As the school year begins in many countries around the world, here are some fascinating and quick reads on education.

¡Saludos desde California!

News in education development

A good read from The Hechinger Report on literacy: This Mississippi district says these four strategies are helping struggling readers. And here’s one more by Matt Bardin on literacy and adolescents.

Meanwhile the World Bank is urging small schools to merge. And on the returns to investing in education here’s a link to a recent article by education economists George Psacharopoulos & Harry Patrinos.

Reading time in an Ethiopian classroom.

Philanthropy in education

So, Jack Ma, former English teacher and Chinese business investor, and philanthropist, is retiring. He is the co-founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group. Here’s a recent article about how he will focus on education philanthropy. Here’s an article about philanthropy in the USA. Religion is still the largest charitable cause in America with education ranking second.

 

Europe

Here’s a story about the European Union and Georgia. And as the new school year begins in Croatia: The experimental “School for Life” reform program begins. In France, a new law means that students can no longer use mobile phones in school. Here’s a video of students’ opinions. Your thoughts?

Education in Southeast Asia

Here’s an article on what’s happening in education in the Philippines. And here’s what’s new on the topic of literacy in several countries in Southeast Asia . This article on the Dongria Tribe in eastern India is fascinating. Education does indeed open doors to new opportunities for children but it also pulls them away from their traditional ways of life.

Education around Africa and the Middle East

Interested in why some schools are outliers? Read this blog on positive deviance in action. School leaders in Kenya who are willing to try things out!  Meanwhile in Ghana our University of San Diego team is working with Ghanaian colleagues to ensure that caning students is a thing of the past, but look at what’s happening at a charter school in Georgia in the US.

The world of low-fee private schools (a world I’m working in) is controversial. Here’s a recent article from Ghana. The train is out of the station so let’s focus on how we can improve these schools and ensure they offer quality education to all. This is a fascinating topic to follow—the bottom line is the issue of equity. And here is something to watch–The Education Commission (chaired by Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister) and the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment have established a $1 billion Education Outcomes Fund (EOF) for Africa and the Middle East. According to their website: “The Fund aims to help transform educational attainment in the region and achieve SDG 4, by pooling grant funds from official aid donors, foundations, and private philanthropic funders, to deploy into pay-for-success programs, with impact investors providing working capital at risk through development impact bonds (DIBs).” Social impact bonds, pay for success and similar approaches to financing education are hot in the impact investment world. It’s controversial and the union, Educator’s International (EI), has responded. Related to this is the request for input on the Guiding Principles on private actors in education from The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. You can submit feedback since the consultation is open until September 30, 2018.

Video suggestions

My colleague and I have been writing about learning transfer for school leaders.  We are exploring the barriers and inhibitors to learning transfer for adults. Here’s a short and informative video (3:35) on learning transfer for students by Larry Ferlazzo. And in case you missed this 2017 article and video on an Indiana school’s language of love. Here it is.

Twitter suggestions

For some of the latest blogs on education development, school leadership and related topics you might want to follow:

Harry Patrinos @hpatrinos  He is a manager at the World Bank’s education sector.

Henry F. DeSio @henrydesio   DeSio is the Global Ambassador for Changemakers.

Global Schools Forum: @GSF_talks GSF supports and represents non-state schools and school networks operating in low and middle-income countries.

Global School Leaders: @gschoolleaders  GSL incubates, connects and supports organizations that train school leaders to improve the learning of students from underserved communities around the world.

And if you are interested in school leadership development in South Africa, check out:  @SchoolLeadersSA

Finally, I’ve always been a big fan of the University Council for Education Administration (UCEA) which is a consortium of higher education institutions supporting school leadership development. @UCEA

Movie suggestion

I’ve spent many years in higher education as a professor of leadership studies. So much written about leadership is generic to many different professions. If you missed Apollo 13 – it’s all about communication, creative thinking and collaboration.

Varia

Diverging (quite) a bit from the topic of education, I’m always fascinated by the food in Ghana.

Finally, here’s a great quote that we use in our school leadership workshops from the… oh so talented… Sir Ken Robinson!

The real role of leadership in education…is not and should not be command and control. The real role of leadership is climate control – creating a climate of possibility. If you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things that you completely did not anticipate and couldn’t have expected.”

meet Paula Cordeiro

@deancordeiro

cordeiro@sandiego.edu

SHIFTING THE PARADIGM IN AN ERA OF WORLD ENGLISHES: WHAT SCHOOL LEADERS NEED TO KNOW

Professor Chugani Molina describes how school leaders need to be aware of the changes taking place in teaching English in different contexts.

As a teacher educator, I have had the opportunity to work with teachers and students of English within the United States and abroad in a variety of contexts. What I have come to learn through these experiences is that it has now become increasingly important to re-conceptualize the traditional ways

in which English language teaching has been approached where English is a language that now belongs to its users. These multi-lingual users of English now far exceed users of English in “inner circle (Kachru, 1988) English-speaking countries. English has become “denationalized (Smith, 1988),” as in no longer associated with a particular nation or nations, and “renationalized (McKay, 2002),” as in become a language unique in its own right by users of the language across the globe.  This then challenges our assumptions about the ownership of English, what constitutes a good model of the language for our students, and re-conceptualizing materials and methods that are socio-culturally relevant and pedagogically sound for the local cultures of learning. English language teachers need to also recognize and be sensitive to the societal, political, economic, and educational environment in which they teach as the ideologies and shifting dynamics embedded within the context have a deep implication on classroom practice.

Professor Sarina Molina presenting in Thailand

Recently, I took a group of graduate students from the University of San Diego to Japan to learn about the Japanese educational system and practices. While our graduate students assumed that all countries around the world wish to have their students proficient in English for the global opportunities it provides, we learned that the Japanese were first and foremost concerned about nurturing their national identity with their children first, which meant that they wanted their children to be proficient in their own native tongue first before introducing any other language. The sense of urgency in Japan to be proficient in English was not as great as those in other countries such as Kenya, where I had the opportunity to work with a non-profit agency on providing a Business English for Global Communications program (Molina, 2015; Molina, 2016). The youth in this program were interested in working for multinational corporations and for upward mobility and saw proficiency in English as a way out of poverty. In China, I conducted surveys and interviews with 75 English teachers and learned about one of the Ministry of Education’s goals for English language education of which one was to help their students become competitive in the global market (Molina, 2017). In Thailand, I learned from the English 68 teachers I worked with that like China, students who had access to English language education beyond the schools had better work opportunities with higher income levels than those that did not come from homes with expendable income to afford these classes. In Singapore, in my conversations with the English language specialist at the Ministry of Education, I learned that though they speak their own variety of English, they have refocused their energies on teaching standard English to promote lingua franca communications. What this suggests is that it is important for English teachers and school leaders to understand the political, social and cultural contexts in which they teach as this will determine how they approach language teaching within their particular setting.

In addition to knowledge of the multidimensional influence on the context of language learning and teaching, I believe that language teachers and students need to develop “multi-dialectal competence” (Canagarajah, 2006) to negotiate meaning with English speakers globally and “meta-cultural competence” (Sharifian, 2009) to negotiate their unique culturally-specific expressions and ideas in English to encourage a “bi-directional  negotiation of meaning” (Inoue & Molina, 2011).

TESOL Master’s degree candidate students on visit to Hong Kong with Dr. Molina.

Because English is now used to express unique cultural ideas of its users, the users need to be skilled with communication strategies to express and clarify their culturally nuanced ideas and expressions to other users of English in order to expand and deepen individual and cultural understanding among and between users. There were so many occasions when I was an English teacher where my students would give up and say, “Never mind!” as they were trying to explain an idea, but I would never give up on them and would continue to elicit from them their intended meanings thereby broadening, enriching and deepening my understanding. Kumaravadivelu (2008) calls this “global cultural consciousness,” which no longer privileges the teacher as the sole cultural informant, but includes the students as cultural knowledge-holders as well. When students are placed at the center of the learning process in this way, there is a shift in power, where dialogical learning can take place. When students in the language classroom begin to see their ideas as being valued in a safe space, they begin to use the language in creative ways as they articulate what is meaningful to them individually and collectively as a society.

