Sunday, 29 December 2013

Are principals of schools administrators, managers or leaders?

Principals of public schools whom I have referred to in previous articles as managers of schools are involved in the practice of public administration or what is now being referred to as public management. Since public administration [simply put] is government in action (Wilson, 1887) and since the business of public education is facilitated by government, then the heads of public educational institutions are doing the work of government which is public administration.

Now the question as to whether or not these heads of public educational institutions are public administrators, public managers or leaders of schools is best answered by heads/principals of schools, I think. We are in an era when one of the major discourses in public administration centres on the need for leaders in government agencies to be managers rather than administrators. Management, the proponents of this view believe will lead to the achievement of results while administration is passive. It is concerned with maintaining the status quo, following rules among other non-progressive actions.
Heads/Principals of schools may, therefore, want to begin to name their role in the public educational institutions of which they are in charge. To do this, heads/principals of schools may find it useful to engage in the process of "self-organization", referred to in chapter ten of the edited work by Lyndall Urwick and Luther Gulick entitled “Papers on the Science of Administration” published way back in 1936. A major feature of this self organisation would entail that the head/principal of schools must realise her/his physical limitations and arrange work in such a way to ensure the effectiveness of the organisation as well as his/her sanity. If he/she is overworked, his/her effectiveness will be compromised.

Chapter ten of the above cited work speculates on the span of control in an organisation. The span of control in this sense refers to the number of individuals who a boss can effectively supervise and speaks of the need for sensible delegation of responsibilities to ensure the effective working of the organisation.  
In addition to practising “self-organization” heads/principals of schools may want to practice self reflexivity which is quite popular as a prescription for achieving understanding in educational among other circles.

Self-reflexivity, here, refers to the process whereby (in this case) the head/ principal of school reflects on the experience of being a head/principal while carrying out the duties of a principal. This will require that the head/principal asks and answers some difficult questions about the whys, whats and hows of her/his practice while engaging in and engaged in this practice. The aim of the process is to improve practice through developing self awareness and an understanding of the job.
So, in an attempt to help heads/principals of schools to assess their roles in the organisation, I will present some ideas on administration, management and leadership from diverse sources from which they may draw some inspiration to kick start the process. These sources, you will realise, are mainly drawn from outside of Jamaica because our scholarship in Jamaica relies heavily on the work of scholars from outside our shores. And, there is no doubt that we may learn lessons and have learnt lessons from the experiences of others.

First, let us examine the concepts administration and management. Owen Hughes in the third edition of his book, Public Management and Administration (2003, p. 6) has argued that “administration is a narrower and more limited function than management” therefore, “changing from public administration to public management means a major change of theory and of function”.  To strengthen this argument he visited the Oxford dictionary for guidance as regards the meanings of these words. However, he did not fail to point out that the meanings of words in English are not exactly precise as other writers have already shown. The Oxford dictionary according to Hughes has “define[d] administration as: ‘an act of administering’, which is then ‘to manage the affairs of’ or ‘to direct or superintend the execution, use or conduct of’, while management is: ‘to conduct, to control the course of affairs by one’s own action, to take charge of’.  

 From the definitions above administration seems to have the following features: administering, management and directing while the features of management are conducting and controlling. On the face of it, the two processes seem to require an active orientation. The person involved in either administration or management is expected to do something. And, it is implied that the doing of something is for a purpose.

 Hughes went on to investigate the Latin origins of the words administration and management to shed some more light on the meaning of these words. He shows that “administration comes from minor then ministrare, meaning: ‘to serve, and hence later, to govern’. Management comes from manus, meaning: ‘to control by hand’.  He concludes from this investigation that the essential difference in meaning is between ‘to serve’ and ‘to control or gain results’.

 Thus, from the Latin origins of the words administration and management we may discern a passive orientation of administration. That is, “following instruction and service” according to Hughes. On the other hand, management involves an active orientation. That is, “the achievement of results and... personal responsibility by the manager for the results being achieved” according to Hughes i.e. accountability.

 This analysis is not clear cut in describing what public administrators/managers actually do in their contexts. Because if we embark on an investigation of the jobs of public administrators/managers over time we may discover that they have been involved in the practice of administration and management in their roles. This is not surprising as the dictionary definition of administration refers to one of its features as management. The idea that administration involves management has not been lost on many writers of texts on management and organisational behaviour (Mullins1996, pp. 398–400) for example as cited by Hughes.

 The issue of concern, I think, should be the quality of the practice of public administrator/managers to which the literature really points.

How well have public administrators/managers been doing their jobs over time? Apparently, not very well. Doing their jobs well would mean that they achieve measurable results, they achieve more with less, they minimise waste, they are responsive to the needs of clients, they are transparent in their dealings and they are accountable. The literature on public administration over the last few decades has cited the failure of public administrators/managers to meet the above standards and see this as cause for urgent reform of the public service.

 These are not new concerns. If we go back to the writings of scholars of public administration in the past we will realise that they did not propound a passive view of public administration. Woodrow Wilson, for example, former President of the United States and author, in his 1887 article “The study of Administration” in noting the increased complexity of government [a changing environment] which would require “wisdom, knowledge and experience” said there should be a “science of administration which shall seek to straighten the paths of government, to make its business less unbusinesslike...” (p. 201). “The field of administration is a field of business”, (p. 209) he went on to add. He advocated for reform of the wider public service to make it efficient and effective and suggested that the public service may gain lessons from a comparative study of government and business organisations.

