SHEIKH MOHAMMAD ALI
This study explores how secondary school head teachers perceive the concept of leadership, how they work as leaders of the school community, how they manage their day-to-day activities, and how they work with teachers, students, parents and their School Managing Committees. In this chapter the results from the data gathering are discussed in relation to the research questions.
Concept and styles of leadership
Among many contemporary educators, there is a belief about the gap between theory and practice. Students, trainees, teachers and head teachers often say, “What you are teaching us here at the university is ok, but it is just theory. It won’t work in the real world” (Howley & Howley, 2007). Both theory and practice make a difference to the goals and daily life of a school leader. Head teachers lead their schools on the basis of their previous education and professional experience. Participants in this study were interviewed to gain a greater understanding of their theoretical knowledge and current practice as head teachers in their schools. By investigating their perceptions of leadership practices and styles, we can better understand their theoretical foundations and current practices.
The experienced head teachers in this study believe that leadership involves working together with all the stakeholders of the school to achieve common goals. Such goals include good academic achievement by the students, meeting the demands of the parents, and building good working relationships with the local education administration authority. The school culture is a big concern of the head teachers as they believe that without a positive school culture they cannot reach their goals. The head teachers reported practising both democratic and autocratic leadership styles in their schools. It is interesting to note that when asked specifically about other types of leadership, such as transformational, transactional, and contingent leadership, their responses did not coincide with the current definitions in the educational leadership literature. Notman & Henry (2009) found a similar kind of response from the participants of a case study in New Zealand.
The participants in this study viewed the school as a social organisation and held that society demands good outputs from schools. To them, the head teacher is the main person who can lead the organisation to meet the demands of the local people, the government and the nation. One of them stated that ‘a good school’ means ‘a good head teacher’. He places importance on the responsibilities of the head teacher. The position of the head teacher is very significant as he/she leads the organisation.
Bangladeshi school leaders try to be engaged with the wider society, in fact, the cultural context compels them to be involved with the community. The high level of community involvement by some head teachers can also be to the detriment of their work in the school. Sometimes they cross the boundary of their assigned duties. Sometimes they involve themselves with community activities to satisfy people’s expectations. For example, Karim, who is a head teacher of a rural school, loves to work for the community. He thinks that he is not only the leader of the school but also the leader of the society. He leads a big school (considering the number of students) with a mindset of working for the people. He does much work for the community as well as his school duties. He goes to community meetings to resolve issues such as political clashes and land disputes among the villagers. As stated by Harris (2008) school leadership is culture-related, context-associated and context-specific. Bangladesh is an over populated country with many problems in the community. Educated people have an informal leadership role to help solve the local problems. The head teachers also play an important role in the community to keep harmony and establish a peaceful atmosphere in the society.
The head teachers in this study reported using a combination of managerial and democratic styles of leadership to lead their schools. They place importance on the effective management of the school activities. They do not have theoretical knowledge about the different styles of leadership, for example, transformational leadership, pedagogical leadership, contingent leadership, participative leadership and moral leadership. Their perspectives centre on managerial and democratic styles of leadership. By the term ‘managerial leadership’ they mean to manage everything properly, with timely action and attention to routine work, which seems to be transactional, technical and organisational leadership. Their practices also include elements of bureaucratic and hierarchical leadership styles. Coleman & Early, (2005) stated that this kind of institution puts emphasis on structures and procedures. In managerial leadership the school leaders prefer to be engaged in activities more closely related to the ‘technical core’ of the schooling-instruction, curriculum, and evaluation (Duke, 1987). The participants in this study lead their schools in such a way as to ensure attendance of the students and teachers, promote classroom teaching that results in good public examination results, and foster rapport with the government.
While describing elements of managerial leadership, the participants also reported being democratic in how they lead their schools. They explained ‘democratic style’ as working with all the stakeholders to run the school and discussing matters with the teachers and the members of the school managing committee before making important decisions. Such a focus on the sharing of decision making indicates a ‘participative’ style of leadership (Coleman & Earley, 2005). They believe that schools are a place of ‘mutual interest’ for all the stakeholders, which is a positive sign for practising democracy in their work. Democratic practice makes the environment collaborative and leaders’ recieve support from the stakeholders, which is significant. It also creates an opportunity for the teachers to learn from the head teacher by sharing views among themselves. Participation of the stakeholders help to create a common vision for the school, which is very important.
One participant, Hasan, does not view his work as managerial. He described leading his school in a participative way. He likes to work with other stakeholders of the school. He said that he discusses issues with the teachers before making decisions. To him, teachers are knowledgeable people; they know many things which he may not know, and he wants to access that knowledge. In his school teachers’ comments and suggestions are taken into consideration. He also encourages innovation and creativity among the teachers. This provides a kind of intellectual stimulation. Coleman & Earley (2005) identified intellectual stimulation as one of the four processes of ‘transformational’ leaders. Others have been identified as “idealized influence, inspirational motivation and individual consideration”.
To the head teachers, the two words ‘democratic’ and ‘autocratic’ are very familiar. They know these terms and can use them to describe their style of work. Normally in a developing country such as Bangladesh, administration is popularly known as democratic or autocratic. When officers work with other people, discuss with colleagues, take suggestions from the seniors and juniors, they are called ‘democratic’. On the other hand, those who do not like to work with others, do not discuss matters with colleagues, do not take suggestions from seniors and juniors are called ‘autocratic’ administrators. Bangladesh was a British colony in the nineteenth century and British administration of the times established the basic style of administration. Current Bangladesh general administration is still driven by the old style of ‘administration’ and some schools have not yet moved beyond this.
Person to follow (guru)
When asked, the head teachers noted that they were influenced by a ‘guru’ (leader for learning), who motivated them to learn how to lead. The head teachers modelled themselves on their seniors and their predecessors. One of the head teachers was influenced by his father. He felt that his father was his ‘guru’ in learning leadership. Although his father was not a head teacher, he taught him the basics of leadership. Other head teachers were influenced by their predecessors. Shahid mentioned the name of a head teacher whom he respected and who had influenced his views of leadership. He mentioned that he liked the style of leadership of that head teacher, a moderate person, who was sometimes very strict and sometimes flexible. Two of the head teachers also said that they were influenced by the head teachers of their schools in their student life.
SHEIKH MOHAMMAD ALI: Assistant Professor in Education, Govt. Teachers’ Training College, Rangpur, Bangladesh.