International exposure good for principals

09 November 2012 | last updated at 11:55PM

  By Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid  | iabaiw@yahoo.com 0 comments

SOCIAL CHANGE: School heads will benefit from exchanging ideas with counterparts from overseas

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IN the 1990s the National Institute of Educational Management and Leadership-Institute Aminuddin Baki (IAB) conducted exciting exchange programmes with Australian school principals.

Since then, selected school principals from Malaysia continue to have opportunities for various types of foreign study visit experiences. In 1996, IAB organised the eighth conference of the prestigious Commonwealth Council of Educational Administration and Management (CCEAM). Datuk Seri Najib Razak, then education minister, was the recipient of its Distinguished Fellowship Award.

Sixteen years later I was invited to be the keynote speaker at this year’s recently concluded CCEAM Conference in Limassol, Cyprus. In almost all sectors and fields of knowledge Malaysian scholars, civil servants, business leaders, non-governmental organisation leaders were invited to present keynote addresses.

This shows that after 55 years of national development, particularly in human expertise and experiential development, Malaysians can share knowledge and lessons with other counterparts worldwide.

The story of the academic, intellectual and expertise development of individuals is inextricably linked with the development of Malaysian institutions and knowledge generation culture.

In the case of the development of the principalship stressed in Malaysian education reforms, there are many lessons to be learnt from other societies. For instance, the continuing professional development of Australian principals is worthy of study.

Australian principals are given international exposure by attending the CCEAM conference and study visits to Malta, Cyprus and Greece.

The exposure is not just about school and educational institution visits and discussions with colleagues regarding the clinical as well as meta-cognition aspects of leadership.

Among other experiences is the multicultural exposure of looking at one’s own culture from a distance as well as from other different perspectives, fostering distancing from parochialism, and curbing professional and cultural bigotry. During the training, making professional connections with colleagues from elsewhere becomes a treasured experience, which could lead to lifelong friendships.

One significant feature of the training is that it is guided by the leading professors in the field. Professor Frank Crowther accompanied the group of principals and became the “mahaguru”, guiding them as they reflected on every aspect of their group and individual growths.

Crowther is the writer of such bestsellers like Developing Teacher Leaders and From School Improvement to Sustained Capacity — The Parallel Leadership Pathway.

Every principal is guided to examine the various analyses and ideas expounded by the CCEAM keynote speakers, as well as those from other researchers and scholars. Every idea of value and of interest receives the attention of the professional knowledge and “best practices” seekers.

Professor Bill Mulford and I were in attendance to facilitate the in-depth explorations and mastery of ideas. The study abroad is exciting not just because of the travel but also becomes the intellectual and worldview turning point in the thought processes of principals.

Among the ideas explored were those from the keynote address of Professors Jacky Lumby, Bill Mulford, Herbert Altrichter and Petros Padshiardis.

The ideas include the question of whether educational leaders are complicit against the struggle for social justice; social capital bonding within schools, bridging with other schools and linking with the world outside; coping with the politicisation of education; not to allow poverty to define educational experiences, to transform and not reproduce students as clones, the global nature of indigenous knowledge; the state of the art and science of educational leadership and entrepreneurship, and search for mature knowledge and wisdom.

One important insight is that principals do not have direct impact on students’ outcomes and academic achievements, it’s the teachers who do.

However, principals do have indirect impact on all aspects of the ethos of the school, including the high expectations in instructional leadership.

One of the most important ideas explored is that the critical success factor for educational outcomes is the social development of students. The research evidence is that when students have mastery of their own socialisation processes, their social development, relationships and self-identity, academic and other educational outcomes are just in their stride.

The all important lesson is that those who are principals must also have mastery of their own social and intellectual development. If students are to have global mindsets and be ready for global citizenry, teachers and principals must themselves be prepared for the challenges.

The curriculum of teacher education and principalship training must, therefore, include opportunities for the mastery of the real world, beyond the classroom, beyond national hypes, beyond generational bandwagoning.

Writer is a deputy vice-chancellor, INTI Laureate International University