 So, although Wilson suggested that the work of government should be specialized between its functionaries – politicians and administrators, he expected both groups to do what they did best. That is, politicians would devise policies that would improve the lives of the governed and civil servants would implement these policies using the best practices available (See Wilson's article at http://www.commentary.com/admin_thoughts_1887.pdf.)

 Wilson was speaking of the reality of the United States government at the time. However, his work has reverberated throughout the field of public administration beyond the shores of the United States of America. And, it is still a work that has inspired scholarship today if not necessarily the practice of public administration, except for the enduring concern of scholars with what they term the politics/administration dichotomy advocated by Wilson.

 Former Prime Minister of Jamaica and author Michael Manley expressed support for this element of Wilson’s thinking when, in a speech to civil servants in 1972, he stated that the politician was a “conceptualiser”, the one with the lofty dreams. The civil servant, on the other hand, by virtue of her or his long tenure in government has the technical expertise to craft the dreams into workable programmes. This view foreshadowed an active role by public administrators/managers in the business of government.

 So, are principals of schools administrators or managers? Are they committed to achieving results? Do they take responsibility for the results achieved? Or, are they maintainers of the status quo, do they only follow instructions? Are they passive? Do they privilege one set of roles over the other? How do they conduct their practice?
 
All heads/principals of schools are guided by ambition. They, however, need to step outside of their personal ambition in order to be able to rationally assess their roles.
 
Their positions as heads of schools demand that they not only serve but also achieve results and take responsibility for these results. This has always been part of their unwritten contract. They, along with other public sector administrators/managers however, to a great extent, have not been very good stewards. So, the scholars, through researching the practice of workers in the public sector and having filtered the findings of their research down to governments (findings which are sometimes contradictory), have seen their ideas for improvement of the system being s-p-e-l-l-e-d out to public servants. And, what’s more, the work of public servants is now being monitored more than ever and sanctions are being applied where necessary in some systems, sanctions which may be an incentive for public sector administrators/managers to get the job done to the highest standard possible, or not.

How do principals of schools characterise their roles?   

 
To be continued

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Food for Thought

Statue of Mahatma Ghandi in Tavistock Square, London

Photo by J. Fuller
 

There are many wise sayings attributed to Mahatma Ghandi. I’ll leave two with you for you to ponder.

The first is: Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever [my emphasis].


The second is: ... Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.

Every new day which dawns for us gives us a chance to learn something. There is a lesson to be learnt in every experience we have, bad or good. We should learn these lessons by critically analysing each of our daily experiences. And, having learnt each lesson life throws our way, let us take the positives from them, apply them to our lives as we continue to strive to be the best persons we can be.


Saturday, 21 December 2013

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

This is just a note wishing all visitors to this blog a happy holiday season. I know that, at this time of the year, there are many people who prefer that we wish them, Merry Christmas!, instead of Happy Holiday! However, I am aware that there are many people who do not celebrate Christmas (at least not in the Christian sense of the word) although they enjoy many of the festivities of the period. So, from me to you, whatever your belief or practice, have a happy and safe holiday. Be merry – in moderation. And remember, to share some joy and love this season and always.

Students carolling; shoppers pause to enjoy the music
Photo by J. Fuller



Sunday, 15 December 2013

Why do children attend school? Part 2

From the responses students give when I ask them their reasons for attending school I have deduced the following: students attend school because they have a realistic vision of where they see themselves when they grow up; students attend school being motivated by an unrealistic vision of where they see themselves when they grow up; students attend school because they enjoy acquiring knowledge for the sake of acquiring knowledge; students attend school because they enjoy socialising with their friends.

Unlike the students who attend school because their parents send them and who have not thought about the possible benefits of schooling, these students have given some thought to their purpose in school.

Some of these students, whom I have categorised as having a realistic vision of where they see themselves when they grow up, will identify career paths as either in the traditional professions – medicine and law – or in engineering, business, the airline industry as pilots. Other students in this group will list teaching, nursing, fashion designers, office work and such professions as their career goal.
Most of the students who have a realistic view of where they see themselves in the future are intrinsically motivated. They know what they want. They attend school regularly. They attend classes. Some will participate more than others in class but all will make an attempt to exert much more than just enough effort. For this group of students, the teacher does not have to do anything special to get them to learn. Presenting a lesson, whatever the methodology used, is enough. They will do well, that is, they will achieve passing grades on internal and external assessments. Some will achieve distinctions, some credits while others will just pass. We may extend Professor Miller’s argument here that

In every group of students born every year, you have about 10% who are developmentally precocious. They do things ahead of the rest. You have about 60% of them developmentally standard, within the normal way, about 20% developmentally lagged. In other words, there is nothing at all wrong with these students. They will achieve everything that everybody achieves but they just need a little more time. And about 10% who have developmental deficits that need to be addressed... And we are missing a lot of children who have developmental deficits that are going undetected, especially those who are socially competent, physically normal
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/AllAngles.aspx/Videos/20319

We know what they say about assumptions but we may still go ahead and assume that these students who have voiced realistic expectations of where they see themselves in the future, a view which is supported by good performance, are the students who were born either developmentally precocious or developmentally standard. Of course, we must realise that, for whatever reason/s, some students in this group may be left behind.
There is another group of students who do not yet have a clue as to what career path they will pursue when they finish their schooling. But they perform very well in school. When they are asked why they attend school they will tell you that they like school. These students study for the sake of studying. These students, too, may be assumed to be in the groups of students who are either developmentally precocious or developmentally standard.

