challenges in organisational development
Students and staff have just arrived in school for yet another academic year. Our six year old school is set to begin its seventh academic session. Any upcoming institution improves continuously. Naturally it is better at any given point of time compared to a previous one. This is a general principle and holds good for our school too. Apart from this natural growth, I sense that during this year our organisation might improve in its texture. If the envisaged improvement in the fabric of the school happens, our school will be on a sound path of development. It could be a sound learning centre in the time to come. I would like to share about this interesting aspect of organisational development with interested friends and teachers!
These strategic needs led naturally to the conception of our Teacher Learning Development and Creativity Program (TLDCP,) which aims to bring about the staff and teacher culture, which can aspire to work for the educational objectives of the school. The program kept evolving in scope, content, and subtlety over the last seven occasions.
Despite my occupation with other staff members of the school to begin the new academic session, my thoughts are gravitating towards understanding this interesting aspect of organisational development. The school community or the fabric of the organisation is inter-woven with the threads comprising of students, teachers, staff members, management, parents and suppliers of goods and services. If the adult groups work together, with a common understanding, to educate children over a reasonable period of time it is possible for any school to become an excellent institution and a good learning centre. It is possible for such a learning centre to enable children to learn to live beautifully. Why does this not happen often? Why is there dilution in the intent of education across many schools? Why don’t people come together and work together? We may not be able to find an answer to such a challenging question but asking it might energise us and enable us to work better for the cause.
The word education has a different meaning for each person depending on his or her background. The expectation from a school varies depending on this. This divergence in the perception of the meaning and significance of education is surely one of the causes for the inadequate common understanding observed amongst the adults connected with education. Is it possible to bring about a certain common understanding amongst these groups? We should be able to bring it about to an extent we are convinced of the need and to the extent that we will work for it. Bringing about better understanding about education can happen only through more education! I would like to explore the above questions to develop a better understanding of the challenges in organisational development as experienced in our school. I would like to begin by looking at the symptoms and characteristics of our community. While doing so, I will focus upon a few factors and explore them a little more. The study and presentation is by no means comprehensive or complete. It is just the beginning of an exploration into a crucial subject.
Expectedly many of our students were and are from the rural or semi urban background. The fact of inadequate, and even improper, intellectual development is easily observed when one meets some of our children. The parents are not aware of the nature of shortcoming in the exposure of their children due to their being in the schools where they are. However, they are aware that better schooling and richer exposure is possible elsewhere with the financial resources they have. They would like to provide better possibilities to their children than what they have experienced. Parents aspire for their children to achieve more than what they did! They look for schools which could take care of their children in all respects and make them grow up much better than what can be expected in their vicinity. The children are endowed with a certain kind of simplicity which is related to a rustic setting. Relative isolation from the media and non-availability of easy opportunities for indiscriminate consumption safeguards many of such children from unhealthy exposure. They are open to ideas and views of different kinds and learn quickly whatever is presented to them in an interesting, simple, convincing and understandable manner. The pre-requisite ideas and general awareness required for building more composite and larger ideas are not usually in place. This capacity will emerge in any individual or in an institution only gradually. School educators need to design and provide many interesting learning contexts to the children to nurture their multiple intelligences. One has to work earnestly and wait patiently. Very few students were in a position to improve the peer culture positively due to their presence and hence the institution had to take complete responsibility. The majority culture had to be corrected at great speed and till then the “bad blood” would drive away the “good blood!” This is what was experienced. This bleeding has been partially controlled during the later part of last year.
I am not too sure how thinking, thoughts and knowledge are related and linked to each other. It is important for educators to figure out how each influences or determines the others. To improve learning, thinking and intellectual abilities in children was an immediate need so that the school moves into a developmental mode. Physical development happens at an even pace because the families are resourceful and provide the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter in ample measure. Hence, the children from families which have the financial resources and do not have the intellectual resources grow up well physically without the requisite verbal, logical, intellectual and emotional development. This causes peculiar behavioural and academic patterns amongst some of the children. The symptoms are quite tricky to tackle and deal with! The method of dealing could precipitate other behavioural challenges in the child because of the feelings of how others view him or her. No easy or direct methods seem to be available. Only long term and indirect methods seem to be available. To make up for the missing links of an earlier stage of life in cognitive and intellectual development of children is not too easy. One of the reasons for this could be that the child feels and sees himself as physically grown up and is unaware of where he is in terms of intellectual growth. The intervention measures need to provide inputs considering the physical age of the child. How will the educational processes of the school take this factor into account? What is the kind of emphasis to be accorded in the educational program of a school and how to implement the same? These are not easy questions to address. Many schools may be facing these challenges in different ways. Some may give up without saying so.