There was one semester where I had nine students, who were all from different countries and we used our time together to learn from each other about how we understood ideas such as time, space, behaviors, gender roles, societal expectations, marriage, and family to name a few, while at the same time following the curriculum and the language objectives of the course. One summer, I also had the opportunity to teach English to migrant farmers in a non-credit program. I worked with the students to understand their needs and what they hoped to gain from this course, and we collaboratively came up with a project that I believed would help them share their voices. I provided them with disposable cameras to document what was important to them in their lives and experiences and supported them with the language they needed to share their images. I invited the students to speak in Spanish if they did not have the English words and expressions and asked the more advanced students to translate for me so that I could listen, learn, and understand. As teaching moments transpired, I put pertinent vocabulary words on the board and helped students convey their ideas using English expressions without jeopardizing the flow of the discussion or their writing (Molina, 2015).

These are just some of the experiences that profoundly deepened my understanding of my students and their life experiences as a language teacher. I witnessed that the experiences created in these classrooms also deepened my students’ sense of appreciation for their peers’ cultural knowledge and experiences. English language classrooms lend itself to these opportunities for students to share their own cultural knowledge and experiences, but also to understand those of others in their classroom and globally through a purposefully designed curriculum that encourage such interactions. For school leaders, adopting this framework will require

USD TESOL graduates who are now teaching English around the world.

a fundamental shift in our understanding  of English language education and influence how we select and nurture our teachers, adopt and modify the language teaching materials we use within our contexts as well as our pedagogical practice.

 

 

Meet Dr. Molina

Canagarajah, S. (2006). Changing communicative needs, revised assessment objectives: Testing English as an international language. Language Assessment Quarterly, 3 (3), 229-242.

Inoue, N. & Molina, S. (2011). Lost in translation: Strategies Japanese language learners use in communicating culturally specific expressions in English. CATESOL Journal, 22 (1), 149-166.

Kachru, B. B. (1988). The spread of English and sacred linguistic cows. In Peter H. Lowenberg (ed.), Language spread and language policy: Issues, implications and case studies (pp. 207-228). Washington: Georgetown University Press.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2012). Language teacher education for a global society: A modular model for knowing, analyzing, recognizing, doing, and seeing. New York, NY: Routledge.

McKay, S. L. (2002). Teaching English as an international language: Rethinking goals and approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Molina, S. C. (2015).  Transnational English language teaching: Opportunities for teacher learning and development.  English Language Teacher Education and Development, 18, 20-28.

Molina, S.C. (2015). Navigating social responsibility alongside migrant workers in an ESOL classroom.  Social Responsibility Special Interest Newsletter. International TESOL Organization.

Molina, S. C. (2016).  The complexity of providing feedback when teachers and students speak different varieties of English: A case study.  Journal of Teaching and Teacher Education, 4 (1), 61-69.

Molina, S. C. (2017). English language teaching in China: Teacher agency in response to curricular innovations.  English language teaching: Teacher agency and policy response. Ng, P. & Boucher-Yip (Eds.) Routledge.

Sharifian, F. (ed.) (2009). English as an international language: Perspectives and pedagogical issues. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Smith, L. (1983). Readings in English as an international language. World language English series. Michigan: Pergamon.

 

A nation’s future at stake: An education system in crisis and its solution

Guest blogger Dr. Louise Van Rhyn describes the Partners for Possibility(PfP) program in South Africa which recently won the prestigious 2018 WISE Award.

The recently published results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study reveal that 78% of 10-year-olds in South Africa cannot read for meaning – in any language. Most fifteen-year-old learners are unable to reach the lowest international benchmark in mathematics. Despite increased government spending, the education system continues to face challenges of quality and effectiveness of learning and teaching at all levels.

South Africa’s post-Apartheid public education system is characterised by stark inequalities. The bimodal schooling system created under Apartheid remains largely unchanged with 20% of the country’s 25,000 government schools providing world-class education, while 80% very poor education outcomes.

Whilst the academic performance of South African students is undeniably affected by their socio-economic circumstances, other critical factors differentiate the country’s successful schools from those that are ‘failing’. Key among these are the degree to which parents and community members engage with and support the school and, crucially, the extent to which the principal has been equipped for the task of leading the school.

There is increasing recognition that the role of the school principal is highly speacialised and that leadership at the school level is the critical factor in turning around an education system that is in crisis.

Possibility in action!

Career educators are often promoted to the position of principal – and this naturally comes with the expectation that the school will be run in a sustainable and efficient way by the appointed leader. In South Africa however, while school principals are now recognised by the government as critical levers for improving education, there is no compulsory preparation for the role of principal other than teaching experience, and most principals receive no training in leadership or management.

To compound the situation, the contextual reality within which principals are expected to run their schools is often underplayed or completely overlooked. South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world and the majority of principals face formidable leadership challenges which arise from factors including poor school infrastructure, under-qualified and demotivated teachers, and students who are often hungry and ill, do not have proper clothing and lack parental support.

A school principal and learner in Partnership for Possibility

In stark contrast to the experience of school principals, who arguably lead the country’s most important institutions, the leaders in South Africa’s business community have typically been very well-equipped by their various organisations to assume leadership positions and manage change.

A South African solution to a South African challenge

As a South African education activist with over 25 years’ experience as a change practitioner, I realised that the abundant expertise available in the business sector could be tapped to help equip school principals with the skills they need to lead change in their schools and communities. In 2011, I launched the Partners for Possibility (PfP) programme which establishes co-learning, co-action partnerships between principals from under-resourced schools and leaders from the business community. The aim of these partnerships is to support and equip principals with the skills they need to lead change and to mobilise communities to engage with their schools.

The business leaders provide practical hands on support to principals, sharing their knowledge and skills with them as the two leaders tackle challenges together in the school. At the same time business leaders learn from principals about leading in under-resourced contexts and are exposed to the challenges within the education system. Both partners also attend formal leadership training.

Louise van Rhyn (business leader) and Ridwan Samodien (principal) with learners from Kannemeyer Primary School

Six to ten partnerships are grouped into a leadership circle which is supported by a professional coach-facilitator during a 12-month structured, process of formal and informal learning. The leadership circle forms a community of practice that meets regularly and creates an opportunity for socially constructed knowledge, insight and skills to emerge.

 

The programme focuses on respectful reciprocity where partners are viewed as equals, each possessing the ability to make an invaluable contribution to the partnership through the sharing of professional and personal experiences. As the partners reach out to parents and community members to engage them in the life of the school, they foster a sense of shared responsibility, active citizenship and community building which strengthens of the fabric of society.

Effecting tangible change

To date, 825 school principals, most of whom had no previous leadership or management training, have joined PfP together with their business leader partners.

In numerous internal and external programme evaluations conducted since 2014, principals have reported becoming more confident and better able to lead and manage change at their schools. This new-found confidence has enabled principals to rally their communities to become actively involved in school life. Positive ripple effects of this include happier and more engaged teachers, who feel supported and appreciated, and a more engaged set of parents who now see the benefit of working in tandem with teachers.

Business partners have become better equipped to confront complexity and ambiguity, to lead beyond authority and influence across boundaries – and most importantly- they have learned to lead with humanity. Business partners have also gained real insight into the challenges faced by under-resourced communities which drive some of the major dysfunction in South African society.

Learners, as primary beneficiaries of education, have benefitted from these enablers of improved education outcomes.

External evaluations by ‎the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation and Quest Research Services found improvements in academic outcomes in the PfP schools that were investigated in detail – even though the principals in these schools had only recently completed the programme. Academic performance in PfP secondary schools are better than national averages, with drop-out rates also lower than the national average.