Then there are those students who I believe have unrealistic expectations of where they see themselves in the future. They will have the same career expectations as those students who have realistic expectations. Some of these students are reading way below their grade level but others read very well. Teachers have revealed that they have had students who read very well, they are always volunteering to read in class; their handwriting is enviable, but no matter what methodology they have used with them these students just cannot grasp the concepts to which they have been introduced.
Many of these students regularly attend school but they consistently underperform. Many of these students will do well choosing occupations which require the use of practical skills but this society frowns on practical occupations while elevating other non practical ones. Many of these students are not voicing an opinion that reflects their felt needs but are driven by what society holds dear. We may assume that among the students in this group we may find the developmentally lagged and children born with developmental deficits. These students need special interventions to unlock whatever potential they have buried deep inside.

Finally, there are students who run the gamut from the developmentally precocious to the developmentally challenged who attend school because they get the chance to meet friends. These students attend school for the sake of socialising with their peers. At least one primary school has recognised this. Among all the pithy sayings scattered on the available surfaces of the school buildings one reads, “Work before play”.
The lesson to be learnt here is that students have their own reasons for attending school while the school has its own reasons for welcoming them. For example, schools may be guided by the motto, like schools in Jamaica, that “Every child can learn, every child must learn”. The schools’ purpose, therefore, is to instil what their curricula consider relevant knowledge for the students into the students. But, the students are not passive beings, willing to be filled with knowledge as the educator and philosopher Paulo Freire warns us in his Pedagogy of the oppressed. The school and teachers have a duty to meet the students more than half way.

Therefore, teaching, the process which attempts to facilitate learning, should be carried out in such a way to engage the students. The best way of engaging the students is to first understand their motivation for being at school. After the teachers have spoken with the students, a major part of their teaching strategy should be to explain to the students why they are being taught the concepts to which they are exposed. And, part of this explanation should involve some practical illustrations. Most children, like most adults in our society, prefer interactivity over the monotony of one directional talk in settings like that of teaching and learning.
Not all children will learn everything that they ought to by the time they leave school but students will, more likely than not, respond to a teaching strategy which they perceive to be devised after consultations with them.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Biology and Educational Performance?


In the last article, I presented one response expressed by many students as to their reason for attending school. That is, they attend school only because of the initiative of their parent/parents and/guardians. I will, in a subsequent article, examine some of the other responses given by students for attending school.

But in this article, I want to present one perspective on the performance of students in the education system which was shared by former Professor of Education, now Emeritus Professor of Education, at the University of the West Indies, (UWI) Mona Campus.

Professor Miller was participating in the discussion programme, All Angles which was aired on Television Jamaica on the 22nd of August 2012. The topic under discussion was “Major Problems in the Education System”. Professor Miller presented some information which I will describe as “a biological profile of students in the education system”. The Professor received his early training in Biology so I have no reason to discount this explanation. He did not present any specific sources. But, there is much information on this issue online. Just input the relevant search terms and you’ll find more information than you can easily absorb. Here is what Professor Miller had to say.

In every group of students born every year, you have about 10% who are developmentally precocious. They do things ahead of the rest. You have about 60% of them developmentally standard, within the normal way, about 20% developmentally lagged. In other words, there is nothing at all wrong with these students. They will achieve everything that everybody achieves but they just need a little more time. And about 10% who have developmental deficits that need to be addressed... And we are missing a lot of children who have developmental deficits that are going undetected, especially those who are socially competent, physically normal

http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/AllAngles.aspx/Videos/20319

If we use this information that Professor Miller has provided as a template for understanding the students in our schools we may conclude that, at any time in the school system, we will have 70% of students who can competently function, 20% who will eventually become competent and 10% who are educationally challenged, having “developmental deficits” and will need special interventions to facilitate their learning. 
This information puts things into perspective for teachers who, being exposed to this information, may look at their students differently than they did before. Some schools practice streaming. Others do not. In schools where the practice of streaming continues, teachers’ unhappiness will continue to be exacerbated. The top two streams at each grade level will have the “developmentally precocious and the developmentally standard” students. Thus, other teachers perceive the teachers of these streams as having an easy time in the classroom while they struggle with the other less competent students, not being trained to deal with their issues. Would it be better, though, to spread students at different stages of development across one class? Some teachers see this as a good strategy as it will minimise their frustrations. Some managers of schools, on the other hand, see streaming as a good strategy, in spite of the research that suggests otherwise, because they believe that teachers will have the chance to deliver interventions that will address the specific needs of the types of students in their classes.

What we may deduce from the information above, in the context in which it was presented, is that theoretically the performance of students in the education system, will to an extent, reflect the students’ stage of development. So, let us see how the information that Professor Miller provides us with compares to the performance of students in the education system.

We learnt from the Minister of Education in his presentation to Parliament that “more than thirty percent of those who move from Early Childhood Institutions to Grade one, cannot satisfy the Grade One Individual Learning Profile” (http://www.moe.gov.jm/sites/default/files/EFA%20EDITED%20HME%20SectoralPresentation%202013_i1_20130515.pdf). An assumption, which is just that, may be drawn from this bit of statistics that the minister has presented. This assumption is that the early childhood sector is not necessarily catering satisfactorily, for the most part, to the needs of all of its students. While most students who are classified as developmentally precocious and those who are developmentally standard seem to be performing satisfactorily, the developmentally lagged, the developmentally challenged (those with developmental deficits) and some of those who are developmentally precocious and/or lagged need extra help.
 But, how do students fare by the time they reach grade four? How have these students developed academically? According to the results of the Grade Four Literacy Test (GFLT), of the students from government schools who sat the examination in 2012, approximately seventy two percent attained ‘Mastery’. Twenty eight percent of students did not achieve mastery in literacy and numeracy. Again, we may assume that two percent of those classified as either developmentally lagged or developmentally challenged, along with all the developmentally precocious and developmentally standard students, have benefitted from the strategies employed by teachers to effect learning.

