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.