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Nowadays, where everything is measure against standards including educational institutions , every school is pursuing a different way to perfect its work and make it more accurate . In fact, this goal will not be accomplished without a leadership which is mainly represented by the principal who plays a vital role in leading a clear guided discerning helping in directing his school community towards success and clear goals based on his own philosophy and standardized method. Some of these standards are stated by many institutions. I listed some of them upon which I will review my school against; Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC), Ontario Principals' Council (OPC), Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) and The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) standards.
The standards which the school principals are measured upon have changed through the time. In 1996, the ISLLC provided a set of common expectations for the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of school leaders grounded in principles of powerful teaching and learning (Waters & Grubb, 2004) . ISLLC also includes standards such as "A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by collaborating with families and community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources" (Murphy & Shipman, 1999, p. 218). Such standards often change according to the changing definitions of the principals' job. Once they were urged by educators, theoreticians and analysts to be" bureaucratic executives". Then they were asked to be " humanistic facilitators". Later on, they were asked to be " instructional leaders". Principals themselves are likely to have no time for theoretical debate but they rather try to find a definition for their roles based on daily practices.
The sets of standards that a principal's performance may be measured against vary according to the cultural background and the basic needs of the communities. Since I was considering the role of the principal as a leader of a professional learning community, I needed to look for standards which are directly related to this aspect. A set of standards including six key themes related to the aspects of Professional Learning Community is considered. The themes themselves can constitute major standards for the role of the educational leader in a professional Learning Community. They emphasize mainly on the principals roles in facilitating shared vision , sustaining a school culture conductive to students and staff learning , managing the organization for a safe , efficient and effective learning environment, collaborating with families and community members , acting with integrity , fairness and ethical manners , and finally influencing the larger political , social , economic , legal and cultural context. ( ISLLC 2006 ). The OPC defined the leadership practices of the PLC principal as setting the directions of the school in a sense of four core practices of successful leaders: setting directions, developing people, redesigning the institution and managing the instructional program ( OPC and Crown Press 2009).
In addition, more guidelines emphasize on the leader's role in creating a dynamic learning community by giving the highest priority to students and adults learning , setting high expectations , demanding content and instruction that ensure students achievement , creating a culture of continuous learning for adults, using data to guide improvement , and finally actively engaging the community ( NAESP guide 2001).
While the ISLLC , NAESP, ASCD and OPC qualities or standards can be approaches for developing and assessing leaders, other educators and theoreticians like Katrina Jordan in 2006 who emphasized these qualities which almost goes side by side with the above institutions , she said a principals may be required to carry out roles that particularly related to accountability:
- Creating and sustaining a competitive school ( Market accountability)
- Providing instructional leadership ( Professional accountability )
- Developing and executing strategic plans ( Management accountability )
In brief, I will look at the OPC standards which I am going to tackle and focus on to judge my school leadership.
In the following report on Al Dahma' Model School case study, I depended on two main methods; my personal experience, my observations as I have been working for the school since its inauguration in 2003 and interviewing the school principal and targeted personnel which I believe enabled me to give a brief summary of the current status of the school leadership to see how close or how far it is from the ideal learning community leadership as identified by many associations and organizations focusing on OPC. In fact, the main focus in the study was on the implementation of the role of the principal in leading professional learning community.
My school principal
Since starting to lead Al Dahma' Model School in 2005 . The principal has had the ambition of making the school distinct and remarkable not only among other schools in Al Ain Zone but also at the UAE level . He was entirely aware of most shortcomings state schools as well as many other schools encounter . He stated that lack of communication and lower expectations can form two major obstacles against success.
The role of the outside community in the school was limited. It was minimized to the establishment of Parents Teachers Assembly or Parents Council. Connections with the other community members and even parents were restricted on the social workers or the administration members.
Keeping in mind all the previous input, the principal of Al Dahma' Model School started his administration period with well organized strategic plan through which he can change the school into a learning community where students' learning is the main issue or core rather than instructors teaching. So his focus was on what students could learn and what students could do. He spared no effort in providing the best learning environment to the student. The strategic plan which acted as the backbone of the school work was formed by the staff through several questionnaires and surveys. The plan contains of several components like; vision, mission, values, goals, teachers, students, building, community, administration and in and out relationships.
A committee was organized to execute the strategic plan. It has had the role of monitoring, reviewing and empowering the strategic plan. Regular meeting were held to assess and evaluate the aspects of the plan and to see how far it helped in the school achievement.
