My ideal township school leader

2017-05-09 17:08

In his book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, leadership expert John Maxwell states that “everything rises and falls on leadership”. Maxwell could not have been more correct. I am privileged to serve my country through teaching and this opportunity has permitted me to serve under and observe different leaders. In the school context, and for the purpose of this piece, a leader refers to the principal and her or his team comprising of a deputy and heads of department (HoDs).

The existing leadership gap

There seems to be the existence of a huge leadership void in many of our schools. Even a 2009 study titled Managing Teaching and Learning in South African Schools by educational leadership authority Tony Bush in collaboration with other educational leadership experts bears testament to this argument. I am convinced this leadership void rests on the selection process of school management teams (SMTs) by our provincial education departments. There seems, although it is plausible, an over-emphasis on the teacher’s results than their holistic leadership capacity and credibility.

You may succeed in the classroom but that does not automatically mean you will succeed in leading the whole school. My observations point out to a worrying trend—that our schools have managers than leaders. I am convinced leading schools goes beyond managing the school—it’s not enough to be a manager.

There is a general agreement among leadership experts that leadership is the ability to influence others. Further, it is the ability to help other people achieve the level of professional development beyond where they are at. At the backdrop of this, in the next section I outline some of the characteristics of my ideal township school leader. Enjoy the ride.

They make efforts to connect

The essence of leadership is connection. If you cannot connect with those you are charged with leading, there is every chance of failure. The former US statesman, Theodore Roosevelt, captured this stunningly when he said, “no one really cares how much you know or can achieve until they know how much you care.” Do our school leaders ever care about knowing who you are as a person or the care for or preoccupation with producing academic results happens at the expense of reaching out to your subordinates? Yes, here I’m not suggesting you should be the buddy of your team; I merely suggest you show care for them. I wonder how many school leaders know their staff personally, not only professionally. My ideal township school leader is one who does everything morally and humanely possible to make each and every teacher as well as support staff feel like they are the most important member in the whole school.

Inspiring others

Your team members must look at you and want to be better. They must draw strength and hope from you. My ideal township school leader is one who not only sets the highest possible expectations for her/his team but also sets out to achieve that him/herself. Their personal and professional lives must abound with deep levels of holistic excellence. They don’t tell you to obtain a master’s degree from a reputable academic institution, they already have it or working towards it. They don’t just enforce a strong culture of self-respect without setting the example. When you look at them you are prompted to be your better self.

They encourage continuous professional development

Show me lifelong learners and I will show you a school that is assured of great success. Show me leaders who demonstrate hunger for professional growth and I will show you a school that embraces new ideas. My ideal township school leader is one who never hides invaluable information from their staff. When there is a conference on the latest pedagogical trends on, say, teaching of accounting, they are first to encourage you to go. Because they generate energy from seeing their staff excel and being recognised for it, whenever there is an opportunity elsewhere they share it with their staff. For instance, if the examinations body Umalusi opens applications for moderators and examiners, they jump at the opportunity to urge their staff to apply. These are the kinds of leaders who will jump at the opportunity to encourage their staff to apply for, inter alia, The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program in order to expand your professional horizons.

A consultative leader

My ideal township school leader is one who consults before any major decision that especially involves teachers is made. I find it laughable that some of our school leaders (managers) make decisions on behalf of teachers. The more consultative you are as a school leader, the more your members want to do things for you. Consultative leaders barely bring their institutions to their knees because teachers work extremely hard to propel the organisation to greater heights. Most importantly, when a decision backfires, everyone in the school will take ownership thereof because they would have been consulted.

They are the ‘we’ instead of the ‘I’ type of leaders

One common feature of highly successful leaders is their understanding than individualism never breeds a sustainable success for the organisation. In a nutshell, they understand the importance of partnerships. In his book Intentional Living, John Maxwell notes that “great partnerships make you better than you are, multiply your value, enable you to do what you do best and give you more time.” Our township schools need more ‘we’ leaders. These are the leaders who don’t bully you into doing things, they influence you to. They accept it when they have erred and quickly apologise. ‘I’ leaders, on the other hand, do things by themselves and like to take credit for every success of the organisation. They make you feel they are in charge. Among them you feel very small because it is their mission to belittle others, either consciously and subconsciously. These leaders often hide behind their positions—once they lose power they become vulnerable. In a long run, the ‘I’ leaders render their organisations ungovernable.

They keep in touch with what is happening in the classrooms

We call them 'instructional leaders’ in the scholarship of school leadership. They know exactly which teacher does not mark learner assessment activities. They know exactly which teacher does not honour their instructional time and act decisively and promptly to address the problem. They know exactly which teacher falls short of giving learners intellectually challenging questions so that they can be ready not only for external assessments but also for life challenges.

Teaching time is never wasted

Above all, they understand time is the greatest and most irreplaceable commodity we have. Assembly time doesn’t compromise the tuition time. Morning briefings never compromise the instructional time.

These are some of the qualities that my ideal township school leader exemplifies. I hope to emulate them as a leader myself without a title.

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