Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Teacher's Gift - Chapter 1

After writing my first book, "Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world", I quickly started the second, "The Teacher's Gift". However, between much procrastination and life's curve balls, I have just completed this book. It is a book for teachers, aspiring teachers and for everyone who is interested in understanding the nature of the teacher and the job of teaching. This book has twenty chapters and I am sharing one of these chapters with you.

As you will notice, I started at the beginning. Why do teachers do what they do? Here is chapter 1. Read then go here to get your copy.

The Calling

The teacher’s “calling” is that driving need that she has to embark on a course of action as her life's work and that deep-seated belief or acceptance that she has about the “rightness” of that course of action on which she has embarked. And, having embarked on this course of action, the teacher feels a sense of satisfaction in tackling the demands of this course of action, in spite of the challenges.

The course of action that she feels compelled to take, to teach, is her calling. It is from this calling that she hopes to achieve her livelihood.

The teacher believes that teaching is her calling, whether by choice or by circumstance. She knows that in spite of her motivation for entering the teaching profession, she has a responsibility to her students to, among other things, help in guiding them in becoming the kinds of citizens that society, through the policies of government or through its norms and mores, expects them to be. The teacher realises that this is no frivolous task. She embraces this task!

I elicited from a number of teachers in Jamaica, both males and females, their reasons for entering the teaching profession. The following are the reasons that they shared with me:

1. They were born to teach.

Some teachers said that they chose to teach because they were born to teach. They said that from the time that they began to conceive of themselves as persons, they always wanted to teach.

They vividly remembered their early forays into teaching, “playing school”, and being the teacher. Their remembered joy of their youthful teaching experiences are as fresh today as their present joy in teaching.

They said that the calling to teach was something that they could not explain in any other way, except that teaching was something that they were born to do. It was just something that they always knew that they would do. Teaching is something that they do and enjoy doing.

Some retired teachers said that teaching was something that they did and would do again if they had the chance to live their lives all over again. They said that they relished the evidence of their labours in the classroom; their students who, for the most part, had found gainful employment, and who had not forgotten their efforts many, many, years afterwards when they meet in disparate places.

2. Teaching is a family tradition.

Some teachers said that they got their calling to teach from either a parent or parents, or from relatives who were teachers. They observed their parents’ or relatives’ commitment to the job of teaching and were impressed by this commitment. So, when it was time to choose a career, they had no hesitation in choosing teaching.

They said that teaching was a natural progression for them as they were following in the footsteps of many relatives who had been teachers or who were teachers. Teaching for them is therefore a family tradition.

These teachers said that they have had no regrets in choosing teaching as their career path. They enjoy their jobs and, in spite of the challenges inherent in the job, they would not trade it for anything else.

3. Wanting to contribute to the development of society

Some teachers of children said that they got their calling to teach from their desire to make a difference in their society. They believed that teaching had the potential to help them to fulfil this desire. They said that children were the future who would eventually influence events in society; therefore these children needed guidance.

They believe that they are fully equipped to give children this guidance, to help them grow up to be responsible citizens. The calling to the teaching profession, for these teachers, seems to be an innate altruism.

4. The need for a job

Some teachers said that they were called to teaching from expedience. They graduated from college or university. They needed a job. In their job search, they came across job advertisements for teachers. They realised that they were qualified to teach. They applied for and got the job.

They have been teaching ever since and although they have experienced a number of frustrations brought about by working conditions, colleagues, administration and students, on the whole the experience of being a teacher has been rewarding. They have no immediate plans to move into something new.

5. Influence of teachers

Some teachers said that they were called to teaching by a teacher who have had significant influence in their lives. Some teachers said that a teacher recognised their aptitude in a particular subject area and recommended teaching as a viable career path for them. They listened and acted on this bit of advice from their teacher.

Other teachers said that they were so impressed by the competence in teaching shown by a special teacher that they were moved to emulate that teacher. They said that they have been enjoying the experience of being a teacher and would do nothing else.

6. The need for stability

Some teachers said that they entered the teaching profession because of their need for stability and since the job of a teacher is relatively stable, they chose teaching as their career path. They have a job until they retire and upon retirement a guaranteed pension awaits them. This was the response of some teachers in full time employment and who were teaching below the tertiary level.

These teachers said that all they ever wanted from life was a job to meet their day to day needs and one that provided a secure retirement. They chose teaching as the means through which they would achieve this goal.

My Conclusion

Of course, the teacher's calling to teach could have come from any of a number of other sources. For example, lacking the capability to do anything else but teach may be one reason why some teachers choose to teach, but the teachers with whom I spoke did not admit to this motivation. Instead, they gave the reasons outlined above for entering the teaching profession.

From the responses of the teachers with whom I spoke, I drew the following conclusion. The teacher’s calling to teach comes from a number of sources: an internal drive, from the example and/or prodding of significant others, from altruism, from expedience and from the need for stability.

Everyone of us who is in an occupation/profession has responded to a call. What is your motivation for doing the job in which you are engaged? Share your views below.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Lessons about Management and Leadership from the Man in the Street

Life is a great teacher and what is certain, if we have thought about it, is that each day will bring with it a new set of lessons for us, and we do not know in what way these lessons will be packaged, who will deliver them and how they will be delivered.

What we do know is that we have the responsibility to recognise each moment that we share with others as an opportunity to learn something. This "something", we may already be familiar with, but the perspective from which it is being presented to us may be new and, we find that we are being challenged to examine this "something" in new ways.

Recently, I had the pleasure of a chance meeting with the man in the street. He is a cab driver. I needed to get to several destinations as soon as possible and he agreed to transport me to those destinations, for a fee of course.

We made our first stop at one of my target destinations, a business situated in what could be described as an industrial complex. This is a sprawling area with many interconnected businesses, their exterior in different states of repair.

 While we waited on the outside of this place of business for my companion to conclude her business within, (only one person in a group was allowed access into this business), the driver of the taxi began to share the first of many stories that he shared that day. I will only share three of those stories with you.

 Story 1

This gentleman, let us call him Sal, is knowledgeable about, and has an opinion about the politics of this business environment and is not afraid to share this opinion. First, he started a commentary on the business outside of which we were waiting, its owner and its workers.

Then he said, "Tell me the truth about this situation. Look at that," he said, pointing to what appeared to be a late model vehicle of a particular make, parked in front of the business. "This is what she drives and the business has no water. My God, man!" he exclaimed. "She is making a lot of money and she refuses to pay her water bill!" Sal went on to tell me that the lady transported water from her home in the mornings to her place of business. "What happens," Sal wanted to know, "when she travels?"

Apparently this lady, because of the nature of her business, travels regularly, staying away for two to three weeks at a time. Her employees run the business until she returns.

Sal wanted to know how the employees managed without water when the boss travelled and how they accommodated clients who wanted to use the facilities. He shook his head in disbelief at the way this woman chose to run her business and treat her workers.

Sal could not understand how this business owner who appeared to be doing well, having businesses at home and abroad, could treat her workers so shabbily. He told me in all earnestness that if I looked at the shoes and the sun-burnt clothing that her employees wore, I would feel sorry for them.

This complex as I mentioned before is made up of interconnected businesses, but some of them are located at great distances from each other. This business owner expects her workers to do courier duties, so they have to walk from point "a" to several other points on the complex and back to point "a" in all kinds of weather.

Sal had a possible solution to the apparent hardship being faced by the employees. He suggested that the lady could buy a bicycle, for use in the business, to make it easier for the workers to get around. In addition, he suggested that the lady could supply her workers with jeans and t-shirts and cheap sneakers for work purposes. After all, he said, she did not pay them well. Her worker turnover was high. Doing something nice for them would encourage her workers to stay, Sal believed.

Of course, Sal did not voice his concerns about her business practices to that lady.

