Leadership in schools
Some of our educators, including and especially our principals, are often as misguided and distracted as some of our leaders. They tend to focus on the wrong things (read their ego) and have a warped measure of success. It's all about inter-school competitions like Boys and Girls' Champs, daCosta and Manning Cups, Schools Challenge Quiz, and Oliver Shield, among others. Sadly, no amount of protest or wise counsel seems sufficient to help them understand the critical role they play in the country's development and the urgent need to do more and better for our students and nation. It's quite unfortunate that so many of our students are subjected to this kind of leadership and such gross levels of misguidedness and negligence.
The National Education Inspectorate has already documented and shown that, in addition to the myriad challenges our educators and students are bombarded with, school and classroom management are among the main problems affecting students' academic performance. It is, therefore, not surprising that those schools assessed by the Inspectorate as poorly managed (yet they are often among top sports schools) are performing poorly academically. The Educate Jamaica school ranking over the last few years (though there are some concerns about the methodology used) illustrates this very clearly.
Denbigh High School, an upgraded secondary school in Clarendon, is evidence of how strong leadership and dedication can result in tremendous improvements in a relatively short time. When I was a student in Clarendon, few children would willingly and voluntarily express interest in attending Denbigh. Thanks to the stellar leadership by Mrs Kasan Troupe and her dedicated staff, as well as former principal Mrs Wint, it is now one of the preferred schools in the parish. Wolmer's Boys' has demonstrated to the nation (and those principals obsessed with sports titles) that it is not so difficult to develop well-rounded students who are both academically and athletically inclined.
One sincerely hopes that the efforts of the Ministry of Education through the National College for Educational Leadership, which is led by Dr Maurice Smith, will have some positive effects very soon. I strongly encourage those educators and administrators who continue to refuse to enlist themselves in this well-needed programme to do so now. Your students are depending on your discipline and leadership.
what are we celebrating?
I doubt there are words that could aptly describe how ecstatic I was to see reports that Dr RenÈe Rattray, one of our leading educational leadership experts in Jamaica, who currently heads the JN Foundation iLead Initiative, is cautioning school administrators that they are focusing on the wrong things to measure success. I can't fathom how so many of us are yet to recognise that this is a big part of the quandary with our schools where student performance is concerned. How can we be celebrating educators for length of service when they have been their most 'successful achievement' while their students continue to fail?
Kudos to the JN Foundation for this very important initiative. It's so very important. My commendations to the Ministry of Education for partnering with the private sector, including the Digital Foundation, to improve our students' learning.
As Dr Rattray said, "We have to be accountable. We have to reduce the levels of mediocrity in our education system."
So how exactly do we measure success in our schools? Performance in inter-school competitions is certainly important. They play a vital role in improving the school's image as well as boosting student and teacher morale, but we have to move beyond this myopic definition of success. According to the Wallace Foundation, a New York-based philanthropic organisation that seeks to improve learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children, "school environment metrics that demonstrate progress include lower rates of violence or suspension, increased student and faculty attendance, lower dropout rates, and higher retention of effective staff. Examples of student performance metrics that demonstrate progress include increases in student performance on formative assessments, improved standardised test results, and higher graduation rates."
I would like to suggest that, like our students, our teachers need encouragement and leadership as well. Dr Rattray gave some excellent recommendations, including that principals sit in classes and not just review lessons plans. The Jamaica Teachers' Association must begin to challenge their members to do more despite the challenges they face. Let us begin to focus on the right things - effective school and classroom management, improving student performance, alternative methods of discipline, and encouraging civic responsibilities, among others. Our children are depending on us.