 By grade six, students should be ready to sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) which determines their readiness for secondary school. In 2012, the national average for Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts combined was just over sixty-two percent while the average for Composition was nine out of ten for both boys and girls. Therefore, we may assume that the system while serving some, if not most of the developmentally precocious as well as some of the developmentally standard students, is still failing some. Approximately, eight percent of the developmentally precocious and/or the developmentally standard would have failed to perform satisfactorily on the GSAT, according to the statistics and using the biological argument.

 Those students who do not perform satisfactorily in the GSAT examination will be placed in All Age and Junior High Schools where they will continue their education up to the grade nine level. At the end of this period, they will sit the Grade Nine Achievement Test, (GNAT) which will determine their readiness for secondary education. During 2012, the national average for Mathematics during 2012 was forty-five percent and for Language Arts, fifty-one percent. We may continue to make assumptions that most of the students who are placed in the All Age and Junior High Schools would fall in the categories of being developmentally lagged and developmentally challenged. And almost fifty percent of them would have benefitted from the strategies teachers employ at this level to effect learning.

Grade eleven is a critical year for students in secondary schools. In grade eleven, students should be ready to sit and pass the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination.  However, approximately five percent of students who sit this examination pass five or more subjects including Mathematics and English and fifty percent of students leave school with only a school leaving certificate and no marketable skills (See the Jamaica Education Statistics 2012/2013 and the Minister's presentation in Parliament). Again, we may assume that the system is failing not only those who are developmentally lagged and challenged but also some of those students who are classified as developmentally precocious and developmentally standard.
So, if we continue with the argument that biology plays a significant role in the performance of students, we may assume that at least seventy percent of students in the education system would “achieve everything that everybody achieves” according to Professor Miller. But only fifty percent of students seem to be achieving everything they ought to at the end of grade eleven.  

To attempt to understand this disparity, we may want to examine the impact of social factors on students’ learning. Professor Miller did not lose sight of these variables. He hastened to add, in his presentation, that a number of social factors do come into play (social factors which I have outlined in a previous article) as well as biology in determining how students perform in the education system.
Therefore, the problem of poor performance of students is a multifaceted phenomenon which will require much more for its solution than the oft cited bit of advice that the teacher should create a  “favourable environment in the classroom to facilitate learning” as has been again recently pronounced by the chairperson of the National Education Inspectorate (NEI).

In the next article, I will continue to examine students’ reasons for attending school.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Why do children attend school? Reason number 1


If a teacher, just on a whim, asks a class of forty students why they attend school, emanating from the babble that will ensue will be several responses.
The majority of students will respond that they attend school because their parent/s or guardians send them. A number of these students will be joking. But many others will be totally serious.

The students who are only in school solely because their parent/s or guardians insist that they attend are the ones who are the most resistant to learning. They have reluctantly done their caregiver a favour by attending school. They do not want any further hassle from teachers with any grand design that they can make them learn. They are willing to give up without trying. I have found, though, that in cases like these when these students display no interest in my subject I have had to find other means of engaging them than by only presenting a lesson to them in class.
 
I have found in most of these cases that it is prudent to get to know the students, their motivations, interests, career aspirations, to take an interest in whatever they care to share about their lives.

I have found it useful to set aside time during the regular class sessions (usually at the beginning of the class) to engage the entire class in discussions about random issues of concern to them. The discussions that ensue seem to help all students to do self reflection which, in turn, has caused them to take action to improve their performance.
 
When camaraderie is built up among the students, I have found it useful to encourage those highly motivated students to welcome the de-motivated ones to their study sessions, take them under their “wings” so to speak, and share their knowledge about all the subjects that they are doing with them. After this period of induction into these “knowledge sharing peer groups”, these students, who initially were resistant to learning, show significant improvement on assessments. These students will not necessarily achieve distinctions, but they will begin to exert some effort in the classroom, some will pass tests where, before, they were on their way to failing quite well.

This is not a novel approach to achieving results in the classroom. I am sure it has been used by many teachers from the beginning of teaching. This approach is used by teachers who care deeply about the performance of their students and are willing to work with their students to help them overcome some of the challenges to their performance.
This practice may, however, be a thing of the past, if it has not been yet relegated to the obsolete. Because with the increased preoccupation with measurable results of students in the classroom, many managers of schools are recommending that teachers use standardised lesson plan formats which the teachers should faithfully follow. These managers of schools believe that teachers methodically following these plans will ensure that students learn the content of the lessons and therefore demonstrate quantitatively on tests that they have learnt.

However, many teachers feel constrained to stick to the recommended format because of the knowledge that they, too, are being constantly assessed according to fixed criteria, part of the measurability of performance.

Following the strict dictates of a lesson plan does not allow teachers to get to know their students beyond their participation or lack thereof in the classroom. As a result, those students who are hell bent on spiting their caregivers for daring to force them to attend school will be allowed by the teachers to spend their time in the classroom in “la la land” until, mercifully, for them, they reach the school leaving age.
 
