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

 

 

The Best Kept Secret in Developing Latino(a) Community College Executive Leadership

This blog reminds me of the Akilah Institute  that I recently visited in Rwanda. Akilah is a remarkable two-year college for women who will be future Rwandan leaders.  This blog describes an initiative that also is playing a key role in creating a pipeline for future leaders, but in this case NCCHC is identifying and supporting Latino(a) leadership.

“Preparing strong leaders for the future is the primary purpose of the National Community College Hispanic Council’s Leadership Fellows Program,” said NCCHC President, and Chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges-Tempe, Arizona, Maria Harper Marinick. She further states “A demographic shift is occurring in the United States and we are preparing new leaders who can model the way for the growing Hispanic population our community colleges serve. Through this program, Fellows gain the necessary knowledge and skills they need to lead higher education into the future and positively impact the economic and civic success of their respective communities.”

Here we’d like to share with you a unique community college leadership development program targeting future Latino/a leaders and solicit your nominations for the next cohort!

A bit of historical background

NCCHC is an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges, a national organization that has provided leadership to the community college movement for the past half-century. The Council, which was established 30 years ago, works to promote the educational interests and success of the Hispanic community and emphasizes access, equity and excellence for students and staff in community colleges. One of the first ventures was to offer a leadership development program, with support from the Ford Foundation. Of the original 72 Fellows, more than 15 became community college presidents and many others have moved to positions of increased responsibility as executive level administrators. Since the program’s inception, more than 250 community college administrators have participated as Leadership Fellows.

Today, twelve of the 65 Latino community college CEOs nationwide are former NCCHC Fellows, and the program’s national impact on the leadership pipeline continues to grow. During a recent 16-month program, at least 42 former Fellows were promoted, including three vice chancellors; eight presidents; seven vice presidents; 12 deans and 12 directors. Additionally, two former Fellows now serve as vice chancellors at four-year institutions.

2017 NCCHC Latina Fellows at the NCCHC National Conference in Miami, FL along with NCCHC President, and Chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges-Tempe, Arizona, Maria Harper Marinick

From 2003-2009 NCCHC was housed at North Carolina State University under the supervision of Dr. Leila Gonzalez-Sullivan, retired President of Community College of Baltimore County-Essex Campus. Then, from 2010-2013 NCCHC moved to California State University, Long Beach under the leadership of Dr. Bill Vega, retired Chancellor of the Coast Community College District.   Since 2014, the NCCHC Fellows Program has been housed at the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences under our direction: Ted Martinez, a retired Superintendent/President of Rio Hondo College is NCCHC’s Director, and Reyes Quezada, NCCHC’s Associate Director, is a USD Professor.

Annually the program Identifies 20-25 potential community college presidential aspirants and provides year-long learning opportunities. The 2018 cohort is comprised of 24 Fellows (11 males and 13 females) all have a master’s degree and ten hold doctorates. They include community college vice-presidents, executive directors, deans, and directors from nine different states: AZ (5), CA (4), FL (2), IL (1), NJ (1), CO, (1), TX (8), NY (1), and WA (1).

The Program

Fellows participate in two residential learning seminars that meet for four days in early June and another four days in early October. The October meeting links with the annual NCCHC conference and many of the Fellows present at the conference. NCCHC participants develop an individual plan of action since the program includes a one-year mentoring experience with a seasoned community college

Dr. Ted Martinez Leading a Session on Mentoring NCCHC Leadership Fellows (2016)

leader and helps Fellows build professional networks that advance their career aspirations. There are various online activities in between the two residential seminars.

The curriculum is learner-centered and based on the AACC Competencies for Community College Leaders. Various sessions are presented by community college Latina(o) chancellors, presidents and other high-level administrators or community college board members. Some of the topics include: organizational strategy, institutional effectiveness, communication, collaboration and the change process, crisis and conflict management, cultural proficiency and diversity, strategic planning, finances and facilities, as well as professionalism. Individual sessions and the overall program are evaluated annually and the results are presented to the NCCHC Board of Directors.

We all know that ’the proof is in the pudding.’ NCCHC participant testimonials include hundreds of statements and stories of how the program made a difference in their professional as well as their personal journeys. Participants express their excitement in becoming leaders who represent the Latino community for the betterment of all community college students.

