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Chronicles of a Principal Aspirant: Moving into the Era of Children First: A Paradigm of Change

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Chronicles of a Principal Aspirant:  Moving into the Era of Children First: A Paradigm of Change

Lavern Stewart

 

The Challenge

School leadership is challenging especially in the context in which we now operate. There are evaluations based on test scores, budget cuts, strong development of an accountability culture and the constant need to find creative ways of engaging stakeholders and promoting school success.  On top of that, schools have students who are living in extreme poverty; students with social-emotional issues, and in many cases, leaders are expected to take on the role of parents and caregivers. The educational landscape is changing rapidly and students are becoming more diverse than ever and they continue to bring many of society’s problems to the school.  It's hard...

 

To change or to fix

A complete change of paradigm in our outlook on transformation in education has called for leaders with a strong backbone at a time such as this. Despite the yawning chasm between where schools are and where they need to be, the classroom teacher who continues to work towards excellence still has that desire to become the principal of tomorrow and lead the 21st century school. In a crucial sense, leadership for student learning is the priority that hinges and pivots the thoughts of teachers aspiring to become principals. In addition, the teacher working closely with the school’s administration looks from eyes which illuminate our understandings of the principalship. As teachers work closely with principals, we see through eyes that identify both barriers and facilitating factors impacting on our decision of leading a school. Logically, it makes sense for a teacher to become a principal. Just think, what if a potential football coach never played a game of football? Would this person be the most suitable candidate for the job? When you get to the top after climbing the rough ground it makes one more cognizant of the reason that propelled us to get there in the first place.  Being then, fully aware of the challenges of principalship, one still takes the leap. We realize that as a principal, we can play a major role in shaping the educational experiences of a number of persons--- not just students, but teachers, non-teaching staff, parents and the larger community.

Consequently, that strong desire to see change has indeed fueled the teacher who is passionate and purposeful towards change. It is a truism that change is the only constant, and principals who successfully lead their schools will inevitably lead them through periods of change. It is the principal’s job to inspire and support change so that the school can move from where it is to where it needs to be to ensure the best outcomes for all its students, strengthen the professional practice of faculty and staff, and improve the school culture for all stakeholders. Change is always challenging, even where it is necessary, and principals play a crucial role in guiding schools through the process. Principals do this by serving as both a leader of change (vision-developer and people motivator) and a manager of change (implementation planner and monitor). As daunting as it sounds, the principal aspirant desires to dream and believe they can be all this. Change leadership requires true, visible ownership for outcomes from the highest levels. Principals leading change must understand the change dynamics within their particular school context and work directly with teams throughout the school to manage the change process.

A staggering blow to any principal aspirant was the exposure to the fact that in 2015, despite spending more than $755 billion through the national Budget on education since 2005, Jamaica did not meet the target set out in the national transformation road map of having 60 per cent of students sitting the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations attaining five subjects, including Mathematics and English, by 2015. Data provided by the Ministry of Education indicated that only 38.6 per cent of the grade 11 cohort who sat CSEC in 2014 attained five subjects, including Mathematics and English. Some 34 per cent of age-level high-school students were not recommended to do CSEC. The grade 11 cohort averages 40,000 young people each year. Almost 5,000 Jamaican public secondary-school students who sat the 2010 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations ended up without a single pass. Any teacher who is serious about the success of education and Jamaica would be poignantly moved towards making a more meaningful contribution to changing this. And so the aspiration….. We want to make a difference in schools. For a teacher who has strong beliefs on how they can make contributions to improving the status quo then school leadership is a part of the process.

The vision

Donaldson (2001) purports that a new leadership model must construe school leadership which is about students, learning and teaching. It is against this background that excellent teachers seek to explore and impact school administration with a strong desire to reshape the landscape. Aspiring principals are a consortium of educational enthusiasts who are hungry, greedy to see school success, students and families celebrate. We are greedy to see teachers developing and staying on the cutting edge of their craft, greedy to see a school community pull together to create a positive supporting learning environment. While we are actualizing self, we are helping others to achieve the same.

The struggle for classrooms and schools that are authentic and socially just continues to be a fleeting and illusive dream in many Jamaican schools. Many schools are undeniably far from the ideal.  Just as democracy is seen as an ideal and is something that is constantly pursued, so it is that many schools continue to pursue the ideal school. Regardless of all we know based on cognitive and sociocultural theories, this ideal remains illusory. Through no fault of their own, some schools fall among the undesirables and many educators become dismayed by the gap between the ideal classroom and the reality that exist. It is based on these gaps that a new generation of educational leaders must arise to close this gap by being strategic, opportunistic and creative. It is no longer a time to make excuses but a time to be strategically sensitive to how the power and politics of school and community connect and can work to close the gaps and remove all grey areas. The new era principal must seize opportunities as they unexpectedly arise, forging alliances with colleagues who are also eager to change and creatively experiment with alternatives to traditional practices fashioning them to meet and fit unique context. The new principal must make the school socially just with a synergy that explodes both inside and out indicating that they are a part of a cause far bigger than themselves. This is the leader the aspiring principal wants to be.

The Jamaican Education System continues to support the competitive and stressful primary education leading to secondary placement. The emphasis placed on youngsters to do well in their examination in order to achieve a place in a “good” school remains a saddening reality. However, a visionary leader must be more concerned about a shift of focus from the “good and bad school” to what should become a new pivotal plug. It is this… How well do we ensure that the exit from high school is reflective of the entry or starting point and how much have these schools, regardless of their perceived status added to the academic value of the students? So now this 21st century leader must seek to hinge their professional success on building a culture of accountability. A culture that reflects student attainment, teachers exhibiting critical pedagogy that is geared at student achievement and total school success. Some gifted students will continue to do well throughout high school but how do we take the student who started with challenges to a higher place in their academic pursuits. This new era principal is more concerned about building and scaffolding students as they move through their zone of proximal development.

As so, here stands individuals who wish to rise for change, rise for educational equality; rise for our students. Here comes a new breed of educational leaders ready for change.

 

References

Day, C., Harris, A., Hadfield, M., Toley, H. and Beresford, J. (2000) Leading Schools in Times of Change, Buckingham, England, Open University Press.

Donaldson, G. (2001) To Lead a School: A Collaborative Leadership Model for Teachers and Principals, New York, Teachers College Press.

Luton, D.  http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20150831/jamaica-misses-5-csec-target Published:Monday | August 31, 2015 | 12:00

 

Profile of Writer

Lavern Stewart is one of the two Vice- principals of the Ferncourt High School in St. Ann. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Home Economics Education and a Master of Science Degree in Workforce Education and Development.  Miss Stewart has also had the special privilege and delight of participating in the Professional Principals Qualification Course for Aspiring Principals.

Miss Stewart has worked previously at the Westwood High School for Girls in Trelawny for over twelve years. At Westwood, she help positions such as Head of Department, Grade Coordinator and Sixth Form Coordinator who pioneered the launch of a newly rehashed  Sixth Form Programme.

Miss Stewart is the epitome of a humanitarian and an outstanding leader. For over twenty years she has unreservedly served the children of Jamaica as an educator, care giver, substitute parent, provider, mediator, confidant and friend. Miss Stewart has also served as Sunday School teacher and a host of other impactful roles at various intervals. Miss Stewart is a very strong Christian woman, a servant of God and an excellent role model.

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