What seems to be important is that teachers be aware of the learning objectives and the general gaps in the different abilities of children while designing the educational program. When comprehensively thought out educational processes are implemented in a school some of the intended cognitive and intellectual development of children can be achieved. The missing gaps in intellectual and cognitive development till that stage might get filled in naturally due to the amazing capacity of the brain to learn in a myriad ways and make the knowledge connections in ways unknown presently to us. The filling of the gaps may not even be noticed by the child or the parent or the teacher. However, when there is a deliberate attempt to fill the gaps development might happen in a timely manner so that the child does not feel inferior to others of his age. One aspect of organisational development that becomes clear to me is that a caring, intellectually and academically stimulating school community, teachers and students throbbing with a good reading culture, having rich discussions amongst themselves, makes up for the gaps in mental development of children very naturally and easily. Working explicitly upon the subtler learning objectives like this is difficult. Learning in this domain has to happen by permeation and percolation for which the right environment is required. This is not a vicious cycle. We have to work on all aspects together in a multipronged manner and concurrently. This is the simple approach adopted by our school to the extent we could and it seems to have worked well for us till now.
Over the last couple of years many initiatives and projects have been designed and taken up in school at the individual and group levels. School based expositions in senior school Mathematics, junior school Mathematics, English Literature, General Sciences, Environmental Studies, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Social Sciences helped in bringing about a quick jump in the awareness and interest of our school community. The intellectual ability, general knowledge and awareness of our students have been improving significantly since the time their imagination was triggered through the expositions. Children have begun to read more widely. The student culture has improved significantly.
The culture of teachers was characterised by fear and insecurity, which arises not only from incompetence but also from not being aware of what one knows and what one does not know. If a person is aware of what one does not know he or she can easily make the effort to learn and fill the gap. When the awareness and acceptance of the gaps in knowledge and competence is absent there could be peculiar emotional responses, including being defensive and offensive towards the person who senses this and intends to correct it. This is not an unusual situation for institutions. For the kind of educational intent Orchid had set for itself, a learning culture characterised by fearlessness and intensive innovativeness was clearly a pre-requisite. A multi-pronged strategic approach had to be devised and implemented tenaciously to improve the situation. The cornerstones of the approach were the following:
1.Teacher development through need based learning programs. Seven teacher learning programs (TLP) of about 5 to 10 days’ duration, one every half year, have been conducted in the last three years. These programs provide wide exposure to the teachers about teaching-learning processes, organisational challenges, team formation and information/insights into child development. It attempts to bring about a deeper learning culture amongst the teachers.
2.Field visits, workshops in and out of campus, visits to OIS by experts from outside, visits to premier institutes of learning were arranged. Such exposure is intended to raise the professional standards of the staff members.
3.Improving the working ambiance for teachers by bringing in systems and procedures based on trust, respect and empowerment. This naturally improved the learning quality.
4.Discontinuation of a few irrelevant procedures which had served their purpose relieved teachers of a certain kind of burden. It is important in an institution to review the systems and procedures continuously to disband the outgrown ones. The management systems and practices must address the changing and dynamic needs of the learning centre.
5.Reviewing the personnel policies and practises, rationalising and bringing about uniformity in the approach towards different categories of employees helped in reducing the disparities. The ambiance became more egalitarian and hence people became slight less comparative in nature.
6.Providing the requisite freedom and space for contribution based on an understanding of the individual was attempted. The teachers could choose some part of their work based on their natural interests and competencies. Providing a non-interfering professional environment is important for an educational centre to develop.
7.Our school is a platform for errors, where children and teachers can fearlessly take initiatives, experience and learn from the errors and mistakes that are an inevitable part of anything new. Our school tries to distinguish between form and content. We observe that many of our teachers have grown laterally in their taste and contribution rather than only in expertise and depth.
8.Rationalising the work load of teachers keeping in mind their other assignments to make it feasible for them to prepare for the lessons better. Assignment of classes and other responsibilities also takes into account their demands at home. This caring approach improved the community culture.
9.Inducting and inviting specialists with rich personal and professional backgrounds in certain areas of strategic importance. This helped in setting the right example to improve the organisational culture. The natural exit of some teachers due to their misalignment with the educational intent and professional ethos expected by the school has been all too rare. This encourages us. The teacher culture is poised to improve even quicker from now onwards so that a better learning centre comes about. Being more responsible in an environment of freedom is the challenge which all of us are learning to take.
