It can get quite lonely at the top. Caught up in the whirlwind of responsibilities that go with running a school, Principals and HMs often end up feeling isolated. Too few opportunities for interaction with like-minded school leaders only heightens this sense of isolation in fighting battles unique to their school situation.
Coupled with this is the lack of recognition for a school leader’s untiring work – it is a rare Principal/HM who figures prominently in any adult’s school-time memories. They are often typecast as forbidding disciplinarians who wield a lot of power. Thus it is no surprise that the school leader’s crucial role in creating a conducive learning environment largely goes unacknowledged.
An Idea is Born
Swamped with multiple responsibilities – managing operations and budgets; handling board members, government officials and parental expectations; academic coordination and student performance – a school leader can barely take out time for reflections or networking. At Mantra4Change, we wondered what we could do to help school leaders ease their burden, to make them more effective leaders. We decided to experiment with a two-day School Leadership Forum. The Forum would provide a space for school leaders from our network to meet like-minded school leaders; reflect on their values, practices and principles; and engage with different perspectives around education. With our two-day experiment, we wanted to fire the imagination of our school leaders with fresh thoughts and ideas. We wanted to connect them with other leaders who were also struggling with issues similar to their own and were finding ingenious ways to solve them. We wanted to leave them with a network of like-minded people that they could reach out to for help and ideas.
The Experiment Kicks Off
The School Leadership Forum, conducted at our office, brought in teams from about 15 of our partner schools to reflect on their practices and assumptions.
Ms Shukla Bose, the CEO and Founder of Parikrma Humanity Foundation, opened the event with an inspiring talk on how she discovered her call for leadership.
This was followed by an ice-breaker session to help the participants to get to know each other. In line with the Forum’s theme of ‘Discovery’, this session helped the school leaders gain an understanding about the work being done by their counterparts across different schools.
Next, an immersive session was designed for the participants to make them think and feel deeply about issues in ways they hadn’t earlier. This session, designed to build empathy and an understanding of the ones they lead, had a huge impact on the participants. In a post-session reflection, most of the participants accepted that they were variously agitated and emotionally shaken up by the session.
An activity modeled on forum theater was the next session. Scenarios were thoughtfully chosen to elicit responses from the participants and open their understanding of these situations.
The second day saw the participants discovering various skills that they would need to lead the stakeholders.
We closed the day with an interaction with Ms Alka Mirji, the founding Principal of Prakriya Green Wisdom School, who helped us synthesize our learning from the two days.
Alka ma’am, as we address her, helped us focus on the similarities that bind us in our journey of leading others and ourselves.
The leadership teams found the two days invigorating and expressed their desire for more of such sessions. The introductory ice-breaking session and interactions found special favour with the school leaders. “This was a very innovative session, very helpful,” said Zakaullah Shariff, Principal of Florida English School.
As we closed the Forum, we felt encouraged by the response to design a longer-term plan to work with our partner principals and second-tier of leadership.
Ms Divya Lokesh, Principal of Sujana Convent said that the two days had made her realise that the problems she was facing were not unique to her school, that there were other leaders who were fighting similar problems. Our leaders have realised they don’t have to be ploughing a lonely furrow. As this realisation works its way, we at Mantra4Change feel happy to have achieved what we set out to do through the Leadership Forum.
By Fiona Vaz, Senior Programme Manager at Mantra4Change