challenges in organisational development experiences at orchid international school (original paper of 12.06.2012 revised on 10.10.2012)
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. Hence, it is naturally 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, we sense that during this year our organisation might improve in its texture. If the envisaged improvement in the fabric of the school community happens, our school will be on a sound path of development. It could be a sound learning centre in the time to come.
The school management philosophy and management approach will continue to be based on the principles of collaboration, shared decision making and delegated empowerment, which will provide a nurturing and caring environment for faculty members so that the school becomes an intensively learning environment with faculty members and students living and growing in a joyous manner.
In spite pre-occupation with other matters, related to start of the new academic session, one’s thoughts are gravitating towards understanding this interesting aspect of organisational development. I wish to share about this interesting aspect of organisational development with interested friends and teachers!
The school community, or the fabric of the organisation, comprises of the threads of students, teachers, staff members, management, parents, and suppliers of goods and services weaving themselves closely to take care of children. If the adult groups work together, with a common understanding to educate children over a reasonable period, it is possible for any school to become a good institution and learning centre. It should be 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 do not people come together and work together? We may not be able to find an answer to such challenging questions 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 the groups named above? We should be able to bring it about to an extent we are convinced of the need and to the extent that we will to work for it. Bringing about better understanding about education can happen only through more education!
Let us explore the above questions to develop a better understanding of the challenges in organisational development as experienced in our school. We would like to begin by looking at the symptoms and characteristics of our community. While doing so, let us 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 even if they are not near their home.
Our children are simple and naive due to their rustic background. 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 we present to them in an interesting, simple, convincing, and understandable manner.
The pre-requisite ideas and general awareness required for building composite and larger ideas may not usually be in place. This capacity will emerge in any individual or in an institution only gradually and with wider exposure. 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 by their presence and hence the institution had to take complete responsibility. We had to correct the majority culture at a great speed and until then the “bad blood” would drive away the “good blood”. We painfully experienced this. We were constrained to control this loss partly last year by suggesting withdrawal of some students.
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 or proportional 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 improve the learning, thinking, and intellectual abilities in children was an immediate need for the school to move into a developmental mode. However, it is not too clear how thinking, thoughts, and knowledge relate to each other. Hence, the challenge is quite a tall one. It is important for educators to attempt to understand the relationship between these processes. 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 consider this factor? What is the kind of emphasis we accord 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. We can improve the cognitive and intellectual aspects of children when we implement comprehensively thought out educational processes in a school. The missing gaps in intellectual and cognitive development until that stage may fill 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. A child, parent, or teacher may not even recognise when this happens. However, when there is a deliberate attempt to fill the gaps, development might happen quickly so that the child does not feel inferior to others of his age for too long.
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 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 strategic approach adopted by our school and it seems to have worked well for us until now.
For raising awareness quickly, we took up many initiatives and projects well ahead of time 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 we triggered their imagination 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 situation is common in institutions.
For the kind of educational intent Orchid had set for itself, a learning culture characterised by fearlessness and innovativeness was clearly a pre-requisite. We had to devise a multi-pronged strategic approach and implement the same tenaciously to improve the situation. The cornerstones of the approach were the following: Teacher development through need based learning programs. Seven teacher learning programs (TLP) of about five 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. We arranged field visits, workshops in and out of campus, and visits to OIS by experts from outside, visits to premier institutes of learning to raise the professional standards of the staff members.
Improving the working ambiance for teachers by bringing in systems and procedures based on trust, respect, and empowerment. This naturally improved the learning quality. Discontinuation of a few irrelevant procedures, which had served their purpose, relieved teachers. 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. 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.
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. 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. We try 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. Rationalisation of the workload of teachers making way for them to prepare for the lessons better helped to improve quality. Assignment of classes and other responsibilities also takes into account their demands at home. This caring approach improved the community culture. 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 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”. One cannot avoid ad hoc decisions to solve problems during the initial phase of any project. Often a team of crisis managers are required! However, when an institution moves to the next phase of growth, processes and procedures need to be established. Transition to the next phase of growth does not seem to happen in the natural course. One needs to take deliberate steps for this to happen. Introduction of a systematic approach in all functions is perhaps the first step. People accustomed to thrive in unsystematic ways of working may find this uncomfortable and hence resistance develops. This was a major challenge for our organisational development process. Working with the people, hand in hand, by setting models of better working methods, was the prime necessity. Our experience of different functions in various institutions became helpful in this.
Our staff members are good-natured, well-wishers of the institution and loyal to the school. Loyalty is a value, which can make or mar an institution, depending on the fragrance it emanates. Some family or individual run institutions expect personal loyalty from professionals of the organisation. They may not be aware that professional integrity of individuals is much more invaluable for an institution than personal loyalty. Loyalty can hasten execution of instructions and can please the instructor and the follower. On the other hand, it could prevent an institution to become self-sufficient and independent of the instructor. One cannot introduce proper systems and procedures, which take care of repetitive functions better in such an institution. Some people thrive in such an instruction dependent organisation. To work on such knotted challenges calls for professional clarity and commitment of a different order driven by emotion perhaps. The professional custodian needs to take decisions for long-term institutional health and educate the board members on the merits of this approach. Educating the promoters and board members, about education, is a challenge an educational leader and administrator have to take up.