Creating a Latino(a) Leadership Pipeline

 There is a great need to have strong leadership programs to prepare community college leaders for the 21st century since many current administrators will be retiring. According to some estimates, 50%-75% of community college presidents will retire by 2020. A 2015 AACC report indicates that out of the 961 community college presidents nationwide, the number of Hispanic CEOs was only 4%; 53% were White, 9% African-American, and 2% Asian. Thus, it is imperative that leadership development programs be created to increase the pipeline of Latina(o) leaders in higher education. So how do we do this?

First, we need to design and identify effective recruitment strategies. This can be done by:Developing strategies to increase the number of Hispanic executive administrators and presidents in community colleges.

  • Creating mechanisms to increase the visibility of Hispanic administrators and CEOs in order to attract greater number of Hispanic students to these institutions.
  • Creating mechanisms and programs (such as the NCCHC Fellows Program) to develop a cadre of Hispanic leaders that can serve as role models and decision-makers.

Why is it crucial to have such a pipeline program for Latino(a) Community College leaders?

First, demographics show that Latinos were the second largest racial/ethnic group in the U.S. in 2012; 17% of the total U.S. population compared to Whites at 63% (NCES, Digest of Education Status, 2013). By 2060, the Latino population is projected to increase to 31%, while Whites will represent 43% (U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division). In 2011, Hispanics represented 24% of K-12 education enrollment and are projected to represent 30% by 2030 (NCES, Digest of Education Statistics, 2011).

In Fall 2012, Hispanics were the second highest group enrolled in community colleges at 20%; Whites represented 54%, African-American 15%, Asians 6% (NCES Digest of Education Statistics, 2013), and in 2012, almost half (46%) of Latino students in higher education were enrolled in public institutions and 3% in private two-year institutions; compared to African-Americans (34%), Asians (32%), and Whites (31%) (NCES, Digest of Education Statistics, 2013).

Second, the Latino managerial and administrative staff in all colleges and universities are not proportional to the presence of this group in the general population. In 2018 a report by the Los Angeles-based Campaign for College Opportunity found that 44% of the students in California’s community colleges are Hispanic while the faculty is 15% Hispanic. California has 114 community college presidents and/or chancellors, only 17 are Hispanic.

A Call to Action! Help Us Recruit New Fellows

 

NCCHC Leadership Fellow Pins Awarded for Completion of Program

Each year, we mail information letters to all Community College Presidents informing them of the program so they can identify and sponsor an eligible Fellow. The eligibility criteria include currently holding an administrative position and aspiring to become a community college president; a Master’s degree is required and a doctorate preferred.

Please help us Identify potential community college leaders at your institutions. You can begin by establishing a mentoring program at your college. Mentor one potential leader whose goal is the presidency. Make a special effort to identify diverse candidates. Provide financial support for internships, travel, seminars, etc. Promote and collaborate with area leadership graduate programs and support the NCCHC Fellows Program and other similar programs.

Valuing diversity means understanding that everyone does not experience the world in the same way, and that the richness of these differing experiences will improve the quality of life for all… Valuing diversity means getting over the issue of race and gender, and focusing on the best interests of the institution and the community when selecting a college president. (The Community College Presidency at the Millennium, George Vaughn)

 

 meet Dr. Quezada

meet Dr. Martinez

 

 

 

Understanding Learning Disability and Dyslexia in the Indian Educational Context

Distinguished Fellow Professor Maya Kalyanpur, a learning disability researcher, shares the background literature to a study she is conducting in India.  A key focus of school leaders is equity and understanding the needs of students with disabilities so that school staff can ensure a supportive learning environment for all children.

In the last ten years, the number of children who are labeled as learning disabled (LD) or dyslexic in India has increased exponentially (Karande, Sholapurwala & Kulkarni, 2011) — currently, about 10% or 30 million children are estimated to have a learning disability (“10% of kids”, 2012) with a corresponding upsurge in the provision of fee-based remedial classes and special schools to respond to their needs (Dyslexia Association of India, 2011). There is no research to explain this trend.

The label of learning disability is itself new to India. It was officially recognized in 2009 when the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Act of 1995 was amended to include the category of Specific Learning Disabilities (Unni, 2012). Earlier in 2007, the Bollywood movie, Taare Zameen Par, about a young boy struggling to learn in school, brought the term “dyslexia” into the mainstream, seeking to raise awareness, clarify some misconceptions, and reduce the stigma associated with it (“Pain of Dyslexia”, 2008).

