We all are finding ourselves in extraordinary times where we get to push ourselves and make sense of the uncertainty around us, rethink our priorities and perhaps even our whole way of working. Much of the narrative in the education sector during the pre-pandemic world centered around 21stcentury learning paradigm for people working. We were speaking about academic growth backed with building competencies around collaboration, problem-solving, creativity, agency and life-long learning. We were hoping that our 21stcentury learner would be able to innovate, stay resilient and adapt to this ever-changing world. Surprisingly, that is exactly what the pandemic also demands. That we as educators adapt to the current times keeping one eye towards the future – a more future-forward approach in Education. And if we truly wish to do something, we have to focus on one critical and often misrepresented link – our school leaders.
I would like to share some of my very simple, raw observations from the past 4 to 5 years of working in the sector. These are more in the context of rural spaces and government schools with whom I have had a close working relationship. The very first point that comes to my mind is the ‘intent’ of our educators. A very significant number of teachers or school principals I interacted or worked with tend to treat their role as a secured government job rather than as leaders. And this mindset often drives them to settle for bare minimum and put innovation or creativity at the very low on their priority-list. The reason to share this is not to only flag our struggles of working as educational leaders but to understand that if we were to create solutions and a positive dialogue around schools, we must accept and strongly think about the constraints and bottlenecks on the way.
We are all acquainted with how our Indian administrative structures in education sector have operated in a vertical and complex hierarchy. Our schools, especially teachers in government-schools have had a disadvantage in terms of autonomy. The school itself is placed very low on the school-system hierarchy. And this invariably affects our teachers’ morale and motivation do more, do better. Our society has also long supported teaching-for-testing approach even after several policy changes. And altering these traditional mindsets is not an easy job. From classrooms to school assemblies to school events – we have all witnessed the lack of imagination and creativity and how year after year, we repeat the same routines, same set of student activities and each looks like a duplicate imitation of the last one. And we at Varitra have been working towards fighting this demotivation.
A lot of about school leadership has changed irreversibly due to Covid. Going forward, we all have to make way for context-responsive leadership. Skills like crisis and change management will be a must. We all will have to reconfigure our pre-Covid priorities and thoughts about what a school leader should look like. Efficiency or outcome-based leadership has to be emerged with humane aspect of leadership. To incorporate empathy, mindfulness and self-care in our way of working, The focus in the past decades has been to get things done – whether its completing syllabus, taking tests or documenting results; rather than how to do better, explore newer ways to adapt to changing times. Until now, most of school leadership operated from a management, instructional or inspectional lenses. There will be a need for distributed leadership and a higher degree of trust and co-working between our schools, children and parents.
Perhaps the important lesson that none of us can ignore is the role of the community. Community has always been an untapped reservoir of knowledge, expertise and cultural philosophies as well as local-capacity and resources. Much of the community-engagement work in social sector has remained centered around representation and visibility. For instance, in terms of school, we focus on parents attendance in parent-teacher meetings or school events. But what is missing is their involvement in decision-making and implementation. We have been witness to parents assuming the role of primary educators to their children during the pandemic. Even those who have not had the chance to receive formal education themselves. Forging stronger links between parents, children and school during today’s period of isolation has become a necessity.
There is a very interesting phrase I read once – “connect to learn and learn to connect” and I cannot think of a better time to work on these words. To me, it beautifully represents communities and schools working together.
Note – The thought-piece contains excerpts from the authors’ keynote address at the “School Leaders सम्मलेन” (Jan 2021) hosted by Barefoor Edu