 Story 2

My companion eventually concluded her business at business place 1 and we moved on to business place 2. At business place 2, Sal and I waited outside because, again, only one person in a group was allowed into this place of business.

We sat on benches on the outside of the walls of this business, battling a dust storm while listening to the curses and shouts of joy of the losers and winners of the game of dominoes that was being played right there beside us, and watching vehicles of all sizes going up and down the dusty street.

It was here that Sal shared his second story. He told me about the "foreign" gentleman who who had migrated to our country. This gentleman started a restaurant business. Sal, who was previously engaged in supplying restaurants with local fruits, made supplies to this gentleman's restaurant. Sal was impressed by the way that this man did business compared to other local business men around him. This man paid for his orders promptly, he paid in cash (something that Sal appreciated) and he was willing to make a small profit in order to move stock (his competitors held out for higher profits).

Sal said that one day he was talking to this gentleman (let's call him Mr. Chin). He said to Mr. Chin, "Treat your workers well! If you treat them well, they will treat you well."

Mr. Chin wanted to know what Sal meant by that statement. He told Mr. Chin that he should give his workers time off from work, within reason, to take care of personal issues that would arise. Also, he told him that instead of dumping the leftover food from his restaurant in the evenings, he should package it and give it to his workers to take home. He offered Mr. Chin much more advice, he said.

Sal said that one day he met Mr. Chin and he was very excited. "Thank you! Thank you!" Sal, Mr Chin said. He couldn't stop beaming. "You see what you told me?" Mr. Chin asked. "That worker!" he exclaimed pointing at a worker. "Very good worker!" Mr. Chin told him how he had helped that worker and how that worker had been paying him back by being extremely industrious. Moreover, Mr. Chin said that all his workers were very good workers. They were at work before he was most mornings and he was never late!

According to Sal, Mr. Chin does not charge him for his meals when he visits his restaurant, even though he is willing to pay.

Mr. Chin's restaurant is doing very well. Furthermore, he has diversified his business and has assured Sal that he will always use the lessons that he has taught him.

Story 3

After this story, we were quiet for a while. I pondered what I had just heard and Sal probably was thinking about the extra business that he was about to get from us and how he was going to ensure that we would be satisfied with his service. (We were very satisfied)

Suddenly, a gentleman disengaged himself from the crowd of men watching the game of dominoes. He crossed to the other side of the street, after engaging some men in witty banter.

"You see that man?" Sal asked, surreptitiously pointing with his chin at the gentleman across the street. This gentleman was leaning on his very nice vehicle. I acknowledged that I had seen him.

"No manners!" Sal said. "Absolutely, no manners!" Sal told me that this man was a (insert title here). He said that by the nature of the man's job, you would expect him to be more courteous than he was. He told me that the man did not believe in waiting in line for anything or following the rules guiding operations at the complex. Sal told me of occasions when other people had decided to stand their ground against him.

Now, this gentleman had had an assistant for fifteen years. One day this assistant came to work, ill. She asked her boss, this gentleman, if she could take the day off from work because she was not feeling well. This man refused. He needed her assistance so she could not leave. The assistant stayed at work that day.

The following day the gentleman did not show up for work. However, he showed up the next day. The assistant overheard this gentleman telling someone that he could not come to work the previous day because he had to take his dog to the vet.

The assistant was livid. She endured at the job for just a little while longer until she found another position. Without giving this gentleman any notice, she walked away.

A brief pause followed this story, while I gazed at the gentleman across the street to see if I could see any tangible proof of his flaws. He looked quite normal, at that moment.

Sal interrupted my contemplation of that gentleman by saying, "Treat people well. If you treat them well, they will treat you well."

Many lessons learnt that day!

Do you treat your workers well? Do you generally treat others well?

Sound off in the comment section below.

And, if you have an interest in reading books that capture the joys and challenges of childhood, of growing up, of "fighting" life, learning lessons and succeeding, check out my book here.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Quality Education Enhancement

I have a deep interest in developments in the education industry. The education industry, like all other established industries, has tried from time to time to reinvent itself. As such, we have witnessed changes in many aspects of educational enterprise. The following list is not exhaustive:

  1. the content of curricula
  2. the methodologies of delivering that content
  3. the job descriptions of teachers
  4. educational technologies
  5. the widespread privatisation of education in some areas
  6. the mode of government provision
  7. And we have seen the introduction of buzz words - the need for better school governance or the need to improve governance structures, or the need for effectiveness, efficiency and economy in the management of schools, or the need to improve the educational outcomes of students. ... you know them! But, for the most part these buzzwords have remained just that - buzz words, because the education industry seems to lack enough of the human resources who are capable of providing committed visionary leadership and who would be able to operationalise these terms to address the problems that policymakers believe need to be addressed with the implementation of their policies. 

Today, the focus in the education industry around the world is on quality education enhancement. This drive seems to be led by multilateral agencies (see UNESCO's website for much information on this subject), and has been accepted by local educational elites. However, I believe that the drive to implement and enhance quality education, however defined, should be guided by a philosophy of education that has its roots in the society that is trying to devise a quality education system for its learners. Afterwards, this country can incorporate elements of other education philosophies that it believes does not run counter to its own into its overall quality education enhancement plan.

However, whatever the guiding force for enhancing quality education, the leaders of this process should realise that this idea of enhancing quality education begs several questions and seek to answer them before they proceed:

  1. What is quality education? 
  2. For whom and to whose benefit is it being implemented?What constitutes quality education and who should determine this?
  3. Who should implement this quality education after it has been decided on and how should it be implemented? 

Let's answer the first two questions. Quality education seems to be education that policy makers employed by the public and private educational enterprises believe will influence learners in a particular way, so that the learners in turn will influence society in a particular way. This "particular way" should be visible in the attitude and behaviours of learners who these policymakers hope will become "good" citizens of their societies, however good citizenship is defined in these societies.

Some societies go further by claiming that the education that they provide for their learners will make them world citizens - a laudable goal since we are living in a globalised world. So, quality education seems to be for all learners in a society and is one that creates "good" citizens.

Now, let's examine question three. What exactly constitutes quality education and who determines this? Quality education seems to be defined by the range of subjects that educational stakeholders within a country and in the case of many countries, educational stakeholders from outside the country believe, that in combination, will create the ideal citizen. So, there are the STEM subjects along with some form of citizenship education, plus any other subjects that are deemed to be important by the policymakers.

Now, having decided on what this quality education looks like, the policymakers put it in the hands of teachers who now have the task of communicating the vision of the policymakers to learners by facilitating and assessing their learning. There are a slew of modern teaching methodologies and assessment tools, ancient and modern, that teachers are expected to draw on. However, the extent to which the teachers will help the policymakers to achieve their goal will be dependent on many factors, not least of which is the extent to which these teachers buy into this vision. So, let's assume that there is buy-in from teachers.

Having put in place quality education, how does a country enhance it? According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary online, "to enhance" means "to increase in value, quality, desirability, attractiveness"; "to heighten"; "to make better". It's obvious then that whoever is doing this enhancement must consider their stakeholders and their reasons for carrying out this enhancement. Having determined this, here are 7 ways that the team that's in charge of this enhancement can go about doing this job.

  1. Since Quality Education Plans are derived from the perceived needs of society, those entrusted with their enhancements should continuously monitor all the changes that are occurring in society to ensure that the education that is being delivered to learners prepare them to cope with these changes. 
  2. Ensure that leadership at all levels of the education system that is committed and buys into the vision of what this quality education is intended to achieve and is capable of converting the vision to measurable goals to guide the process. 
  3. Ensure that the teachers who are entrusted with the task of delivering this quality education and those persons entrusted with the task of guiding the process possess the necessary tools to carry out their jobs. To do this, it will be necessary to offer targeted continuous professional development to (CPD), another buzz word, to these teachers.
  4. Focus on enhancing the critical thinking skills of the leadership, teachers and learners of all ages.
  5. Expand the content of the education offered beyond the village, the town, the city, the country, the region, so as to broaden the perspectives of learners.
  6. Provide learning opportunities for those persons outside of the formal education system who, for whatever reason, didn't manage to grasp much from their earlier schooling, because they have a role to play in their children's learning, a role that they will not be able to play well if they are not literate and numerate.
  7. Reward teachers with cash or kind. It's said that "encouragement sweetens labour". Teachers need reasons to care.