Photo courtesy of Educate Girls Globally: www.educategirls.org

In post-colonial India, more children than ever before are accessing an education, facilitated by the Indian government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (or Education for All) program launched in 2001, and the 2009 Right to Education (RTE) Act. However, recognizing English as the language of opportunity and social mobility (“Goddess of English”, 2014; Motha, 2014; Varma, 2007), parents are increasingly choosing to send their children to English-medium private schools rather than government schools where the medium of instruction is in the regional or national language, regardless of whether English is spoken at home (Kalia & Reese, 2009); as a result private school enrollment in most states is increasing (Annual Status of Education Report [ASER], 2015). With the commensurate increase in competiveness to get into and do well in school, students who experience academic difficulties are often perceived as “hopeless or badly behaved” and labeled LD (“Pain of Dyslexia”, 2008). While the main benefit of labeling is that students will get remedial help, it can also be problematic: One, there is a stigma associated with disability (Center for Equity Studies [CES], 2014). Two, sometimes children from non-English speaking homes, many of whom may also be poor or Dalit (oppressed caste community), may get labeled because they perform at a lower level than students who come to school knowing English, not because they have a disability (Mukhopadhyay & Sriprakash, 2011). Three, many schools do not offer remedial services, and most remedial schools charge high fees making them unaffordable to most children; so students get labeled but no support (CES, 2014).

Photo courtesy of Educate Girls Globally: www.educategirls.org

There are no equivalent local words for terms like LD or dyslexia (Gabel, 2004), suggesting that the lens by which these children are being identified is imported from the US. For instance, the definition for the term in the PWD Act is almost the same as that in the US Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Unni, 2012). However, there are problems associated with importing LD. One, scholars in the US assert that the LD category is more a social construction than a condition with a biological basis (Duhaney, 2014; Harry, 2014; Sleeter, 1986). In the 1950s, many American students who were struggling academically were labeled LD and segregated in separate classrooms because of the competition from the US-USSR space race, rather than on the basis of medically-evidenced cognitive difficulties (Sleeter, 1986). Studies show that low-income students and students for whom English is not a first language are more likely to be labeled LD than students not similarly disadvantaged, suggesting that the identification of students is often dependent on teachers’ subjective perceptions of students’ academic difficulties (Duhaney, 2014; Harry, 2014). In India, Mukhopadhyay & Sriprakash (2011) found that when government schools failed to meet standards of school effectiveness, teachers began assessing increasing proportions of students from marginalized groups as “failing”. Another study found that the RTE Act mandate to reserve 25 percent seats in private schools for children from economically and socially marginalized communities to ensure access of education resulted in many children being subjected to overt discrimination by teachers who viewed them as ‘slow learners’, ‘weak’ or ‘unteachable’, and becoming reluctant to seek clarifications because they were “scared that teachers would scold, beat or insult them, or that peers would make fun of them for what they did not know” (CES, 2015, p. 56). This suggests that, as in the US, disadvantaged students are more likely to be identified as LD.

Two, programs and practices for LD students in the US emerge from a resource-rich model of service provision that is often incompatible with the Indian realities. For

instance, schools in India are expected to provide certain modifications required by law, but the process for procuring these services can be complicated and discouraging for most families, especially those from low-income backgrounds (Ghai, 2006). The shortage of LD specialists means that most schools do not provide on-site remedial services, and many remedial schools charge high fees for the specialized services, making them unaffordable to low-income students (CES, 2012). Further, the number of

officially recognized languages in India makes creating a standardized assessment measure for the specific detection and educational intervention of children with LD problematic (Narayan, et al., 2003; Unni, 2012). Till recently, the American publishing company, Pearson, now based in India, was marketing diagnostic tools normed on the 2000 US Census “as a toolkit for assessing dyslexic students in Indian schools” (“Now, a toolkit,” 2012), suggesting that Indian children were being assessed and diagnosed as LD because they failed a test normed on US standards.

Photo courtesy of Educate Girls Globally: www.educategirls.org

Three, the importation of the US model tends to overlook the possibility of alternative frameworks for how disability is perceived and responded to (Breidlid, 2013; Grech, 2011). Grech (2011) recommends the need for eliciting local perceptions and understandings by adopting an assets lens. For instance, in one government Education For All program in India, many teachers and community members, recognizing that ability grouping was tantamount to discrimination and led to social conflicts, resisted the idea of labelling the children and separating them on that basis (Gandhe, 2004).