As a driver of social cohesion in South Africa, PfP exposes participants to communities with whom they would not normally engage. Very few senior business leaders, represented mostly by white men, would ordinarily spend time in the poor communities where black men and women lead most of the country’s under-resourced schools.

As the PfP Theory of Change indicates, the impact of principals’ leadership growth on academic outcomes may take years to become evident. But it is clear that equipping school leaders with the requisite leadership skill set now is essential in realising the vision of an inclusive, quality education for all South Africa’s children in the future.

 

Follow us on Twitter: @PfP4SA

Meet Dr. van Rhyn

For more information, please visit: www.PfP4SA.org

 

International Counseling in Schools: New opportunities to learn from each other

 

Global Ed Leadership Distinguished Fellow Ian Martin shares his experiences about counseling in a variety of schools and educational systems…

Around this time last year, I was working with colleagues in Nigeria at the University of Lagos. We were conducting a study on counselor roles and activities within Nigerian schools. After collecting about 300 surveys, we ate catfish, drank beer and watched the sunset. I distinctly remember sitting there and wondering, “How in the world did I get here?” A surfer dude from California, in Nigeria, learning about counseling – How cool is that?

 

While I was very excited to learn about Nigerian school-based counseling, much of the current scholarly literature on counseling within schools in rooted in the western context. Examples of practice within other international settings usually involves a description of the status of counseling within a specific country or region. Unfortunately, these descriptions often involve some commentary on how far behind the country is in its development when compared to professional markers common within the US (i.e., university training, licensure, professional associations, accrediting bodies). While this is understandable, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the US operating as the gold standard for practice internationally.

First of all, as a former school counselor and current counselor educator in the US, I can tell you that accessing high quality school counseling services within the US system is not a given. Recent studies indicate that school counseling programming is not implemented consistently across the states. This means there are significant contextual differences that effect the practice of counseling from state to state. While the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) has had good success promoting the ASCA National Model (a programmatic model that encourages students’ personal, social, academic and career development), there is no official national curriculum and many states (nearly half) don’t even mandate or require counseling in schools.

Furthermore, one only has to spend a brief moment scanning the daily headlines or watching the nightly news to clearly understand that the US is struggling mightily with many sociocultural issues (e.g., racism, substance abuse, lack of mental health care, inhumane immigration policies, gun violence, access to equitable education, outrageous cost of living). Despite these significant national needs, it saddens me to say that counseling services in schools are largely not seen as a priority. It seems obvious to me that a country where school violence responses include very real plans to better arm teachers, should have its status as a world leader in school-based counseling challenged.

Mountain Brook Schools

While the US may have made advances in the organization and credentialing of the profession of school counseling, I believe we have a lot to learn in terms of designing services or creating arguments for counseling that are realistic and/or related to our true national needs. Over the years I have had the privilege of traveling to many different countries and witnessing counseling occurring in a wide variety of schools and educational systems. In many instances I was humbled and amazed by the level of practice or the highly contextualized ways practitioners solved issues within educational systems. This is where it became clear that we need to engage in more intentional international comparative study.

Unfortunately, comparative studies of international school-based counseling practices were nearly nonexistent. Fortunately, things are starting to change. I am happy to report two very exciting developments: 1) the publication of the International Handbook for Policy Research in School-Based Counseling, which includes contributions from 48 school counseling scholars from around the world; and 2) the creation of the Society for Policy Research and Evaluation in School-Based Counseling (ISPRESC). In less than two years, the society has launched a website, built a membership of nearly 400 (free membership), and created a peer-reviewed journal.

It is amazing to see this type of energy and enthusiasm for international school-based counseling in such a short period of time. While comparative studies in this area are still in their infancy, it represents a great opportunity to create a counter-narrative and enliven the conversation with ideas outside of the US context. Opportunities to learn from each other are becoming more authentic and action oriented. Just a couple of years ago I never would have thought it possible to collaborate on a survey with colleagues from 16 different countries. But here we are and I am sure I’m not the only one appreciating the ride and wondering, “How in the world did we get here?”

Meet Dr. Martin

 

 

Effective Leadership in High-Need Schools: How Do Leaders Read and Respond to Context?

Context Matters: Professor Bruce Barnett describes some key findings from the High-Need Schools research projects…

Schools around the world serve large numbers of students at risk of educational failure or in need of special assistance and support. Many of these students live in poverty, are homeless, reside in foster care, have physical and learning disabilities, and are second language learners. As a result of these conditions, many students drop out of school, are employed in low-paying jobs, and become dependent on public assistance. These conditions also affect children’s sense of hope. Although American adolescents and undergraduate students tend to be more hopeful than are their counterparts in other countries (Lester, 2015), about 30% of American adolescents experience a sense of hopelessness, with much higher rates among racial and ethnic minority groups (Child Trends, 2012).

Given the increasing numbers of schools serving high-need students and communities, the International School Leadership Development Network (ISLDN) was developed as a joint initiative of the British Educational Leadership, Management, and Administration Society (BELMAS) and the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). Two areas of focus have emerged: (1) leadership for social justice and (2) leadership in high-need schools. (For more background about the ISLDN, see https://isldn.weebly.com).

High-Need Schools Project Overview

One of the major purposes of the ISLDN is to examine what leaders in high-need schools are doing to overcome many of the educational, social, and economic challenges students and families are encountering. I, along with Jami Berry (University of Georgia), Ian Potter (Bayhouse School, United Kingdom), Pam Angelle (University of Tennessee), and Charles Slater (California State University, Long Beach), have been co-directing these research projects.

The High-Need Schools (HNS) project consists of researchers who are conducting case studies of high-need school leadership across the globe. The project focuses on schools and communities with large numbers of families with incomes below the poverty line, teachers who are not teaching in the content area in which they were trained to teach, teacher and leader turnover, non-native language speakers, and students from indigenous groups.

The project has sought to identify school principals working in a number of different cultural contexts to addresses the following research questions:

  1. What fosters student learning in high-need schools?
  2. How do principals and other school leaders enhance individual and organizational performance in high-need schools?
  3. How do internal and external school contexts impact individual and organizational performance in high-need schools?

Project Findings

A recent special issue of International Studies in Educational Administration (Gurr & Drysdale, 2018) summarizes how principals in high-need schools in several countries (Australia, Belize, Mexico, New Zealand, United States) deal with the internal and external contextual factors influencing student and teacher performance. These six studies examine the relationship between leadership and context, an important area of study since this interplay can determine success and failure (Clarke & O’Donoghue, 2016). Successful leaders understand the context in which they work and can navigate the various levels of context to forge successful outcomes, while other leaders can be constrained or derailed by the context.

One of the studies of a high-need school in the USA identifies the critical contextual challenges principals experience, including national policy changes affecting privatization and reduced resources for public schools, unequitable allocation of support in high-poverty areas, high principal turnover, and inadequate leadership preparation. The school leader addressed these challenges by developing a positive culture of learning through use of quality data, increased community engagement, improved climate and higher teacher quality.

A second study examines the leadership of three underperforming schools in Australia. The authors identify six layers of context: institutional, community, socio-cultural, economic, political, and school improvement. The leaders of each of the schools worked within these six contextual dimensions to improve school performance despite the fact that two schools were in educationally high-advantaged contexts, but were defined as high-need schools.

The third study explores how four leaders in an urban elementary school in a high-need urban context in South Texas have successfully improved and sustained student performance over 25 years. The findings reveal how each principal sought to understand and work within the community, school, and district context to develop interventions that improved and sustained success. Collectively, the strategies adopted by each principal were shown to build on previous success.

Leadership within an early childhood setting in a challenging social economic context in New Zealand constitutes the fourth study. The research emphasizes how these principals developed strong, nurturing relationships with parents and the community to foster a positive environment that enhanced students’ life chances.

