Leading the way

The country’s education system can progress only if it is led by those who are willing to acknowledge their own inadequacies, rectify them and move forward:

FOR many of us school teachers who have been around for quite a while, incompetent leadership at many levels of the education system is something that we have encountered so frequently that we may have subconsciously accepted it as the way things naturally are.

It is like another one of those things in your life that you cannot change and have to put up with. A physical disability perhaps or living with the neighbour from hell.

You don’t question why, you just move along doing the best you can given the circumstances. Then there are times that even when the truth stares so squarely in our faces, we fail to acknowledge it.

Perhaps our senses have gotten so used to mediocrity and inadequacies on the part of those above us that we have given up expecting anything more. In fact ,we may have even forgotten that alternatives are possible.

Sure we know that not all the people who are sitting in positions above us deserve to be there. Sure we know that it is not meritocracy or a fair assessment of leadership potential that placed them there above us in the first place, but again, we have lived with it for so long that we have accepted it as part of the way things just are.

We know that among those above us, there will always be at least one or two, who do not have what it takes to be in that position of leadership.

We know that it is not the qualities that define a leader that put them there in the first place.

Lack of vision

We sense the deficiency, the lack of vision and purpose, the unclear definition of goals, the absence of charisma and dynamism.

We cannot feel the strength of character that spills over from leader to follower, nor the spirit that inspires, encourages and defines the paths and purposes of their efforts.

And yet, despite sensing these things, we often sink back either in apathy or resignation, knowing that there is not one thing we can do about it.

So let them be, we reckon, let the leaders be what they are. After all, we as teachers are quite clear in our heads about what is required of us.

Our true bosses are not them, so let’s just get on with our work, meet our deadlines, get those lessons taught and hopefully raise some standards among our students.

Besides, things are quite comfortable the way they are. We don’t want head-teachers or administrators breathing down our necks endlessly with their relentless, fault-finding missions.

We also do not need them coming up with some new-fangled programmes or ideas that would increase our already precariously tilting, overloaded work-cart.

No thanks. We are quite content with our administrators and heads.

We know our job and we know how to get it done, and it doesn’t matter who is officially above us.

So let’s just sit back, relax and enjoy the show while it lasts. Who knows what’s in store for us in the future.

But does it really not matter who leads us when so much has been talked and argued about teachers’ present duties and the deep dissatisfaction caused by the unyielding burden of documentation?

We hear reports of the approaching “transformations” that seem to augur winds of change and promises of alleviation from our grievances.

Sometimes though, it is hard to shake off the demon of skepticism that sits on our shoulders reminding us of past promises of relief that never came to pass because they crashed halfway into the barriers set up by individuals, who despite being unclear of the concept, occupied certain places of authority in the system.

We can’t help wondering why it is that new policies or programmes that seem so fundamentally and intrinsically good when they are announced, eventually get watered down to mere words and numbers on papers for documentation purposes.

There are times also when you can’t help feeling that the chunk of time spent on getting these “words and numbers” ready could have been spent on more meaningful student-teacher interaction that produced real educational results.

Flawed messages

Then there are times you wonder who are the leaders above the leaders. Has something been lost in translation.

Has the cascading principle of getting information across resulted in more and more diluted residues reaching the real level of implementation?

Is it due to the vision problems of the leaders along the way whose job it is to ensure the wholeness and purity of the message reaching us?

Or, is the message itself flawed, drawn up by leaders who lack true understanding of education, who have never skimmed beyond the surface of our educational philosophy?

Has it been tainted by specks of conceit and self-importance or could it have been blotches of personal ambition and glory that caused the distortion?

The average Malaysian government school teacher is not in the position to decide on who becomes her school principal, who heads her panel, or department.

Neither can she decide who is in charge of other departments in the nation’s education network. In other words, “ours is not to question why”, although the questions sometimes loom over our heads in black, clouds that threaten to split open anytime.

Most of the time we cannot choose our leaders. And if our leaders turn out to be less than competent, then we have no choice but to follow our own judgment, conscience and intrinsic sense of right and wrong.

No one wants authoritarian megalomaniacs, but no one wants an ineffectual and indecisive leader either. But even what we want is dependent on us, whether we have become so comfortable with the insipidity of the situation that we have ourselves suffered a loss of vision and fail to see the deficiency.

We have failed to see that we need leaders who can lead. Leaders who are truly competent, who know what they are doing, who have a honest passion for the education of the children of their nation, formulate all their rules and policies, their curriculum and programmes around these goals, rather than personal ambition, pride, and egotism.

Knowing the direction

What after all defines a leader? It is not enough to sit in an ivory tower and point the way. Inspirational author, Oswald Sanders says that we can only lead others as far along the road as we ourselves have travelled.

A leader has to know the road so clearly that he is able to pull others after him.

He has to have the capacity to inspire and to influence. So how do we get these leaders. It is after all so easy to theorise and say grand-sounding words, but how do we actually ensure that we have leaders of such calibre if they really do exist in the first place.

And how do we know for sure that things won’t remain the same despite having the best of leaders. Who decides who is to lead anyway?

We are often told that true leaders are made, not born and that the mantle of leadership requires a lifetime of exercise. There are some however who look upon the position of leadership as part of a “rehabilitation” exercise.

They feel that allowing a totally unsuitable, incompetent candidate to be in the position of leadership will shake him up, turn his path around and transform him. That is also why there are schools that have allowed students with long discipline records and no evidence of leadership potential, into positions of student leadership.

What they may fail to realise is that incompetence often breeds incompetence. We do not promote people to leadership position because we feel sorry for them or in hopes that it will cause them to turn around.

A leadership position is not rehabilitation grounds nor a half-way house. Followers of leaders are often constrained by the boundaries of the leader’s own potential. This could also be the reason why many teachers who started out with such fire in their souls became cold and frustrated. They were fenced in by the limitations of those above them. Authority we respect, look up to, believe in and be confident with. It provides structure in our lives and defines our role, and direction.

We want the authority of leaders with integrity who confirm our deepest sense of justice.

We can also never forget that each of us teachers too become instant leaders whenever we face our students.

In time, perhaps some of us will also hold positions of authority in various departments of education.

And it is vital that we look upon that position not as one that allows us to lord over others, or to flaunt our supposed superior capabilities.

Rather, it should be perceived as one in which you are best able to serve the purposes of education with the humbleness that comes from knowing that no matter how much you know or have achieved, you can never quite completely arrive.

by Mallika Vasugi.

Read more @ http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2010/4/25/education/6095766&sec=education

Comments are closed.