Hearts & Minds, Not Widgets

Note: Thanks to the kind reader who sent me the correct link regarding the citation for this excellent infographic;

Pepperdine University – MBA Online – Successful Manager

This graphic I came across recently reminded me of a blog post by Seth Godin in which he talked about the different attributes required of a leader in any field where creativity is required. He talked of how you have to be willing and able to deal with people at an emotional level.

Amongst the things that sadden and frustrate me around schools in Asia is the frequency with which you come across the ‘victims’ and by-products of bad management. These people have too much fear to bring real, genuine creativity to their work. Often they are reluctant to even express an opinion or a point of view until they have been able to fathom exactly the ‘boss’s’ point of view – which of course now becomes there’s! These people, when promoted through years of service in to supervisory roles have mastered the fine arts of kissing up and kicking down. Result – they foster more compliant, outwardly obedient teachers who park their creativity, initiative, openness to new learning or belief in their ability to make a contribution outside the gate.

One simple question – in any school where the teachers and educators think like this are lead like this, expect to be lead like this, with this kind of school culture – how will the experience be for the children and parents? Do they stand a chance of getting an education that fosters their creativity, that inspires them to take initiative, to explore potential and indulge their curiosity?

I believe way too little attention is being paid to the way teachers are lead, the attributes and skills needed and professional development routes for those who choose to step up to roles in education leadership. It cannot be simply down to who wants to earn some more money and is prepared to be in school more hours a week. Education in which educators simply sell their time will always be incredibly poor education.

It’s time to get far more serious about how leadership is approached in education. Across schools I want to see less mindless rule setting, petty conservatism and far more passion, creativity, accountability through shared trust (instead of the blunt weapon of student assessment), open communication, continuous rigorous professional development and an inspiring ‘why’ that makes teachers wan to bring their hearts and minds to campus every day.


Education – Preserving the Closed Shop

Who can lead in the world of education? Well, here in India, as in most countries, who can be a school Principal is all wrapped up in all sorts of provisions relating to their academic qualifications. Have we now reached the time when we should really question and challenge the validity of this approach? Have the needs from educational leaders now evolved to the point where, like other professions, we should be ready to take leaders with the most appropriate skills from wherever we can find them (and regardless of how many certificates they have to PROVE they are a product of the old-paradigm education systems)?

These kinds of questions are brought in to stark focus as a result of a recent controversy in the US. This has come about because Mayor Bloomberg of New York has selected Ms Cathleen Black as Chancellor of the school system of the entire city of New York. The controversy is that, until now, Ms Black’s experience was in the publishing industry. Obviously, one of the points being made is that different industries and professions are far more receptive to senior people with transferable leadership skills in such things as ‘change management’ than the education profession.

Time Article

Somewhere along the way, I believe the resistance comes from education’s focus on ‘content’. A degree in a particular subject is seen in the context of its content – the body of knowledge that was ‘gone over’.

I believe that with the speed of change in today’s world leadership of the highest quality is at a premium. The skills – things like inspiring people, leading them towards a meaningful vision etc. are not narrowly specific to any one field.

Similar goes for teaching, as highlighted in the article. Closed shops in any industry or profession have always served to stifle innovation and progress, keep everything ‘cozy’ for those inside the profession at the cost of those who use the services.

We need the best, most committed teachers, with the most capable leaders – and it shouldn’t matter where they’re coming from or what their backgrounds.

School Leadership Influence on Pupil Performance

I’ve seen reports in the past that suggested that the influence of quality of leadership in schools was more important (i.e. greater impact) than in business and commercial areas . However, it was many years since I saw anything that attempted to quantify the scale of that impact. So, I was particularly happy to find this report with a link to download a University of Minnesota report on a 6-year study looking in to this very issue. Whilst it’s written in an American context, I believe it still offers useful learning and insight for those of us in Indian education.

Minnesota Article with Report downloadable

The message ringing through loud and clear is that we would be most foolish to underestimate the critical importance of educational leadership. The report clearly suggests that it’s second only to the quality of classroom instruction in determining pupil performance. This being the case it links to one of my biggest concerns over the last few years – where are the Institutes or mechanisms in India on sufficient scale to develop educators to be ready to take up leadership roles and to do so effectively? Without such Institutes or mechanisms on sufficient scale there must always be a question over the extent to which teachers can be blamed for the lack of quality education when their leaders lack professional development.

There should be everything from informal development opportunities, to more structured diplomas and even MBA courses in Academic Administration available from top management institutes. I want to see a scenario where there are thousands of trained, professional education leaders to fill the roles of Principals and Vice Principals bringing about a revolution in the quality of schools, the leadership that teachers receive and ultimately the educational experience for lakhs of children.

There certainly are, already, outstanding education leaders around (TSRS is fortunate to have some of the very best), but they are way too few. I fear that all the time this situation persists initiatives and efforts to bring about systemic improvement in Indian school education will be destined for limited or anemic success at best. It’s time to find, attract, train and develop the best of leaders and managers to lead the vanguard in an education revolution.

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