The educational industry at this time is focusing on achieving quality education and continuing to enhance it, and so it should! Some educational institutions at the Micro level - schools and colleges have bought into this idea and are now thinking of ways to enhance what they believe is the quality education that they now provide to learners. I've provided 7 ways that quality education may be enhanced. What would you add to this list? Sound off in the comments section below.

Afterwards, please browse through my book, "Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world" here and share the link with your friends. Thanks much!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Teachers: 6 ways to maintain a "good" relationship with your students

Photo credit:

You are in a noble profession, or so you've been told. Your job is very important. You are charged with moulding young and not so very young minds to accept and nurture what is "good" and so be a credit to society. Because, society needs "good" people if it is to surge upward in its development. 

You're supposed to achieve this noble goal, in spite of whatever resistance/challenge that you meet in the classroom - students who are aggressive, disrespectful, resistant to learning what you are teaching them in the classroom...

Some days the challenge of finding the right balance between allowing your students to be students, thus keeping them always happy, and getting them to perform up to the standard that you know they can perform weighs heavily on you.

I have been a teacher for more than 25 years and I have survived many of these days. On one such day, I thought up this "tongue in cheek" list, intended to stir reflection on the part of the teacher with the aim of improving her relationship with her students and their parents.

So, here are my "tongue in cheek" suggestions for you. I call them 6 ways to maintain a good relationship with your students.
  • Don't ever take offence to anything that your students say or do in the classroom, no matter how tempted you are to do so. For example, you're in a classroom, you outline the work for the session and you set them off to work. One student raises his hand five minutes later and asks, "should we start now?" Just smile and say, "yes, you may start now". Or, if your students swear at you or their classmates, let it slide. Move on. Or, if your students comment on your "assets" or lack of them, don't take offence. Remember, it's their mouth and they have a right to say whatever they want to say.

  • When your students do something really bad, find the gentlest of tones that you possess to point out the inappropriateness of their behaviour to them. Whatever you do, don't show annoyance, don't raise your voice in shock, don't be stern. If you display any behaviour that is not couched in gentleness, you'll be branded as a bad teacher who is using your authority on them.

  • When they give you subpar work, give them all "As" and move on, because if you don't you will be branded as harsh and wanting to stunt their progress and you'll be reported to whoever is in charge to be disciplined, and you don't want that, do you?

  • If students do not submit assignments, give them a "good" grade anyway. Remember that they deserve it.  It's not their fault that the assignment was "too difficult" or that they were "busy" doing anything but school work, or that they gave you the assignment and you must have "lost" it...

  • If your students complain to their parents about you, no matter how frivolous the complaint, when their parents come to confront you at school quickly take responsibility. Then make a note to self, "Beware of what I say to that child from now on!"

  • Don't ever forget to praise your students for any and every kind of behaviour, good or bad. You don't want to hurt their fragile self-esteem. 

If you can't, with good conscience do what is suggested in 1-6, either move out or stay, but if you stay, accept that you'll be forfeiting any chance to maintain a "good" relationship with your students, as defined by some of them and some of their parents. Because you'll be laying down the gauntlet. You'll not be compromising your principles to make them always happy!

So teachers, always recognize that your students will always be students. Many of them do not share  the same urgency as you do to ensure that they get the best possible education that you want to give them. But your job as a teacher is to continue to do the following:

  • Know your students - How can you truly help them if you do not know who they are and what is motivating them?

  • Listen to students - Your students tell you much about themselves each day by what they say and do and how they behave. Hear what they are saying and take appropriate actions.

  • Guide your students - After you get to know your students by listening to them, help them as best you can to chart a way forward to achieving educational success.

You will constantly be tested by your students, no matter how good a teacher you think you are. Therefore, you need to develop strength from the testing to which they subject you to give them the "tough love" that they require to build their educational muscles to take advantage of schooling, no matter how hard they think it is.

About the Author

I am an Educator with many years of experience in the teaching profession. I am also the author of two books, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world and The Teacher's Gift. Look out for more titles as I am in the process of writing other books, exploring a myriad of issues in education and society. In addition, I blog about the art of writing and my books here and about issues in education here
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @JanetteBFuller

Sunday, 7 June 2015

10 Behaviours of the Selfish Colleague

Photo credit:

We are working in an environment in which we often hear the buzz words: team, team building, collaboration and their synonyms.

Working collaboratively as a team to achieve the objectives of the organisation is the ideal that managers in all fields are encouraged to aim for by the experts.

However, in many organisations - educational, non-educational, governmental or non-governmental - there is at least one worker who scoffs at the idea of team work, by actions of course. This worker is a selfish colleague. This colleague exhibits the following behaviours:

1. He/she is not interested in briefing sessions or any other form of staff meeting. This person attends these meetings but when he/she does, he/she stares blankly at nothing, seeming to be in another place at another time, or is obviously annoyed by the goings on, from time to time muttering to him/herself or rolling his/her eyes as the team leader outlines the things that need to be done that day.

This person usually separates him/herself from other colleagues, and if she is               prodded to come closer, she reluctantly does, but stays at the fringe of the group. And this person does not contribute anything to discussions. If this person is pressed for a comment, this person says, in a very clipped, painstakingly polite voice, "It's okay," then his/her eyes wander off into some great void. He/She has nothing else to contribute to the proceedings. The tone of voice says it all.

2. This person wants to be given his/her job description and be left to do the job without interference from anyone, supervisor or colleagues. As long as he/she thinks he/she knows what to do, he/she wants to be left alone to do what he/she thinks needs to be done.

3. If this colleague is swamped with work that he/she is doing for the organisation and other colleagues volunteer to help, he/she refuses this help because the work is his/her job and he/she knows what he/she is doing.

This behaviour of this selfish colleague often frustrates other colleagues who cannot complete their work on a timely basis because the completion of their work depends on the completion of the work that the selfish colleague is doing.

4. If he/she is asked to work with a team, he/she is only concerned with the part of the work that he/she has to do, nothing else. He/She carefully does the part of the work that is assigned to him/her and leaves the rest to be done by those colleagues whose responsibility it is to do it. It doesn't matter that some colleagues may have been re-assigned to do tasks that have a direct bearing on the team's activity.

5. He/She doesn't hang out in the same areas in which his/her colleagues hang out. Instead, he/she creates space away from his/her colleagues to revel in his/her own company.

6. He/She likes to direct his/her colleagues in doing their jobs in the way that he/she sees fit, but he/she does not like to be given directions.

7. He/She hates to make mistakes in any aspect of his/her work, but he/she does make mistakes. He/She is not fun to be around when he/she makes mistakes. That is, if someone witnesses the mistake. He/She hates when anyone witnesses his/her mistakes and comments on them. As a result, instead of admitting that he/she has made a mistake he/she tries to fix it, sometimes unsuccessfully, a failure which puts him/her into a deeper funk than that caused by the original mistake.

8. He/She is a pro at ignoring those colleagues and/or clients who in his/her estimation have wronged him/her in some way.

