Dr Colonel Atul Bhandari, principal, Kimberley Boarding School, Panchkula
We must always strive for improvement. It is the biggest room in the house. Too often, schools focus on one big agenda, i.e. to keep patting themselves on the back. Yes, many schools are doing a great job in providing quality education but instead of resting on laurels, I believe the focus must be on continuous improvement.
What are the common mistakes made by the stakeholders of a school? The list can be exhaustive but I will enlist only the most critical issues here.
We must minimise these lapses if we are serious about giving the very best to children.
Common mistakes made by school leaders/heads
Thinking that they know it all
Many principals erroneously think that they know it all. They think they do not need any advice.
Solution – Principals must be open to advice and feedback from the management and senior teachers.
Hiring incompetent staff to save on salary expenditure
This is a classic example of being myopic. It is like switching off the clock to save time! Low quality staff will make a mess of things, which will result in a drop in admissions, leading to a drop in revenue.
Solution – Hire the best quality teachers and staff that the school can afford. It will have a direct bearing on the overall standard of the quality of education and the learning experience of children.
Micro-management of school’s daily affairs
Some principals get involved in irrelevant and minor issues pertaining to day to day functioning of the institution.
Solution – Top management and principals must focus on the top 20 percent of issues, for growth and smooth functioning of the school. They must graduate from focusing on the bottom 20 percent of issues.
Not laying off incompetent staff
The staff selection process must be very strict. Principals and headmistresses must closely track the performance of teaching and non-teaching staff members and should not shy from laying off incompetent staff. They should keep in mind that the school will always stay mediocre if they hang on to the incompetent staff.
Solution – Incapable principals, incompetent teachers and unproductive administration staff must be fired on priority. A school is a temple of learning. The inefficient must be weeded out at the earliest.
Lopsided perception of salary
An ordinary, junior employee is sometimes paid much more than a qualified teacher which causes discontent to brew among senior teachers.
Solution – Have a good human resources officer who gives sensible advice. Teachers must be very well paid and a school must attract the best feasible talent.
Giving standardised increments
Very few things are as illogical as giving a standard increment to the teachers, on the mistaken belief that this is fair. Actually, it is very unfair. A teacher who has been very committed and hard working is given the same increment as a teacher who has been uncommitted. How fair is that?
Solution – Give much better increments to the top performers, ie the stars, and a much lower increment to the weak performers. Do not have a ‘One size fits all’ policy.
Having a tunnel vision
Some principals have a tunnel vision, ie they lack the ability to see running of the school in a 360-degree perspective. For example, they may be focused only on academics, rather than being concerned about the overall development of the child.
Solution – Principals need to be more interested in what the child of today will shape up to be tomorrow, when he grows up. That is considerably more important than a principal focusing only on Grade 12 Board Exam Results, so that he himself looks good in the eyes of the management.
Being unapproachable to teachers
Some principals believe that as the Head of the school, they should not be too approachable to the teachers. Yes, some distance is necessary, but it must not be so much that the principal fails to stay in touch with the teachers.
Solution – Strike a balance. Even while maintaining the hierarchy, a principal should focus on building a good camaraderie with the teachers like a true leader.
Common mistakes made by parents
Believing that high marks are the only passport to success
Actually there is very little correlation between good marks and a successful life. There are multitudes of people who are toppers, very good academically, but are not a success in Life. Many so called ‘bright’ people are very poor architects of their own life.
Solution – Principals need to frequently communicate with Parents, through face-to-face sessions, through emails, through Newsletters and so on, to make Parents realize that All Round Development is more important than grades. The sad part is that many Principals themselves believe the opposite.
Thinking that if they have put their child in a good school, their job as a parent is over
The time in School is just a small portion of the overall time of growth and development that a child has, from the age of five to 18 years. Parents have a huge and immensely significant role to play in teaching good values and ‘Sanskaar’ to their child. They erroneously think that the Teacher is the sole person responsible for teaching everything to their child, from Advanced Mathematics to Table Manners.
Solution – Parents need to realize that they have to bring up their children, not merely finance them! There is much more to Parenting than just paying the School fees.
Robbing the child of their childhood
Many parents rob their children of their childhood by insisting that they be involved all day with school/studies, extracurricular and after school activities.
Solution – Parents must realise that their child is as human as they are. They cannot be good in everything. They too need time and space to breathe.
Common mistakes made by teachers
Not setting a good personal example
Many Teachers think that if they just teach, their job is over. We need to realize that the child is watching every move, every action, of the Teacher. Hence, the teacher has to be a very good role model in the manner of her grooming, behaviour, speech, etc. In case the example is good, the child will tend to pick up good qualities. In case the example is wrong, the child will tend to pick up wrong qualities.
Solution – The teacher must set a very good example in everything they do.
Being lesson centric rather than child-centric
Some teachers seem to forget that they have to build a positive relationship with each child. It is not just about teaching chemistry and walking out of the class.
Solution – Each teacher must connect with the child. There must be a positive bond based on trust and respect.
If teachers have favourites, it undermines the self-esteem of other children.
Solution – Treat each child fairly, with care and understanding.
Common concerns of school managements which the staff are unaware of
Meeting numerous invisible expenses
The management has to pay for loans, insurance, salaries, basic maintenance of the campus, which the staff take for granted.
Solution – Be grateful for the various kinds of investment the top management is making for the benefit of the school and all staff members.
Adhering to government rules and regulations
The management has to be on the right side of the law, adhere to government rules, manage media relationships, positively influence parents opinion, public opinion, etc. It is not an easy task.
Solution – Teachers need to appreciate the hardships that the top management has to face.
If some unforeseen incident takes place at school, it might trigger legal action towards the owner/top management. On the other hand, teachers are not exposed to such risks. If a devastating fire breaks out, or a road accident occurs, the entire brunt is borne by the management, usually for no direct fault of theirs.
Solution – Teachers must be grateful for not having to bear the brunt of a multitude of issues. Remember, uneasy the head that wears the crown.
Most of us are aware of the solutions to the pitfalls listed above but very few act on them. Everyone wants change, but very few are willing to change themselves. Only a teacher who can clearly place the school above the ‘self’, is capable of ushering these positive changes.