Our staff members have always been sincere with their heart turned towards the school. However, a few of them lacked awareness of professional and systematic methods of working. The unsystematic and ad hoc approach made way for recurrence of errors and “mistakes.” During the construction and initial phase of any project an ad hoc approach to solve problems cannot be avoided. Often a team of crisis managers are required! Transition from the initial phase to the next phase with more systematic approach did not happen naturally. In an unprofessional environment being serious or having a good intent can be misconceived to be proficiency. Proficient performance needs to be brought into an institution and objective feedback to improve professional standards was more likely to be met with defence and hurt by the staff members at large. This was a major challenge for organisational development. Working with the people, hand in hand by setting models of better working methods, was the prime necessity. My experience in different functions in different institutions was very helpful in this. Our staff members are good natured well wishers of the institution and loyal to the school. Loyalty is a value and can make or mar an institution. It is expected from the professionals in some of the family or individual run organisations. Loyalty makes instructions get executed at lightning speed on the one hand and under certain conditions it can prevent the introduction of proper systems, which take care of repetitive functions better. Some people thrive in such an instruction dependent organisation. It is strange that even when the same problems repeat over a long period of time we do not question the matter at a deeper level.
In an upcoming institution people from diverse backgrounds come together and will have to learn to work together. Adequate facilities are not available and hence “crisis management” has to be resorted to for solving many of the usual problems. An institution has to deliberately graduate out of the initial “crisis” mode of working, applicable at the project phase, into a more systematic approach. Otherwise the organisational culture may remain oriented towards solving the problems for the short term without being aware of the long term implications. An institution which remains crisis management oriented is more likely to develop one or more of the following characteristics.
•Making an institution dependent on himself and thereby that individual becomes more prominent.
•Feeling of insecurity in the presence of more competent people.
•Feeling of insecurity when more systematic working methods are introduced.
•Unhealthy individual performance parameters getting established.
Some of these characteristics were observed in our school too. Self correction could not begin because the organisation was too dependent on instructions. The awareness of long term effects of decisions and practices was not present. The organisational need was clear. A systematic approach had to be introduced in all the functions of the school. Any decision or problem solving approach had to be conceived and designed with the long term impact in mind. How to bring about this change in the management culture of the school so that it percolates into the fabric of the school? The crises to be resolved were many, quick action was required, change over to long term perspective was imperative and all this was not possible to be taken before confidence of the board was won over! Where does one begin? When the circle is vicious it is best to enter it from all possible entry points. We solved any issue that came up quickly and decisively. At the same time steps were taken for instituting appropriate and systematic data collection, analysis and decision making process for the longer term. Even the “minor,” short term decisions had to be taken with a long term perspective so that the shift in decision making process is brought about.
This approach could impede the mindless pace of an organisation, which is considered as the strength of an organisation and its important players. This paradigm shift is difficult and requires clarity and conviction on the part of the person in charge of an institution. The management and the professional head need to develop mutual sympathy and respect which enables the fundamental change that is required for any movement forward in a different direction. This is what was available in our case due to the deep understanding and trust of the board. Some general principles of management like “stop the bleeding by corrective action and initiate preventive action” borrowed from industry can help even schools. Personal anathema towards some general principles of management, which can be meaningfully applicable to schools, need not be dismissed without adequate exploration. Corporatisation or commercialisation of education needs to be distinguished from refinement of academic management to improve the non-core aspects of an educational centre.
The core of an educational institution obviously lies in the teaching and learning processes. Changes in that area must be done extremely carefully by only the wise educators after careful consideration of the effects from all perspectives. Efficiency, impact and technology must not be the main factors. The teaching learning processes should be natural, teacher based and experiential for children. In our Indian context we do not have a dearth of teachers; we can develop people to be better as required. Hence, blind imitation of the technology based teaching learning processes, which have been invented and promoted for the machine dependent west, based on computers and LAN are to be properly thought over. The debris created is enormous and the children grow up to be alien to their own world. What are we gaining and at what cost? This is a vital question to be considered very seriously by teachers and schools. For remotely located schools, where qualified and competent teachers may not be available, selectively technology based approach, with robust machines not requiring up gradation of hardware and software often, may be more appropriate. These issues need to be thought over carefully. The promotional approach of the technology based teaching solutions are so convincingly presented that we could lose sight of our context and take decisions and directions which are not suitable to our country and to our earth.