9. He/she does not want to be seen as a slacker, so he/she wants to be directly involved in every aspect of the work in the department in which he/she works. And he/she wants to be told exactly what is going on there as every activity unfolds and exactly what he/she needs to do to assist. If he/she is bypassed, not because he/she is not competent, but because he/she is already engaged in some other activity, he/she feels slighted and until he/she gets over his/her feelings of hurt, he/she looks through the perceived offender whenever they meet. And, he/she finds other creative ways to ignore that offender.

10. Sometimes, this colleague is quite collegial. During these times, he/she likes to be the centre of attention while he/she shares on a wide range of topics that interest him/her. However, he/she, oftentimes, shows scant interest in the stories of others, unless they are ones which allow him/her to dispense his/her wisdom.

The selfish colleague is a challenge to work with, to associate with and to manage. Share your stories of your interactions with the selfish colleague below.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

The school principal as human resource manager

The school principal is employed and given a mandate which is explicit, either being outlined in a job description, or implicit as evidenced by the utterances of the political head of the education system, to raise the performance of his/her school. This usually means that the principal must ensure that the students in his school perform to meet or exceed the national average of performance that students have set.

To ensure that he/she achieves this goal, the principal has to work with a team - senior teachers, teachers, students, administrative and ancillary workers,  parents and other stakeholders achieve his/her goal.

How does the principal do this? He/she has to be a human resource manager. That is, the principal has to devise policies and strategies to motivate the human beings whom he/she manages to work towards contributing to the goal that the education directorate has set for schools generally and his/her school in particular. This is part of the thrust of human resource management, to motivate the people in the organisation to buy into the vision of the organisation and to enthusiastically, for the most part, work toward achieving that vision.

The word motivation is quite loaded because as a practice it requires a number of strategies by the human resource manager/motivator to capture the enthusiasm, the commitment and the effort of workers in order to realise the organisation's vision.

In the case of the school, the principal in his/her role as human resource manager, has to do the following to motivate stakeholders:

1. He/she has to set clear goals for the school with input from teachers, and other stakeholders and  communicate clearly these goals to the school community, and lead by example as the school community marches towards achieving these goals.

2. He/she needs to praise stakeholders for a job well done, and put mechanisms in place to coach those who are lagging behind into producing acceptable performance

3. He/she needs to take responsibility when he/she has led his/her stakeholders in the wrong direction

4. He/she needs to be fair in his/her dealing with the stakeholders of the school, or has to try to be perceived to be fair

5. He/she has to refrain from maligning his/her staff in the public domain

6. He/she has to genuinely care about what's happening in his/her organisation

7. He/she has to address troublesome issues promptly

Whatever the principal may think, his/her role as principal extends beyond steering the operations of the school from the comforts of his/her office. Since his/her organisation, the school, is made up of human beings, the human resources of the school, he/she has to be actively and positively engaged with them.

If the principal does not actively engage with the key stakeholders of his/her school by motivating them, there is no way that he/she will achieve the goals of the school because:

1. Teachers need recognition, respect and encouragement and a sense of inclusion before they are willing to exert themselves for the school.

2. Students need to feel that the teachers care about their success and are doing everything to ensure their success before they exert the effort to raise their levels of performance. Therefore,  if teachers just go through the motions,  students will, too.

3. Many parents need to feel that they are a part of the school community before they extend any support to the school.

Therefore, the principal needs to understand the needs of the stakeholders with whom he/she works, the triggers which cause their resentment and therefore their lack of interest in the organisation, that is, he/she needs to understand his/her human resource function in the organisation.

If he/she chooses not to make the effort to understand and positively connect with the people with whom he/she works, he/she will have a very difficult job achieving his/her vision for the school, assuming that he/she has one.

Do you believe that the principal should concern him/herself with issues of human resource management?

Please feel free to share your views on this article in the comments section below and, afterwards, feel free to browse through the other articles on the blog. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Lessons for education everywhere

I watched about five minutes of the recent Oscars presentation on television, not because it wasn't a good show but because I had things to do that I considered to be more important than watching the spectacle.

In the five minutes or so that I watched, I learnt much, not from what was going on on-stage, but from my viewing companions. From them, I learnt the names of some of the guests in the audience, I learnt about the actors who were nominated in the category of "Best Supporting Actor" and I learnt about my companions' opinions of the movies and actors nominated in this category, as well as their views on who should win and why they should win.

This was information that was new to me since I cursorily follow the goings-on of pop culture. In five minutes, I got a lesson on an element of pop culture. From this lesson, I came to a realisation about the process of learning in schools, colleges and universities and all other places in which learning takes place.

We have both young and adult learners who find educational institutions to be dull places, places that sap their joy when they would've preferred to be anywhere else but in the classroom. Many young learners seem to lack a purpose for being in school, so parents and teachers can preach all they want, this preaching will have very little impact because these young learners can't see the point of absorbing all the knowledge that they are forced to learn. Likewise, there are some adult learners who, although they know why they are back in the classroom, cannot see the point of absorbing all the knowledge that they are expected to learn.

What is missing here? From my five minutes of watching the Oscars, I've come up with some missing links in the teaching/learning process. These links do not represent novel ideas, since I'm sure eminent educators and scholars have already articulated these ideas, but I think that they're worth repeating here.

Before I do this though, I'll digress.

The onus has always been on educators to make the contents of education relevant to learners. I'm using the word, "relevant" according its usage by posters in the entertainment blogosphere, but unlike these bloggers who have dismissed some entertainers as not being relevant, I wouldn't dismiss any knowledge out of hand.

From my perusal of a few blogs on elements of pop culture, I've realised that the word "relevant" in those circles is being used to mean "current", "now", "happening". Thus, contributors to these blogs often refer to some singers and actors as not being relevant today. From this usage of the word, I get the sense that these bloggers are saying that these people have "passed their expiration dates" according to some standard set by them and no doubt, some others.

Is this how learners perceive the knowledge that educators dispense in the classroom, that "it has passed its expiration date", it's old, it's useless, it's irrelevant, it's dated? And, if this is how they perceive the knowledge that they are expected to glean from their schooling, how do educators change this perception?

Many of us would agree that for educators to make knowledge relevant, they must show students how it is useful to their lives, now. Many young learners can't yet begin to fathom a future; older learners may appreciate the future usefulness of the knowledge to which they're being exposed, but they want to know how it will benefit them, now. So, educators need to package the knowledge that they're helping their learners to come to grips with in a way that they'll appreciate its value, now.

Back to the Oscars

Now, let's get back to the Oscars. The Oscars is current, it's happening, it's now. It's exciting. People are drawn to it. It stimulates discussion.

The reaction of my viewing companions to the Oscars caused me to think about classroom learning. These are some of the lessons that I learnt.

To help learners to start discussions about what they are learning, educators need to teach their students how to learn. They can start by doing the following:

  • Help their learners to acquire the facts of the content that they're presenting to them

Those who are interested in the Oscars know the time of the year that Oscars are presented, they know the movies and actors who've been nominated for awards, they know other movies and actors who could have been nominated for awards, they know the purpose of the awards... They know the facts pertaining to the Oscars. They know these facts because of their interest in this award show, an interest that has been cultivated by the use of the mass media by the invested parties in this award to incessantly, and creatively sell the virtues of these awards to the populace.

  • Educators need to continue to find creative ways to introduce the facts of their subjects to their students. If students do not respond to one strategy, they need to find others.

Having helped their students to acquire the facts of their subjects, educators should ensure that students understand the facts. One way to help them do this is to have them produce these facts in their own words and in their own actions. If students cannot do this, they have not yet grasped an understanding of these facts.

My Oscars watching companions were able to present the facts of the Oscars to me using their own words, and I understood.

After students have acquired the facts of the elements of their subjects and they have demonstrated an understanding of these, educators should show them how to apply their new knowledge. That is, teach them how to use their new knowledge - to solve problems, for example, whether it's a mathematical problem, a legal problem, a teaching problem, problems related to the subject matter in class, but also problems related to their real world experiences.

