“Leadership for Learning” in Basic Schools in Ghana

Dr. Alfred Kweku Ampah-Mensah is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA) of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana and a GlobalEd Leadership Distinguished Fellow.

In 2005, I worked as a research assistant for the Institute for Educational Planning and Administration of the University of Cape Coast on a project called EdQUAL that focused on basic school Leadership and Management in Ghana. This project’s findings revealed that headteachers for Basic schools—defined as two years of kindergarten, six years of primary and three years of junior secondary school—saw themselves as custodians of school property, rather than leaders of learning. Some reasons that we identified that may have contributed to this belief were that school leaders in Ghana did not go through any formal training prior to their appointment to leadership positions. Moreover, there were very little on-the-job training opportunities for school leaders, and the in-service training opportunities that existed were arbitrary and uncoordinated. As key outcomes from this project, we recommended that school leaders of Basic schools need to be supported in order to enact their role as leaders of learning.

As a result, the Leadership for Learning Ghana programme was born to systematically address the issues we had identified through EdQUAL. At the time I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Bristol and became the programme coordinator. This programme was created in collaboration with the Centre for Commonwealth Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, which had established a Leadership for Learning Network in 2001 across numerous countries based on the following principles: 1) maintaining a focus on learning as an activity 2) creating conditions favourable to learning as an activity 3) creating a dialogue about Leadership for Learning 4) the sharing of leadership 5) a shared sense of accountability. (Image Source: Centre for Commonwealth Education, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge)

Our goal was to push for the Ghanaian government to embed the five Leadership for Learning principles listed above into national policy; in this way, we could promote a national push for leadership preparation with a focus on learning for school heads. We collaborated with the Ghana Education Service on the implementation of this project by incorporating the leadership for learning principles in the basic school Headteachers’ Handbook, leading in the development of a Leadership for Learning Manual for school heads and providing Leadership for Learning training to directors, training officers and other relevant officers of the Ghana Education Service to support the implementation of the programme on the ground. Series of leadership training workshops for basic school heads were modeled to impact participants’ practice in areas such as creating a leadership for learning vision for schools, sharing leadership to nurture leaders and critical friendship. From 2010 to 2013, over 5000 school leaders participated in our leadership training workshops.

In conjunction with our school leader workshops, we also held joint training workshops for school heads and circuit supervisors who were front line school supervisors. This created a platform for them to share their mutual strengths and frustrations, and to strategize to improve learning in their schools.  At the end of each workshop, participants developed actions plans on things they would implement when they returned to their various schools. The coordinator of the programme and some facilitators, called professional development leaders, made follow up coaching visits to support school leaders to implement their action plans. Some other efforts we implemented included an annual success sharing conference to enable school heads to share experience, and a weekly text messaging system was also instituted where short reflective messages were sent to school leaders to motivate them on their work and prompt them to share ideas with their peers. These kept us together to always dialogue on leadership for learning, thereby sustaining the momentum to perform.

Virtue School Ghana: A Basic School (Gr. PK-9) Fifth Grade Mathematics Class

Through this programme, we found that school leaders did evolve into seeing themselves as leaders of learning, eventually labeling themselves “School Transformational Leaders.” They became more focused, showing a great deal of agency in their leadership towards improving learning by creating the necessary environment and culture for learning, promoting a dialogue around learning, sharing their leadership challenges and successes with others in the school, and encouraging mutual accountability. While initial challenges emerged related to changing mindsets, accepting changes, and dealing with teachers who felt the implementation of the principles was extra work for them, with time these challenges were overcome.

Though we could not obtain results from standardized examinations to establish the direct impact, we were able to use school-based data with regards pupils’ scores on academic exercises, pupils’ initiative-taking and pupils’ levels of engagement within and outside the school to indicate that there was a marked improvement in pupils’ learning. During my school visits, I also observed school leaders’ willingness to share what they learned during the training workshops with their teachers. This practice enhances shared leadership and has the potential of nurturing a core of school-level leaders who could eventually take up other leadership roles. I observed both staff and pupils being ready and willing to take risks in their learning journey. Strong collaboration within the school and between the school and the community was also reflected during these visits.

Throughout this experience working with the Leadership for Learning programme, I was also able to build my own capacity for leadership. I now understand the Ghana Education system, especially school level leadership issues and leadership development better. In my work as a senior research fellow, this understanding has shaped how I interpret issues and also teach. I have also applied the knowledge and skills that I gained from the programme to lead various professional development workshops. Moreover, I was able to build a professional network that I rely on for coaching and support.

My current role as a Senior Research Fellow at IEPA involves coordinating the planning and implementation of the Institute’s research agenda, developing proposals for funded research, organising research dissemination, communication and user-engagement activities and teaching graduate courses in Educational Statistics, Educational Research Methods, Economics of Education and Educational Finance, Management of Educational Institutions, Administrative Theory and Practice in Education, Curriculum Development in Institutions and Computer Applications, and supervising Graduate research students. In addition to this role, I also work as a member of the Ministry of Education’s Technical Committee on Education Sector Planning.

Moving forward, my professional goals are to acquire more knowledge, skills and dispositions to be relevant and to be able to contribute significantly to the development of education in Ghana. I hope that through my work, capacities of education staff will be enhanced and harnessed to the greater good of improving the quality and relevance of education for nation building.

Thank you Alfred for sharing more about this innovative program and your other professional goals and efforts. To learn more about the Leadership for Learning Network and Framework please visit:

http://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/networks/lfl/about/publications/ to follow and consider how this work may be relevant to supporting leaders in your context.

Meet Dr. Alfred Kweku Ampah-Mensah