The L.E.A.D.E.R. Way
In June 1997,the Prime Minister of Singapore unveiled Government’s vision of ‘Thinking Schools, Learning Nation’ (TSLN). This vision was forged to improve Singapore’s education system in light of rapid changes around world. The Government foresees that Singapore, with its limited natural resources, can only continue to progress by nurturing a knowledgeable workforce that is adaptable to changes in world economy. More importantly, Government realized that it had to start preparing nation for these inevitable changes by revamping education system in accordance with vision of TSLN.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore, state agency responsible for undertaking of this vision, states goals of TSLN as follows:
Thinking Schools ensure that we equip students with skills and knowledge and values and instincts to face future challenges, while Learning Nation aims to promote a culture of continual learning beyond school environment. (MOE, 1998,p.16)
In order to realize vision, MOE has introduced changes to curriculum, training of teachers, assessment modes and development of resource packages. Furthermore, all schools will have students spending at least 30% of their curriculum time accessing electronic resources and working on computers. (MOE, 1998,p.17) The changes in curriculum include infusion of thinking skills and reduction in contents of curriculum. Schools are strongly encouraged to set up their own thinking programs and teachers are to enroll in courses to learn how to infuse thinking skills in their teaching.
With restructuring taking place to realize vision, most teachers fear that changes will burden them by increasing their already-heavy workload and tight time schedule due to increased training hours. The principal, being main disseminator of MOE’s mission of TSLN in school, has unenviable task to articulate this vision to overcome resistance to changes especially from school’s teachers.
The main objective of paper is to explore perceptions of teachers as to effectiveness of principals in leading a change programs (in this case, a Thinking Programs). Since teachers are directly responsible for learning outcomes of students, their perceptions of their principals’ effectiveness and concomitant actions are vital to success of vision of TSLN. As part of paper, a case study of a primary school, which has embarked on a Thinking Programs, has been carried out.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
In hope of improving existing system, schools face many problems when introducing well-meaning changes. Restructuring would, inevitably, involve people within organisation to absorb new ideas and ideals that usually result in many uncertainties (Heckman, 1990). A school’s principal, thus, has uphill task to manage level of resistance to change and align staff to work towards a common vision, amidst turbulence.
To reiterate, author is focussing on teachers’ perceptions of their principal in leading change, more specifically, process of creating a Thinking Programme for school. The importance of teachers’ perception of their leaders in success of a school has been documented in various researches. Researchers (such as Bhella, 1992) suggested that teachers’ morale is related to student achievement. And, in turn, principal has strongest influence on teachers’ satisfaction in workplace. (Vanderstoepe et al, 1994) From that perspective, teachers’ satisfaction and perceptions of principal in leading change process would directly have an impact on success rate of new programme of boosting students’ achievement.
In process of writing, author discussed with many teachers on what they expect their leaders to do when introducing a new programs to their schools. The author has summarized teachers’ opinions for inclusion in this paper. Previous research and literature would be used to illuminate factors that are critical to success of a principal in leading a change programs. To further enhance clarity of exposition, I have presented systematically ideas encapsulated in previous research by using acronym of L.E.A.D.E.R as a model to elucidate steps in leading a successful change programs in a school. The acronym of L.E.A.D.E.R stands for:
Leading by example
The above model does not try to be prescriptive or attempt to imply that it will cover all salient factors of an effective change programme. Due to prescribed length of paper, author hopes that model will shed more light in topic of research in a more methodical manner.
Leading by Example
In most organisations that have embarked on a change programme, one of more common complaints by employees is that leader does not ‘walk talk’. In a school, if a principal is not willing to learn and adapt to changes, there are no compelling reasons for staff to do so. The Scout’s motto, ‘ Lead by Example’, is a major criteria of what a principal must do to succeed in leading change.
In order to create a thinking and learning organisation, principal will become researchers and designers rather than controllers and overseers. They should also be a model of learning to rest of organisation and encourage staff to be life-long learners. (Senge, 1990) More importantly, a principal must not merely communicate in words, but by deeds to convince staff that change is happening at all levels. These build a sense of esprit de corp in school that will help in lessening pressures that change brings to organisations.
In short, a principal has to be perceived to be capable in leading school educational development by his or her own example. (Dunning, 1993; McHugh & McMullan, 1995) Unless staffs are convinced, they will not work co-operatively towards success of change programme.
A change programme requires a change of vision. According to Kotter (1995, p.10),
“ A vision says something that clarifies direction in which an organisation needs to move.”
The Ministry of Education developed vision of TSLN in middle of 1997. In schools, banners are put up to herald vision of TSLN and school principals were expected to align teachers towards this shared vision for betterment of schools. The principals are expected to modify culture through skill in communication of necessary shared values for a changed vision. (Campbell-Evans, 1993).
In most organisations’ change programme, appropriate pace of change is often ignored. Most leaders are impatient to see results and thus apply unwarranted pressures on those involved in process .In Singapore schools; such a situation is a commonplace. With MOE’s intention of creating a world-class educational system in Singapore, many new initiatives are introduced within a short period of time. Most of initiatives will require much time and effort of teachers, on top of their already-heavy load. Such a situation often causes distress and principal has to address issues.