Features — 27 September 2013 — by Beatrice Arnold-Geban, Principal, St. Mary’s Primary School

There is a very popular Shakespeare quote that people say in regards to those in leadership position and, if memory serves me right, it goes like this: Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. This quote in essence captures the workload of an administrator. According to the Statutory Instrument No. 87 of 2012 Education Rules 2012,

37 (1) A Principal and Vice Principal shall have such responsibilities related to the administration of the school as specified in their respective job descriptions and shall include:-

a. Overseeing admissions, placement, promotions and graduation of students;

b. Enforcing school rules and maintaining a safe and proper school environment and culture conducive to schooling;

c. Assigning, directing and assessing staff;

d. Organizing the registration of students in examination and other processes;

e. Maintaining school records as prescribed by the Act and such other records generated from application of these and such other procedures and regulations prescribed by the Ministry

f. Monitoring the state of facilities and the availability of materials, equipment and furniture, preparing and adjusting as necessary the school’s annual budget, and supervising financial and other business transactions as required

g. Preparing such reports as may be required by the Managing Authority and the Ministry

(2) A Principal and Vice Principal are required to provide educational leadership to the school, especially in the areas of pedagogy, curriculum and assessment, and in so doing the Principal and Vice Principal shall:-

(a) ensure establishment of quality assurance mechanisms

(b) lead and coordinate school through school evaluation, identification of areas for improvement and developing and implementing school improvement plans on a continuous basis

(c) direct the organization and implementation of the school curriculum, annual teaching plans, instructional schedules, annual activity plans and book list

(d) undertake the clinical supervision of teachers and provide appropriate support for teachers in areas that include child centered teaching strategies, relevant ongoing assessment of learning and effective classroom management practices

(e) liaise with the Managing Authority, the Ministry and other agencies on matters relating to the introduction of new academic policies and practices relating to student assessment, textbooks, and other materials or teaching practices in the school

(f) identify staff development needs and coordinate staff development

(g) seek the participation of students in inter-school events at local, district and national levels and facilitate intra-school activities and clubs which contribute to the overall development of the students

(h) teach as may be required

(3) A Principal and Vice Principal shall be the primary liaison between the school and parents, specifically, and between the school and the community generally; in this regard the Principal and Vice Principal shall:-

(a) ensure that policies and rules of the school are communicated to parents

(b) invite parents or guardians to meet the Principal, Vice Principal and staff at least once in every term/semester to receive reports on school activities

(c) involve parents and members of the general community in school activities, including the development of school rules and policies, school improvement plans and implementation

(4) A Principal shall also have responsibilities in relation to the overall management of the school. In this regards:-

(a) shall perform duties relating to membership on school boards or school committees as appropriate

(b) under direction of the Managing Authority shall guide the formulation of school policies and rules

(c) under direction of the Managing Authority shall guide the development of strategies and plans to meet operational and development needs of the school

(d) shall spearhead implementation of school development plans; and

(e) under direction of the Managing Authority shall participate in recruitment, selection and disciplining of staff.

Taking into consideration all the duties cited above, school leaders also look closely at the wellbeing and emotional state of every child. The role of a school leader is very challenging and demands individuals who are committed and dedicated to the cause. They also have to be people with wit.

Sitting behind an administrative desk provides a medium for school leaders to have a bird’s eye view of many of the circumstances affecting children. In most schools the circumstances are common, and range from sexual molestation, human trafficking, substance abuse, physical abuse due to frustration of parents, poverty, strife, lack of basic provision, lack of opportunity to attend school, denial of health care and access due to financial constraints, child labour, poor dwelling, and the list goes on.

As I reflected on these circumstances and watch the innocent faces of children that either bid me a greeting or express a smile throughout the last weeks of school, I thought of the story the Parable of the Sower which can be found in MATTHEW 13:9-22.
In this story, the sower went out to sow his seeds. Some of the seeds fell along the path, some fell amongst rocky grounds, others fell amongst thorns, while some were fortunate to fall amongst good soil. In brief, only the seeds that fell amongst good soil sprouted, grew and survived.

In my opinion, many of our children are like these seeds. Some are fortunate, while others on a whole are crying out for help and they have been dispersed like seeds into the real world to survive. Students across the nation are expected to achieve academic excellence, but how can they achieve these expectations when there are so many external factors affecting them within their homes?

Now even though registration for almost all schools is carried out in the months of April to June, there are many parents up to now walking from school to school trying to seek placement for children for varied reasons. In my opinion, this is a very sad situation that paints a vivid image of the dilemma and turmoil many of our children are beset by.

The role of the school leader is instrumental in the delivery of the curriculum, but parents have an unequivocal role in the learning process and transmission of knowledge. Research indicates that the first institution of a child where he learns is his home. The early years of a child’s life are the most crucial years of development. Parents are expected to nurture and nature their children.

