2 Thinking about your own learning as a school leader

In order to make the most of new opportunities, school leaders will need to develop a greater range of skills. You have probably become a school leader because you are a good teacher and you are well qualified. Being a leader, however, is very different from the role of teacher. Your role is to manage the day-to-day running of the school and to ensure that, over time, the school provides the best possible education for the students in its community. In this unit you will be introduced to some of the skills and competencies that an effective school leader needs to develop to help the teachers in your school to become more effective.

Pause for thought

Think back to when you were at school or when you started your teaching career. Now think ahead about ten years. What will be the most striking differences between schools in ten years’ time and the year in which you started your career?

Activity 1: Your professional development as a leader

Figure 1 Considering your professional development as a leader.
  1. Using your Learning Diary, write down five words that you would say characterises you as a leader.
  2. How do you think your teachers view you as their leader? Do they like you? Do they respect your knowledge and skills, not just your position? Why do you think this is the case? How do you demonstrate to your teachers that you are developing as a professional? For example, would they see you as someone who is willing to try new ideas and reflect on their impact?
  3. Reflecting on your answers to Questions 1 and 2, what do you see as obstacles to your own professional development as a leader?

Discussion

Your responses will be personal to you and your context. However, considering three different types of leader might help you to reflect further on the challenges that you may face:

  • The first type may be someone with many years’ experience of leading a school, who feels confident doing so but finds it difficult to show other members of staff that they are still learning and changing their own practice. This may be because they want to appear confident and in charge, and therefore keep professional development as something private and hidden.
  • The second type of leader may be someone who is younger and concerned about losing authority if they are seen to have areas for personal development. They may be aware that they have less expertise in the classroom than some of their more senior teachers, but they have a lot to give in a model of leadership that combines enthusiasm, with vision and an understanding of the latest ideas, which at the same time respects the expertise of other teachers.
  • Finally, there may be a group of leaders who – despite being willing to develop their practice, and doing so in a transparent way to others – never have the time to devote to such activities. These are leaders who, subconsciously, are modelling an attitude to professional development that may undermine efforts to bring about change in their schools.

The qualities of a good leader are well documented. Table 1 has some suggestions about how these apply to the Indian context. You will return to this analysis in Activity 3.

Table 1 Qualities of a good leader (adapted from Gardner, 1997).

Qualities of a good leaderWhat these might mean in your context
Readiness to confront authorityYou will need to work with your district education office and other related structures such as the cluster resource centres (CRCs), block resource centres (BRCs), local panchayat and school management committees (SMCs). These provide valuable resources and in many parts of the country still take responsibility for recruiting and deploying teachers. It is important that you manage your relationship with all these institutions and functionaries carefully and sensitively. Confrontation might not be the best approach, but don’t be afraid to take the initiative or do things differently from how they have been done in the past if you think it will help your school.
Being prepared to take risksCulturally this is difficult, because India’s hierarchical structures mean that people feel they need to seek approval for any initiative from a more senior person. However, as long as you are aware of district priorities and the school development plan (SDP), and you have well thought out reasons about why you are making a particular change, you should be able to take risks in your school in order to achieve the improvements you want.
Resilience in the face of failureIn many cultures, admitting you have made a mistake or that things are less than perfect is difficult. Managing change is demanding and will not necessarily go smoothly. Every time something does not go exactly as planned, you should regard this as a learning opportunity. Make sure you reflect on and identify the reasons why things have not gone as planned, but don’t be afraid of admitting that you could have done something differently.
Confidence in instinct and intuitionYou will probably have experience of working as a teacher in different schools. You will be able to use and build on this experience in your role as a school leader. The new aspiration for autonomous schools means that you will have more freedom to be creative and try out new things.
Ability to keep in mind the bigger pictureThis applies to all leaders. Your role is to establish and communicate a clear vision for your school. All actions and initiatives should be linked to this vision. There is a School Leadership OER that provides practical advice about how to work with others to build a vision for your school. This will help you in formulating the SDP with the SMC members.
Moral commitment The values and beliefs that underpin the NCF 2005, the NCFTE 2009 and the RtE 2009 challenge some traditionally held beliefs. In order to meet the aspirations set out by the government in these documents, you will need to understand the underlying values of these policies and model these in your school and the local community around your school.
A sense of timing and the ability to sit back and learn from experienceAs you start to evaluate your school, it is possible that you will identify a number of changes that you wish to make. It is important not to try and change too much, too soon. You will need to prioritise and move slowly, taking all the teachers with you.

Case Study 1: Mr Nagaraju supports teachers to improve their lesson planning

Headteacher Mr Nagaraju works in a rural secondary school.

When I started work in this school, I asked the teachers what challenges they faced. They told me that completing the syllabus was really hard because there was so much to learn, but most of them were proud of the fact that they managed to do it every year. When I looked at the exam results, I was surprised at how low they were. Only 30 per cent of the children passed the exams at the end of Class X. How could this be? If the teachers were working so hard and always finishing the syllabus, why were the results so low? I spent a few days walking around the school and looking in exercise books. I realised that the teachers were spending a lot of time lecturing the children. There was a great deal of dictation and copying from the blackboard.

I overheard Mr Singh saying to the class, ‘Do you understand?’ They chanted in unison, ‘Yes, we understand.’ After the lesson I asked Mr Singh how he knew that they understood. He was surprised to be asked, and replied, ‘They said they did – and no one asked me any questions.’

Mr Singh has been teaching science for many years and is very strict. I feel in awe of him, so I am not surprised the students would not admit that they did not understand something. I pointed out that, given the exam results at the end of last year, it was likely that they didn’t understand the work very well at all. He said that they don’t work hard enough and they were from a rural community, so he didn’t expect them to do well. I am convinced that all students have the ability to learn; it is up to the teachers to find a way of helping them. But how could I convince Mr Singh?

I asked the teachers to give me their lesson plans each week, just as the previous school leader had. I cancelled assembly on Thursdays and Fridays so that I had time to talk to them about their plans in subject groups. I encouraged them to think about what key concepts they were trying to get across, and suggested that they identified the key ideas in the textbook first and concentrated on these rather than trying to cover everything. I showed them some of the TESS-India OERs and encouraged them to start each topic with something that would really interest the students, even if it wasn’t in the textbook. I suggested that they could do the chapters in a different order if it would help, and I gave lots of praise to the teachers who were using their initiative.

At the end of term, I asked the teachers to fill in all the test results on a grid. Mr Vari is a young and inexperienced science teacher who had adopted a number of interactive approaches. He had not used every page in the four chapters of the textbook, but his class did better than Mr Singh’s.

Activity 2: Identifying leadership qualities

Reread Table 1, which lists the qualities of a good leader.

With a friend or colleague, analyse Case Study 1 and identify examples of the qualities that Mr Nagaraju displayed. Write these in your Learning Diary, or use a highlighter pen or a pencil to underline key phrases.

Discussion

Mr Nagaraju watched what was going on and listened to his teachers rather than rushing to solve a problem. He recognised the difficulty in changing people but was determined to find a solution. He took a risk by encouraging his teachers to use the textbook more imaginatively and not necessarily use all of every chapter, but he had good reasons for doing so. He believes that all students can learn, regardless of their backgrounds, and he worked within existing systems – for example, cancelling assembly in order to create time rather than ask teachers to stay behind after school.

Having attempted Activity 2, you might also want to look at videos of school leaders to analyse how far they display the qualities of a good leader in what they talk about.

1 Being a school leader in India

3 Conducting a needs analysis