Considerable time and resources have been invested into the drafting of the Nine-Year Schooling (NYS) project. This reform, like most others, may be far from perfect. However, this is not the time to go into the flaws of the reform but to focus on what is required to move successfully forward. This article argues that leadership development at all levels of the system is a pre-requisite if we are to ensure its effective implementation and thus an optimum return on our investment.
The reform measures underlying the project may be categorized under two main headings: (a) structure and administration and (b) teaching and learning. The first category is one which the bureaucracy will not find it too difficult to implement with the necessary tweaks here and there. The second one is the more challenging. It concerns mainly the six pillars listed in the reform document, Inspiring Every Child (IEC), available on the website of the Ministry of Education:
http://ministry-education.govmu.org/English/educationsector/nys/Pages/default.aspx , namely, Curricular Change, Innovative Pedagogies, Assessment, Continuous Professional Development, Learning Environment, System Governance and Accountability. As emphasized in the document, “there are six driving forces that are essential to the emergence of a better learning system” (IEC p.9).
2. Technical problems vs. Adaptive Challenges
It may be argued that if only the structural and administrative changes are implemented while all the six pillars are not fully in place, the key objectives of reform (IEC p.8) would not be achieved.
Harvard Professor Ronald Heifetz points out that problems lie on a spectrum with at one extreme purely technical problems and at the other predominantly adaptive challenges. Technical problems (e.g., a fused bulb, a crashed server or a fractured arm) simply require finding the ‘expert’ who will provide the appropriate technical fix. Adaptive challenges (e.g., implementing innovative pedagogies, drug addiction, or a severe heart condition), on the other hand, have no simple ‘solution’, nor is there a known expert who will supply a quick fix. Adaptive challenges, require a change in mindset and sometimes even a change in lifestyle; they require the willing participation of all the relevant stakeholders, a relationship of trust, new learning and effective leadership.
Readers will appreciate that the six pillars (IEC p.9) lie closer to the adaptive end of the continuum while the structural and administrative changes would be technical issues for which there are already known solutions.
The leadership being referred to above is not necessarily linked to a superior hierarchical post or a position of power and authority. It is more the capacity to mobilize, influence, inspire others to willingly want to change, to move in a given direction, to learn, in spite of the immediate discomfort or risks of failure. This leadership is a relational and situational process based on trust and is fundamentally values-driven. It is essentially mindful and authentic. It is clear that the implementation of the six pillars will require effective leadership rather than mere rule enforcement and a command-and-control approach.
Effective leadership is a pre-requisite at all levels of the education system (from Ministry officials to inspectors, from Zone directors to school heads, teachers and students) if the relevant stakeholders are to implement the required curricular changes, adopt innovative pedagogies, practice meaningful assessments, feel empowered and voluntarily enrol and grow through continuous professional development programs, create appropriate learning environments and feel accountable for the results. In such situations, a command and control approach is of limited use. As the saying goes, you can take a horse to the pond, but you can't make him drink. Leadership is critical when change is the order of the day. A ship safely anchored in the harbour can do without a captain, not one which is on the move to a distant destination beyond the horizon.
This leadership is made up of a series of concrete, observable and learnable practices and behaviours. Kouzes and Posner have been researching since the 1980’s what people did when they were at their personal best in leading others. After analysing thousands of these leadership experiences, they found that regardless of times or setting, when extraordinary things happen in organizations, leaders engage in what they call ‘The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership’: they model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act and encourage the heart.
Kouzes and Posner’s book – ‘The Leadership Challenge’ is now in its 6th edition and has been translated in many languages. It is worth noting that Kouzes and Posner’s exemplary leadership approach is an extension of James McGregor Burns’ transformational leadership which involves ‘leaders and their followers raising one another to higher levels of morality and motivation’. This is also related to the notion of educational leadership which Wikipedia defines as ‘the process of enlisting and guiding the talents and energies of teachers, pupils, and parents toward achieving common educational aims’.
Finally, this leadership is one which can be taught and learned and is ideally measured using a 3600 assessment tool involving all relevant stakeholders.
As pointed out above, leadership is not necessarily attached to positions of power and authority. For the reforms to succeed different stakeholders have to feel empowered and to exercise leadership. In fact, effective teaching involves a high degree of transformational leadership – this has been discussed at length in an article entitled Teaching as an Act of Leadership published in 2013
It is only in these conditions that innovative pedagogies will emerge and that school heads, teachers, parents and learners will feel empowered and accountable. This will result in a situation where ‘Teaching strategies will shift from the directive to learner-centered ones, such that learners get to be engaged in the learning process, become self-directed and autonomous’ (IEC p.11). As Parker J. Palmer puts it: “We teach who we are”. Good teaching comes from the integrity and identity of the teacher, not just from methods and techniques. This requires mindfulness and self-leadership. It is this approach to teaching that would address not only the cognitive but also the affective needs of the learner.
It is interesting to note that it is the intention of the policy makers to promote continuous professional development with a view to ‘strengthening of the leadership capacity of Heads of Schools such that they can become more effective instructional and transformational leaders’ (IEC p.25). This article goes a step further by positioning leadership as a sine qua non condition for the successful implementation of the reforms and makes a case for leadership development at different levels of the education system - from the policy makers down to the students. After all, the leadership style of the heads of schools will be impacted by the leadership that is exercised by those above and below.
Published in Le Mauricien on July 13, 2017