School principals and their SMTs can make or break their schools.
While I was waiting to convene a grievance meeting at a school, I had an interesting conversation with two school management team leaders - a deputy principal and a head of department. The main topic of our conversation was the difficulty to get their own children into schools of their choice.
The head of department was disappointed because her daughter, a high achiever (95% average), was not accepted at the school that was their first choice. She spoke about the competition to get into good schools and bemoaned the powers that these schools wield.
Is the school principal responsible for the school's success?
Inevitably, the conversation turned to the difference between poor schools and wealthy schools and the role the principal plays in managing and leading the school to success. Here is where the conversation became interesting. There was definitely a sense that the two senior management members believe that only the school principal is accountable for the success of the school.
That a school head is responsible for school success is only partly true. If schools underperform, the school principal must take responsibility. However, there is a core of school leaders who has been appointed to assist the principal. If the school underperforms, this entire leadership team must be held responsible. School principals AND their SMTs can make or break their schools.
The critical role of the SMT should not be underestimated.
The school principal is the top leader but he or she cannot do it alone. . I believe that dysfunctional senior management teams at struggling schools make it more difficult for the schools to operate effectively and efficiently.
One of the chief challenges is the leadership identity crisis that senior management team members experience. Such leadership crisis is either self-imposed or the school head is the block. These middle management school leaders have not fully embraced their mandate as managers or they are not allowed to assume their responsibility to co-manage and co-lead the school. The consequences are serious.
If school heads don't encourage their SMT team to assert themselves, the team is going to get stuck. If the majority of the SMT members do not embrace their leadership and fail to assert their authority, the team is doomed. Worse still, a fragmented, disempowered SMT makes the school more vulnerable to inefficiencies and exploitation of the situation by everybody else at the school.
School heads have an obligation to develop their SMTs.
School heads should know whether their SMTs are dysfunctional or not operating effectively to help manage the school. After doing deep reflection of their own management and leadership shortcomings, they need to start building their SMTs. If they feel they do not have the ability, they should bring in people who can help them. These people can be drawn from neighbouring schools or district officials can be roped in.
The important factor is that these support groups should not take over the process; rather, they are there to be the critical friends. The growth process should be owned by the SMTs. The SMT should be the ones to identify the areas where they would like to improve and they should assess their progress. The idea is to empower the school head and the SMT so that they can manage their school effectively.
Strong SMTs + 100% quality teaching time = GOOD SCHOOL
Building strong leadership teams is time consuming and requires commitment. When schools have strong, focused, relational school heads and committed SMTs that work as well-oiled teams, half the battle is won. Good school leadership coupled with the one non-negotiable goal of all learners in class where 'task on time' rules, WILL LEAD to transformation. This is the secret sauce to well functioning schools: Connected leadership and 100% teaching time!
Be bold and push towards becoming an outstanding institution!
Do you have a success story you want to share with us? We are looking forward to hearing your views.