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.


  1. One thing that I've noticed is that the Principal, especially if this person comes from outside, has an arduous task.
    1. Distrust by everyone they engage.
    2. They were not part of the process that appointed the SMT.
    3. Teaching is the only profession where one cannot be fired for incompetence - only progressive discipline is instituted, and where does that take us?
    4. Many "things" are seen as events.
    So what happens? - The Principal runs the show.
    5. Principals still embraces possessive pronouns - MY school, MY staff, etc.
    Coming back to your article on the SIP - I believe, it is the way to go.
    6. The biggest farce - IQMS. Schools have found a way to BEAT the system, yet such an import process in sustainable educator empowerment and development.
    How do we turn things around?
    When are we going to hold one another accountable?
    Why must parents pay exorbitant amounts of money each month for transport, school fees, aftercare, etc. because the local schools are not "good" enough.

    1. Wow... what a mouthful. Everything you say has merit. That is why there should be more platforms for SMTs and teachers to engage these issues. We have lost the debating culture and should work at reviving it. Thank you for keeping the conversation alive.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

We say `'Well Done" to two teachers whose full-time teaching career has come full circle

Welcome to my new Youtube Channel, School Corridor

The launch of Child Protection and Youth Month at Metro South EducationDistrict.