My Oscar viewing companions could apply their knowledge of the Oscars by speculating on the possible responses of the media to what they considered to be the questionable fashion choices of some of the attendees to the ceremony, by commenting on the misuse of time by some of the recipients of awards and so on.

  • Finally, educators should, by example, help their students to acquire other higher order skills such as analysing and evaluating. They do this by introducing to their students to all the rubric that is used to do this analysing and evaluating and explain the meaning of each. They should not assume that their students know what they are talking about or that their students are old enough to figure things out for themselves.

I didn't stick around to discover whether my viewing companions had mastered these higher level skills, but I suspect that they have. I'm sure that they spent much time after the ceremony tearing it apart, comparing this year's ceremony with previous years', critiquing elements of the ceremony and so on.

The big lesson for Education from the Oscars?

Educators spend much time trying to help students to develop their domains of learning as per Bloom's Taxonomy. However, many students have already mastered these, but only in talking about what's interesting to them.

Educators have their work cut out to get students to bring this level of enthusiasm and understanding to writing about and discussing the elements of the subjects to which they introduce them in the classroom.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Teacher and Professionalism

Many of us who work in "white collar" jobs, jobs which require us to work primary with our minds, not our hands as manual labourers do, consider ourselves to be professionals.

In a previous article, I provided the essence of the concept of professionalism. From my research,  I realised that the concept has several components: knowledge, skills, behavioural and an official component through the licensing of practitioners in their various vocations.

However, I have noticed that it is the behavioural or normative component of professionalism with which we who consider ourselves to be professionals are obsessed.

Thus, we should dress professionally. Dressing professionally, I'm sure, means different things in different societies. But among many teachers in a number of Western societies,  dressing professionally means wearing suits or other pieces of clothing that are conservative and which cover much of the body that we believe will provide distractions to students if these parts of the body are emphasised in any way.

Many teachers and other members of society also believe that the professional should be well groomed from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet in what is considered to be appropriate professional dress in society at particular points in time. Teachers who do not conform to the ideal of what is considered to be appropriate professional dress are described as being unprofessional.  This is a serious indictment on teachers who do not conform to the standards of appropriateness for professional dress.

Furthermore, the teacher's professionalism seems to be also determined by his/her speech in certain contexts, I suppose. It would seem that teachers are allowed to be "loose" in speech in the confines of their homes or with friends or with (non-teachers?) But once the teacher is with students (this is understandable) or in a group of teachers, the teacher's use of language must conform to the standards of appropriateness that are set by someone for the use of language in professional settings.

As an illustration, some time ago I decided to participate in a group discussion on an online forum made up of teachers. The discussion was lively and people expressed their various expressions of disgust at the trigger for the discussion, as well as for the opinions of others.

I can't remember what was being discussed but it had something to do with what someone considered to be unprofessional. I weighed in and encouraged the group members not to get their "panties in a knot" over the issue, because everything has to be understood in context or something to that effect.

Now this expression is a British idiom which means that one should not get overly excited or irritable about something (that is really minor). In the context in which I used this term, my group members could have interpreted it as an attempt to silence them, which was not my intention at all. I just wanted them to calm down and view the issue as objectively as possible, being cultural relativists, instead of being hell bent on viewing the issue only through the lens of their own culture.

My comment was ignored by all, except for one group member who decided to give me a lecture on professionalism. We were professionals, she said. We should, therefore, watch our language in the group.  And, would I use that expression if I were in a group of professionals in a large conference room. I assured her that I would.

So, from my every day encounter with some teaching professionals, I have been getting the layperson's, that is the teacher's version of professionalism. It is one in which the teacher dresses "appropriately" as dictated by someone and it is using the "right" words when engaging with "professionals".

However, we professional teachers ought not to forget the other components of professionalism. We should not be content with only what we have been taught in college. We should be willing to explore the knowledge within our field, as well as knowledge outside of our field, and we should be willing to go much farther than our societies in our knowledge exploration. We should also be willing to develop and hone the skills that make us experts in our fields. If we must be licensed, we should seek to be licensed.

But, most of all, we should exercise our thinking skills, often.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The future of teachers in the classroom in developing countries

The change in the educational landscape with the most far reaching effects is the adoption and use of Information and Communication Technologies in classrooms. Of course, these effects may be more visible in the developed world than in the developing world, which for the obvious reason, are lagging behind the developed world in the wide scale adoption and use of technology in the classroom.

Michael Godsey in an article in The Atlantic asks the question: When kids can get their lessons from the Internet, what's left for classroom instructors to do? In this article, he presents his vision of the future of education and the role of the teacher in his envisioned future educational landscape. Read God set's article here.

For many teachers today, their role in the classroom is unambiguous. They see their role in the following light:

  • to physically attend school each day
  • to prepare lessons before hand
  • to deliver these lessons face to face to their students,
  • to assess their students' learning, mostly through tests,
  • to mark hundreds of books and/or papers daily
  • to do routine administrative tasks like marking registers and updating grade books
  • to meet with parents at least once a year
  • to interact with their peers, go home, then return to do it all over again the next day, week, year
    This has been the routine of many teachers over the years and many of them are satisfied with this routine.

    Godsey, however, speculates  that in the very near future, the role of the teacher may be severely marginalised. This is likely since:
  • knowledge via the Internet is at students' fingertips and
    • because for profit companies have assumed some of the roles of the teachers like creating lesson plans and other teaching resources, as well as delivering content on either the many Massive Online Open Courses platforms (MOOCs) or by way of any of the other platforms that online providers of education have been using to provide education to students from the high school to the college level,
    So, Godsey envisions the typical future classroom in the (US?). This classroom may have a giant screen where lessons are beamed to the students, incorporating interactive technologies. The students will watch these lessons and then a teacher may be employed to guide them to complete the learning tasks.

    Or, what many teachers may see as an untenable situation may unfold. Instead of a teacher in the classroom, there may only be a technical person fulfilling the role of the teacher, but who comes with a much lower price tag.

    What would have caused this gentleman to envisage this scenario? He has been watching the technological developments in the educational landscape, led by private enterprises which have seized, and are seizing opportunities to profit from what may be described as the deregulation of the education sector in many societies, especially in a number of developed societies.

    As mentioned before, there are companies that specialise in providing content for the clasroom. This content comes in many forms, but one is the mass production of lesson plans on every subject. Teachers can, and have been visiting these sites to download lesson plans free or for a minimal fee.

    In addition, there are companies that have specialised in creating and/or managing schools, and their reach has extended outside of the developed world.

    Moreover, there are companies that provide all the functions that the teachers now provide on virtual platforms.

    Most importantly, governments have been endorsing these providers to provide education to their populace at almost all levels of the education system (kindergarten seems to be exempt at this time). But, what may stir up some alarm in teachers is that the public education system has joined the party. Godsey provides statistics to show the increased number of high school students in the USA who have been taking online courses as part of their course of study in high school. This number is expected to rise.

    Are there any lessons here for teachers in developing countries? There are many. The problem is that many of us in developing countries do not take a long term view of events. It is only when they catch up with us that we begin to react.

    Is there a possibility that the job of the teacher in developing countries will be threatened in the next twenty years or so? There is the distinct possibility. Donor agencies and other philanthropic organisations will lead the way for the education systems in developing countries to climb on the virtual schools bandwagon by donating the tools and providing the training, but we know how that will work out, unless there are some serious changes in our modes of operating.

    One thing is clear, though. Technology is changing the way that we operate in many, if not all sectors of society, and it has been playing a significant role in our homes - think our "smart" televisions and other "smart" appliances.

    It is affecting the way that schools operate. The role of the teacher is already being influenced with the introduction of new teaching methodologies - from flipped classrooms, blended learning, project based learning and so on (Read Godsey's article).

