Today, the school head's role has expanded to include curriculum planning and development, areas pertaining to student development, teacher training, and financial management.

What does the term ‘School Leadership and Management' evoke? Does it conjure up a vision of a disciplinarian school principal patrolling the corridors and a sudden hush descending upon everyone? Does it conjure up an image of students being reprimanded or worse still caned? It perhaps brings forth something even drearier and deadlier. Well, all of that has changed considerably and is changing even as you read this. The principal/headmaster tag continues to linger on though the more corporate sounding ‘Director' is increasingly making its presence felt, at least in private schools. But what has really changed more than the image of the school leader is really the nature of his work.

New areas

With schools, both government and private, having to reinvent themselves owing to government regulations and societal expectations, the nature of the school leader has undergone a redefinition. Today's school leader is likely to be more computer-savvy, student-friendly and yes, perhaps less forbidding than we imagine him/her to be. In addition, his/her concern is likely to be far more than the ‘syllabus' of yore. The current buzzwords are “curriculum,” “all-round development,” “training” and “technology-assisted learning.” In addition, a whole host of areas are now making their presence felt in the working life of the school leader.

School leaders are today expected to perform a wide-range of academic and non-academic duties and hence the job does not merely revolve around completing ‘syllabus', goading teachers to produce ‘excellent' results and then basking in the glory once the board results are announced. In the academic sphere, the nature of the school leader's duties can be said to be in the area of curriculum planning and development, areas pertaining to student development and teacher training.

The term curriculum is being increasingly preferred to ‘syllabus'. To put it simply, ‘curriculum' refers to teaching, learning, and assessment materials available for a given course of study and it is far broader than the term ‘syllabus' which was merely a lesson completion plan. Curriculum requires far more detailing in terms of subject matter, teaching methodologies, assessment techniques and it is really the school leader's responsibility to lead and manage the whole curriculum process. But it is not as if the old requirements of students having to crack exams and leave schools with ‘good results' has disappeared. The old continues to co-exist with the new.

Area of work

Ensuring all-round student development through a variety of curricular and extra-curricular activities is another important area of work. The old bookworm with great marks, but no social skills is a no-no everywhere, and so developing student communication skills and attuning the student to the social and environmental realities of the day through a variety of methods in addition to classroom work is yet another area that requires the leader's attention. With teacher training becoming more or less a regular need as technologies, curriculum and regulatory environments change , it is the responsibility of the school leader to plan, organise and occasionally even deliver training programmes of various types that will familiarise teachers with the new realities.

In the non-academic sphere, the school leader's duties revolve around compliance — affiliation and recognition — with the RTE making this mandatory, property management in terms of school facilities and infrastructure (fire safety, building safety, water, food, transport, etc.) and counselling of and interaction with parents and children. Another aspect which will assume greater importance in times to come will be a greater degree of interaction with the local community especially with schools having to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for economically weaker sections in the light of RTE.

Multifaceted management

In addition, school leaders increasingly have to do human resource management, financial management and strategic planning as well. For one, schools employ a greater range of professionals than earlier. The bland tags such as ‘Teacher' and ‘Senior Teacher' have given way to ‘Educator', ‘Academic Co-ordinator' and so on, and this has created a range of expectations around the various new roles that have emerged. ‘Educators' expect a greater role in preparing the curriculum and are no longer happy being talked down to and merely being instructed to deliver the curriculum. It is the school leader's job to harness their talent as well as put their feedback in perspective. In addition, schools employ counsellors, assessment professionals, nutritionists and so on. The school leader needs to be aware of their roles and importance in the school set-up. In a start-up institution, he/she might be required to play many of these roles himself/herself.

Managing finance

As private schools burgeon and government schools also being allowed a modicum of financial freedom, the school leader is also expected to be a financial manager. Prioritising expenditure, coming up with innovative fund-raising techniques, and ensuring transparent accounting is also the school leader's responsibility. Besides balancing the numbers, the school leader also needs to develop a vision along with other stakeholders and then translate this vision to achievable goals so as to develop the institution for the long-term.

Academic duties

A school Principal/Director's day is likely to be a heady mix of the mundane and the truly sublime. Academic duties are almost de rigueur. On any given day, the school principal is definitely likely to be making some decisions regarding curriculum and so meeting teachers and academic co-ordinators is likely to figure on the top of his to-do list. Then a significant part of his day is likely to be devoted to administrative matters relating to finance, HR, infrastructure and the like. Dealing with parents and other visitors is another very important part of the principal's schedule. And of course, the day is incomplete without the principal dealing with students. The principal might choose to teach a class regularly in which case he would metamorphose into a teacher or he might choose to step in occasionally, doing perspective-building sessions for senior students or ‘fun' workshops for junior students.

Challenges

Requiring as it does a wide range of skill sets and areas of expertise, the ideal school leader will need to have a background in both education and management. Regulatory bodies insist on an education degree (B.Ed / M.Ed) and this is a must in order to develop a good understanding of the process and language of education. But the efficiency and effectiveness of the school leader is likely to be enhanced if this is supplemented with a management qualification as well.

In addition, the school leader will necessarily have to enjoy working with children, develop a certain grounding in social issues relevant to education and be comfortable working in a dynamic environment that throws up new challenges everyday.

The author heads a school in Bhatinda, Punjab.

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