Who will lead our schools?
A summary of the discussion forum sponsored by the SSTA June 8, 1999
SSTA Research Centre Report #99-03: 8 pages, $11
Directions for Action

1. Promote a positive image of in-school leadership in education.

2. Clarify the role and expectations of in-school leaders.

3. Recognize school leadership as a shared responsibility.

4. Improve the compensation and support for in-school leaders.

5. Improve learning opportunities for enhancing leadership knowledge and skill development.

6. Develop a support network for in-school leaders. 

A discussion forum was organized by the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association on June 8, 1999 with representatives of educational stakeholders in Saskatchewan to discuss the issue 'Who will lead our schools?'.  The purposes of the discussion forum were:  
  • To review the challenges identified in the SELU report entitled In-School Leadership for Saskatchewan Schools:  Issues and Strategies and 
  • To explore the potential for joint action. 
  • The SSTA has invited a shared response to enhancing school leadership for Saskatchewan schools.    While boards of education can respond to some of the identified challenges, an effective response will require the co-operation and collaborative efforts of the major educational stakeholders in Saskatchewan.  This forum provided an opportunity for the major educational stakeholders to begin the process of moving towards commonly supported directions for action.  

    The 32 participants at the forum included representatives of:  

  • Saskatchewan School Trustees Association (staff and Executive) 
  • Saskatchewan Education 
  • Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation 
  • Faculty of Education, University of Regina 
  • College of Education, University of Saskatchewan 
  • Saskatchewan Educational Leadership Unit 
  • Saskatchewan League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents 
  • Saskatchewan Association of School Business Officials 
  • A summary of the key concerns and directions for supporting school leadership discussed at the forum are summarized on the following pages. 

    Who will lead our schools?

    Effective school leadership is critical to the operation of a good school. Some Saskatchewan school divisions are experiencing difficulty in appropriately staffing school-based administrative positions.  Others within the education community are questioning the kind of leadership desired for Saskatchewan schools in the 21st century.  The level of interest, among teachers, in pursuing the principalship is low, and that lack of interest is particularly strongly felt in small rural communities.  Principalship positions in rural K-12 schools are most difficult to fill.  Reason as to why teachers are not coming forward relates to the perception of the overwhelming overload which characterizes the job, and the “hassle” that goes with it.  Other reasons include poor remuneration for the responsibilities, expectations and demands of the job;  location/relocation problems in rural schools; lack of support; and reluctance to take on parental and community issues.

    Discussions at the June 8 forum reaffirmed the need to address these identified challenges:

    Participants at the forum engaged in a lively discussion and identified the following additional questions: A clear consensus emerged at the forum stressing it is time for action.  Participants challenged the participating organizations to come together around these challenges and work to resolve the issues.  This report has been presented to the interorganizational committee chaired by Saskatchewan Education to inform and encourage a commonly supported response to the challenges for school leadership.

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    Directions for Action

    1.   Promote a positive image of in-school leadership in education.

    Current perceptions of the principalship and in-school leadership are not positive or inviting.  Outsiders perceive that the overwhelming workload and the hassles that go with the role are simply not worth it.  In contrast, in-school administrators report that they enjoy and find satisfaction in their work.  At the discussion forum, participants questioned:

    We want Saskatchewan to be a province where
     
    The school principalship is a desired profession.

    We recommend that we collectively work to

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    2.  Clarify the role and expectations of in-school leaders.

    Participants stated that clarifying the role of in-school leaders is an essential starting point.    What do administrators do?   Social changes and new expectations from Saskatchewan Education have made the position more complex.  Efforts need to be made to clarify and promote a more positive image of the role. Seminars for ‘aspiring administrators’ should be held, with the goal of enhancing the quality and quantity of knowledge about the principalship before the job is taken.  There should also be a logical connection between expectations and performance evaluation.  It is important to acknowledge and respect the distinct differences of rural, urban and northern contexts.  Role descriptions must be responsive to local interests.  At the discussion forum, participants questioned:

    We want Saskatchewan to be a province where
     
    The authority and responsibility of school leaders is clearly understood.

    We recommend that we collectively work to

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    3.  Recognize school leadership as a shared responsibility.

    Effective school leadership increasingly involves shared decision making and problem solving.   Effective leadership must go beyond the position of principal and responsibility by one person. Efforts are necessary to work with all school staff and community members to develop a fuller understanding of shared leadership.  Leadership is more effective when people are willing to work collaboratively for a common purpose.  At the discussion forum, participants questioned:

    We want Saskatchewan to be a province where
     
    School leadership is a shared responsibility.

    We recommend that we collectively work to

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    4.  Improve the compensation and support for in-school leaders.

    There is a perception that the extra workload and hassles are simply not worth the extra compensation offered to in-school administrators. Administrative time is limited in small schools.  Some administrators stated that recognition and respect are also important components in the compensation package.   Rural communities have unique issues related to the costs of housing, moving and limited employment opportunities for a spouse.  At discussion forum, participants questioned:

    We want Saskatchewan to be a province where
     
    Effective school leadership is supported by appropriate incentives and administrative time.

    We recommend that we collectively work to

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    5.  Improve learning opportunities for enhancing leadership knowledge and skill development.

    Perceptions varied on the question of the adequacy of preparation of prospective and beginning principals.  A major contrast exists between urban and rural-based aspirants in the variety of possible preparation experiences and related supports available to them. The need to retain the vice-principalship as a means of administrator development was emphasised.  As some aspects of the work are difficult or impossible to prepare for, experiencing the job itself is the best preparation.  When good teachers are promoted to leadership positions, they may find themselves totally unprepared to facilitate effective processes.   Greater efforts are required to support individuals in moving from a control model of leadership to a facilitator role.  The point was reiterated that the major partners should be offering a joint program that is clearly and effectively articulated.  At the discussion forum participants questioned:

    We want a province where ...
     
    The knowledge and skills of effective school leaders are demonstrated.

    We recommend that we collectively work to

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    6.   Develop a support network for in-school leaders.
     
    Participants discussed the “political” side of the principalship that requires increased interaction with a variety of groups.  In smaller communities a ‘fish bowl’ effect exists where one’s personal life, and one’s performance, are open to scrutiny and variable interpretations. For principals, “getting parents constructively involved and getting them to more actively participate in their children’s education,” was a commonly expressed issue. The principalship is a lonely job.  The need for support networks was identified.  The perceived conflict between the SSTA and STF is also a barrier.

    We want a province where
     

    School leaders feel connected to and supported by the co-ordinated efforts of provincial organizations, through preservice, entry and succeeding career stages.

    We recommend that we collectively work to

    Participants at the forum expressed a sense of urgency for co-operation and collaborative action to meaningfully address the challenges and directions outlined in this report.  This report is offered as an invitation and as a resource to inform further action.

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