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

Sunday, 4 January 2015

New year, same challenges in the education sector, Part 2

The Minister of Education


Photo courtesy of pixabay.com
 

The major challenge that education systems throughout the world face is that of improving the performance of these systems. The Minister under whose portfolio education falls is tasked with improving this performance. As such she/he has the responsibility to lead the policy development initiatives for this sector, initiatives that they (believe?) will cause improvement in these systems.

The Minister has a slew of policy experts from within and outside of the governmental system from whom to get policy advice. She/he draws on these resources, and let us assume that the Minister seeks the advice of experts who have or have had an intimate relationship with the education system as former or current school managers, teachers, education researchers, education officers, among other such experts.

Having got this critical bit of policy advice for which she/he has searched and found, she/he authorizes the creation of specific policies for the different areas in the education system on which her/his portfolio touches. So, for example, one such policy may be intended to improve the 'educational outcomes' of students at the pre-primary or primary or secondary levels of the education system. For these educational outcomes to be realized, this policy will have to be implemented, monitored and revised when necessary.

The Minister knows this, so she/he authorizes the relevant persons in the Ministry to 'run' with the policy initiatives. The Minister has high hopes that at least some of the changes that she/he has envisioned to improve the education system will be effected during her/his tenure in office. Instead, she/he  eventually realises that those whom she/he has authorised to 'run' with the policy initiatives have barely been crawling.

Challenges faced by the Minister

So, the Minister faces three major challenges to realising his goal of effecting whatever improvements to the education system that she/he deems to be necessary to drive performance:

  • Making Policies Relevant - One challenge is to ensure that policies for the education system are created based on the realities inherent in the system. If the policies that are created for the system are based on the realities of other systems, without major tweaking they are destined for failure or to yield unsatisfactory results.

  • Inspiring Staff - The second challenge that the Minister faces in realising her/his goals for the education system is that of inspiring those whom he leads to take the necessary action to achieve the desired results. This is indeed a challenge, because in education systems where accountability structures are weak, education systems in which people have almost 'bullet proof' employment contracts, education systems in which there is a militant union, and in systems where there is a reluctance to apply disciplinary measures and the employees know this, action or inaction means the same thing.


  • Educating staff - The Minister should not assume that the staff that he inherits knows their job and will do it.  She/he  has to ensure  that those who are tasked with developing policy and implementing policy fully understand the reasons for doing what they do and the benefits to accrue to them and society or sections of society from the policy. Therefore an education campaign targeted at the members of his team is not amiss.
Improvement as defined by the Minister and his advisors will only be achieved if the Minister understands the challenges which come with his job and take action to overcome these challenges. How does she/he overcome the challenges? This is the one million dollar question, the answer to which the Minister has to search, taking into consideration the realities of the environment in which she/he works.



Read part 3 of 'New year, same challenges in the education system' here. Read part 1 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 here.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New year, same challenges in the education sector, Part 1




It is the beginning of a new school year. However, education systems around the world are faced with the same set of challenges that have been dogging them for many years. While, some systems have been making much progress in coping with the challenges that beset them, other systems have been stymied by them.

In this post, I will examine the overarching pervasive challenge with which education systems the world over have been grappling for much of their existence. That is, improving the performance of the education system, a system made up of a number of parts which need to be functioning well to yield the performance that government craves.

Therefore, in a number of subsequent posts I will examine the performance of the Minister of Education, performance of workers in the Ministry of Education, performance of principals, performance of teachers and the performance of the administrative staff.

Improving the performance of the education system

One challenge, and probably the most significant one that all systems have had to grapple, is that of improving the performance of the education system. This primarily means improving the performance of students.

This is a challenge that is thrown out to schools from time to time by Ministers under whose portfolios education rests. This challenge, in many cases, represents the policy position of governments as regards their expectation of the education system.

School administrators react in different ways to this challenge.

Administrators allow constraints to dictate action

Some of them interpret this challenge as one that is intended to put pressure on them and their staff. They point to the quality of the students that they enroll in their schools every year - students who are performing below their grade level, students with multiple disabilities and/or disadvantages, among any other challenges that these students face, and wonder how they are expected to work miracles with their limited resources.