Strategic planning is a continuous process as it includes evaluating the procedures and programmes established .This way they make sure they are on the right track Hamdan Academy Award for distinguished Educational performance guide ( HAA guide 2009-2010). Now, I am going to compare our leadership against the OPC standards and see how close it is to or far from having a learning community which will include; vision, mission, values, goals, collaborative teamwork, teacher capacity, leadership capacity, and professional development and other practices of successful leaders.
The school vision is," Educational and scientific pioneering at the UAE level". He formed his vision which he discussed with most of the staff. He made sure that the vision was clear and was accepted by not only the staff and students (micro community) , but also by the outside community around his school (Macro Community). He did his best to articulate his vision in every occasion. He was keen on spreading the vision either verbally or practically. The vision was translated into a written message to be read everywhere in the school, in classes , in sports venues and even outside the school walls. Print-outs and multi-media materials were footed or headed with the vision description. A questionnaire was made including enquiry on the staff's awareness of the vision showed that most of the staff had full awareness about it. Parents and visitors of the school were asked to express their opinion about the school's vision. Educators from United Arab Emirate University (UAEU) and Sultan Qabous University (QU) were asked for arbitration. And later on the final version of the vision was presented in a staff meeting to be implemented.
Looking at the questions in the OPC which assumes that the vision answer these questions; " What will our school look like if improving student learning in our mission? How will we asses our success in achieving this vision?"
I believe that the vision doesn't answer these question fully and clearly. In fact the vision needs to be modified to answer OPC questions towards improving student learning for all students.
The school's mission statement is, " We are an pioneering educational institution working hand in hand with the local community for development and creation to bringing up a wise belonging generation who trusts his abilities and can cope with the changes in the field of world knowledge." The mission was formed by the principal and presented to the strategic plan committee who polished it based on the whole staff remarks and discussions. DunFour and Eaker (1998) believe that the development of the mission must include discussion and clarification of these fundamental questions: Why do we exist? What are we here to do together?
As PLC the way the students will learn is not clearly stated neither how the learning will assessed nor how educators will respond when students do not learn.
The school has a set of values;" Team-work, innovation and modernity, leadership and responsibility, belongingness, affirmative and positiveness."
Values which guide and bound the school work and relationships were also presented to the staff and a lot of modifications were made to meet the required form. The main purpose was to establish an applicable set of values. They were derived from the real need of a high school which aimed at distinction . The value of "team-work", will not accomplish without a real cooperation between the school leadership and the staff. A lot of the above values can be representative, comprehensive and inclusive however, other values like responsibility, belongingness and modernity are general and need to be more consistent. The question is, can the school leadership accomplished all these values? It seems to me that it is hard.
Goals are the vehicle which takes the whole school administration and staff towards PLC, where the principal acts like the driver, the teachers are acting like the wheels, the PLC team and other professional teams are the engine and the passengers are the students. The whole school community are trying to reach their destination securely. Conzemius and O'Neil (2002) describe the goals setting process by the acronym SMART "Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Result oriented and Time bond". DunFour and Eaker (1998) also stated that goals be linked to the school vision and monitored continually. The principal sat a number of goals for the school where he tries his best to insure the learning components and focusing towards lifelong learning. The school goals as listed in the strategic plan are: Achieving high averages on the zone and national level. Preparing a multi-skills student. Learning for life. Effective cooperation with local community.
Looking at the school goals as listed in the strategic plan , I can see that they are well stated and supported by many details which make them clear and applicable, and they match them with the mission, vision and values. However, since they were stated in 2005 none of them has been modified or redesigned.
Leadership and Teacher Capacity Building
In this part I will combine both capacity building and the leadership goals in one part.
The principal had a main goal of enabling the administration and the whole staff to participate fully and to contribute their expertise for the good of the whole school and building a learning culture. He announced a bundle of projects so as to encourage the staff to take positive steps in terms professional development. He himself is always the first to take any new courses in pedagogical practices or technology application. An award for the best practice in twice a year in every semester was announced for everyone believing that distinction will only come from PD. Regular PD sessions are held in the school tackling a new research paper in a selected area based on collective and individual needs. Centers like self-access learning center, access to the internet was made available for teachers, teachers' social club all were presented to teachers as a bundle hoping that every teacher will find what will fulfill his interests and burnish his skill to secure better learning environment .
Not only mental development the school is caring about but also physical. The school also offered the staff with a fully equipped gym center for upholding healthy body and fitness.
Right from the beginning of his work as the school principal, he selected his administration team and the staff very carefully. He collected enough information about every member with the help of the supervisors and documents presented in the staff portfolio.
Later he distributed a survey for each department looking for the professional development (PD) depending on the specialties of each subject. The principal then form a PD committee. The committee studies departments needs and work on two plans, immediate response and long response one, depend on how urgent the PD is.