There may have been a time when many teachers accepted the idea that their role in the classroom was to be everything and everyone to their students. At least some teachers seem to have believed that. However, in this legislative environment in which the school operates where the rights of the child are enshrined in law teachers are finding the new reporting requirements onerous. They want nothing to do with the “authorities”. Therefore, as part of their introduction to their students, they will tell them that if they want to talk, talk to the guidance counsellors. His/her role is to listen to you. My role is to teach you. Therefore, a great distance is erected between the teachers and their students, a distance that the teachers are unwilling to cross, a distance that may impact the performance of students. But, the students who are deemed to be de-motivated do not mind this state of affairs. After all, they do not want to be bothered by teachers.
During their stay at the school, these seemingly de-motivated students will be introduced to interventions. I have seen this happen before. However, everyone, including the child has rights. And these students are allowed to exercise the right to ignorance since it is their choice. So, these students may choose to attend the interventions or not. The teachers may choose to search for those students who find secluded spots on the school’s compound to hide themselves from what they see as the burdens of school, or they may not. The teachers may choose to engage these students beyond the intervention, or they may not.
There is, however, no reason for alarm. These students will leave school with more than they entered. They will have made some new friends though their intellects will remain unchallenged and therefore untapped. And, at some time in the future, these students will experience a period of self realisation. They will eventually join the mass of other students who did not see the value of school in the past. They will now populate the many evening classes offered by a range of private schools. These private schools will make lots of money. Some of these students will discover their latent abilities and succeed. Others will not be this fortunate but, in the end, will find occupations suited to their abilities.

 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Understanding the environments in which schools operate (part 6): The spatial environment


In a number of previous articles, I have outlined the different environments in which schools operate and have argued that it is important for managers of schools to develop an understanding of these environments, because in understanding these environments these managers will be able to make prudent decisions as regards the tasks with which they are entrusted and will, therefore, enjoy some amount of effectiveness. The environments in which schools operate, with which I have engaged in previous articles, are the physical, socio-political, economic, political and technological environments.

However, we should also consider another type of environment in which schools operate which I will refer to as the spatial environment. This is probably not the best descriptor of the phenomenon, space, which I want to explore, as the idea of space is bound up with that of environment. Anyway, the idea that I am putting forward, here, is that managers of schools need to be concerned about, and some are, indeed, concerned about the space in which their schools operate. I will put forward the ideas of two eminent scholars who have engaged with the idea of space to illustrate to managers of schools as well as other staff the critical nature of the space in which they operate and, therefore, to provide them with some “food for thought” and action.
When we think of the concept of “space” we should think of much more than a void or vacuum. The work of Focault and Lefebvre, as well as other scholars on space, has provided us with multiple ways of thinking about space.

For example, Michel Focault in a lecture written in 1967, and published in 1984 entitled, Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias, has pointed out what may be considered the defining characteristic of space. According to him, spaces are defined by sets of interactions. And these interactions take place in many settings/spaces.
Furthermore, Focault posits two views of space. There is a utopian view of space, that is, the ideal, the imagined, the conception of the perfect. And, there are also heterotopias, that is, those spaces which are “real” and which have certain functions, functions which may change as society’s perceptions of these spaces change (http://foucault.info/documents/heterotopia/foucault.heterotopia.en.html.

 Managers of schools, therefore, may want to think of their schools as “cultural space[s]”, borrowing the idea of “cultural space” from Focault here. The school may be seen as an example of this “real” space that has a defined function which is modified as society passes through different phases, a space which has “sets of interactions”. It is for the managers of schools to determine what this function is and to identify and understand the “sets of interactions” that are constantly taking place in the cultural space of the school. Of course, the school as a “cultural space” may also be seen as an imagined/utopian space in relation to what it “ought” to do as suggested by philosophers and other scholars when compared to what it actually does.
Managers of schools may also wish to peruse the work of Henri Lefebvre (1974) who has also engaged with the concept of space. Lefebvre (1974) book, The Production of Space is a seminal work as regards enhancing our conception of space. This work covers many topics including one specifically on spatial practices. However, space is a theme that runs throughout the work, especially the urban space.

For the purposes of this article, I will go underneath the deep philosophical arguments presented in Lefebvre’s work, borrow his concept of space in the urban setting and attempt to show the relevance of his view of this space to understanding the school as a cultural space.
Lefebvre has posited that space is a social construct. That is, every society creates its own space and has different ways of doing so. This space that society creates is a repository for all of its practices. This space reflects society’s vision of itself. However, this space is not static. It is replete with movement. This space is created through an interaction of a number of forces and the nature of the space which is created determines thought and action.

As regards this space [the urban space], Lefebvre has drawn our attention to a number of spaces that are evident within this larger space. He has referred to these spaces as follows: there is the conceived space, for example, architectural designs; the perceived space, that is, the everyday perception of space and the pattern of its use; and there is the lived space, that is, what users make of the space. But, the big point here is that the space is created to fulfil a vision that the society has of and for itself.
Therefore, as it relates to schools we can explore this cultural space in relation to its design, the perceptions of how it is to be used and how it is actually used.

However, the conception, perception and actually use of space may be determined by a number of factors. Thus, according to Lefebvre to understand the spaces that society creates we must understand the method of their creation.
The method of creation of the cultural spaces of schools, for example, borrowing from Lefebvre may, in different contexts, be undergirded by such factors as public policy, philosophy, economics, sociology and the aesthetics. Let’s examine how this may work in the cultural space of the school by briefly examining these factors.

First, public policy, generally, refers to government’s plan of action for society as a whole or segments of society. These policies are usually outlined in policy documents and are disseminated to the populace, nowadays, by the mass media. For example, a society may have a public policy for pre-primary and primary education with the accompanying details. There may be another for secondary education and another for tertiary education. Managers of schools ought to know the policies that government has devised for the education system.
Second, philosophy is a discipline that systematically and critically unpacks “weighty problems” of society such as the meaning of “knowledge” and “being” among such other concepts, (see works of Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes among others). But, philosophy may generally be defined as the beliefs, attitudes and values that underpin action. Therefore, in the case of schools, government makes public policy and underpinning this policy may be a philosophy as to what the school ought to do. As a result, the cultural space of the school may reflect whatever this philosophy is.