I have received a Fulbright research grant to conduct a study on this phenomenon. Using qualitative research techniques of open-ended interviews and classroom observations, I will seek to understand the meaning and effects of the label of learning disability in India by learning the perspectives of teachers on school failure and the factors necessitating labeling as well as the perspectives of students labeled LD and their families. The study will focus on two private, low-fee English-medium schools that currently identifies students as LD, since low-fee schools will be more likely to have students from low-income or non-English speaking home environments. I am hoping to use this forum to present my findings and preliminary analyses. Stay tuned for more!

Meet Dr. Kalyanpur

References

“10% of kids in India have learning disability: Experts say” (January 27, 2012) Times of India. Retrieved from: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-01-27/chennai/30669918_1_inclusive-education-disability-autism

Annual State of Education Report (ASER). (2015). Annual status of education report, 2014. New Delhi: Pratham.

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Classroom and school communication: insights from the profession

Distinguished Fellow Maureen Robinson from Stellenbosch University in South Africa shares insights from school principals and deputy principals about how to build a school environment that supports student learning. Paula

In May 2018 I invited six school principals and deputy principals from local primary and high schools to address two classes of final year Education students at Stellenbosch University on the topic Classroom communication: insights from the profession. The aim of the session was to share with student teachers real stories of how the speakers facilitate processes of communication at their schools – aimed at building a healthy environment that supports learning.

Aimèe Beerwinkel, student teacher, busy with microteaching at the university. The lesson was about the water crisis in Cape Town and was integrated into a Life Orientation lesson on the rights and responsibilities of children.

As I put it to the students: “We want you to hear the voices from the profession so that you can understand the challenges, structures and processes with regards to facilitating communication at all levels at school. We are looking for stories of challenges as well as possibilities; what teachers do to establish positive communication between learners, professional communication between teachers, and productive communication with the broader environment.”

The speakers were asked to address the following guiding questions:

  • How important is teacher-teacher and learner-teacher communication in building a healthy environment for learning at the school?
  • How does your school encourage professional communication between teachers?
  • How does your school encourage positive communication with learners?
  • What are some of the challenges you face in building trust and communication at your school? How do you deal with these?
  • Have you drawn on any professional development or academic programmes to shape your understanding of these issues? If so, which, and how have they shaped your understanding?

South Africa is one of the most inequitable societies in the world, and this plays itself out in the combination of wealth and poverty within a small radius around the university. The invited speakers represented a range of socioeconomic conditions surrounding the town of Stellenbosch – including well-resourced schools serving an affluent community, poorly-resourced schools serving a poverty-stricken community, and those serving a more mixed population.

Students hung on every word, as the speakers spoke with passion, and showed evidence of their commitment and dedication to their learners, often in difficult circumstances.

Here is some of the advice these principals and deputy principals shared with the prospective teachers:

School 1:

Trust people. Connect to children, but there must also be boundaries. Know and use the structures of the school. Use a buddy system where older children help the younger ones. This teaches them responsibility and leadership. Remember that you cannot grow a plant by dipping it into the dirt once a year, it takes an ongoing connection to build root system. You have the power to build a positive environment. Don’t display negative thinking and negative outlooks, or you will sound like a victim of someone else’s actions.

School 2:

One of the things that I’ve picked up in schools is that instead of working in collaboration, we work in isolation. We say “Oh, we’ve got the best practices in our school” but we never look beyond our institution. One of the good things is to communicate with fellow colleagues: “How do you do this, how do you approach this?” This is not necessarily related to your subject. I might ask a colleague of mine, “How do you deal with these huge classes?” “How do you deal with that difficult child?” Beyond that, “How do you deal with that difficult child who has a difficult parent?” When you open that communication you find that you are not in isolation.

School 3:

Just the way a teacher carries him or herself when coming into the class communicates to the learners in the class. Yesterday I realised again that those learners are psychologists. They analyse you. They look at you, the amount of enthusiasm you portray. They look at you and based on that they respond to the type of learning that is happening in class.

One of the challenges that has an impact on communication is the amount of stress that we are subjected to. I’ve had teachers start the day and greet me, and the next morning, the teacher is absent – they’re not coming back. This shows us the kind of challenges we face.

As a principal, I try and be as transparent as possible so that teachers know exactly where they stand with me, and I show them where I stand with them. An important aspect that I encourage at my school is that we must agree to disagree, and we must embrace each other’s’ differences, and in that way we can move forward.