After building shared vision, mission , values and goals statements, which are part of the strategic plan, the principal form a committee to follow and check the implementation of the strategic plan. The committee was from different teachers who have the sense of dedication and hard work. The committee organizes meetings and take care of gathering ideas from the staff, students and parents through the school suggestions drop box and the website. Later ,they present them to the principal who convert them into action. All the work leaded by the principal and the strategic plan committee was towards achieving the goals of the school and the implementation of the strategic plan.
I think the principal was not aware of the concept PLC however what he does, does match the PLC concept and doesn't controvert with it.
The PD committee meets at the beginning of each semester to study, examine and evaluate its plans. Recently the PD committee with the cooperation with the subjects advisors and coordinators, set an individual PD based on the visits , the on- going assessment students' results, EMSA and PENTA( two companies hired by ADEC to evaluate school) reports. Not only the principal cares about PD but also emotional issues. Since 2005-06, the principal form a social committee which looks after teachers emotional emotionally, believing that emotions are part of the bigger picture. Teachers are visited and gifts are presented in sorrow and happy occasions. The weekly greeting program is in action, the school presents a rose for every teacher at the beginning of each week as an appreciation of his efforts.
A daily newspaper in English and Arabic in available for the staff to update them with what is going on outside the school fences. A well equipped library is also available with internet connection for improving and supporting professional growth. The principal also value all the educational conferences and PD sessions either by attending himself or sending a representative and brief the staff with what is new in the learning field.
Redesigning the organization
As the principal, he is keen of establishing a team work, or collaboration philosophy. This culture is represented by the principal's regular emphasis on a mutual work. The principal always us the expression "WE", collaboration and avoiding solitary. The school has a teacher learning team which is responsible for exchanging expertise and new practices.
Although everyone is keen about having the notion of team work, the school still suffers from some practices where some of the staff, especially newcomer, tend to solitary.
Managing the instructional program
Although the principal is specialized in geology, he is up-to-date in the pedagogical practices and information technology (IT) application in learning and the importance of teacher learning . He always puts students learning and teachers' capacity at his priority. He himself attends PD session whenever possible or nominates someone to attend and brief him and the staff about the latest in teaching and learning, that is why he assigns a budget for each department for the PDs. He willingly attended all the training session hold by Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) or the Ministry of Education (MoE). He believes that everyone is a student in the education field and always seek new practices and perfection.
Conclusion and recommendations
To conclude, Al Dahma' Model School leadership is close to PLC. The principal stared his work at the school with forming committees; Strategic Plan Committee, Coordinator, Prizes Committee, Social Committee, Leadership Committee, Assessment for Learning Committee, Teacher Learning Team. All the committees were formed by the teachers and according to their experiences.
The principal is acting as an active facilitator for empowering learning culture. He encourages collaborative work across the school and within each subject. The timetable contains a PD period for each subject once a week. He attends some of those sessions and praising the efforts. The principal also helps in creating teachers and leadership capacity as he assigns a budget for resources and PD in and outside the school. In fact, the PD committee working positively in this issue. Al Dahma' Model School was the first school across the UAE to delegate students and English teachers to native English speaking countries, Australia and Canada, to improve English language across the school. The school hosted and organized many activities for creating a learning community through organizing; English Olympiad for the year 2007-08 and 2008-09, GCC Physics Olympiad, Mathematics Olympiad. The leadership always focuses on learning for life where teachers converts theory to practice. Projects are applied by students in group and individually. Transportations and communications with other institutions for visits, lectures, and comparing theory with practice are funded and facilitated by the school. Regular meetings with the whole staff and each subject are assigned and views are exchanges and taken in consideration.
Although all these practices in Al Dahma' Model School, there are a few defaults which hinder Al Dahma' Model School from being a Professional Learning Community (PLC) that have been mentioned after each point, however I will recall the most important ones. The principal need to work closer with the whole staff towards more cooperation among the staff and between each subject and exchange expertise and practices. Though scientific teachers have a good room for making adjustments to their curriculum the arts subject teachers on the other hand are still bound to the textbook as presented by the ministry of education. This limits the students and teachers selection of the subject to suits the learners needs. The more parents are involved the easiest the school work will be. By this I mean, all the parents have to share and play a positive role in all the school daily, occasional and annual activities. All parents are urged to contact the school that can only be through establishing a systematic method of contact and open channels of frequent interaction which I believe the school leadership needs to work on to build a better relationship. The vision, mission, values and goals need consistency and regular modifications specially after joining the school to ADEC. PLC leadership team has to be implemented to help the principal with his work.