    To what extent have we in the developing world been experimenting with the new educational technologies? The future impact on teachers is yet to be determined, but teachers should keep their eyes, ears and minds open to what is happening in the world of education at home and abroad. They don't want to be caught off guard. As, Godsey suggests, teachers and their unions need to rouse themselves from their state of complacency

    Join the conversation! Share your thoughts on this issue in the comments section below.

    Sunday, 29 March 2015

    The School and Society

    Education officials question the quality of the output from the schools, colleges and universities. They also take issue with the quality of the teachers in some of these places of learning and their ability to effect learning in students.

    The business community questions the quality of the output from the schools, colleges and universities. Members of this community also take issue with the quality of the teachers and their ability to effect the kind of learning that they would like to see students exhibit.

    Teachers question the ability of some of their students to learn as well as their motivation to learn. In addition, they question the role of parents in their children's learning. They also take issue with government's provision to the education sector.

    Parents see their children as the smartest and most capable students who have ever graced the walls, virtual or otherwise, of classrooms. Therefore, they believe that their children can learn much and if they do not, it is the teachers' fault.

    Many students are content with their educational performance in their schools, colleges and universities and are wondering what all the fuss that is being made by education officials, the business community, their teachers and their parents is all about. Meanwhile, some students blame their teachers for their unsatisfactory performance.

    Other members of society, people who occupy specific geographical spaces and share a culture, also take issue with the output from the schools, colleges and universities. They blame either the teachers or the government or parents or the communities that are home to students or the students or all of the above.

    While the performance of students in the education system is a main priority of certain groups and individuals in society, they have other concerns on their long list of priorities with regard to the education system. Their list is made up of what they see as problems in the education system for which they want solutions - now! For example, they are concerned about the following:

    • Violence in schools - all types of violence
    • Indiscipline. That is, the disrespect displayed by students to each other, to adults, to authority figures, to things...
    • Teachers' wardrobe and behaviour
    • Teachers'/students' relationships
    • Amount of resources provided by the government for schools
    • Social class and its effects on students' performance in school, as well as the treatment of students as a result of their social status...

    Their list of concerns is a long one.

    Education officials from government agencies are calling on schools - the Heads of schools, colleges and universities - to take steps to eradicate those identified problems, that are internal ones, from their campuses by using all "appropriate" and "approved" means at their disposal.

    The students (at the lower levels of the education system) are precious, they say. They are the future of society so should be properly trained (Do we still talk about socialising children into society?) If we still do, then being properly trained means socialisation (into what society at a point in time deems to be positive values) i.e. preparing them to take their roles (whatever these are) in society. And this is exactly what the universities and colleges ought to do as well, according to the education officials.

    But, we should never forget that before the students, the teachers, the administrative and ancillary staff enter, physically or virtually, through the gates of the school, they are already being shaped by a society which is an extension of the family relationships, the religious communities, the friendship groups, the political groups, the other social groups, the electronic media and other media. They are being shaped by all the relations that are at play in the geographical spaces in which they have their being.

    As a result of this "shaping" that members of the school community undergo, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, when they enter this learning space, the school, they bring with them their own values, beliefs - their way of being. Instead of this mix being put into a melting pot and combined, hopefully creating something better, tolerance perhaps, all these facets of the immediate school community are kept separate. But when they accidentally or intentionally bump into each other, conflict ensues. This conflict mirrors exactly what happens in the society outside of the borders of the school.

    The school and the society are therefore one and the same.

    So those persons who refer to the school as a microcosm of society are quite right. The school is society, a tiny replica. The problems that are identified in the schools are the same problems that are existent in the wider society. That is, in the home, in religious groups, in the communities, in the economic and political spheres of society - in the country as a whole.

    The school leaders in schools labeled as "worst" schools (or otherwise negatively labeled) who manage to solve the problems identified in their schools - schools that are grappling with the unsatisfactory performance of teachers, students and other members of staff; indiscipline, violence and so on - and who manage to increase the satisfaction levels of staff and students in their schools, their level of performance thus the quality of their output, the satisfaction levels of members of the wider community in which schools are sited, thus their tangible support for the school, have earned the right to take on the rigors of managing their countries. Because it is these same "problems" - "problems" in the wider society which evolve at different points in time and which have persisted over time - that successive leaders of their countries tried and failed to solve during their tenure in office.

    The school does, indeed, have a role to play in "socialising" members of society into society's norms and values. But, does the school have a role to create new norms and values in their students? And if they do, whose values?

    When we talk about the role of the school in society, we should remember that the school does not operate in a vacuum.  It is only one small part of the fabric of society. Thus, society is the school and the school is society.

    As usual, please leave a comment in the comments section below. In addition, please visit to get a copy of my book. Read it and leave your impressions in the review section.

    Sunday, 15 February 2015

    Honesty is the best policy, is that so? (UPDATED)

    The word honesty denotes truthfulness, integrity – positive, admirable values. Should honesty always be a guiding principle in our lives?

    A student, several years ago, in responding to the essay topic: Honesty is the best policy opined that honesty is not always the best policy. She illustrated her answer with the example of examinations.

    According to her, a person will find herself/himself in situations when she/he has to cheat. If passing an examination well meant that a person would get into the best schools, and getting into the best schools would determine that person's successful future, (a belief in her culture) then it would be all right to cheat.

    She did not examine the consequences that a person could likely face if caught. The potential benefit of cheating, to her, it would seem, far exceeded the costs.

    The nature of the environments in which we work

    We are working in environments in which governments and businesses have been trying to cement what is often referred to as a "managerialist" culture, one which supports the view that all (or most?) of the operations in organisations should be subject to some measurable criteria.

    As such, many of us are working in organisations towards achieving set targets that we have been given or which we have set for ourselves, targets which are not only aimed at improving the bottom line of the organisations in which we work, but are also aimed at achieving accountability in these organisations. Accountability is one of the hallmarks of this culture.

    In many societies, outside the "developed world"  a "business as usual" attitude has, for a long time, imbued every facet of life.

    This "new" idea of managing that "the powers that be," especially in government agencies have been adopting, has been causing stress. That is, the idea of improving the efficiency, effectiveness, economy, responsiveness and the levels of accountability of everyone in organisations, among the other buzzwords that are associated with the new ideologies that are being espoused of managing organisations.

    The adoption of these management ideologies by "the powers that be" in organisations has been causing much stress on everyone who works in these organisations.

    Those who manage the change are also experiencing stress.

    Those who are entrusted with conceptualizing, planning, implementing and operationalising the change are experiencing stress - everyone who works in these organisations is experiencing stress.

    What is the real cause of this stress?

    These are only some of the triggers of stress in this situation. You may add to this list.
    • The fear of being found out, that we lack the competence that we need to do the job that we have been called on to do, or the fear of losing the privileged niche that we have carved out for ourselves in the organisation. 
    • A rebellion against accountability. We do not want to take responsibility for our work/actions. We have got used to "passing the buck".
    • Anger at the loss of autonomy that we believe that we possessed before the change. We believe that we are not trusted. We believe that the "powers that  be" are treating us like children. We are, therefore, very angry. 
    • Distrust at the new direction that we are being  "forced" to take and/or distrust of the ability of our supervisors to objectively manage the change.
    The response to this stress?

    Since, in some organisations, failure to meet the targets that have been set, oftentimes, has dire consequences, some of us have been innovating. We have been willing to use any means necessary, orthodox or unorthodox, to get the job done.

    But, there are consequences for every action as some of us have been finding out - the hard way.

    To what extent do you take the adage, "honesty is the best policy" seriously?

    Sunday, 8 February 2015

    Are you a professional?

    I am hearing the resounding "yes" of most of you who are reading this article. "Of course we are professionals!"

    But, what exactly makes you a professional?

