Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Wanted: 'Canny Outlaws!

We need some customised Indiana Jones Posted by Hello

Years ago, at one of the earlier NZ Primary Principals Federations meetings, a keynote speaker Prof. Hedley Beare, when talking about the need for leadership, said we all ought to become ‘customized Indiana Jones’

He was challenging us to have the courage of our convictions and not to meekly accept everything that was being imposed on schools as the gospel truth. His argument was that Indiana Jones was a good model because he was an individual who took short cuts, cut through red tape, but at all times acted morally for the cause of the greater good.

I liked that. Far too many school principals are too careful and fearful of doing the wrong thing to stick their necks out. After all ERO might visits and if they judged us failing and the whole school would suffer. As well I fear a lot of principal actually like all the managerial nonsense.

Whatever, there are too few Indiana Jones around – I can only think of a handful at best. That s not to say there are no leaders, just that few principals have had the nerve to join up with others and really provide a focal point for creative teachers. Worse still there has developed , in this age of having to prove how good you are , what one writer calls, ‘look at me schools’ – each school trying to show it is better than the others.

We really need some Indiana Jones right now. We need people not frightened of doing a bit of rule bending. As one business writer said we ‘need canny outlaws, system beaters, creative and responsible rule benders.’ Educationalist Thomas Sergiovanni wrote that this courageous attitude is needed because ‘the deck is stacked against the creative, imaginative and entrepreneurial teachers’ and principals.

A pioneering research study of successful principals found that they were frequently critical of the constraints imposed by central authorities, that they found it difficult to live within the constraints of the bureaucracy, and that they frequently violated compliance requirements. ‘Canny outlaws’ learn to ‘build in canvas’ – by working the bureaucracy to suit themselves. Their advice was to, ‘Start with the spirit of the rule- bending it to shape best practice. If the system tightens up, go to the letter of the rule and efficiently, do what is necessary with as little energy as possible and in a way that minimizes impact.’

I always think that, 'if a thing is not worth doing it is worth doing badly so you can get on with the important things.'

The bottom line is, ‘Will these decisions we make enable teachers to teach creatively so as to improve the learning of the students? The stakes are too high for school leaders to boldly follow the central technocrats. We must give up the belief that those in authority always know best.

The answer, as always, lies in collaboration with others. Groups of principals need to work together to use their combined intelligences to develop ideas and approaches that each of them can in turn customize to suit the individual contexts of their schools.

There is courage to be gained from such unity but someone has to take the lead. An ‘all for one and one for all’ outlook is the only way to combat outside auditors like ERO.

Each area needs its own Indiana Jones to start the ball rolling.

May be it is already happening? Love to hear about it if it so.

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