Third, the spaces that society creates are determined by economics. That is, cost effectiveness. Specifically, the space created for the school will be based on the amount of resources that governments possess. Resources will be expended based on a number of factors, not least of which are the communities in which schools are sited and the expectations that government has of the schools.
Fourth, the spaces of the school that government creates will reflect how people in that setting interact and function in that space. For example, in many schools there are areas specifically created for teachers, students, administrative staff, ancillary staff and managers of schools and, the design and use of these spaces reflect the relations and interactions that prevail in the designated spaces. For example, many classrooms still feature the traditional design, teacher at the front of the room, students sitting at attention in rows and columns extending to the back of the room. Therefore, in this space, it is evident that primacy is given to the teacher. We may want to examine the other spaces in the school to see if we can determine the social relations that take place in them. This is the sociological dimension of space.  

Fifth, there is also the aesthetic dimension of space. That is, the creation of a space that appeals to the senses in terms of its beauty, cleanliness and other pleasant virtues.
From Focault’s and Lefebvre’s work on space, managers of schools may discern that there may be a method in the “madness” of their cultural spaces. These factors which undergird the spaces that society produces, according to Lefebvre, bring life to the philosophy that informs their creation. Therefore, if managers of school accept that their cultural space, the school, is a social construct intended to achieve a purpose it may foreground their role in their schools and in the education system as a whole.

A number of managers of schools have been complaining about the spaces in which they have to work. Some of these managers complain that they have no space. This statement could mean any of a number of things, depending on the viewpoint of the manager of school who makes the statement. For example, from talking with managers of schools, I have learnt that the school having no space could mean that the school buildings take up almost, if not all of the physical space allotted to the school. As a result, the school body – staff and students feel constrained or confined in this setting. Second, the school having no space could mean that there is no room for expansion to meet the increased demand for places in the school. Third, the school having no space could mean that the school does not have enough desks and chairs to accommodate the number of children assigned to the school. Fourth, the school having no space may also mean that the school does not have enough classrooms or rooms to meet the needs of students engaged in academic, sports or other extracurricular activity. What I have discovered, though, is that when a manager of a school makes the statement that her/his school has no space, she/he is implicitly saying that the performance of the school is hampered by the school having no space.
Teachers, too, imply that their performance and by extension that of their school is negatively impacted by space, this time, too much space. A school having too much space becomes an issue when the teaching space is dispersed among multiple campuses; or there are great distances between the buildings, for example, without there being adequate transit points from site to site or between buildings. This situation is aggravated during any season, rainy or otherwise, when teachers and students have to get from one point on the campus to another in order to meet the requirements of scheduling. If an hour long class is concluded at 10 a.m. and another is scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. this is a problem if there is rain, if it is too hot and just because of the distance that the teacher has to negotiate. In my mind, there is a simple solution to this problem.

From some managers of schools, therefore, I have learnt that space is limited and limiting. From some teachers I have learnt that space is expansive but limiting.
These managers of schools and teachers are concerned about the space of their schools and the extent to which it allows for effective action. However, managers of schools and teachers should also be aware that the space of the school is a site of interactions and that the nature of the space in which the schools operate may determine the nature and quality of the interactions that take place in these spaces.

Managers of schools should also realise that they are expected to manoeuvre within the spaces in which they operate. And, in their manoeuvring they should keep in mind the ideal of the education that their schools “ought” to provide as dictated by policy, while they manipulate the reality in which they work to come as close as possible to this ideal.
They should keep Lefebvre’s analysis of the representational spaces close at hand because it opens up for them an understanding of the system’s expectations of them. It is only when they understand the aims and rationale of the environments in which they operate will they be able to define their roles in their environments and be able to present cogent arguments for change as well as devise strategies to effect change.

Photo above courtesy of pixabay.com

Monday, 2 December 2013

Understanding the environments in which schools operate (part 5): The evolving technological environment


Before I explain why managers of schools should seek to constantly develop their understanding of the technological environment, I will outline what I mean by the technological environment.

The technological environment refers to a space that is defined by the technologies that proliferate there. Technologies, here, refer to the tools/methods that societies are now using to manipulate nature and each other for gain.
In this light, the technological environment of the school referred to here, means the tools/methods which are available in the space in which schools operate and to which the schools have access and which can help those in the school community – managers, administrators, teaching staff and students – to increase their productivity, create knowledge and substantially enhance communication and the work of the school.

The technological environment is dynamic. If we travel vicariously through history we will pass through stages of civilisation where different technologies predominate. For example, we will see the use of stone, copper and bronze, iron, agricultural and industrial technologies, information and communications technologies (ICT) among others. Today’s civilisation is in the era where ICTs predominate.
The ICTs which are available today to the managers of schools include, but are not limited to, traditional telephones, smart phones and other cellular phones and, in the midst of all these ICTs, there is the computer which has made possible a wide range of modes of communication along with its other uses.

Proponents of the use of ICTs believe that these technologies have a number of benefits for the users. For example, the “experts” believe that the use of ICTs by countries will significantly increase their productivity. In their latest ranking of countries according to their technology readiness, that is, countries embracing the use of Information Technology, the Global Information Technology Report (GITR, 2013) ranks Jamaica eighty fifth out of one hundred and forty four countries. Countries’ rankings are based “on their capacity to exploit the opportunities offered by the digital age” and also “on a broad range of indicators from Internet access and adult literacy to mobile phone subscriptions” among other indicators.  