School 4:

When a girl is young she may dream of her future husband, she has ideas about what she wants the husband to be like, he must be like this or like that. But then, she gets married and she gets the actual husband, not the one she has been dreaming of. It is the same with schools. When you are in university, you are told that this is what is happening in schools, and you expect certain things, but then experience the reality in schools. It can sometimes derail you.

It is very important to go into class prepared, because as soon as you open your mouth to start teaching, those learners will know if you are unprepared. But when you go to class prepared, those learners copy from you and come to class prepared. If they come to class prepared, it encourages you to prepare more to face the questions that you learn to expect.

A classroom of a South African school

The first thing that we need to inculcate to parents is that they need to own the school because if they don’t own the school, they will not look after the school. That comes from the fact that people come to my school from different areas, and don’t feel a committed sense of belonging.

School 5:

You’re going in to teaching to make a difference, and in making that difference you will have to communicate. There is the verbal communication – what you say – but also the non-verbal communication – how you say it. If you’re sitting in a desk lying back in your chair, what does that say to the learners who already don’t want to be there? Do you eat your lunch while you are teaching? You can’t expect your children to read if you are sitting watching TV. If you want your kids to work hard, you have to work hard. All these things are communication, and they say a lot about who you are and what type of behaviour you expect back.

I love social media and technology. Nuclear reactions can do two things: they can cure cancer, or make an atom bomb. It’s not the science or technology that is bad, it is how we use it. WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, e-mail, Google Classroom: you must use all of those. Google Classroom is the best thing, if you don’t know how to use it, learn how.

School 6:

You are all here because someone touched your lives. That is what we do as teachers and why we are in the profession. Yes we have to get through some content and there are exams at the end, but your job is to connect with people.

As a teacher, the most beneficial communication tool is to listen. You have to actively listen to your students if you want to know what makes them tick and what their cries for help are, but because you are so busy, it has to be an active listening if you want to really know your kids.

Try to understand the generation gap, because more experienced teachers next year will not understand you. You have a huge amount to give to them, but they will need the time and space and understanding that they have been there.

The children in your class will not remember what you said, but how you made them feel. You’re here because of a teacher who made a difference, and you probably can’t remember a single thing they taught you, but you remember how they made you feel.

Mkululu Nompumza, student teacher. He was teaching an English comprehension lesson in a school in Stellenbosch. He specifically chose a text that integrated English and History, focusing his discussion on agency in leading change.

Questions from the floor

A vibrant discussion followed, based on questions from the floor. Here are three examples of the questions that the student teachers asked:

  • With technology playing such an important role especially with the younger generation, cyberbullying is a huge issue. Have you seen it happen within the schools, or trickling into schools with kids being bullied in schools because cyberbullying that happened outside of school? And how do the teachers or the principal or structures in the school handle that?
  • When kids feel that they don’t want to be in school, what can teachers do to change that?
  • Most of us (students) are really young, and most teachers in schools are old – how do we bridge that generational gap?

My own observations as the lecturer

As the lecturer, I felt that the session certainly fulfilled its purpose. We crossed the bridge between university learning and school experience, as students were taken in meaningful ways into the lifeworld of these teachers. In an environment where teachers are often blamed for poor academic results or social ills, each one of these teachers modelled resilience and agency, thus building a positive picture of teachers as agents of change, even under trying circumstances. The presentations showed the wide spectrum of what it means to be a teacher: knowledge of one’s subject was emphasised, but there was also full recognition of the emotional lives of teachers as well as of their young learners. For the teachers too, this was a cathartic experience, as they gave expression to their own hopes and actions and were listened to by others. And finally, it was an opportunity to cross social barriers, as teachers from different socioeconomic circumstances could hear and respect one another’s unique and common circumstances. We will definitely do this again next year.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the following principals and deputy principals for sharing their insights: Ms Wendy Horn, Dr Ben Aucamp, Ms Victoria Hani, Mr Jeff King, Mr Gary Skeeles and Mr Deon Wertheim. Thanks also to Bernard Rhodes and Cailee Pistorius for technical support.

Meet Dr. Robinson

 

 

School Leaders: Beware the Traveling Medicine Doctor …and some website, book and blog suggestions

IMG_0493              ¡Saludos desde Perú!

I’m working with some highly talented colleagues from an NGO who want to make schools better places for children. Work doesn’t get any better than this!