In the primitive years of a child’s life parents are expected to provide a wide cadre of learning experiences that will boost cognitive development and spark curiosity in the real world. According to the works of renowned child psychologist, Jean Piaget, children develop in stages and move from the sensory stage to the more abstract stage.In the sensory stage parents or caregivers are expected to provide manipulative and concrete experiences so that the child can draw inferences and build metacognition. According to Piaget, children are born with a very basic mental structure (genetically inherited and evolved) on which all subsequent learning and knowledge is based. In providing a solid foundation for children and shaping the child’s environment, parents are actually providing a springboard for students to acquire higher knowledge as they progress in school.

Parents have a mandate to provide financially for their children regardless of circumstances with spouses/common-law, and they are responsible for the needs of their children. In our culture there has been a manipulation of power when it comes to such provisions. Children are denied their basic right because individuals refuse to acknowledge their roles and responsibilities as parents. Children are basically left to suffer at the mercy of their parents. Many face hunger and poor living conditions.

A recent survey done in one of our schools indicated that children in the Infant One classes are sitting in session with only one exercise blank. Reports by teachers indicate that children attend school without pencils on a daily basis and that assignments given as homework are poorly done. In some cases, homework isn’t even addressed. There are many children who have to comply at home by doing tons of household chores which restrict to some extent the time that should be dedicated to studying. There are children who are violated by individuals in the homes and so they become withdrawn and isolated at school. Without an intervention or counseling, learning is inhibited. Children are attending classes in inappropriate footwear. Nowadays, the trend has gone from shoes to slippers. In addition, many biological fathers are absent from the homes and so male students in particular feel abandoned, deprived, and angry. Incidents of assaults, wounding or just physical aggression have become the norm for these children when conflict arises.

We have seen a paradigm shift in schools from educational institutions to welfare organizations because no longer do we only focus on the academics but on the holistic development of the child. Schools provide school bags, uniforms, books, hygiene products, food, etc.

From an educator’s viewpoint, Is it a fair statement to say that there are some parents who hinder their children’s progress?

• Why is it that some parents allow their young daughters and sons to date older men?

• Why are our children kept at home to act as babysitters when they are missing out on opportunities at school?

• Why are children left unsupervised when their parents are seen gambling or smoking next door? Shouldn’t this time be spent giving assistance to our children?

• Why are so many men and women neglecting their parental duty?

• Why are our children given the autonomy to disrespect people and not disciplined enough in the homes? PROVERBS 22:6 states that as parents we should, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

• Why are our young children roaming the streets at night and wearing provocative clothing and why can they be found in shows meant for adult audiences?

• Why are our male students taught that only through aggression can problems be rectified?

• Why is it that our children come to school with visible marks of burns, punches and bruises?

• Why aren’t we teaching our children about the love of God and a value system that will lead them to live a more productive life?

Research shows that when parents work closely with schools, children perform better irrespective of social background, size of family or even the level of parental education. It is therefore imperative then that parents’ liaise with school leaders and teachers to ensure that children are being prepared well with knowledge and skills.

In Belize, there is a credence that when a person is born into difficult circumstances and poverty, the odds of that individual becoming successful are minimal. This belief might be of value to some but from my personal experience this is just a matter of perception. There is an ingredient that is required for success and everyone is born with this gene. It’s part of our blueprint and it’s called DETERMINATION.

As an educator I have observed students from varied socio-economic backgrounds excel in the academics. The variables that contribute to the difference are the intrinsic motivation of the child and the guidance and support given by the parents. In like manner, poverty does not determine success. A change of attitude and will to succeed furthermore complements the driving forces that make a person accomplish milestones.

The role of the parent can be described as multifaceted. Parents are the navigators and they will channel the voyage of their child’s growth. Further research suggests that, there is an unequivocal direct correlation between parental involvement and increased student achievement. What is this research implying? Well, it’s simply reiterating that as parents we need to do the following if we want our children to become global competitors:

1. Create an environment in our homes for our children to experience the value of learning. Model the reading of various genre and even newspapers to discuss current issues. This practice will build imagination and simultaneously help our students to appreciate literature and views on important matters.

2. Maintain a strong steady presence and be available. Children need adults to help them understand complexities and they want their parents around for security, safety, sense of belongingness and assurance.

3. Establish routines and guidelines. The earlier a child learns routines the more disciplined the child becomes.

4. Subtly model and communicate the value of education. We cannot expect to have high achievers if our values and beliefs are not firmly grounded in the roots of success.

5. Include children in family discussions, especially those that have to do with making choices which in return will help them become better problem solvers and decision makers.

6. Teach children to set goals. As children progress in life parents are to teach them to take on greater responsibilities for their learning.

7. Support the school learning experience. Show children that you care about their well- being and that you only want the best for them. Parents are expected to communicate with teachers and periodically visit school to check on their child’s progress.

8. Provide opportunities for our children to develop holistically. Children need to be engaged in the arts, drama, music, and sports.

9. Reward children when they show improvement and excel with grades. Building their self-esteem can go a far distance.

10. Reprimand sternly but with affection.

In the final analysis school leaders, parents and teachers all play a key role in delivering content and instruction and when there is an absence of support from one of the stakeholder we must be willing to be held accountable for our charge.  What we put in is what we will get out!

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