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'School leaders need to demonstrate what it takes' - Seema Malik

One of the primary factors determining the strong foundation of a nation is effective educational leadership and schools need to adapt to the changing environments "for which we need leaders who can guide and motivate the students and teachers to evolve intellectually, socially and emotionally -- in a continuous process," says Seema Malik, a school teacher for over three decades and author of the path-breaking book "Unlocking Leadership" (Konark).

"Every leader evolves her/his leadership pattern. What we all need to develop as leaders is the nuance that is required to lead everyone to a higher goal of education. When the schools are driven at all times to reach their vision and mission, both the students and the teachers rise to their highest potential," Malik, who has studied at Cambridge University and has been associated with prestigious institutions like Delhi Public School, Salwan Public School and Cambridge School, told IANS in an interview.

How did the book come about?

"Having been a researcher in the field of education for more than a decade, I was intrigued by a lot of research done by the western countries, in particular, UK, Australia, New Zealand and USA. I noticed a lot of gap about educational research in India which I have addressed in this book. A huge body of research has been used for writing this academic work in a style that is more easily understandable, with due credit given to the authors and researchers," Malik said.

The main fields of research that have gone into this book are leadership models practiced in schools and what impact they lead to, strategies for school improvement, and moral as well as ethical responsibilities of leaders.

"Most of this research is used in the western democracies, which has led to the higher standards of educational attainment in these countries, for example in OECD countries," she said.

What are the five main take-aways from this book?

1. Leadership is the single most important factor affecting quality of education in schools.

2. Collaborative and distributed models of leadership builds teams in schools.

3. Teachers are leaders in their own right and it is the responsibility of the school head to give them decision-making powers.

4. Great leaders develop mutuality and reciprocity among various stakeholders in the school to take them all towards achieving the organisational vision.

5. One of the most salient features of any leadership is their sense of moral imperative.

The book is essentially aimed at schools in the private sector. What about schools in the government sector and in the semi-urban and rural areas? How are they to address this issue?

"Schools in the government sector as well as the rural and remote areas need to work on infrastructural development to provide at least the minimum required facilities for learning. The 'twinning of schools' has already started taking place where a few government schools are attached with the public schools to develop synergies of operations and develop better systems of assessments. Public schools are involving these less privileged schools in teacher training opportunities," Malik explained.

In this context, she noted that an important step taken by the New Education Policy (NEP) is making school clusters which can go a long way in improving learning standards in schools in rural and remote areas.

The NEP, she pointed out, also "lays a great emphasis on teacher empowerment through continuous professional development opportunities. It also aims to create national professional standards for teachers. School leaders and teachers are being encouraged now to undertake research in emerging pedagogies for improved learning outcomes. It is time that school education becomes an integral part of public conversation and it should get the focus that it deserves," Malik elaborated.

What next? What's her next project?

"I am writing my memoirs of studying in Cambridge University. Life was very different there and every student experiences difficulties in the beginning which slowly ease away. However, as an older and mature student, besides being observant and reflective, my experiences were very different. I learnt a lot there but also saw traces of racism in the society."

"A University, like any other part of the society is like a reflection of its ethos. There were many positives as well as some negatives that I noticed that left an indelible impression on my mind. However, what I have taken away from there as a student is the rich and intellectual very stimulating culture of learning provided to each student."

"Cambridge changed my life forever and there are reasons for that, which I am currently writing for my next book. It was sad that such a reputed university of the world could treat a meritorious student so shabbily. Not disclosing much right now, the book would be thought provoking as well as shocking, once read by the people," Malik concluded.


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