This report has claimed that the use of digital technology, for example, is positively linked to economic growth, and has the potential to drastically reduce poverty among other touted benefits. Thus, the lag of Jamaica and countries in much of the developing world in embracing technology is seen as negatively impacting these countries’ development. (http://www.weforum.org/reports/global-information-technology-report-2013).

To an extent, Jamaica’s lag in fully embracing the use of ICTs is as a result of the timidity of many adults in positions of influence in society to fully engage themselves with these technologies.
For example, there are quite a number of managers of schools who have not learnt to use the computer and are not in any hurry to do so. If they do not use the computer, they do not have access to the internet and to useful resources that are at their finger tips to enhance their perspectives on the job. According to the Internet World Stats Report as of December 2011 (the last time it has updated its figures for Jamaica) just over 55% of Jamaicans use the internet, (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats11.html).  This figure should be a bit higher after two years. But unfortunately, in that over forty percent of Jamaicans who do not use the internet may be found a number of managers of schools.

Many of these managers have smart phones. Without searching for the statistics I can confidently say that more than 90% of school managers have access to these phones. The Blackberry is ubiquitous among them. Unfortunately, not many of these managers of schools use them except to make and receive calls.
Furthermore, some schools have been given technology to enhance learning such as interactive whiteboards. However, these boards are securely locked away, as one teacher says; probably for fear that teachers and students will damage them by using them. This practice by managers of preventing staff from using the technology that organisations donate to schools runs counter to the intentions of the organisations which donate the technology. And, students and teachers lose out on the use of  this technology that could enhance teaching and learning in the school.

Managers of schools need to realise that the use of technology is changing the environment of the school as they once knew it. Many students and some teachers are quite technologically literate. These students and teachers have realised that the ICTs are useful in allowing them to efficiently store, retrieve, transmit and manipulate data along with enhancing communication. And because of the benefits to be derived from using these technologies, they are not afraid to make use of them.  
This is not to say that some managers of schools do not make use of the available ICTs. There are a number of forward thinking managers of schools who are, indeed, into the use of ICTs in their schools to speed up communication and to save on resources such as paper. But, there are some teachers who are not willing to fall in line. A number of teachers in one school are annoyed with their school manager for constantly communicating with them via text messages, emails or with the use of the telephone. They believe in the traditional technology of communicating to staff, that is, via notices on paper posted on the notice board or through meetings. These teachers believe that the style of communication that the manger has adopted is just too impersonal.

Of course, many of these teachers who are complaining are the ones who have not yet come to terms with the many possibilities that abound with the use of ICTs.
Managers of schools need to lead their staff. In this environment where a number of ICTs are proliferating, ICTs that can enhance teaching and learning, speed up communication, improve the responsiveness of the schools to the demands of their stakeholders, improve transparency and accountability as well as productivity, managers of schools should try to harness them to benefit their schools. In order to do this, though, they need to organise workshops to educate their staff and themselves about the technologies that are available to them and their use and ensure that they all make use of them as they carry out the various tasks that they are assigned in their schools.


Picture above courtesy of pixabay.com

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Understanding the environments in which schools operate (Part 4): The political environment


How well do school managers understand the political environment in which they work? They have to begin this process of understanding by examining the nature of power, their perspective of power and the political culture of the environment in which their schools are located.

To understand the nature of power, the school manager must have an understanding of the concept of politics. Because, at the heart of politics is power. If one asks many Jamaicans to attempt a definition of politics, one will get responses such as: Politics is dirty. It’s what the politicians do. It is voting in elections. It is violence and, from these responses, one will realise that the concept connotes lots of negative sentiments. These Jamaicans will tell you that they are not interested in politics, so why do they have to talk about it.
Many managers of schools take this position. Politics is what the politicians do and much of what they do is not good. So, only “special” people engage in it. What many of these managers of schools do not realise is that everyone engages in political activities or will engage in political activities in their lifetime.

From H. D. Lasswell way back in 1936 we get the idea of politics [as] who gets what, when and how, the title of his book. Inherent in this view of politics is the idea of decision making. Governments, families, schools, religious organisations, individuals, businesses – everyone – has limited resources. We have to make a decision in terms of how we allocate these resources, to whom and when. This is no easy task. Some sectors, individuals, projects will get more resources than others. And this will engender conflict. In addition to allocating resources the political process is supposed to manage conflicts. Thus, it is said that politics involves bargaining and compromise.
The education sector is only one of the sectors in the society which is competing for scarce resources. Each sector gets some resources which they allocate to their various responsibilities. Schools get some resources which they allocate to their different responsibilities. And, at each level of the system there will be conflict because there will be the perception that the amount of resources allocated to them is not enough.

The school managers may not get enough resources to do their jobs but their understanding of the external political environment and some of its working should help them to put actions that government makes as regards their schools in perspective.  
Managers of schools should also realise that the decisions that they make daily on the job are political decisions at the micro level, that is within their schools. They make decisions about how to allocate the scarce resources that they get according to their perceived need of each area of their responsibility.

Government has power to make decisions in society because the electorate gives them that power by electing them to office. School managers have power to make decisions as regards their areas of responsibilities because they were appointed to do so. What exactly is this power? Power is the ability to participate in decision making but it is also the ability to influence others usually towards accepting values/goals that are deemed to be “good” for society.
What is the perspective of school managers on power? What have they taken from the “theories” of power? Do they share a pluralistic view of power? Do they believe that everyone in the society (or their school community) possesses a measure of power in that they participate or they can participate in decision making if they wish to do so? Do they allow them to participate in decision making?

