I’ve attended two classes so far. ED617 is on Leadership at the School Level by Irwin Blumer, and just came home after ED819 on Educational Change by Andy Hargreaves. I’ll talk a little more about the classes later perhaps but for now I just wanted to share some thoughts I had while reflecting on yesterday’s ED617 class…
First of all, I was struck by how values-based the roles and responsibilities of a principal were. I had read about it before and brushed it off as a natural conclusion, but now it struck me as something not just relevant, but absolutely integral to the role of a school leader. I believe Dr Blumer’s comment about how his role was to draw out our personal values and beliefs on education that left an impact on me, as well as Sergiovanni’s declaration that Principalship (and indeed all of education) has a moral purpose by virtue of the unequal relationship between principal and teacher and teacher and student.
With this thought, several more followed.
As much as all of us may sometimes see the ugly side of education and end up feeling rather cynical about the whole system, we cannot afford to allow that cynicism to extend to our own values and beliefs, especially if we are school leaders.
There is a need for all educators to understand that the system, while flawed as it may be, generally means well, and that sometimes, systems don’t work as well as they should because of the lack of understanding of the people running them. A simple example in the Singapore context is that of the Enhanced Performance Management System (EPMS).
The EPMS was designed to be a developmental tool. It makes this very clear. However, over the course of time, some teachers and even some of their supervisors perceive the tool to be one for teacher assessment. In such cases, the system means well, but has been let down by the people working within the system. Yes, the system could be better designed to move away from such dangerous misconceptions, but it is important to stem our own cynicism of the system by noting that it meant well.
It is also important for us to recognize that the people who misunderstand and subsequently misuse the system do not do so maliciously. They may do it out of a genuine misunderstanding of the purpose of the system. They may do it because they feel that this is a special case where the end justifies the means. But they rarely, if ever do so as a consistent means of abusing their position. Supervisors may genuinely feel that the EPMS is a tool for teacher assessment, either because they were not explicitly told otherwise, or even because their experience of the EPMS from their own superiors have suggested as much. Or they may feel that in a particular instance, the EPMS was needed to justify certain actions that the school wanted to take on a teacher. He may have been under undue stress and may have convinced himself that this would be the only time this would happen and that it is only happening because it was the only way for something important to be done. He may struggle with this as he thinks it part of his role even though he himself might be a very moral person. (Which is one important reason to recognize that our role in education IS indeed moral.)
In other words, by and large, people are good, but we also have to recognize that people do and will fail every now and then. The Christians reading this should be very familiar with this concept. If we do not fail, we would not need Christ. However, even non-Christians should recognize that none of us are perfect, so it makes sense to be kind and think kindly of those who fail because that could very well have been, and probably at some time will be, us.
What does this mean in the practical context? Firstly, as individuals, we should always examine ourselves and our own values as these are what will provide greater consistency in our actions and decisions. Secondly, we should all try to think kindly of others and approach our work and others in a positive way. We try to avoid cynicism not because everything is always rosy, but also because there is a greater potential for good to be done when we are not cynical rather than when we are. Finally, it is our responsibility to spread both of these attitudes to whoever we can, through our actions and decisions or through dialogue and discussion. This will inherently improve the whole system that we are working in and hopefully produce in practice the system that we hope for in theory. Those of us in leadership positions have an even greater responsibility to do so.
In summary, three things are important for all educators.
1) Be true to yourself
2) Be kind to others
3) Be an example to all