Since we created this website last March with its weekly blog, many colleagues around the world have asked me to share some of my observations and favorite websites, blogs, books, etc. related to school leadership in underserved communities.

Here are a few ideas for you to consider. I will end the blog on a positive note, but first let me begin with something that I find far too common and troubling….

Perhaps you’ve seen movies or heard about the traveling medicine shows of the nineteenth century in the US. These ‘doctors’ (usually a man posing as a doctor) promoted miracle cures for whatever aliments where popular at the time. They told people who attended their ‘shows’ that these medicines could cure baldness or a disease, remove wrinkles, prolong lives or get rid of that nagging cough. They authoritatively said that these medicines were patented (not!) in order to make them sound official.

Well today, as I work in low and middle-income countries I am meeting the 21st century version of the traveling medicine doctor! They claim that if you follow what they are selling (their consulting services), learning in your school will improve. In most cases they are hired to do one workshop, but more and more frequently these slick, well-dressed consultants are selling the notion that you need them throughout the school year. When you remind them you are a school struggling financially, they say they will give you a ‘special rate’ for their services since schools and children are so important to them.

First, they may tell you they have an advanced university degree (it seems to impress people more if it’s from the US, UK or any ‘western’ nation) and many list their names as Drs. So & So. Far too often they either started taking courses in a doctoral program and never finished, or they bought their degree(s) from a ‘university’ selling degrees or they may have an honorary doctorate. Beware the honorary doctorates since they are often given by a ‘Theological University’ or ‘Bible College’ that also is likely to be a college their cousin created after starting his own church. And, the worst part is, many of them want you to call them Doctor. It is not acceptable for a person who has an honorary doctoral degree from an accredited university to call themselves ‘doctor’; yet, people uncritically accept these titles.

These traveling medicine doctors tend to have attractive PowerPoint presentations filled with animations, quotes from well-known scholars in education or leadership and they tell you what they are promoting is ‘evidence-based’ (i.e. comparable to ‘patented’ like our 19th century traveling show doctors!).

Sooner or later these Medicine Doctor Consultants will fade away like the US traveling Medicine Doctors, but how much money will be wasted before that happens? How many teachers will be taught to use strategies that have no evidence behind them?

I’m thrilled to see some changes taking place. Some staff in Ministries of Education are asking tough questions and wanting to see the evidence behind an intervention. And, many donors are asking for more evidence on the impact of interventions.

So, friends let’s do our best to uncover the snake oil doctors and destroy the idea of miracle elixirs! Education is hard, messy work—it’s not about calling in an expert “doctor.” There are no magic tricks to improve learning in your school.   It takes instructional leadership…so…follow the evidence!

Now for a few websites, blogs, articles and books for you to consider.

Three especially good education websites:

One of the best websites for evidence about programs is Robert Slavin’s– Best Evidence Encyclopedia   Using rigorous standards they identify ‘proven’ programs and topics at all levels of education.

Edutopia

The Hechinger Report

Here’s a book for you to consider: Urban Myths about Learning and Education (2015) by Dutch authors Pedro De Bruyckyere, Paul Kirschner, & Casper Hulshof.  The book debunks many of the (“Medicine Doctor’s”) claims, misunderstandings and misinterpretations of frequently cited educational research.

If you have a general interest in the African continent you may want to subscribe to Jeffrey Paller’s newsletter: This Week in Africa. It contains dozens of timely links to events and topics on the continent. And, if you are interested in development in general take a look at Duncan Green’s Oxfam blogs: Poverty to Power. Both sometimes have articles/links to topics of importance for those of us with an interest in school leadership.

There’s a newspaper that often has articles on education topics from around the world. It’s the Guardian and it’s free—but, if you find yourself reading more than more or two articles, please make a regular donation!

If you have an interest in Early Childhood education there’s an interesting audio recording (and transcript) from National Public Radio (May 30, 2018). It’s short and definitely worth listening to! Preschools in Ghana’s Capital Challenge Call-And-Response System

If you ever plan to write about Africa then this is the article for you: Binyavanga Wainaina’s How to Write About Africa.

Finally, if you haven’t yet signed up to receive our weekly blogs delivered directly to your mailbox, here’s the link to Global Ed Leadership. Under the heading “Resources” we include lots of books, websites, blogs on different topics in education, learning and leadership about different regions around the world.

Time to stop and get ready for a leadership and learning training I’m doing tomorrow. Saludos!

Paula