Leadership is an opportunity to serve. It is not a trumpet call for self-importance. J. Donald Walters
Jamaica’s education system is faced with many challenges; however, the most pressing is the weak leadership in many of our schools which for some reason we have failed to address, sadly to the detriment of our students. The weak leadership school culture has not gone unnoticed as the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) has documented that only 1 per cent of high schools fall into the category of exceptional leadership. This is most disturbing and requires a call to action to reverse this negative trend. The NEI Report of 2015 highlighted that more than 40 per cent of high schools, or 4 out of every 10 have unsatisfactory leadership and require immediate support. Despite these alarming findings, it is clear that this ‘immediate support’ is not quite forthcoming and as a result our students continue to suffer under an education system which does not adequately addresses the diversity of the student population. Despite spending billions of dollars over the years to reform and modernize an education system which was inherited from the British, there is still much work required to create an all inclusive education system for all Jamaicans. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves how did we get here? How did we arrive at a culture which fosters ineffective leadership throughout a significant number of our schools? The ‘how’ is rooted in the interference of how we go about appointing principals, even in the era of the establishment of the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL).
We need to move away from the old style ‘bucky massa’ approach to a culture which creates and embraces collaborative leadership. What is Collaborative Leadership? Collaborative leadership is the type of guidance required to get effective and efficient results across internal and external organizational boundaries. However, collaborative leadership is lacking in most of our schools. Instead, there is a personality like culture which very often is not conducive to an environment which fosters teaching and learning. At the end of the day, the nation becomes poorer for the failure of policy makers to do their job without fear or favour. There is a total breakdown of supervision of the education system. There is hardly any accountability across the many layers of the school system. A total shake up is needed where principalship is concern in Jamaica. Leadership is about bringing individuals together, however, in many instances, we operate on the basis that popularity is leadership. We cannot continue as a society to relish in the pockets of exceptional school leadership. We need to duplicate exceptional leadership across all levels of the education system.
A collaborative leader invests time to build relationships; he/she handles conflicts in a constructive manner and shares control. However, most of the leadership in our schools do not subscribe to the collaborative leadership approach. In contrast, traditional leadership is often the preferred leadership style for our principals which embrace the autocratic approach where the leader takes absolute control over his/her team and takes decisions without consulting team members. This approach to management often alienates team members and the organization and students suffers in the end. We need to engender a culture of collaborative leadership style among our principals in which everyone on the staff have a voice and where there is diversity of a group approach in problem solving at the institution. It is with the collaborative leadership approach where middle management and their subordinates are equally valued. It only when this approach is used the institution will get one hundred and one per cent from the staff which will move the institution forward. We need to move to a place in our education system in which students are allowed to evaluate their teachers and teachers much also evaluate their principals. The data should not be used as a tool of witch hunt but as a process in a journey to get the school moving forward. There is currently a culture of fear and vindictiveness which many principals use over their staff. The divide and rule approach to education has no place in the 21st century. It is a remnant of a bygone era which is not in keeping with teaching and learning. We need to strive to rid the system not only of this spirit of fear, but of those who subscribe to such for the benefit of all students and stakeholders in the education system. Our leaders need to arrive at the place in which they become more accountable. To all those who aspire to leadership positions remember the words of Donald H Mc Gannon; leadership is action, not position.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
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