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Saturday, 7 June 2014

Principals should learn to ‘let it go’

Give untried or untested teachers opportunities to assume leadership roles.

TODAY, as we respond to the challenges of globalisation, schools which are at the forefront of educational changes need to rethink beyond the technical and professional aspects of school management by focusing on leadership.

As a basic concept, leadership is about working together as a team and learning together towards achieving a shared vision or goal.

Incidentally, this concept is relevant in our context as it relates closely to the fifth shift of the National Education Blueprint (Pelan Pembangunan Pendidikan Malaysia [2013-2025]), which focuses on grooming school leaders to be of high quality.

To this end, leadership presents the case for yet another pathway to address the issue of championing quality students’ success, be it academic achievements or otherwise, as it moves towards the implementation of the school’s improvement plan (SIP).

We need to understand what leadership actually signifies for schools and how we can build capacity and coherence throughout the school.

We also need to think of the type of leadership that we will require for the future and how we cope with the changes.

So where do we begin?

At the school level, developing leaders apart from the principals is a critical mission because we must not forget that teachers, parents, and students are also the key players in the work of schooling and they too need to play a leadership role.

Being trained to work together as leaders at different levels, teachers form a powerful force in the school.

If led by a competent principal, teachers will often work together to form a team of dedicated professionals who will, in turn, invite the parents and students to come on board with them.

However, based on my observations, I have found that, in general, school leaders are not concentrating on this issue of sharing the leadership role in their schools because they are too preoccupied with current struggles like switching from a double-session school to a single-session school, the issue of transfer of teachers, etc.

As a result, they have not yet focused their schools on leadership capacity-building in preparing themselves and their teachers to lead and manage change.

Awareness has not been created effectively in them, that to accelerate the excellence of their schools, teachers need to play a leadership role as well so that they can move forward into the future to effect and sustain continuous improved school performance.

Though school leadership remains firmly within the formal management structure of being top-down, the principal can still play a role in promoting teacher leadership in school as she/he is the person who is in the position to shape the organisational conditions necessary for success by making the teachers feel part of the change or development of the school.

In other words, foster teacher leadership by giving them responsibility on matters that they care about.

Involve them in decision-making; allow them to play an active role in planning the school budget and even in assessing the performance of the principal!

I would like to see teachers playing the role as leaders as well in their respective schools as the concept of teacher leadership has to do with the concept of school improvement.

Teacher leaders can be instrumental in the development of the school in many aspects, i.e. in translating the principles of school improvement into practice, forging close working relationship with individual teachers and making decisions collectively.

As an ex-school principal, I reflect on the benefits which were reaped when my teachers were empowered to cooperate by working together, trying out ideas together, and examining students’ work together.

By helping each other, teaching and learning were enhanced, resulting in the continuous brilliant score of 100% passes for the SPM.

Through teacher leadership, the issue of general staff development was manifested through mentoring, coaching and even consultation for the continuing professional development of the teachers.

I have always believed in distributing leadership roles to my teachers and although the principal sets the tone, she/he needs a team to dance to the tune of excellence and success.

In view of this, the leadership styles that I practise are integrated. Depending on the situation or circumstances, I had played the role of an instructional leader in the implementation of the national curriculum.

In the face of changes, transformational leadership style was adopted alongside situational leadership.

Moral leadership was practised every day and at times, transactional leadership had to be manifested when dealing with difficult teachers or staff.

Most important of all, I had created a strong awareness in my teachers that they too were leaders and they were groomed to lead.

Gone are the days when we consider the principal as the heroic leader of the school.

My teachers have played an effective role in the leadership practices of the school and I fully believe that there are many other teachers out there who are practising teacher leadership too.

For those principals who are still a little hesitant about sharing their leadership role with the teachers, my advice is to give opportunities to the untried or untested teachers who express passionate interest in respective issues to assume leadership positions, so “Let it go … let it go …” (lyrics taken from the movie Frozen by Disney).

> Datuk Mary Yap Kain Ching is Deputy Minister of Education. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Nation , Datin Mary Yap , education


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