Some new institutions are “quickly in place” with reference to development of infrastructure and facilities which is only the beginning of an educational institution. The predominant management approach in such places is to “manage” and get going without much thought about the implications of the decisions for the future. The confidence to manage the structural aspects of an institution and having an approximate understanding of the educational processes may make the board members confident of being able to manage even the softer side of the school comprising of the teaching learning processes. This misunderstanding or over confidence on the part of the board members might be the cause for the downturn of some schools. It could be an important cause for several schools in our country not performing well.
Like a good electrician knows best how to make an electrical installation a good teacher knows best what schooling is. Unless these experts are at the base of the decision making process and fully involved in management of the institution as well, a lasting institution cannot come about. Teaching learning processes involve understanding, absorption and assimilation of ideas, knowledge and concepts by the children. These processes seem to be both processes and ends! They have to be enabled and facilitated but can they be determined and guaranteed? The softer, gentler and “slower” the process is the better seems to be the quality of permeation and absorption! It is due to this backdrop that the misplaced confidence of some successful corporate or non-corporate managers, who head educational institutions, becomes a serious impediment to the process and the end. This prevents educational institutions from becoming learning centres and turns them into production centres instead.
The common and serious intent of the board and head is essential to establish a good school. Understanding of what a good school is could vary. This common understanding of wanting to establish a good school, without bothering about what such a “good school” would be, led to mutual, professional trust and personal sympathy. Even when the existing practices were improved, replaced and disbanded by the head as per the long term institutional requirements, the management continued to provide the encouragement and support in an unstinting manner. When decisions to improve staff welfare were taken and communicated the need for the same was understood and the requisite post facto approval was accorded. Only in a rare case was the cascading effect on the other parts of the organisation pointed out and caution was requested to be exercised. I think the fountainhead of change and improvement remains the board. However, the head needs to explain, discuss, negotiate and educate the board about matters. He or she will be able to do this if he has thought over the matter from the basics and is clear enough about them. If the board is sincere in its intent it will “listen” and change its views in the interest of the institution. Fortunately our board was sympathetic and understanding at all times towards the head.
Most of us, the adults of our society, are quite unclear about what education is, why we educate children or why we send children to a school. With an incomplete understanding of the purpose of education we are all a part of it. It is so easy to become a biological parent but it is so challenging to parent a child! Without knowing what it is to learn we begin to teach! Due to the inadequate understanding about education the expectation of parents varies widely. The expectation of parents from schools is often not feasible for a school to attempt because there would be contradictions in the objectives.
•The child should be able to understand, speak and write English.
•The child should know his subjects well.
•The child should learn co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.
•Parents should be able to get in touch with their child over phone or in person whenever they want. The school should be able to provide the “telephone service” in an efficient manner.
•The parents or their relatives should be able to visit the child whenever they want to.
•They would be able to take the child away for short stay at home at their will or requirement.
•They must be able to send food or other eatables which the child likes.
•Teacher and school are responsible for the well being of the child in all respects despite the above factors caused by parents.
•Some parents and children have clout with the management and they would expect the teachers to be their “service providers” or even serve them. It is painful that some teachers are scared by parents because of the power and position wielded by them in the society and their connection with the school management.
To bring about a closer understanding about education between parents and our school a seminar on education is conducted every year. The number of participants is improving year by year and the intensity of participation is also better. There is a shift in the parental perspective about education. The kind of support provided by them to bring up children is much better presently compared to earlier times. The guidelines and practices were communicated and implemented firmly and clearly. The parents who could not see the merit of the streamlined approach and those who could not “use” (or misuse) the school had to be especially counselled and educated.
Our simple and earnest attempts in organisational development have enabled our school to look afresh at what a school is for. We have been able to ask of ourselves essential and fundamental questions about education. We did not initiate any significant step so far to establish a proper relationship with our suppliers, which will match with our educational paradigm. A retrospective view of the last few years confirms that teachers, educators and schools have ample scope for not only contributing to the schooling processes but also to influence the educational paradigm of our school and society. This must be attempted. If we do not attempt this we will reduce the scope of education to meet the relative and small needs of our consumerist populace. Education will be made narrow and small!
It is necessary for teachers, educators and schools to take up the larger responsibility of educating parents and boards of management so that we can contribute to the field of school education in a true manner. If we don’t take up this extended and challenging responsibility we will deprive ourselves of experiencing the true joy of being a teacher.
If we can’t create our educational space, we will have to compromise with our educational intent! Are we prepared for this? Creating space of the kind we want appears to call for struggle and changing the outer for bringing harmony of oneself with the external. Not struggling with the outer to create our space and compromising internally may not end our internal struggle! We may rationalise our conflicts and appear to be harmonious with the external. The choice is ours! Image