The fifth study explores school leaders’ roles in developing a STEM (Science, Technology, Education, Math) curriculum for students in a secondary school in Belize (Central America). Despite limited resources, the two school leaders collaborated with the community to maximize ways for the STEM program to provide opportunities for students to work practically within the industry to develop career options in tourism.

The final study explores principal leadership practices within three Mexican elementary schools in high-need environments. Using a multi-perspective case study approach, the authors outline the external and internal contextual challenges principals had to navigate. These principals promoted order and discipline, clarified roles and rules, managed external support, and developed students’ self-esteem and sense of belonging.

Conclusions

These cases reveal school leaders’ contextual acuity by adapting their interventions or practices to suit their unique circumstances. In Belize, the two principals connected the curriculum with current interest in STEM education and the local industries that were likely to be sources of employment for students. In New Zealand, the three early childhood leaders not only focused on developing teachers, but also understood the importance of developing parents’ skills, particularly in helping them raise their children. In Australia, one of the principals in a school that was about to be closed decided to develop a student-focused learning environment by searching for “next practice” ideas, and assembling them into a coherent instructional program. The other two principals led “best practice” environments where the schools utilized ideas that were known to be effective approaches to learning. In the South Texas school with four principals over 25 years, each principal adapted to their context and built on the foundations laid by previous principals, a powerful story of how thoughtful leaders were able to read their immediate and past school contexts to continue nurturing school success.

School leadership team planning meeting

 

What also emerges from these studies of contextual leadership in high-need schools is how common views of leadership describe the core practices of these principals: setting direction, developing people, redesigning the organization, and improving teaching and learning (Day & Leithwood, 2007). The ECE leaders in New Zealand set direction, developed people, and redesigned the organization as well as created positive school/family relationships. The four principals in South Texas set a clear direction for student improvement, supported teachers to improve, altered school conditions, improved teaching and learning processes, and fostered significant parent and community engagement. At the other high-need USA school, significant improvement in staff retention, curriculum, student behavior and attendance, parent involvement, and student learning outcomes resulted from the principal establishing a collaborative school vision, creating a culture of learning, and implementing incremental change in discipline, attendance, training, and curriculum implementation.

Research also demonstrates several types of organizational leaders who are sensitive to their contexts: (1) entrepreneurs are ahead of their time, not constrained by their environment, and able to overcome almost impossible barriers to develop and implement new ideas, (2) managers are skilled at understanding and exploiting their context and possess a deep understanding of how the context can shape and grow their organizations, and (3) leaders confront change and see potential in their organizations that others fail to see. In sum, “Entrepreneurs create new businesses, managers grow and optimize them, and leaders transform them at critical inflection points” (Mayo & Nohria, 2005, p. 48). Evidence of these patterns and behaviors emerge from our studies of high-need school leaders. For instance, the Australian case demonstrates that one of the principals employed entrepreneurial leadership by creating new processes, structures, and practices. In addition, the two leaders from Belize exemplified leadership and entrepreneurship by introducing an innovative STEM program for students in response to the challenges of a high-needs environment. Furthermore, the New Zealand early childhood principals showed leadership by building social capital through partnering with parents in the community. Despite the changing context at different levels at the national, state, district and community levels, the principal in the Texas case study took advantage of the educational initiatives offered at the state level to introduce a series of strategies to build a learning culture and improve teacher quality. Finally, the Mexican principals developed sound managerial strategies for improving student discipline and establishing clear school rules and roles.

Finally, several lessons about leadership and context emerge from these cases. First, leaders in high-need contexts face seemingly insurmountable obstacles; however, rather than being constrained by these contexts, they are optimistic about a better future for their students and communities. Second, by being contextually sensitive and responding with strategic interventions, they demonstrate the competence and skills to successfully manage situations and make good decisions. Third, they are adaptable to changing systemic, school, and community contexts. Together, these factors reflect school leaders’ contextual acuity.

Aspiring and practicing school leaders in high-need schools need opportunities to develop their contextual acuity. On one hand, they can shadow and interview school leaders who are adroit at reading and responding to their contexts. These observations and conversations not only can reveal how leaders are reading contextual clues, but also can uncover their problem-solving strategies. On the other hand, collaborative work groups of school leaders can be established to allow them to compare and contrast different contextual factors affecting their schools. These experiences can sensitize school leaders to consider various options when dealing with these factors to optimize learning for students, teachers, and parents.

References

Child Trends (2012). Adolescents who felt sad or hopeless: Indicators on children and youth. Bethesda, MD: Author.

Clarke, S., & O’Donoghue (Eds.) (2016). School leadership in diverse contexts. New York, NY: Routledge.

Day, C., & Leithwood, K. (Eds.) (2007). Successful school leadership in times of change. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer-Kluwer.

Gurr, D., & Drysdale, L. (2018). Leading high-need schools: Findings from the International School Leadership Development Network. International Studies in Educational Administration, 46(1), 147-156.

Lester, D. (2015). Hopelessness in adolescents. Journal of Affective Disorders, 173, 221-225.

Mayo, T., & Nohria, N. (2005). Zeitgeist leadership. Harvard Business Review, 83(10), 45-60.

Meet Dr. Barnett

Parliamentary committee describe ever increasing exclusions from schools in England as a ‘scandal’.

In this blog Trevor Male provides an update on the latest developments about excluding some children from schools in England.

Just a day after I published my last blog in the last part of July ‘The phenomenon of ‘off-rolling’ in English state maintained schools which is widening the social divide’ the parliamentary Education Select Committee released its own report which described the ever increasing exclusions as a ‘scandal’. So, time to update my last blog with the very latest news.

For those of you not familiar with the way in which the UK parliament works, it has standing committees – drawn from all parties – which look at various aspects of state provision and report accordingly. Typically, these Select Committees can summon witnesses and ask for submissions from interested parties on the chosen topic. As such these reports tend to avoid political bias and are usually very robust pieces of research.

This parliamentary report looked at the ways in which alternative provision was seemingly being abused by a sharp increase in the number or permanent exclusions from mainstream schools in England.   The purpose of alternative provision is to meet the needs of a wide-cross section of the pupil population, who will often arrive with complex needs and vulnerabilities and not all of whom have been excluded. In this case, the committee report appears to have been triggered by significant evidence and concerns about the over-exclusion of pupils, many of whom end up in alternative provision.

Bastions of inclusion

“Mainstream schools should be bastions of inclusion”, concluded the committee and “intentionally or not, this is not true of all mainstream schools”.   The BBC analysis of the report showed pupils being excluded at the rate of 40 per day, however, with the bulk of those coming from secondary schools (83%) and the greatest proportion coming after Year 9 (i.e. during the final stage of their secondary education).

Exclusions can be:

  • Permanent, where a pupil is unable to stay at their current school;
  • Temporary, where a pupil is not allowed to attend school for a certain number of days;
  • Internal, where a pupil is placed in isolation and segregated from the rest of the school

Just as I reported in my previous blog there has also been an alarming increase in ‘hidden’ exclusions ranging from those whose parents have been encouraged to take their child out of school voluntarily to children being separated from their peer group and ‘taught’ in isolation. Sadly, the committee also received evidence of schools deliberately failing to identify children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), seemingly for financial reasons.

We also heard that schools are justifying permanent exclusions of pupils with SEND, by claiming that they will get the support that they need in alternative provision, and exclusion will speed up the assessment process.34 This then leads to pupils with SEND being left for long periods of time in alternative provision while the assessment takes place, which does not mean that a child’s needs are being met. (2018 Select Committee Report: p 10)

Finally, greater awareness of pupil’s mental health and well-being was resulting, it seems, in more children being identified as needing support which mainstream schools and wider support services are not able to provide. Nevertheless, children with such difficulties were often still being excluded.