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” is inevitable to solve 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.
It becomes dependent on an individual in manner that the individual becomes more prominent. Its staff members feel insecure in the presence of people who are more competent. When we introduce systematic working methods, its staff members could feel insecure. Unhealthy individual performance parameters getting established We observed some of these characteristics 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. We had to introduce a systematic approach in all the functions of the school. There was a clear need to conceive and design the problem solving approach with the long-term impact in mind. How does one bring about a change in the management culture of the school, which 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 doors. 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. We had to orient ourselves to take even the “minor”, short-term decisions with a long-term perspective by introducing systematic procedures and practises. When we do this, the need for frenetic pace reduces. The spice of a “mindless organisation” is the unnecessary speed at which it functions giving a false sense of fulfilment to its important players.
The paradigm shift from an apparently speedy, performance-oriented organisation to the slower, natural organisation, which takes care of most of its functions in a routine manner with high quality, is difficult. It 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 understanding and professional respect, which impels the fundamental change that is required 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 the one “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, may prevent educational leaders from contributing better to schools. We can learn immensely from the corporate world and from the industry to benefit our schools. Corporatisation or commercialisation of education needs to be distinguished from professional 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. Only the “wise educators” must do any changes in the core functions carefully. Efficiency, impact, and technology cannot be the main factors in this domain. The teaching learning processes should be natural, teacher based and experiential for children. In the Indian context, we do not have a dearth of teachers and schools should be ready to mentor and guide teachers as required. One needs to be sceptical of blindly imitating the technology based teaching learning processes of the west because they were invented and promoted for a machine dependent, formal, and perhaps impersonal society. They are not as applicable perhaps for the Indian society, which has the base of family, affection, and emotion and which relies on the personal, human touch of people. In our society, the affectionate personal touch of the teacher does wonders.
Minimisation of technology orientation seems to be imperative for all the domains of our existence. Otherwise, the debris created is colossal and the children will grow up in a non-natural world, losing contact with the elements of nature. If this is the direction we take, what are we gaining and at what cost? We teachers and schools must consider this vital question seriously. For remotely located schools, where qualified and competent teachers may not be available, a selectively technology based approach, with robust machines not requiring up gradation of hardware and software often, may be appropriate or at least justifiable. The promotional approach adopted by the technology based teaching solution companies are so convincingly presented that one could lose sight of our context and take decisions and directions which are not suitable to our context, country and to our earth. We must not pursue the path of technology orientation mindlessly.
We can possibly put in place infrastructure and facilities quickly but that is only the beginning of an educational institution. The predominant management approach in such institutions is to “manage” and get going without much thought about the implications of the decisions for the future of educational processes. 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 management might be the cause for the downturn of schools in the future. It is an important factor to be borne in mind by schools.
As 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 a lasting educational centre 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! We have to enable and facilitate them 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 to the end. This prevents educational institutions from becoming learning centres.
A common understanding between the board and professional head is essential to establish a good school. This common understanding leads to mutual, professional trust and personal respect. Fortunately, in our case, we arrived at this over a period. 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 we took decisions to improve staff welfare and communicate the need for the same to the board, they understood and accorded the requisite support and approval. Only in a rare case was the effect on the other parts of the sister organisation pointed out.
The fountainhead of change and improvement remains the board and the executive head. The head needs to explain, discuss, negotiate, and educate the board about matters, with which they may not be familiar. 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 influence with the management and they would expect the teachers to be their “service providers” or even serve them. It is painful that some parents can scare teachers due to the power and position they wield in the society and due to their access to the school management.
To bring about a closer understanding about education between parents and our school, we conduct a seminar on education every year. The number of participants is improving year by year and the intensity of participation is better. There is a shift in the parental perspective about education. Parents provide a much better support to us compared to what it was earlier. We could implement the clearly spelt out guidelines firmly. 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. We could review what we intend to do in school due to our simple and earnest attempts in organisational development. 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 to influence the educational paradigm of our school and society. We must attempt to do this. If we do not attempt this, we will reduce the scope of education to meet the relative and small needs of our consumerist populace. We will inadvertently narrow the scope of education.
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 do not take up this extended and challenging responsibility, we will deprive ourselves of experiencing the true joy of being a teacher.
If we cannot create our educational space, we will have to compromise with our educational intent! Are we ready 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!
“What is the place of efficiency in a school”, is the question asked by a trustee of RVS more than a decade back. I am still trying to understand the meaning of the question and explore its implications!
Organisation provides the framework for an educational intent to unfold. We need to take up and complete organisational tasks, not related to the core educational functions, on time and hence efficiency is applicable. Education involves intangibles and subtleties. Maybe we need to deal with the two separately and in different ways. An educator and an educational leader cannot escape such questions when he begins to explore the field of education.