Each school is different and each child in every school is different, a fact that makes the task of making a standard school look pretty impossible. A school leader needs to recognize this fact and embrace it, such that this diversity becomes something to be celebrated and encouraged, rather than feared. While one size cannot fit all, there are surely some things a visionary school leader can do to create an effective school, assuming that effectiveness in a school is primarily to do with creating a learning ecosystem that learners and educators can thrive upon and feed off each other in a harmonious and collaborative manner.
The Right Attitude
All staff members, from the Principal to office Staff need to carry a helpful and correct attitude. This shall pervade through the whole school atmosphere and teachers would exude it to parents as well. Principal should be approachable and teachers should welcome any dialogue with parents. However, it might be more purposeful to set clear guidelines on meeting times and meeting locations. You would not want parents to be walking around during school periods or entering classrooms in session.
The Principal should be open minded and accept new methodologies, fresh and innovative ideas from teachers. A learning mind is needed throughout the school and this attitude has to start from the principal. New and fresh ideas normally come from the periphery and not from the core of the management.
Empower the Staff
Principals should also empower teachers while providing with the necessary support and responsibilities. The staff might make small mistakes but enable them to learn and show them the right way to go about it. An individual who feels empowered and involved in the decision-making process will not only have greater job satisfaction but will also be better able to accept decisions with which they might not agree.
Mix the New with the old
It is possible that old teachers get jaded with the system and do not accept innovations. Have a healthy mix of new teachers with your older ones as they come to school fired up to teach and innovate. Many of them truly believe that they can make a difference. At the same time, they often have a lot to learn about classroom management and the inner workings of the school system. On the other hand, veteran teachers provide years of experience and understanding of how to effectively manage their classrooms and get things done in the school. At the same time, they are also sometimes stuck in their way of teaching a subject and might be wary of innovation. Only through a mix of the new and old can both learn and grow.
Creating a High Performance Team
Even in the best of schools there will be teachers who do not want to share with others. They will be the ones who get to school in the morning, close themselves in their room, and don’t come out except for mandatory meetings. If the majority of the teachers at your school do this, then the school has a problem. Instead, a quality school will create an atmosphere where teachers want to share with each other. This should be something which the school and department leadership should model. Schools which reward intra- and inter-departmental sharing will see a huge increase in the quality of classroom teaching. It is a proven fact that an integrated and cross linked curriculum is more effective for the student than learning each topic in isolation.
Shared Core Values
To be truly effective, a Principal must create a system of core values which the entire staff shares. To do this, the Principal must involve the teachers and staff each step of the way. A common theme to each of the core values must be a student-centered view of education. When a decision is made in the school, the first thought should always be “What’s best for the students?” When everyone shares this belief, the school can focus on the business of teaching. With this focus there is no doubt that the final decision will be more effective and much easier to accept by all parties as it would be for the overall benefit of the student.
Provide new teachers with a mentor during their first year. This can be through a formal mentoring program or just be more informal and relaxed. This should happen whether the teacher is fresh out of college or coming from another school. Effective schools have strong core values that each teacher knows. Only by pairing a new teacher with a mentor who truly believes these core values will the school’s mission be fulfilled. On a more practical side, a mentor can help a new teacher learn the ropes. They will introduce them to key office staff and help them navigate the bureaucracy involved with items such as field trips and purchasing classroom items.
The school leadership in a highly effective school provides teachers, staff, students, and parents with frequent communication about what is happening. Rumors and gossip are rampant in many schools. Many of these rumors can lead to disgruntled employees. If the school is not communicating the reasons for decisions or upcoming changes as soon as they can, then rumor mills will take effect the results can be devastating. Therefore, it is important that the school leadership models frequent communication and has an open door policy so that teachers and staff can come forward with questions and concerns as they arise.
Involvement from all Stakeholders
Many schools do not stress parental involvement in their child’s education. It is the school’s job to pull parents in and help them understand what they can do. Some teachers do not want to bother. However, the more a teacher involves the parents, the better the children will behave and perform in class. Many parents want to know what’s going on in class but have no way of figuring out how to do this. Similarly, there should be adequate involvement of the management so that they can communicate the overall vision, mission, and goals to the whole school community. A highly effective school would have constructive, planned, and continuing involvement of the management, teachers, parents, and children.
Detailed Academic Policy
Many schools leave most of the daily teaching and assessments upto the individual teacher. While this is alright to foster individual performance, many a times it might lead to teaching systems and methodology that conflict with each other within the same school. It would be better to have a clear guideline and system set for all academic matter. These should include templates for program plan, lesson plans, monitoring log books, Activity Rules, Assessment policy, etc.
Some staff members come with a know-it-all attitude but are often found short when abilities are measured. It would be prudent to have a planned professional development and teacher training in place. After all, the human resources define the success of a school and the teacher is the most important constituent of any school.
Human Resource systems and procedures should be properly laid out. Provide proper and detailed KRAs for all staff members. They should know what is expected from them by way of work, behaviour, morals, ethics, etc. Ensure a proper, transparent, periodic and systematic Appraisal system. Staff members should also be able to see the bigger picture and how they fit into it. Follow up appraisals with development plans for each teacher.
A school is like a living organism and one of the main qualities of an effective leader would have to be flexibility. Leadership should be situational and facilitative, rather than purely authoritarian. The above tips are barely that – tips only. There is much more to be learnt as one goes deep into the thriving organism that a school is. Hopefully, these will illuminate the leader towards the right direction where he or she might dig in and learn more.