 

Reasons for permanent exclusions

What we are witnessing in England, therefore, is a dramatic increase over the last three years of permanent exclusions with a rise of some 40% being recorded. Persistent disruptive behaviour was by far the most common reason for permanent exclusions with the effect being felt most by disadvantaged groups, but those being referred to alternative provision also include children identified as SEND, those with mental health issues and those with undiagnosed difficulties.

The analysis of exclusions seems to reflect a growing social divide with very poorest pupils, those on free school meals, being four times more likely to receive permanent exclusions than other pupils with the figures also showing that black Caribbean pupils have an exclusion rate three times higher than the school population as a whole. Meanwhile children with special educational needs support are almost seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than pupils with no SEND and boys are three times more likely to be permanently excluded than girls.

Partly the reason for rising exclusions, suggested the Select Committee report, was a shortage of funding for schools which limited their ability to be responsive to need, but there has also been an increase in zero-tolerance behaviour policies.

The evidence we have seen suggests that the rise in so called ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour policies is creating school environments where pupils are punished and ultimately excluded for incidents that could and should be managed within the mainstream school environment. (Ibid, p 11)

The report also provided evidence (as I did in my previous blog) that government’s strong focus on school standards has led to: 

… school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging. (Ibid, p 14)

This latter point is significantly supported by evidence from children who highlight exam stress and subject choice, along with negative impacts of social media, as impacting on their mental health and well-being.

The press for academic attainment

The committee report concludes that the press for academic attainment has probably placed stress on schools to demonstrate sustained and enhanced levels of performance on an ever-narrowing curriculum:

An unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Government’s strong focus on school standards has led to school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging. (Ibid, p 14)

Consequences?

It is too early to say whether the evidence will lead to change in practice. What we do know is that the process of ‘off-rolling’ I described in my previous blog is illegal. The problem, however, is that “the exclusions process is weighted in favour of schools and often leaves parents and pupils navigating an adversarial system that should be supporting them” (Ibid, p 40).

The report concludes with numerous recommendations to government for change, including establishing a Bill of Rights for pupils facing exclusions. My best guess?   This will disappear in terms of government priority because of the forthcoming Brexit and disadvantaged and vulnerable children will continue to be denied access to high quality provision in mainstream schools. I will be delighted if I am wrong.

Meet Dr. Male

Letter from Ouagadougou

Dr. Corinne Brion from the University of Dayton sends a letter about her recent experience working with school leaders in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Neowongo! (Welcome in Mooré, one of the 59 dialects spoken in Burkina Faso, West Africa).

Tonight, I’m leaving Burkina Faso. I’m at Ouagadougou’s international airport reflecting on my experiences in the land of the ‘Incorruptible People.’ Burkina Faso is the size of Colorado and has approximately 19 million inhabitants. It’s a former French colony and like many countries in Africa gained its independence in 1960. Burkina Faso ranks 183 out of 188 on the Human Development index (which measures the capability of people to live long happy healthy lives, and to have access to education).

To better understand the educational needs of Burkina Faso, it’s important to take into consideration the following data. Burkina Faso’s literacy rate—defined as people over 15 years old who can read and write—is 36% (CIA, 2016) and 3.4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is spent on education. Burkina Faso uses the French education model for all levels of education, unless the school is part of an international system. There are six levels of the elementary system exclusive of kindergarten (la maternelle). Kindergarten classes exist for children age three to six but they are mainly located in large cities and are under-developed.

Table 1

The Education System in Burkina Faso (CIA, 2016)

Language of Instruction

 

French
Kindergarten

 

Rarely found
Primary School 6 years of Primary

(CP1,CP2, CE1, CE2, CM1, CM2)

 

Secondary School 4 years of Junior

High School

(sixième, cinquième, quatrième and troisième)

 

3 years of Senior

High School

(Seconde, Premiere, Terminale)

 

Literacy Rate in %

(15-24 years old).

Male

43

 

Female

29.3

 

 

I’ve been fortunate to work part-time in Burkina Faso for the past 5 years. Our task here has been to build the capacity of school leaders. School administrators in Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs) rarely have any formal training and in most instances they are not educators. Because a training is as good as its material and trainers, a team from the University of San Diego developed contextualized research-based educational leadership materials in which adult learning theories are embedded; we train local school leaders, train local trainers through a Train the Trainers model (TOT) and conduct research (see our earlier posts: A Model for Leadership Training and the Missing Link on Learning Transfer.

This week, I was asked to oversee a three-day leadership training that focused on the Conditions for Learning (Table 2 outlines the topics covered during this leadership training). In order to enhance the

draft Mission Statement

transfer of knowledge post training, we conduct all trainings using an active learning approach. Trainees participate in a case study, work in groups and spend time reflecting about their schools.

At the end of each day, participants also complete a School Development Plan or “Plan d’Action.”

School Action Plan

 

 

The co-facilitators for the training were two Burkinabe colleagues who are still learning the materials and were working alongside a Ghanaian colleague and trainer. To find quality facilitators we work with local universities and schools. Our local-co-facilitators are carefully selected and are educators by training. Most of them are university professors in an educational leadership department. Each training is led by 2 facilitators who take turns between facilitating and being the lead and co-facilitating. We have developed Pedagogical Notes to outline the roles of the facilitator and co-facilitator. When potential facilitators first work with us, they come to the training and observe the entire training session. They also participate in daily debriefing meetings. If they remain interested in the work and content of the materials, they become co-facilitators the next time the training is offered and teach about 25% of the content. They are teamed up with an experience facilitator who can offer their support and feedback. Again, at the end of each day, there is a debriefing session that provides time for reflection. The second time a facilitator-in-training teaches, s/he will facilitate for approximately 50 % of the time. The third time a person teaches about 75% of the content and after that they become full-fledged facilitators. In addition to the daily debriefing and feedback sessions, the lead facilitator writes a feedback letter at the end of the training for his/her co-facilitator. To help with the letters and the language one should use in order to give constructive feedback, we developed a TOT guide containing sample letters, language that might be used, position descriptions as well as the selection process and the roles of both facilitators, co-facilitators and observers.

Table 2

The Three Modules of the School Leadership Training: The Conditions for Learning

Day 1: Module 1:

Title: Building a Culture of Learning

Topics include:

·       Writing a mission statement.

·       Creating an invitational school culture.

·       Parents and families as partners.

 

Day 2 morning: Module 2a:

Title: Health and Wellness

 

 

Topics include:

·       Nutrition.

·       Clean water.

·       Disease prevention.

·       Working with the community.

 

Day 2 afternoon: Module 2b:

Title: Facilities and Safety

 

Topics include:

·       School construction: indoors and outside.

·       Acoustics and ventilation.

·       Lighting.

·       Kitchen facilities

·       Toilets/washrooms

·       School safety

 

Day 3: Module 3:

Title: Teacher Recruitment, Induction and Professional Development

 

Topics include:

·       Values and dispositions of quality teachers.

·       Recruiting and hiring quality teachers.

·       Teacher retention and development.

·       Supporting teachers and staff.

 

This evening after three intense days of training, I feel content. Participants were excited about the content of the modules, they acquired practical ideas and tools to help them with their schools and they networked with each other. Our local trainers are progressing in their learning and I had the chance to meet some leaders who had attended the training three years ago. They told me that they continue to transfer the content of the modules to their schools. That is music to my ears!

 

 

 

Meet Dr. Brion

The phenomenon of ‘off-rolling’ in English state maintained schools which is widening the social divide.

A key challenge for school leaders, who are pulled in many different directions by various stakeholders and policies, is the prioritizing of interests.  Professor Trevor Male describes some of the challenges facing headteachers in England.

 

In my last blog Papering Over the Cracks in the System published at the end of March, I hinted that some schools and multi-school organisations were exploiting the state school system by conveniently placing challenging students into alternative provision so their attainment outcomes (generally lower) did not damage the headline performance figures. In other words, such organisations had found ways to deal only with students who would enhance overall performance in terms of attainment and reputation. This objective, I argued, could be achieved in many ways, but especially through the removal of troublesome students through a process of ‘off-rolling’. Sadly, this process has been shown to be on the rise and is now one which is becoming a matter of grave concern, leading to a close focus from the state education system on how alternative provision is being (mis)used when seeking to establish and maintain performance outcomes that are deemed acceptable in a high stakes accountability environment.

