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Help principals manage schools
School indiscipline and violence have been hot topics on the educational landscape particularly after the “proletarianisation” of education in the seventies. However, the subject has assumed greater attention with the proliferation of social media, and unfortunately, school violence will not stop even if camera devices were to be banned.
There is little comfort in the ministry’s statistics on lower incidents of school violence, because any discussion with teachers would reveal that a large majority are fed-up and ready to retire. The approach must be to deal with the “at-risk” students at all levels of the education system because sooner rather than later they will occupy all rungs of our societal ladder.
An indisputable fact is that in all of the underperforming or “at-risk schools” there is an absence of effective leadership. There is no doubt that greater care has to be taken in the selection of administrators especially in these schools, for once principals are appointed, to remove them is more difficult than successfully completing the 12 labours of Hercules.
The ministry has, therefore, to focus on helping these principals to manage their schools. My recommendation is that a team of experts, much like what happens in England, should be sent to these troubled schools in order to improve standards (see OFSTED reports). The school supervisor can be part of that team because the task is beyond the capability any single person.
There have been several successful school improvement initiatives internationally which can serve as models (Comer Process, Accelerated Schools, Manitoba School Improvement Project and Improving the Quality of Education for All). In all of these initiatives three ingredients stand out: 1. The role of parents and the community; 2. The value of staff unity and mobilisation in the achievement of goals; and 3. The value of smart leadership.
The role of parents and community
In T&T an important question is: what is the role of parents and the community in school governance, apart from being members of a board which is more often than not window dressing? It is abundantly clear that changes in legislation are necessary to bring about greater participation in school governance. However, there is much that a principal can do in order to increase involvement of parents and the community, because most parents in at-risk schools shun PTA meetings. Principals can start by having family days, joint celebrations of all national and religious events, open days and inclusion at all school events and social occasions. There is also a role for the school to play in the education of parents and the general public in areas like the environment, budget, health, road safety and caring for children.
The value of staff co-operation and unity of purpose
Any school improvement project must have staff buy-in, ie acceptance and/or ownership. Normally, a principal or school management team can work with 65-70 per cent of staff acceptance, because some teachers will always sit on the fence. Any principal who embarks on school reform without the staff support may as well ride out into the sunset.
This is the key to the success of schools and this is where the ministry’s intervention is needed because every leader or teacher thinks that he/she is doing well. To the ministry’s credit, most administrators have been exposed to training in all areas of school management. The question remains: are principals executing what they have been taught and experimenting with new ideas or are they glued to their old practices and pre-conceived notions of “junior sec and senior sec” students?
School administrators therefore need to do a lot of introspection, and readjustment in order for staff and students to exist in a comfortable or safe learning environment. This is quite a difficult task considering our penchant for being “boss”, “Monarch of all I survey”, and “lords in educational fiefdoms.” This is the real challenge facing the question of “equity in education.”
Dr Patrick Quan Kep
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