“We have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership.” Research finding from 180 schools across nine states in America.
In an article published in the New York Times on March 12, 2018 entitled “Good Leaders Make Good Schools”*, writer David Brooks gives educators and principals a treasure trove of hints and tips on how to transform their schools. Citing research, he unpacks why some schools succeed whilst others fail. The main determining factor for success in schools? Strong Leadership.
Now the issue we face in basic education here in South Africa is that we tend to view school Principals as administrators, setters of schedules and conveners of meetings. But according to Brooks, these men and women set the culture of a school; they are highly visible and interact constantly with learners and teachers; they greet parents and students outside the front door in the morning. In the US-based research, the most successful principals make 20 to 60 spontaneous classroom visits and observations per week. That may not be attainable in many of our schools but the point is, how do we equip our principals to do more of what is needed to make schools great?
Love as well as Discipline
Brooks tells us that this character in society – the successful school principal – possesses such qualities as energy, optimism and determination. Our own Prof Jonathan Jansen has found that successful South African Principals are very compassionate and provide learners with love as well as discipline. They are also ‘social entrepreneurs’ who proactively engage with parents and communities to attract involvement, support and resources for their schools and to protect their schools from destabilizing outside forces.
Academy for School Principals?
But how do Principals become this way? Are you born a great school Principal or do you learn this skill? The sense one gets is that some of it is instinct and raw talent whilst the rest is fostered and nurtured in the individual. Now the urgent question becomes, who fosters and nurtures our school Principals to become these types of leaders? Is there an academy for school principals? The answer is of course, no. And this is one of the primary reasons why so many of our schools are struggling and why our education system is in crisis.
How can we capacitate our school Principals to be inspired and inspiring leaders? The answer lies in partnership; partnering them with leaders in other fields, as local and highly successful NGO Partners for Possibility (www.pfp4sa.org) is doing by pairing them with business leaders.
As we do this our schools will be transformed, one Principal at a time.