Before we dig deeper into the notions of a school leadership or a learning environment, we must understand how an institution actually works with the formula of 3-S building blocks. Three variables i.e. the Subject, the Surrounding and the Struggle are very important for running an institution. Subject is you or an individual who is born with some unique learning capacity. The only point is how to be aware of your strength. Surrounding is basically the environment where the subject works. If the surrounding is not putting the right amount of pressure, the subject can never figure out his real strength. The last variable, struggle, is the effort that the subject makes in the pursuit of his potential. Subject and the struggle depend on the surrounding or the environment which is not a void space but is filled up with some explicit authority which we call ‘leadership’. The Ssafer the surrounding is, better the subject will work, no matter how long ithe has to struggle. This is how the phenomenon of 3-S works in the hands of the most successful leaders who are defined by Hoerr (2005) as “artists because they recognize that there is no one formula, no particular policy, no set procedures that will always work with everyone or, even, will always work with any one person (p.1)” (p.1).
For better understanding, I replace Hoerr’s (2005) lexicon such as formula, policy and procedure with educational thesaurus like curriculum, teaching methodology and testing system respectively. We can bring changes to the curriculum with respect to our objectives. Likewise, teaching methods vary from classroom to classroom. So is the testing system which must be appropriate to the learning capacity of all the learners. This secret is known only to the true school leaders.Learning occurs when the surrounding is nebulous
When the things are hazy, muddled or indefinite, only then you try to figure out the hidden meaning using your critical thinking skills or the problem solving techniques. If the things are composed or concrete, then there will be no element of learning. Take an example of the current education system where every unit is made perfect and disciplined with set working patterns or rules under which the performance of teachers as well as learners is gauged. For instance, a good teacher is someone, who is checking thirty to forty notebooks at a time, who must enjoy the comfort zone of uniformity, and who gives the most possible ease to the students during exams for getting 100% result. Similarly, a good pupil is always expected to do what is asked; he must not leave his seat for the consecutive two and a half hours and he must not talk to his peers during forty-five minutes of a class. How can anyone expect to create a learning environment in those classrooms?
You must have heard about the prisons turning into schools but probably, you have never heard of the schools turning into prisons. The only factor that differentiates both the institutions is the autonomy of the human mind which if not given to our teachers and pupils, they will be the captives working on the command of their captors. Salfi (as cited in Stern, 2013) discovered one of the qualities of a strong leadership in successful educational institutions of Pakistan. That quality was giving autonomy to even those members of a team who apparently do not have ‘authority’ status. Therefore, a weak leadership can turn the schools into prisons.
Likewise, visualize an ideal classroom where learners are taught through lecture method as a whole-class and there is no one-on-one teaching, where teacher is the sole speaker and the learners either take notes or copy down the material written on the white board. When the same learners are tested, who have been passive in the class throughout the year, they will even get through the exams using their rote-learning techniques. Only athe fantasy can be so perfect but the reality is the other way round. The point is: every unit (like curriculum, methodology or testing) of such a school has been connected through the weak wiring of leadership where learning has not even taken place. Zakariya (2018) talked about the same institutions in her article ‘Teacher vs the school’ that “these school systems don’t require teachers but interchangeable instruction personnel to deliver their Orwellian vision”. I propose that all such classrooms that are working under this phenomenon, must add the notion of ‘teaching rote-learning skills’ in their school curriculum too. So the parents must be aware what their children would be fed with, throughout their school career.
Impact of school leadership
On the other hand, if the same wiring of leadership is replaced by the strong and new one, how fast the current flows through this wiring to every unit can be seen in their spark. Because only true leadership knows that nothing is learnt in a closed box with some known patterns of danger. True learning is done in a free environment which involves certain risks. Since everything you do, will be for the first time, most probably, you might go wrong but anyhow you will learn something.
Once such environment is created with the help of a good leadership, though it is not that easy, where every individual will be seen empowering others. The little they know is for passing on to others, and in such sharing; every individual will get something new in return. This environment is very useful for any institution because the employees will be too busy in grooming themselves that they will be having no time for the social evils of a working place like gossiping, leg-pulling, flattering etc. The long-term credit to such schools is given by Iborra (2015) in her TED talk as “One teacher can change the life of one child forever – one school can change the life of a community”.
An anecdote of accomplishment
With the help of this anecdote, I will communicate the formula of bringing better conditions for a learning environment through school leadership. There was an educator who started her teaching career with elementary level at the age of twenty-three in an institution. Her surrounding was filled with the people who provided her with opportunities for showing her individuality. They were the people whom she could look back in all the tough circumstances. Such freedom encouraged her to experience every new thing in her class. For example, she was the first person who dragged a TV with a trolley (which was never used before) from the library to her own English class for teaching different language skills and that teaching resource later gave an access to everyone. She was the one who set the tradition of playing language board games in a language class which were later played by other colleagues too . She also got the credit of initiating the project-based learning with one of her colleagues in the class and the pupils earned digital certificates too. In that risky journey, some of the people of her surrounding also criticized her teaching methodology which sometimes was not aligned with the given timetable or the proposed schedule but every raised query must have a justifiable response too . That is how she has grown passion for her profession which led her to an inquiry of her own teaching practice so she conducted an action research. On her research findings, she made a request to the administration for revising the English textbooks which were not in alignedment with English curriculum and the request was accepted. Meanwhile, she won an international teaching scholarship of America that strengthened her professional growth. She actually taught in an American school. Before going, she saved some queries from her Pakistani pupils in the form of audio-clips which were apparently monologues but they were turned into dialogues when they were responded by the American pupils which were again audio-taped. In addition, she made videos depicting American classrooms, their life styles, their leisure time and anything that could enhance the interest of her pupils back in her home country. This is how she redefined the stereotypes of both countries. She also won a national prize for one of her innovative classroom ideas, adding another adventure to her professional journey. Her narrative does not end here because her passion has surmounted the units of curriculum and methodology so far. She is still tackling with the third unit of testing system.
It is rightly stated in Hoerr’s book (2015) that “Some dream. Some enact the dream of others. Very few dream and then follow those dreams. Even fewer write about this”. So I have written my narrative for all the beginners who have just started their career, yet not ready for an adventure. If a young professional of twenty three had not been supported, if her energy had not been channelized, if she had been given a tough time at her work place by her surroundings or if she had been left alone at the time of failures, that narrative would have been written in negative. The magic of school leadership has the power to empower others. We must admit that learning is not a flawless process. It has both, the successes and the failures,. bBut only the true leaders invest in their people with their time and trust.
Learning environment, either be it at a home, educational institution or workplace, is the by-product of the learning culture whose essence lies in one’s vision or philosophy. Learning culture is not at all a make-believe world; it is actually a paradigm-shift which is cultivated by allowing free thinking, exchanging ideas, making assumptions, conducting experiments, motivating for stepping ahead, accepting failures as a part of success, and cherishing small successes together. All these factors for creating a learning environment are explicitly explained in the given anecdote. When we talk about a learning culture, it is not set by a single individual. In fact, it is a shared vision where the challenges, failures and achievements are all shared.
Hoerr (2015) suggested a brighter aspect of shared responsibilities that “In a collegial school, everyone can flourish” (p.34).