    I can still hear you. Your responses are many and varied. Some of your responses are coherent. You know exactly why you are a professional. Some of your responses are incoherent. You believe that you are a professional but you are finding it difficult to articulate your reasons for your belief.

    A number of scholars in many fields - Education, Business,  Government, among others - for example, Donald Schon and M. Noordegraaf who have engaged with the study of professionalism, have suggested, among other things, that there are some key components of professionalism. These components are as follows:
    • There is a knowledge component. That is, the area in which one claims to be a professional has some specific knowledge associated with it. Having gained the knowledge associated with our areas of interest, knowledge acquired through many years of study, we take a step towards being professionals. 
    • There is a skills component. That is, the expertise that we have developed in our chosen fields, our ability to manipulate the knowledge that we possess, then applying it to solving the problems that we will be called on to solve in the fields in which we have settled. 
    • There is a collaborative component. That is, we in our different fields have come together to form groups or associations which we give the authority to take action in our "best interest". Our "best interest" like our responses to the question of what makes us a professional are many and varied. However, if we just delve into the operations of our "professional" organisations that are related to our areas of work, we will get some insight into what they think is best for us or what we have told them is best for us. In addition, they are usually responsible for licensing our practice. 
    • There is a behavioural component. That is, there is usually a document referred to as a Code of Conduct that our professional organisations develop which sets out the prescribed behavioral norms that we the members ought to display. 

    The scholars have spoken, but why do you believe that you are a professional?
    • Do you believe that you are a professional because you have ticked all the above boxes? That is, you have spent years and years of schooling and are certified in your area of study, you have developed expertise in this area of your study, you are a licensed member of your professional organisation and you adhere to the Code of Conduct. 
    • Do you privilege one or more of the components of professionalism - either the behavioural or knowledge and expertise or membership of your professional organisation to determine your professional status?
    • Do you believe that you are a professional because you have realised that professionalism may be used as a strategy to negotiate your way to whatever end that you have in mind?
    So, why are you a professional and is it important to be a professional?

    Sound off in the comments section below.

    Sunday, 1 February 2015

    New year, same challenges in the education sector, Part 6

    Performance of the administrative staff

    One of the challenges that the education system faces is that of getting the administrative staff to raise its levels of performance. The administrative staff in schools has very important roles to play in the education system. They, like the principals and teachers, have important roles to play in helping schools achieve their objectives. They do the following:

    • Provide Administrative Support - First, they provide administrative support to the principals of schools, but they also provide 'policy support' in disseminating the articulated visions of principals for their schools. They do this dissemination of the visions of principals for their schools literally or figuratively through their interactions with all categories of staff, students, parents and the wider community.

    • Manage Perception - Second, since they, more often than not, are the first link between the school and the wider community - parents, businesses,  civic groups among other such groups - they influence the type of perceptions of their schools that this community will form. Therefore,  the quality of their interactions with this community whether by telephone, in writing or in face to face interactions is going to determine the quality of the relationships that these groups will initially forge with the schools.

    Some members of the administrative staff in a number of schools do not seem to recognise the importance of their roles in their schools. As a result they, at times, display unacceptable behaviour to stakeholders.

    • Manage Resources - The administrative staff is responsible for managing the resources of the schools in which they work. The resources that they manage are many and varied - the plant and its contents, the money, students' records, books and other learning resources, the communication between the school and the wider community among other resources.

    They need to be fastidious in the management of these resources because poor management of these resources will negatively impact their schools in terms of having to contend with:

    •  'broken down plants in which the school community is forced to work

    •  reduced sums of money with which the schools have to work, which means fewer needs being met,  lawsuits and general embarrassment

    •  the labels of being incompetent and careless that frustrated stakeholders will affix to schools when they are not quick to respond to their needs and/or are unable to respond to their needs because records are missing or misplaced, for example

    •  frustrated and/or disinterested students

    •  ill-will from the community.

    To improve the performance of administrative staff in their interactions with stakeholders of schools, they ought to be trained and monitored and implored to be professional when they are interacting with this community. A number of schools have been hosting seminars on customer service for all members of staff. However, in more than a few instances, some members of staff still refuse to display any of the 'best practices' with respect to their jobs to which they have been introduced in these seminars.

    However, the management of schools, that is committed to creating a performance oriented culture in their schools, should realise that this goal is a work in progress that will only come to fruition through committed leadership which is evident in the examples that it sets.

    I am an Educator with many years of experience in the teaching profession. I am also the author of two books, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world and The Teacher's Gift. Look out for more titles as I am in the process of writing other books, exploring a myriad of issues in education and society. In addition, I blog about the art of writing and my books here.

    Feel free to follow me on Twitter @JanetteBFuller

    Sunday, 25 January 2015

    New year, same challenges in the education sector, Part 5

    Performance of teachers
    The major challenge with which teachers continue to grapple in the education system is that of helping their students to raise their levels of performance. This is a daunting challenge which has to do with the nature of the students in many classrooms.

    In many classrooms, teachers will discover that there are students of mixed abilities and temperaments. For example, in one classroom teachers may discover that they have students who are quite enthusiastic about learning. These students actively participate in class activities and they complete every homework assignment.

    However, the teachers may also discover that they have students in their classrooms who seem to have decided that schooling is not for them. They come to school, they find their own space in the classroom and they conduct their own 'lessons' surrounding the things in which they have an interest - pop culture, relationships, games, their plans for that day or the weekend among their other interests - all this while the teachers are trying to impart the prescribed curriculum.

    The teachers may also discover that there are students in their classes who are functioning below their grade levels and, therefore, have not been able to keep up with the rest of the class.

    What do teachers do in situations like these? They may be tempted to focus their attention and their lessons on those students who have demonstrated an interest in learning. After all, they may tell themselves, they can't 'make bread out of stones'.

    Doing this, though, will not aid their cause - that of helping their students to improve their levels of performance - a cause which they have to adopt by default as it is one that is being championed by the Ministry of Education.

    So, how do teachers manage to get the desired result of improved performance from their students? First, they will have to find a methodology or some methodologies to reconcile students' attitude to learning and students' abilities in the classroom.

    How do they do this?

    • Those teachers who are products of teachers' colleges or those who have done training in education will need to rummage among all the disparate knowledge that they gleaned from their training for clues on how to effect this reconciliation.

    • In addition,  these teachers will have to draw on their own resourcefulness by using the information about their students that they collect from their observations of them in and outside of the classroom setting to frame strategies to elicit from all their students the enthusiasm, the effort and the perseverance toward learning.

    This is, indeed, a challenge  but it is one that all teachers will have to try to overcome in an attempt to help their students to raise their levels of performance.

    Teachers will have realised that in spite of their best efforts, all students in their classes will not achieve the heights of educational performance. But, their intention should be to help all of their students to achieve some form of educational growth by being in their classes.

    Read part 6 here.

    I am an Educator with many years of experience in the teaching profession. I am also the author of two books, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world and The Teacher's Gift. Look out for more titles as I am in the process of writing other books, exploring a myriad of issues in education and society. In addition, I blog about the art of writing and my books here.

    Feel free to follow me on Twitter @JanetteBFuller

    Sunday, 18 January 2015

    New year, same challenges in the education sector, Part 4

    Performance of principals
    What is the major challenge that principals of schools in the education system face in raising the levels of performance in their schools? The major challenge that many of them face is to motivate students, teachers, administrative and ancillary staff to raise their levels of performance. This is a major challenge for principals since they do not all have the same 'winning' personality and level of resources with which to work.

    Students, teachers and other workers take their places in schools knowing quite well the reputation of these schools in terms of their performance and the perception that society has of these schools. For example,  some schools enjoy a good reputation based on any or all of the following: their location in the society, their histories, the reputation of their principals,  the performance of their students on examinations which, in turn, cast the teachers' performance in either a good or a bad light, the support that the schools get from the communities in which they are located, alumni and other well-wishers, among a host of other factors.