A very recent research report by two of my colleagues ‘Hierarchy, Markets and Networks’ attracted headlines and major coverage in national newspapers as it appeared to demonstrate that high performing and improving schools are accepting fewer children from poor backgrounds. In fact, the Sunday Observer headline was: ‘Tory education revolution has fuelled inequality in our schools’ when reporting on the key findings from a four-year investigation. The system was now pushing schools and their heads to prioritise “the interests of the school over the interests of particular groups of, usually more vulnerable children”, with some schools being found to be engaged in “aggressive marketing campaigns and ‘cream-skimming’ aimed at recruiting particular types of students”. The full report can be accessed via the hyperlink above, but for this blog the key issue is the concept of off-rolling which seems to be decreasing the life chances of children from poor back grounds and widening the social divide in England. So, what is the concept of off-rolling and to what extent is it being witnessed?

‘Off-rolling’ happens where a student is encouraged off the roll of a mainstream school in an informal exclusion in which the school’s best interests have trumped the pupil’s. School league tables, broadly speaking, only measure those who remain on the school roll in January of Year 11, giving schools a perverse incentive to lose pupils who would bring results down (Education Datalab). My first foray to establish something more concrete about this phenomenon was in March with an article in my LinkedIn account entitled ‘Fixed term exclusions on the rise?’, for which I appended this appropriate photograph.

In the post I cited the report from the Times Educational Supplement which drew attention to the actions of one academy chain which had been accused of contributing to a “meteoric rise” in exclusions in some of the areas where it operates.  That article itself pointed to concerns raised earlier in the year in an Ofsted report which raised concerns about the high rates of fixed-period exclusions in the North of England. At the time of writing the academy chain was not releasing the figures relating to exclusions, but I argued it did appear that we were seeing concrete evidence of gaming the system by managing the school population.  Since then I have done a little more research.

In June of this year Ofsted published its own blog on ‘off-rolling’ in which they had analysed data on pupils who leave their state-funded secondary school before the end of key stage 4. Over 19,000 pupils (some 4 per cent of the Year 10 population) did not progress from year 10 to year 11 in the same state-funded secondary school, with only half re-enrolling at another school.  Children with special educational needs, children eligible for free school meals, children looked after and some minority ethnic groups were all more likely to leave their school, they reported. Whilst several possible, legitimate reasons were offered, the evidence shows a more than doubling of students with special educational needs who leave their school between years 10 and 11 and more than a quarter of all students that leave their school going to state-funded alternative provision/pupil referral units. The incidence of this possible ‘off-rolling’ is not evenly spread across the sector, they indicated, with a higher proportion of schools in London seeing movement of pupils compared to other areas of the country. Academies, particularly those in some multi-academy trusts, appear to be losing proportionately more pupils than local authority schools. Conversely, local authority schools seem to be taking on proportionately more pupils.

Pupil movements between year 10 in 2016 and year 11 in 2017

 

The issue is not related to just the final year of secondary schooling, however, with some 22,000 students leaving mainstream state schools at some point between Year 7 and Year 11 and not being recorded in state education again, most of whom were considered as vulnerable. Education Datalab recognise that some of these students will have moved to independent schools and others will be receiving a broad, effective education through home-schooling estimate. Nevertheless, around 15,400 students were either not recorded as having taken any final key stage examination, or, if they did, whose results did not count towards any establishment. Whilst some 50-60% of this group may have left the English school system by having moved to one of the other home nations, having emigrated, or, in a small number of sad cases, died, it is estimated the other 6,200-7,700 pupils remain in the country who do not have results that counted towards any establishment.

Off-rolling exists, so what should we be doing?

At the time of writing this blog the government is considering several mechanisms to ensure that schools would retain accountability for students they send to alternative provision or exclude, but have stopped short of saying that the changes would go ahead (Education Datalab). Sam Strickland, a serving headteacher, mounts a strong defence of the process of permanent exclusion in his blog of June, 2018, arguing that most “exclusions and the system of checks and balances surrounding them is so stringent that a Head may as well exclude themselves than exclude a student if there is insufficient evidence in place to do so”.   Nevertheless, he does recognise that it is possible for devious headteachers to utilise the permanent exclusion to enhance their exam result outcomes. Strickland calls for balance and offers a list of non-negotiables that would warrant exclusion.

Perhaps the real problem lies with the impact of high stakes accountability illustrated by Greany & Higham in their report which illustrated increased pressure for schools to perform against measured targets as student level data is used nationally to hold them publicly accountable, allowing the state to continue to steer the system from a distance and to increasingly intervene and coerce when and where it deems necessary. The research showed schools reporting a constant need to focus on national exam results and to prepare for the possibility of an Ofsted inspection. Many headteachers argued that this now demands greater consistency and self-policing, with more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of school leaders agreeing with the statement ‘making sure my school does well in Ofsted inspections is one of my top priorities’. As a result, they conclude, case study school leaders regularly felt incentivized to prioritise the interests of the school over the interests of certain groups of, usually more vulnerable, children.

My question is – in what ways are such actions subscribing to the comprehensive ideal that was the nation’s vision for schooling in the latter part of the previous century? That ideal is perhaps best summed up in the quote from Maurice Holt: “education should be accessible to all pupils regardless of capacity or background, and ‘worthwhileness’, in that the curriculum has to be of defensible value so that it enhances the future lives of its students”. Where is sustained accountability and a school-led improvement system taking us?

At a personal level I remain shocked at the seemingly callous nature of a school system which repeatedly undermines the life chances of already vulnerable children. My only solution is for all actors to subscribe to the notion of student achievement, rather than merely attainment and provide children with an education (not schooling) that equips them for life. I am still aligned to the four pillars of learning presented in the UNESCO report of 1996 Learning – The treasure within: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be and would love to see them enacted in practice, rather than debated in principle.

I will close this blog with the hopes and aspirations of Edward Timpson who is leading the Department for Education’s exclusions review in England:

No parent sets out on that journey wanting or believing their child will be excluded from school. Yet in 2015/16 the parents of 6,685 children in England faced that realisation. Why?

That is the question, amongst others, my review of school exclusions is seeking to address. It isn’t about whether we should or shouldn’t have school exclusions, as sadly there will always be occasions where, despite being used, as the Secretary of State said, as a last resort, exclusion is the only viable route left to take. It’s about understanding not just why in 2015/16 0.08 per cent of children were permanently excluded from state funded schools in England, but why, as the Government’s Race Disparity Audit revealed, for some groups of children, including black Caribbean and Gypsy Roma and Traveller children, those with special educational needs, pupils eligible for free school meals, children in need and those in care, the rates of exclusion are much higher. I want to learn too about the approaches schools take to avoid exclusions and support those at risk, such as working with other local schools on managed moves to another local school, which can act as a fresh start with the right support for children at risk of exclusion.

That means considering carefully the drivers behind exclusion and looking in depth at current practice. We need to establish how schools and supporting agencies work together in relation to exclusions and whether (or not) it is effective in improving outcomes for those children.

Perhaps he could start by making sure making sure that schools focus more on the success, happiness, well-being and future capability of its student population as adults than whether it does well in Ofsted inspections. What do you think?

Meet Dr. Male

Thinking and Acting Strategically to Improve Teacher-Parent Relations

Tony Townsend, Professor of Educational Leadership, Griffith Institute for Educational Research, Brisbane Australia, describes an exciting and innovative project that resulted from a professional learning program.