Moreover, these school administrators point to the inability/unwillingness of parents to assist their children with homework or to provide them with the resources that they need to do well in school, thus putting extra pressure on teachers. Furthermore,  they point to the severe levels of resource deficiency in their schools, noting that the government is giving them 'baskets to carry water'.

As a result of these deficiencies, among a longer list of deficiencies in their schools that these administrators manage to cite, they conclude that the government is talking 'foolishness'. So, they go about their business as usual,  doing their best to control the behaviour of their students until they graduate,  while taking pride in the achievements of the few students who, in spite of everything with which they have had to contend at home, at school and in the wider society, have done well.

Some of these students have 'passed' examinations to enter prestigious secondary schools. Some of them have 'passed' exams to enter other secondary schools. Some of them have 'passed' some subjects in the school leaving examinations. And, some students who entered their doors without being able to read are now able to do so. Therefore,  they believe that their schools are performing. They are happy.

Administrators jump over constraints

Other administrators are stirred into action. The government wants improved performances. They will get improved performances. So, they begin to innovate.

Some of these administrators examine the statistics that have been compiled on the performance of their schools. If their schools have been deemed to be performing satisfactorily or better, they continue to do what they have been doing all along, while devising and implementing plans to improve their performance.

If their schools have been deemed to be performing unsatisfactorily, some of these administrators allow their creative juices to flow freely. Their schools have been deemed as being 'low' performing schools based primarily on the performance of their students in external examinations.

How do they improve this situation? Some of them embark on a process of screening. 'From now on,' they tell their staff, 'we'll only allow students who can pass these examinations to sit these examinations.' It does not matter to them that those students who can 'pass' the examinations are only a small number of the cohort.

The fact that some students will be negatively impacted by this decision comes up for discussion in staff meetings but is eventually dismissed. So, they 'send up' to do the examinations only those students who have the potential to 'pass' these examinations. The results are eventually published. Their schools get a significant pass rate. They are now ranked among the top performing schools. They are happy.

Some administrators examine the statistics that have been compiled on the performance of their schools and they, too, are stirred into action. They agree that the performance of their schools need improvement and they believe that it is possible to make this improvement in spite of the challenges that their institutions face. So they too innovate - in a different way.

They manage to communicate their vision of improving the performance of their schools to the entire school community - Boards, community members,  parents, administrative and ancillary staff, students, teachers - in a way that they can understand, and in a way that stir their spirit of cooperation,  instead of their spirit of animosity.

They create a well thought out template for this change. Built into this template are systems of accountability for each stakeholder in the system. Monitoring of the performance of all stakeholders in this system is routine. Improvements to the system take place as a result of this monitoring.

Most important, though, is the leadership from these administrators who lead by example. As a result of their initiative, these administrators, over time, have been seeing a gradual increase in the levels of performance of all stakeholders in the system. Most stakeholders are happy.

The Reality

You can see that the reaction by school administrators to the call by education policy makers to improve the performance of the education system differ.

  • Some administrators are adamant that they are doing the best that they can with the resources that they get and their best is good enough - in their eyes. They do not take seriously anything the policymakers say, because they are living a reality that does not gel with that of education policymakers.


  • Some administrators go about business as usual if their schools have 'passed' at inspection. 'If it is not broken, why fix it?' they ask. 


  • Some administrators 'game' the system to give the policymakers the results that they demand. Having got the 'good' results that were demanded, these administrator bask in their manufactured reality which is divorced from that of the school.


  • Some administrators accept the challenge of policymakers, dig deep in their resourcefulness toolkit and find solutions to improving the performance of students in their schools.


The answer to improving the performance of education systems lies in the response of the administrators who find ways to be effective and efficient, in spite of all the negatives in their schools which they could have allowed to derail their efforts, but didn't. The question now remains: what action will the powers that are in charge of the education systems take to elevate the performance of those administrators who lack the will or the creativity to manage the number 1 aim of schools?


Please read my other posts about challenges in the education system  at the following links:
Part 2 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here
Part 5 here
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