What leadership means for a school

How are you feeling after the first two weeks of the new school year? Feeling accomplished? Pumped? Exhausted? Frustrated?

A former student switched to another school after the summer break. When I enquired about her new school life, what she described is awe-inspiring. I couldn’t believe that such a great school still exists in HK, when so many of them have lost sight of the purpose of education.

The 2 things that have impressed her, a newcomer, the most are: (a) the school’s commitment to quality teaching and learning; and (b) the strong caring ethos between teachers, between teachers and students, and between students.

Aren’t these the raison d’etre of schools?

When I asked her how the school had built up that culture, it didn’t take more than one second for my former student to declare: Superb leadership.

When the principal talks with the teachers, it’s always about teaching and learning, not blaming or grumbling. The principal often shares her teaching ideas with the teachers, and would even spend time doing co-lesson planning with the teachers! The school doesn’t artificially follow a higher-level coursebook, or force a higher-level curriculum on the students; but the students learn well.

I asked her about homework and exams, because some schools would boost up superficial academic achievement in the form of high exam scores through tons of homework and assessments. But this principal refuses to turn students into exam-taking machines. She even asked the teachers not to give students too much homework. The principal said that she would bear all the responsibilities if anything went wrong.

So, is my former student enjoying her new school? Her answer reminds us of the importance of caring in the workplace, if staff are to throw all their heart and mind into their work. My former student said:

“I feel so warm here. Even though as a newcomer, I may forget to hand in this or that from time to time, I need not worry about being blamed. Today, I didn’t realise I had a duty in a classroom and was called upon to report to that duty by the assistant principal. But he didn’t reprimand me; he just used a reminding tone. If he had, I would have felt terrible about myself.

I lost my voice for a few days. Everyone I met in the school wished me quick recovery. Some students came up to me and showed their concern for me. In fact, I can see that the students in the school like their teachers a lot.

Yesterday was the Teacher’s Day. Every teacher received an ice cream coupon, a Starbucks card, a Chinese herb tea coupon, and flowers! Everyone was so excited. The students wrote about that in their journal, too. They were happy for us!”

Which reminds me that I had almost totally forgotten the Teacher’s Day, because so few people had cared about it.

So I said to my former student that her school is like a paradise for teachers and students, to which she duly agreed. And again, she attributed it to superior management and leadership. She elaborated:

“The school management is so humble to listen to advice. My friend told me that the school is getting better and better because the principal really listens to advice and suggestions.

She always talks to us. She sits with us during Staff Development Day like a colleague. During the induction programme for the new teachers, she told us not to take teaching as a job. She said if we wanted to make money, we should go into business.

Paul, this is exactly my belief, too.”

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And this is what LEADERSHIP is all about.

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