The importance of maximizing learning outcomes, for all students in all schools across an educational system in a rapidly changing, increasingly diverse society, one that is trending towards a knowledge-led economy, is obvious. To do this we need to think about school autonomy (decentralising some of the decisions about education to the school), school effectiveness (improving the achievement of students), and school leadership (for the two previous factors to work, the quality of school leadership has been shown to be critical).

Governments around the world continue to search for the silver bullet that provides a solution, at both the system level and the school level. Since 2013, over 250 Australian public schools have been made Independent Public Schools (IPS) by the Queensland Government based on the argument that doing so “recognises the best decision-making often occurs at a local level through direct response to local community needs and aspiration”, one that stemmed from an identified commitment to “providing state schools with greater autonomy in decision-making and increased capacity to work in new ways to maximise learning outcomes”… to enable them to “have greater freedom to find their own strategic direction and make decisions which will directly benefit their students” [1].

This blog considers the impact of a professional learning program called the Principals as Strategic Leaders (PASL) on the ways in which principals lead their schools in innovative ways. The four-module program, conducted over nine months, focused on developing strategic thinking, strategic execution and entrepreneurial leadership. Principals from 26 schools, sometimes with the support of others in their leadership team, making a total of 45 people in the cohort, undertook the program. The program contained four modules, commenced in August 2016 and was completed in February 2017. Research was conducted in conjunction with the program and the subsequent implementation of the strategic plans drawn up by the schools and a series of case studies were conducted over the course of 2017 to gain a deeper understanding of how school leaders actually used strategic leadership to guide their schools in innovative ways. Data was collected through interviews, document analysis and focus group discussions.

In one primary school about an hour west of Brisbane the chosen innovation was to improve teacher and parent understanding of the role played by each in the development of highly successful students and to further develop the relationships between home and school in ways that would support improved student engagement, learning, and achievement. The principal outlined how the school had changed in recent times:

…we have more than doubled in size within sort of a two-year period … new families have come in, a lot of movement from other schools coming through as well … this school’s reputation in particular has picked up and bringing in a lot of the private schools in particular this year as well … it was a very strong apostolic stronghold, with the church down here being the biggest apostolic in the southern hemisphere. So, they considered this school to be theirs. You’ve now got Catholics coming into the place as well …a clientele in terms of their parents’ employment, university lecturers, scientists, all that sort of stuff, as well as businesses from you know, going to Brisbane, so it’s changed from that whole rural school to where it is quite a complex mix of parents that are coming into it…

The change in the school’s demography brought about some new problems. Whereas some parents were really committed to their child’s education and wanted to participate, other parents were not so active and the school’s attendance rates suffered.

We’ve got a whole lot of parents who understand that they’ve got a big part to play and are confident that they can support their children’s education. And we’ve got a core of people who don’t realise the importance and don’t think that they have the capabilities to support their children’s education.

Having some parents wanting to be more involved seemed to be a threat to some of the teachers:

It was a complex mix of parents in the play, but it was also alternating to the mindset of teachers to enter those questions of the parents, who are starting to become more and more on their doorstep, asking you know, what’s going on … all of a sudden, teachers are seeing themselves as fishbowls, in terms of that. And changing perceptions of what parents now expect of them as well, so trying to meet in the middle and gain some ground on what’s going to work best for our school.

To overcome the twin issues of attendance and the need to build better relations between teachers and parents, two strategic decisions were made. The first decision was called the Latte Lounge and the second, the Performance Pact. The two were connected by a clear understanding that if parents were interested enough to come into the school (through the Latte Lounge) then it was important for these meetings to have meaning and significance. The relationship between the two was developed through the use of a school slogan, CLEAR – for Celebrate, Learning, Excellence, Attitude, and Respect – which allowed students to, in the principal’s words, “Dream, Believe, Strive, Succeed, which I think is very powerful. And that’s really it in a nutshell, dream, believe, strive, succeed…

The Latte Lounge brought people into the school in an informal way but allowed the school to keep them abreast of what the school was trying to do.

The purpose of the Latte Lounge was to share information with parents that might not normally come to the school for formal parent-teacher meetings but would be prepared to come to a more informal conversation over coffee.

It encouraged parents that were not on formal committees in the school to become more involved.

… the one thing we noticed was there were a group of parents who are involved in the P and C, and we wanted to get different groups involved in the school, not just that group who had the time and the knowledge and the confidence to come and do tuckshop and fundraising and that kind of thing.

But as parents’ confidence grew, it was also possible to provide parents with much more specific information about ways to support their children and to develop a shared understanding of what the school was trying to do.

One of the things we also did, because we started doing a literacy program called SSP. And so, one of the Latte Lounges focused on that and so I was able to give background for that, and what we were doing in class. So, all parents across the school could come …

Our discussions have been around, okay, how can we help you get your child to that place that we need them to be. So, there’s been a lot of those conversations through the Latte Lounge.

Parents interviewed at the school were very positive about the Latte Lounge.

And it’s not like a meeting setting, it’s just an informal chat … an informal chat, get together, have a coffee, something to eat … very relaxed environment.

The Latte Lounge assisted parents to have a better understanding of how to support their child:

I go to the Latte Lounges and quite often people go “I don’t understand the Performance Pacts, I don’t understand the way they rate it and that”. So, [principal] will actually get it all up on the screen … and go, right, this is how you read it, this is how you work it, this is where your child’s at, sort of thing.

The second strategic decision was the introduction of the Performance Pact. The Performance Pact is a contract between the school and the parents, one that indicates that if the parents commit to ensuring that their child attends school, that the school will commit to do everything it can to ensure that the child progresses at an appropriate rate.

To be on the Performance Pact, they’ve got to maintain a 95% attendance rate throughout the whole year, and we monitor that. So, if they don’t achieve it in a five-week cycle, I send a warning letter home to parents. If, in the next five-week cycle, they still don’t improve the 95 % … I send a letter home to parents stating that their Performance Pact is on hold and they don’t get the additional support that we’re offering … until they get their percentage back up again.

The Performance Pact not only placed expectations on parents to ensure that students attended classes for at least 95% of the time, but the school also had to live up to their side of the bargain as well. School leaders spend two evenings a week and two mornings a week working with students to enable them to have the best chance of success.

We offer after school tutoring…. Twice a week, after school…. That’s for students that we’ve identified through our data that haven’t made enough progress towards their goals, we give that additional support to them until they achieve that goal…. The parents of those children are very supportive … they are prepared to wait and pick their children up later, or just simply wait at school until their children are finished…

…we’ve got before school homework support [twice a week] for students, basically who, for some reason or another, don’t have the parent support at home to complete the homework, or the parent lives are very busy. Those sorts of things. So, we’re offering two days a week, in the mornings, where we take the kids from eight to half past eight, to get that homework completed for those kids.

A parent interviewed at the school expressed her appreciation for this concerted approach to support her child’s learning.

…my son, he’s on the Performance Pact but he was sort of still working towards his goals so they offered him the tutoring after school. And so, they’re wanting to help and see your child achieve those goals no matter where they are.

The Performance Pact has generated positive outcomes, including a more focused approach to identifying specific student learning needs and also to have wider, more general conversations about academic standards.

…there’s been a lot of those conversations, both with teachers and parents, about what, you know, performance looks like. What do academic standards look like?

The Performance Pact has also streamlined the reporting system in the school. With the Performance Pact providing parents with regular information about their children and with the Latte Lounge providing opportunities for parents to learn about what is happening in the school and to be able to ask questions about issues they see as important, then detailed reports in the middle and at the end of the year are not necessary.

… with report cards, [we are] very much making it just one very simple comment. Because the parents are getting so much information throughout the year, there is no need to have that very detailed report card now, because a report card, at the end of the day, is just another piece of information to these parents now, because it really doesn’t tell them anything more.

Both the Latte Lounge and the Performance Pact have made a difference to the culture of the school as can been seen by one comment by a teacher about the celebration to which all students on the Performance Pact are invited and a comment from the parent about the extra work done by people in the school to support the students.

