In the Candid Corner – Empowering school principals
… Negative behavioural trends are imposing severe pressure on regional educational systems and are forcing leaders to constantly rethink their management and governance practices. – Former Minister of Education Anthony Wood.The word “empowerment” is a modern-day strategy that has been used to mobilise and manage both resources and human potential. Within the context of education, principals as educational managers are strategically placed to build character, shape personality and foster the core values that undergird our national psyche. Improving schools and developing human potential are largely their chief mandate.
Successive governments of both political persuasions have treated education as the fulcrum on which national development turns and have invested no less than 20 per cent of the annual budget in education.
In spite of deficiencies in other areas of our society, Barbados has been able to weather turbulent times primarily because of massive investment in our people, some of whom we have exported across the globe.
This puts principals in a uniquely strategic position to impact on national development. How then do we empower school administrators to see themselves in this way? Although professional development and institutional training are important, principals must engineer their self-efficacy.
In the book If you don’t feed the teachers they would eat the Students Neila Connors describes the educational administrator as “master chef”. According to the writer, “great administrators are like great chefs, they spend an inordinate amount of time preparing, planning and visioning before they even begin to cook or implement”.
And “during this time, they keep their focus on the outcomes and the clients and they continuously readjust, refocus and re-evaluate their plans and efforts”.
In today’s world, schools are existing in a charged and changed environment in which there are a vortex of competing forces that are constantly impacting both positively and adversely on what we do.
In an article carried in the promotional edition of Eduquest Carribean, educational administrator Dr Myrna Belgrave opines that principals are at the centre of ensuring that each individual is respected and provided the climate in which inner potential is actualised.
As she puts it, “the task begins with the principal, who should not only be administrator, but through personal involvement and commitment to values-based education, be able to inspire everyone by his or her own example”.
Today’s principals must listen, must be accessible, tolerant and flexible; must have a sense of discernment and have a sense of accepting responsibility and being team-spirited.
Former Minister of Education Anthony Wood, while addressing the biennial conference of the Caribbean Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools at the Accra Beach Hotel in 2007, cited a range of issues with which today’s principals must grapple. He said the effective delivery of curricula and the attainment of high standards were being threatened by unhealthy and unwholesome practices.
The use of illegal drugs, indiscriminate use of cellphones, promiscuous sexual behaviour, gang behaviour, violence and a declining work ethic were highlighted as presenting major challenges for educational administrators across the region.
The empowerment and indeed the survival of today’s school administrators must come from within. There is a view, which I do not necessarily share, that too many of our principals are asleep on the job, waiting for system and centrally generated initiatives and policies to prick and awake their administrative consciousness.
If this is indeed the case, I wish to suggest that the empowerment of the 21st century principal must be self-initiated and cannot be imposed from outside.
Essential elements of the empowerment, as Connors puts it, must include positive attitudes, pleasing personalities, a passion for their profession, an infectious sense of purpose, patience and persistence, and an orientation to people.
Among the other attributes which the principal, like a great chef must pass, are preparedness, a sense of currency, an attitude of problem solving, a sense of justice and an overriding attitude that epitomises professionalism. In spite of all the challenges, pressures and changes, today’s principals cannot fail.
Put simply, their failure and the failure of their schools would constitute the failure of the future of our nation. In conclusion, the management of today’s schools is not an enterprise for the weak, the cowardly and the faint-hearted. On the contrary, it is an exciting opportunity from which bold and visionary leadership can still emerge.
Pressures from without must not strangle the internal will and motivation of today’s principals. Empowerment and professional affirmation must come from within.
• Matthew D. Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum On Education, and a social commentator.