would be able to save a considerable amount of time.
When we came to that part of the plan, three of the parent representatives expressed serious concerns and argued that we should be concentrating on the main subjects. Halfway through the meeting, it occurred to me that two of them had children in Mr Rawool’s class. Mr Rawool is a science teacher and had been opposed to this change. Thinking back to the staff meeting, I remembered that he had been shouted down by some enthusiastic teachers and after that had been very quiet. I suspect that he had been talking to the parents and was using them as a way to disrupt the plan.
It was a very difficult meeting and in the end I had to agree to make a more detailed plan about how the cross-curricular days would work, demonstrating explicitly to the committee how they would support learning. I resolved to get Mr Rawool to help me to do that.
The whole incident made me realise that people who feel marginalised and ignored can be quite disruptive. I should have made sure that Mr Rawool’s concerns were taken seriously in the staff meeting and I should certainly have spoken to him afterwards and tried to get him on board straight away.
As a school leader you will be holding regular staff meetings. One of the challenges is to make time to discuss issues rather than carry out administration. One approach that you could use is to plan the agendas well in advance, based on the timescales in the SDP.
Working with parents
Parents are a real asset in any school if you can harness their support. The SDP will be carried out by you and your teachers, but be prepared to involve parents in the process of self-review and discussions about priorities.
Of course power, wherever it is held, can be open to misuse. Political issues can intrude into school and some parents may be seeking to push issues that are relevant to them personally and may not be in the best interests of the wider group. In some communities, parental groups can be more concerned with keeping things as they are rather than improvement. The school leader must be alert to all such issues and should use leadership skills to find the best way to work productively with the local community and its chosen representatives.
Case Study 3: Mr Meganathan meets the SMC
Mr Meganathan is the school leader of a small secondary school. The SMC had five parent representatives. He describes a meeting with the SMC.
I run quite a progressive school. We have two well-qualified science and maths teachers. Last year we took the decision to actively encourage more female students to study science and engineering. We decided to give all the female students in Class VIII the chance to study woodwork and the male students the chance to learn to cook and mend their clothes. The female students enjoyed woodwork and we are hoping that it will encourage them to take an interest in using their creativity to build useful things.
There were a number of new faces at the SMC meeting because there had just been an election for five new parent representatives. I was surprised to find an item on the agenda had been added by the chair: ‘Craft subjects’. When we got to that item, one of the new parent representatives explained that in his view, it not appropriate for female students to study woodwork or engineering, and that male students did not need to learn to cook or sew. He proposed that the curriculum was changed so that students were segregated for craft subjects.
There was a very heated discussion, with an alarming amount of support for the motion. It appeared that some of the people who had original supported the plan were changing their mind. I was very concerned. Eventually, I was able to use a procedural excuse; the item had not been on the official agenda and it should have been accompanied by a paper setting out the arguments so that committee members had the opportunity to see them in advance. The chair agreed that it would be discussed at the next meeting.
During the next few weeks I organised an open evening in which the Class VIII students showed off their skills and talked to the visitors about why they enjoyed woodwork (female students) and cookery and sewing (male students). We made displays of the things they had made in the foyer alongside photographs taken in the lessons. I invited parents into school to observe the lessons. My campaign was successful and at the next meeting, sufficient members of the committee voted against the motion.
Pause for thought
As with the SMC, communication is key. Keeping parents informed about what is going on in school will enable you to harness their energy and enthusiasm, and will make sure that they understand your aims and priorities.
Students’ contribution to the SDP
Students can offer much insight into most aspects of school life, but especially the process of teaching and learning. Involving students in the self-review may be an entirely new concept to both them and your staff. However, their opinions will enhance the quality of the SDP that emerges. You can do this by talking to them as you walk around school and by conducting formal surveys about aspects of school life.
As you develop more participatory approaches to learning, the relationships between teachers and students in your school will become more democratic. (For more on this, and depending on which level of school you teach at, see the units Transforming teaching-learning process: leading improvements in teaching and learning in the elementary school or Transforming teaching-learning process: leading improvements in teaching and learning in the secondary school.) Students will have the confidence to express their views and you might want to consider establishing a ‘student council’ to provide a forum for students to discuss aspects of school life (Student Council Support, undated).