Or, do school managers hold an elitist view of power?  Do they believe that only individuals in society who possess desirable resources such as education, wealth, eminent positions and so on control power? Do they put themselves in this group?
 Or, do they believe that power is concentrated in the hands of only those who own the means of production? That is, today's business elite.

The elitist and the Marxist views of power privilege only a select group of people in society as controlling power and using it for their benefit. The pluralist view of power privileges everyone in society with possessing power to the extent that they take part in decision making.
So, do school managers see themselves, being the elites that they have become by virtue of their positions, as the sole possessors of power in their organisation to use as they see fit, or do they recognise the inalienable rights of members of staff and students to having a voice?

What managers of schools should realise is that at the heart of politics in democratic society is the idea of bargaining and the arrival at compromise in order to reduce conflicts. If groups have the distinct feeling that they are being marginalised they may take action which runs counter to the “good” of the organisation. Thus, managers of schools have to develop their political skills in dealing with their school community as well as those outside of their school communities.
The individuals within and outside of the school community are steeped in a political culture that’s been fermenting for a number of decades. This political culture refers to the ideas and beliefs that these individuals have about politics and the extent to which these ideas have influenced their lives.

This political culture is evident within the school. It is evident among members of staff and it is evident among students. Many managers of schools in Jamaica are working in environments that are rife with political polarisation. They are working in communities that the ideology of one party or the other dominates. While many members of staff can control their political antagonisms, many students cannot. One student or students expressing political views which are divergent from those held by other students may inadvertently cause conflict as has happened in the past.
Therefore, managers of schools have to develop strategies to keep their schools free of the polarising ideologies of the political culture that members of the school community take to schools with them. And even, those managers of schools who work in environments where political sentiments are restrained need to develop strategies to develop healthy attitudes as regards tolerance of political ideological difference.


Managers of schools, by virtue of their positions, have power. Many of them have not yet examined the nature of the power that they possess. However, they know that they have power.  And this knowledge determines their interactions with their subordinates. Do they exercise a coercive power, an expectation that compliance will be got as soon as they "snap their fingers"? Or do they possess the kind of power that facilitates the development of possibilities? The latter is recommended.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Understanding the environments in which schools operate, Part 3: The economic environment


Long time managers of schools (principals) as well as new managers need to constantly assess the economic environment of the country because the nature of the economic environment will determine the amount of resources that government, through the Ministry of Education, will make available to their schools. And the amount of resources that they get and use efficiently will determine the effectiveness of the school. Today, the economic environment in which schools operate is dire.

In 2009 the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) calculated that if Jamaica’s public debt burden were divided by all members of the population at the time then “each Jamaican would carry a debt burden of US$7,920, roughly three times the average annual income per person” (http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/ourwork/povertyreduction/projects_and_initiatives/projects_jamaica-debt-exchange/). This situation has not significantly improved since then and will not improve any time soon unless the economy experiences significant growth which it has not done in a very, very long time.
To put this issue in such personal terms the UNDP has brought home to us in a powerful way the severe nature of the country’s indebtedness. The extent of Jamaica’s indebtedness means that after Jamaica services its debt there is not much money left to invest in efforts at development.

Realising the state of the economic environment in the country, long time managers of schools should be engaged in a process of contemplation. They should be asking and finding answers to questions such as the following. How will we manage in this worsening economic environment? What strategies can we devise to offset some of the negative impact of insufficient resources? How can we productively involve the entire community in working with us to resolve some of the difficulties that our schools face? The bottom line is that they should be devising plans on how they can further negotiate their way through the financial challenges that they will continue to face in light of the continuing economic malaise of the country.
Persons who aspire to be managers of schools have to start putting on their thinking caps long before they accept positions as managers in the school system. Their major concern should be how they intend to do their jobs in an environment where resources that they consider vital to their adequately doing their jobs are limited. They need to accept the reality of which they will be a part. And like the long time managers of schools they will have to ask and answer some tough questions as they relate to their possible stewardship of schools.

Having accepted the reality of economic hardship that the country is experiencing, school managers should realise that their students are also impacted by the economic conditions of the country. When the economy shrinks, businesses are impacted and so is employment. According to the Statistical institute of Jamaica (STATIN) the unemployment rate as of July 2013 is 15.4% (http://statinja.gov.jm/).
 
Of the more than 84% of the persons employed many are poor. That is, they have jobs and get paid at intervals. However, their remuneration is not enough to give them a decent standard of living. The managers of schools should realise that the fortunes or lack thereof of parents will impact the extent to which these parents will be able to meet their obligations as regards their children in school. Therefore, they have to devise plans to work with the parents in creative ways to ensure that they meet their obligations to the school. Many principals are already doing this. Others allow themselves to be stressed beyond measure because they say they do not have any resources, the parents don’t pay school fees and they don’t know what to do.
It is true that the amount that the government allocates to schools is not nearly adequate to do all the things that school managers want to do. However, managers of schools must realise that of the amounts that the government manages to scrape together to put a budget together, the education sector is given the biggest share. So, school managers have to work within the constraints imposed on them by the economic hardship that the country is undergoing.

There is no end in sight to this situation any time soon. Jake Johnston (2013) from the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a Washington D. C. Based Think Tank opines in an article, The Multilateral Debt Trap in Jamaica, that a solution to Jamaica’s problem of high indebtedness would be the multilateral agencies writing off Jamaica’s debt to them (http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/jamaica-debt-2013-06.pdf ) .  


We can hope. However, in the meantime, managers of schools as well as managers of every other public institution in society will have to do the best they can with the resources they have.

photo above courtesy of pixabay.com