Mon | Dec 5, 2016

iLead programme making mark

Published:Monday | November 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Alfred Thomas (second left), principal of Robert Lightbourne High School in St Thomas, makes a point during a workshop at the Jamaica National Building Society conference centre. Listening is Pixley Austin (right), vice-principal at Brimmer Vale High School in St Mary, and Dwight Hoilett (left), education officer, Region Two. In the background is Cathy Rattray, operations manager, iLead programme.

Pixley Austin, vice-principal of the Brimmer Vale High School in St Mary, says there has been an increase in the number of middle managers participating in professional development activities since the commencement of the iLead leadership programme.

The iLead programme was officially launched in September. The programme is to be carried out over a three-year period, initially targeting five schools in the first year. The schools are: Brimmer Vale High, Islington High, Port Maria Primary schools in St Mary, Buff Bay Primary in Portland, and Robert Lightbourne High in St Thomas.

These schools are considered by the National Education Inspectorate to be among 15 schools in the named eastern parishes, which are most in need of management support.

Austin noted that on professional development day, for example, each department organised its own workshop for teachers, which were fully attended.

"I consider that to be a dramatic change in the middle leadership of our school due to the iLead programme," Austin said.

The school leaders was speaking during a recent iLead leadership workshop at the Jamaica National Building Society's conference centre in downtown Kingston.

Signs of Improvement

Principals of schools partici-pating in the recently launched iLead educational leadership programme by the JN Found-ation and the Ministry of Education are reporting early signs of improvement in their schools, as heads of departments and grade coordinators become more aware and conversant with their roles and responsibilities.

"There has been some change in the attitude of senior staff," said Alfred Thomas, principal of Robert Lightbourne High in St Thomas.

"Some middle managers are going beyond the call of duty, in that, although professional development day was postponed by the Ministry of Education, the English department held its own workshop; and many things were implemented from that meeting," Thomas said.

However, the school leaders noted that while there was still much more work to be done to strengthen the capacity of middle managers beyond the awareness of their roles, during the one-year project, the initial responses were positive. Leadership consultant to the iLead programme, Gillian Chambers, said while the roles and responsibilities of middle leaders may need to be made "painfully obvious" to the entire school community, middle managers must play their part.

Beyond the increase in the awareness of middle managers' roles and responsibilities, principals and senior school managers attending the workshop also pointed to changes in the way policies were being developed in their schools. They also observed an increase in the use of data in the day-to-day management of the school, as well as in lesson planning and overall strategy development.

"Teachers seem to be adopting a more solutions-driven approach and they are more scientific, using data to inform their planning," reported Lt Col Errol Johnson, principal of Islington High School, in St Mary, while Carla Ruddock, guidance counsellor at Port Maria Primary, said the strategies under the iLead programme were informing a handbook for middle leaders.

"We are hoping to record, in a compact manner, all the training and procedures that we will initiate. Overall, more people are catching on, and, they are hoping to see some positive changes," she said.

Some of the school leaders said the early changes were trickling down to students, as a result of the different approach being taken by educational managers, who they say, have been promoting the idea of achievement and excellence in line with the objectives of the iLead programme. The programme seeks to develop a culture of high expectation for academic success in each school and engage communities to embrace the school as an institution of choice.

Confident Students

"Students now believe in themselves, and are, therefore, more confident," chimed in Lt Col Johnson, the former St Mary High principal now providing support to the Islington leadership team. He agreed with other principals that he had also experienced personal changes in his own leadership style and indicated that that he was becoming more adept at balancing soft skills with a firm management approach.

The workshop participants also highlighted that they were being more proactive and creative as leaders to mitigate circumstances that could lead to a loss in contact time with students. Some noted, for example, that recently they have had to take more decisive actions due to the dramatic increase in absenteeism among teachers, because of the outbreak of the chikungunya disease.

"There was a Grade 11 class, the girls were all decked out in their gear for physical education (PE). However, the PE teacher was out sick. I decided to conduct the PE class, which was netball, because I envisioned children going back to the classroom and getting them to be quiet would be a problem," disclosed Lt Col Johnson. "Therefore, as a leader, I had to be decisive."

"Change is not the easiest thing to do," Juliet Lattibeaudiere, a senior teacher at Islington agreed, "However, I have been accepting of what we need to do to move forward."