    Many of the stakeholders of schools, oftentimes, take their cue for their behaviour from the perception of their schools that is in the public domain. This is evident in the attitude, whether positive or negative, of many students to their schools, teachers, other members of staff, their peers and their lessons.

    This is also evident in the attitude, whether positive or negative, of some of the administrative staff in dealing with students, other members of staff and with their jobs.

    This is evident in the attitude, whether positive or negative, of some teachers to the students and to their jobs in the schools.

    This is evident in the attitude, whether positive or negative, of some of the ancillary staff to students, to staff and to their jobs in the schools.

    This is also evident in the attitude, whether positive or negative, of some members of the communities in which the schools are cited to the schools.

    Therefore, in many cases, if the school holds a high reputation in the community, this is reflected in every area of the school. And, in many cases, if the school holds a low reputation in the society, this is also reflected in every area of the school. What this means is that the general performance of some schools determines how the school is perceived by stakeholders of the school as well as the general public.

    This brings us to the major challenge that principals of schools that are deemed by the powers that be as being under performing face. The principals of schools that have been deemed to require improvement have the challenge to improve the morale of staff, students and the members of the wider school community so that they may all begin to take action to improve their performance, thus the performance of their schools.

    This improved performance will be seen in the increased number of students who pass the requisite examinations that are administered to students.

    This improved performance will be seen in the positive attitude that many students will begin to display to the school personnel as well as to their work in school.

    This improved performance will be seen in the number of competitions, academic and non-academic in which the schools participate and put in a creditable performance.

    This improved performance will be seen in the professionalism of principals and members of staff on the job.

    This improved performance will be seen in the enthusiasm that members of the communities display for the schools.

    This improved performance will be seen in how well the principals use and manage the resources at their disposal.

    This improved performance will be seen in the general aura that surrounds the school.

    But, how do the principals of schools improve the morale of the school community in order to get the improved performance of their schools for which they seek? This is not an easy task, but I will offer three suggestions.

    • First, principals of schools must start by recognising all the members of the school community. This recognition starts with respecting every member of the school community. Principals of schools begin to respect members of this community when they greet them as they traverse the environment of the schools without being prodded and by creating other opportunities to interact with them. They must respect members of the school community by tempering their tone of voice when they interact with them, no matter how aggravated they may be, remembering that they are talking to human beings who are definitely not passive and can find subtle and not so subtle ways to get even. They must respect members of the school community  by asking for and appear to consider the opinions of those persons within the schools who choose to share their opinions. They must respect members of the school community by being fair or appearing to be fair in their decisions.

    • Second, principals of schools must commit themselves to following the protocols that the powers that be have set out to govern the relationships within their schools. If they do not, these principals must prepare themselves for dissent. This dissent will definitely have an impact on the performance of the school because unhappy people do not willingly exert effort.

    • Third, the principals of schools must set the tone for the operation of their schools. They must be willing to have  their presence felt by being seen on the compound by students and staff but, more than being just seen, observers should get a sense that they know what they are about. All of their subsequent interactions with students and staff should reinforce this perception. They must lead my example. While delegation has its benefits, the principals must be willing to establish a firm presence in their schools before they almost permanently disappear from view, leaving others to 'run' the school.

    Many people tend to respond more favourably to the 'big boss' than to the 'lesser bosses'.

    Therefore,  these principals must develop an understanding of the nature of the people they lead in every new organisation that they are called on to lead before they begin to institute any policies. And when they decide to unveil their new policies, they must be gentle and be willing to accept feedback. If they decide to be autocratic leaders, they will find themselves always going against the tide - the tide of dissent from the people they are trying to lead. And where there is this kind of discord, performance is bound to be negatively impacted.

    So, principals of schools that have been deemed to be under performing have their work cut out for them to improve performance in their schools. To have any hope of doing this, they have to be willing to garner the support of the  stakeholders of their schools by showing genuine respect to them, by committing to following the protocols that have been set out to govern relationships in the schools, by making their presence felt in a good way in their schools and by just tapping into their innovativeness for ideas to get the outcomes that they desire.

    Read part 5 here.

    I am an Educator with many years of experience in the teaching profession. I am also the author of two books, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world and The Teacher's Gift. Look out for more titles as I am in the process of writing other books, exploring a myriad of issues in education and society. In addition, I blog about the art of writing and my books here.

    Feel free to follow me on Twitter @JanetteBFuller

    Sunday, 11 January 2015

    New year, same challenges in the education sector, Part 3

    Performance of workers in the Ministry of Education

    The performance of any system depends on the 'proper' functioning of all of its parts. In the case of the education system, its 'proper' functioning depends on the effort that all of its members - the 'parts' of the education system - are willing to exert in completing the tasks to which they are assigned.

    In two previous posts, I have examined the major challenge faced by the education system and the specific challenges faced by the Minister. In this post, I will turn my attention to the workers in the Ministry of education, briefly examining one of the major challenges that they face in being a part of the policy process to improve the performance of the education system, a challenge that will in turn impact the achievement of the desired outcomes from the system.

    One of the major challenges that these workers face is that of getting out of the game of 'passing the buck'. For many workers in government their primary responsibility seems to be that of 'protecting their backs'. For many, this means doing as few things as possible, to avoid giving an account, if it becomes necessary to do so. They do not want to be in any 'mix up' or they do not want anyone to 'call their names', they often say.

    They do not trust each other. They believe that their colleagues are 'up to no good' where they are concerned. Therefore, they spend their working lives primarily manoeuvring their way around or through systems of accountability.

    They do only what they are told to do, exactly as it has always been done. Many of these workers put their initiative into hiding because they believe that if they take action which does not yield a positive result, they will be left all alone, without any support, having to fend for themselves. That is, they will have to give an account, an account that they prefer not to give. So, they continue to 'pass the buck'. If it is not 'their' job in the most obvious sense of the word, it does not get done.

    The bottom line is that they do not want to be blamed for anything that can go wrong in the organisation, or to be called on to give an account of anything that is going on in the organisation. However, their personal ambitions are fully activated. They are interested in advancing in the organisation. They, therefore, take action that will protect their interest in the organisation. That is, they do whatever it takes to preserve their chances to get one of the few promotions that will become available in the organisation. This does not necessarily mean doing a 'good' job as defined by some measure. Longevity which does not involve 'rocking the boat' is often rewarded in these systems

    With the government introducing elements of Managerialism into its functioning, workers are now being forced to take on responsibility, and they are also being called on to be accountable. However, the game is still being played. If one tries to examine the stewardship of these workers, one will find that there is much that many of them are unable to recall.

    Workers in the Ministry of Education, therefore, pose a challenge to the achievement of the outcomes that their department wants from the education system. If these workers are reluctant to fully accept responsibility then they will continue to carry out their functions without being fully invested in them.

    To help the Ministry to achieve its goals for the education system, many of these workers will have to challenge themselves to improve their provision of the services which the Ministry offers to its clients by being more responsive to these clients than they have ever been before.

    They also will have to become more engaged than they have ever been before with the work of the Ministry. To do this, though, they will all have to, in addition, to focusing on realising their personal goals, focus on realising the goals of their organisation as well. And, they will have to be willing to embrace the notion of accountability.

    If the workers in the Ministry of Education are willing to carry on business as usual, the improvement in the performance of the education system for which the Minister hopes, will largely remain an illusion.

    Read part 4 here.

    I am an Educator with many years of experience in the teaching profession. I am also the author of two books, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world and The Teacher's Gift. Look out for more titles as I am in the process of writing other books, exploring a myriad of issues in education and society. In addition, I blog about the art of writing and my books here.

    Feel free to follow me on Twitter @JanetteBFuller