The Latte Lounge is one way and having the display at the end of the term to celebrate learning was a way to get other people in and I was sceptical at first because the first time we had it was the last day of term one just before Easter. I thought no one’s going to turn up there. It was massive … there were a lot of parents who were there that I’d never seen before … I had a lot, I had probably I think ten, a dozen parents come in and we had the kids’ bookwork open and they came in and they chatted and looked at what the kids were doing.

The best thing that’s happened to the school is introducing the homework clubs and the after-school tutoring. I think that’s just great. It’s an expense that the parents don’t have because it is offered to them free if your child meets the certain requirements. So, if they’re struggling at school, if you get them here every day on time, and they’re here 95% of the time, they actually get offered that free tutoring … if you can’t get your kids there or if they have so many days off you don’t get offered that free tutoring because the kids aren’t here to learn.

Perhaps the most significant outcome for the school in this project is the way parents talk about and support the school.

I recommended it to her [the other parent] … I drive the extra 10 minutes to come out here rather than the five-minute one where we’re at. A lot of parents, they bypass their closest school to come here. There’s probably three or four closer schools that I could send my child to, or could have sent my girls to, but I drove past them to come here.

I’ve gone past three [schools] just to get here, probably four, yeah.

The Homework Room, where the extra sessions are held

In summary, this school is an excellent example of both strategic thinking and strategic leadership. Strategic thinking started from the data related to a changing demography with changing expectations, and the leadership team identified the need to enhance the relationship between teachers and parents in ways that created a partnership approach to improving student outcomes. Other data told the school leaders that attendance was a problem and that this contributed to some students not achieving. Two major entrepreneurial initiatives were undertaken, the Performance Pact and the Latte Lounge: the former to address, specifically, attendance issues and student achievement, and the latter as a means of communicating what the school was trying to do with parents. Strategic execution of these two main avenues towards higher levels of student achievement involved the elements associated with strategic leadership (Pisapia, 2009[2]): transformation (the culture of the school changed), management (expectations were identified and enforced), bridging (connecting teachers and parents in different ways), and bartering (higher levels of teacher-parent interactions during the year meant that annual student reports could be simplified). The leadership team recognised that bonding, especially reaching out to teachers to support them through this ongoing process, was an issue that needed additional work. Overall, however, school leaders, teachers, and parents alike were positive about the steps that the school had taken and were confident that what had been accomplished in 2017 can be further built on in years to come.

What the PaSL program and the case study has shown is that principals, if given the right tools and the authority to make change, are able to think and act strategically in ways that supports the development of their school community. The issue of context is important as is the issue of equity and, given the opportunities and skills, principals may be able to identify, plan and implement innovative approaches to improving student learning in ways that provide local solutions to what might be perceived as global problems.

The school slogan – outside the classrooms and in the newsletter

References

[1]   Independent Public Schools, Department of Education and Training website, downloaded 14/09/2015

[2] Pisapia, J. (2009). The strategic leader: New tactics for a globalizing world. Charlotte: Information Age Publishers

Meet Dr. Townsend 

Contact email t.townsend@griffith.edu.au 

 

 

 

Clean water & toilets: Foundations for learning in low-income countries

 

The other day my husband stated in an exasperated voice: “So, you got an advanced degree and you work in schools in sub-Saharan Africa and South America yet all you talk about are toilets. Isn’t that a waste of your education? Shouldn’t you be spending your time figuring out how to improve student achievement?”

Well, it jolted me for a few seconds and then I responded—but that’s what I am doing! It’s taken me years to understand that, yes—high quality teaching and strong school leadership will lead to improved student learning outcomes—but the school’s physical learning environment—the conditions for learning come first. Sanitation and nutrition are the foundation for learning and that’s why I have taken hundreds of photos of bathrooms and kitchens in schools around the world– so I can focus on student learning. Maybe my understanding of the importance of good sanitation and healthy children –washrooms and kitchens– is a key reason I did get degrees in education.

Over the last few years of working in mostly low-fee private schools in low and middle-income nations, I’ve come to understand that you can’t have a school with students successfully learning, without having a school with clean toilets. Of course, the corollary is not necessarily true, clean toilets do not equal improved learning. But, I am sure that each child and adult in a school having access to toilets that are clean, and in sufficient number for enrollment, is a basic condition for improving student learning. And by clean, at a minimum I mean– they don’t smell, there isn’t exposed dirty paper and there are no flies.

Age appropriate sinks with soap in an Ethiopian school.

According to UNICEF In 60 countries in the developing world, more than half of primary schools have no adequate water facilities and nearly two thirds lack adequate sanitation. Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and lack of hygiene not only affect the health, safety, and quality of life of children; they also claim the lives of an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five who die each year from diarrhea.

The research is clear. Schools with better sanitation facilities report higher attendance and overall better health for children. We know that providing better water, sanitation and hygiene services in schools reduces hygiene-related diseases and can help curb absenteeism due to missing school because of diarrhea. We also know that girls are reluctant to continue their schooling when toilets and washing facilities are either unavailable or are not private, safe, and clean.

According to the United Nations and UNICEF, one in five girls of primary-school age are not in school, compared to one in six boys. One factor accounting for this difference is the lack of sanitation facilities for girls reaching puberty. The installation of toilets and latrines may enable school children, especially menstruating girls, to further their education by remaining in school (see our March 2018 blog). If girls at puberty do not feel safe by having access to a private toilet area and if we do not provide access for students with disabilities, then absenteeism increases.

I’ve visited many schools that are oases for children. In far too many cases schools

Ghana: New sink with soap and handwashing instructions added to school after training

are surrounded by extreme poverty, thus all types of services such as good roads, adequate drainage, easily available clean

drinking water, etc. are missing. Schools and the adults working in them are role models for youth and sanitation is key because poor sanitary conditions can lead to disease and minimal learning.

So, what can school leaders do to ensure that children and adults in schools are learning and teaching in sanitary conditions?

Here are some of the strategies we discussed with school leaders and trainers during a recent workshop:

  • Make the School Leadership Team (Head Teachers, Directors, Coordinators, Proprietors, and others) aware of the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene in schools. They have an important role to play through their work with teachers and other staff, schoolchildren, and families. Provide guidance and support so that they can promote the development and maintenance of a healthy school environment.
  • Find out if your country has school facility standards (E.g., Ghana, Peru, and Rwanda have guidelines while Burkina Faso and Liberia do not.). Usually the standards are posted on the Ministry of Education’s website or ask your local district supervisor. If standards do not exist here is a great resource: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Standards for Schools in Low-cost Settings http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/wash_standards_school.pdf
  • Create a School Improvement Plan that includes setting targets for water, sanitation and hygiene. If you can’t make all the changes immediately, prioritize the improvements and phase them in so that the most urgent problems are targeted immediately, and other changes can subsequently be phased in.
  • Provide sanitation and hygiene training and supervision to all adults. Staff training is crucial and the goal is a healthy school environment. Since teachers and other staff are role models for students, be sure to give these topics a central place in in-service teacher training.
  • Develop and enforce school sanitation rules and procedures. Once the washrooms and toilets are ready for use create a maintenance plan and be sure to regularly monitor the facilities. Assign someone (or a group) to be responsible for daily cleaning; include who is responsible when the sink or toilet are not working or if there are problems with the water.
  • Support the provision of consumables, such as soap.
  • Encourage parents to support these efforts. Work with the Parent-Teacher Association and provide parent education programs on hygiene, nutrition and sanitation.
  • Partner with community groups or NGOs to build water and toilet facilities for the students and the surrounding community to use.
Burkina Faso
Separate toilets for boys and girls

Every child—and teacher— has a right to a school with clean water and sanitary toilets!

 

Ghana: Toilets for adults

Once the basic conditions for learning are ensured, then we can focus on why we are at school—to optimize learning.

Meet Dr. Cordeiro