Letters & Opinion

Teachers and Leadership

Clement Wulf-Soulage
By Clement Wulf-Soulage

AS Saint Lucia and the rest of the world celebrate International Teachers Day (October 5), let’s contemplate the extent to which the impact and influence of a teacher affect the psyche and mindset of a student or pupil, both during and after their time in school.

Because the essence of leadership is influence, direction and transformation, teachers are indeed the first leaders in our societies and economies and hence it’s crucial that they be given the tools and resources needed to nurture and shape our kids for their future roles in civil society, particularly in the face of increasing challenges posed by information technology, globalization and economic competition.

As a former university teacher myself, I have always believed that our responsibilities as educators must embrace and incorporate the impact of our character, as we teach much more of who we are than what we know. As social and community leaders, teachers must always be guided by the fact that their sense of purpose and morality, and their spirit of rectitude can determine the eventual outcome of schools and communities, just as the quality and character of a company chief executive can be amplified throughout the organization.

There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) constantly reminds us that the quality of teachers affects student performance more than anything else. Hence, educators at all levels in the system should undergo regular training, mentoring and conscientisation to ensure that the entire education system is underpinned by standards, constant evaluation and creative input by both students and teachers.

Successive studies commissioned by the OECD have demonstrated time and again that the success of schools depend, in large measure, on the importance placed on teacher development in education policy.

According to McKinsey, a consultancy that advises companies and governments, schools need to do three things: get the best teachers; get the best out of teachers (schools do neglect teachers); and step in when pupils lag behind.

Basically, what this means is that the recruitment of teachers should be a more rigorous process with standardized vetting and screening of potential educators. Having done that, McKinsey advises that teachers must be constantly trained and improved throughout their careers (likes doctors) and allowed to share, plan and co-ordinate teaching material and lesson plans among themselves. This ensures that good teaching practices and methods are passed on to particularly newcomers in the system, thereby preserving a legacy of instructional excellence and effectiveness.

One of the things I admire most about the teacher recruitment process in Finland is the fact that — owing to the strict vetting and screening process (to determine ambitions and personality) and academic requirements (at least a Master’s degree) to be able to teach at any level — classrooms have become more alive and creative, leading to an increase in STT (student talking time) and a corresponding decrease in TTT (teacher talking time), as educators are given greater freedoms to invest their personal ideas in the development of school curricular – and encouraged to use more case studies, role plays and “cold calling” techniques in the process of teaching.

Furthermore, it’s been recognized that if pupils and students wish to deal with complex social and business problems inter-personally, then soft-skills handling and a skills-related learning experience become indispensable. The result is, as we have seen in Scandinavia, lesson plans that encompass co-operative, constructionist and learner-centred styles where the teacher’s role is reduced to that of a mere facilitator, discussion partner and ideas generator.

Education policies in countries like Finland have been guided by such modalities and methods for decades and they have worked. In fact, education experts at the OECD believe that the structure and nature of the education system in Finland have largely contributed to the minimal levels of poverty, equity and social decadence in the country.

I mentioned earlier that teachers are the primary leaders who can transform the structure and nature of societies. Let me add that the most important element which undergirds that transformation is the idea of teaching our kids to think for themselves rather than simply memorizing and absorbing someone else’s ideas.

As the pioneers of innovation and creativity will attest, one of the most important competencies for social and economic development is the ability to view old problems in new ways and to rethink ideas that had not been questioned before. Hence, educators need to engage our children in complex interactions which require a high level of judgment, as well as develop approaches that help them navigate the world to filter and sort out truth from fiction.

On account of greater international competition and the need for economic and educational efficiency for progress, it has become quite clear that a generic education will not suffice in producing the economic prosperity which particularly developing countries strive for. In the process of transforming our own system in Saint Lucia, we’ll need to adopt an education and growth strategy – similar to that of the emerging economies in Asia — and adapt it to our own political, social and economic circumstances.
This will mean developing an education system which should get more people innovating and collaborating in industries such as tourism, cultural arts, manufacturing and agriculture — and which is also geared towards meeting the general demands of a new knowledge and services-based economy.

As the Princeton economist, Alan Blinder, perceptively notes: “It is clear that nations will have to transform their education system so as to produce workers for the jobs that will actually exist in their societies….In the future, how we educate our children may prove to be more important than how much we educate them.”

As the Economist magazine has insightfully pointed out, “What matters in schools is teachers and, fortunately, teaching can be taught…But efforts to ensure that every teacher can teach are hobbled by the tenacious myth that good teachers are born, not made.”

So, by all means, celebrate our social leaders and educators and give them the respect and recognition they deserve. However, don’t forget to give them the tools and resources needed to shape the minds and attitudes of our children – who are guaranteed to be tomorrow’s leaders.

For comments, write to ClementSoulage@hotmail.de – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.

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