The Role of the School Leader in ‘Successful Implementation’
By Pritha Ghosh, 30 Dec 2016

We are almost as pleased with the school leaders of two of the six schools we work with in Rajasthan, as we are with our own efforts with them1.

They have been constant in their undertaking to meet the demands of the order that put us in their schools several times a month. It has taken an enduring effort for them to take us with them in the journey along the continuum of truth about the existence, attendance, participation and action taken by the School Management Committees (SMC) in their schools. There is a fabric of fragmented information amounting to half-truths that an outsider must traverse, before crossing over the imaginary line, to being allowed to tacitly acknowledge the unspoken, to being included as an insider in the whole truth. For example, it has gone against the grain of the dutiful school leader to expose his vulnerability to caste and class prejudice, and the intrinsic relationship he thinks it has, to successful leadership of the political drama at play in the neighbourhood of the school.

Nothing gladdens the heart of the implementor on a schedule, more than partners in the field who will do as they are told. For the more authentic experience, just the right amount of strain and discomfort tinges the later romantic telling of it more righteous. The ‘achhe’ school leaders, are those who have been most cooperative. They have listened, and argued just enough to convince us that they are thinking about what we proposed, and then accepted what we have asked them to do. The token twinge of assertiveness is more a reflexive herd instinct of being indignant when challenged, than it is a recognition of choice to agree or disagree. The culture does not encourage the level of thought needed for the latter. It does encourage steadfast commitment to conformity. The self satisfaction possible for all concerned, with this form of ‘successful implementation’ is tempting, barring the following exceptions.

Results don’t sustain without constant, mechanical supervision. Academically pristine solutions are compromised in contextual relevance. For instance, rules dictate that SMC executive committees are to share responsibility for school quality in partnership with Government staff; through monthly meetings. The prescribed constitution of the committee requires that generations of social difference be ignored under the untrained aegis of the school principal. Yet, the whole system leans, like an overweight ballerina on pointe, on the shoulders of the sincere school leader, who wants only to do his job, upset no one, and file his reports on time. To this end, he ensures that he harbours no opinion, not even a latent vision for his own school, lest it be contrary to the many knee-jerk super solutions that his school suffers, supposedly to gain sanction.

While this article is a caustic complaint about this school leader and his kind in the front-line bureaucracy, what alternative can I propose? What would the ideal principal do? What kind of preparation would a thinking, questioning, discerning manager who understands the intent of policy and can represent the complex nature of context, need? Is it pragmatic to ask the system to produce a rebel that will be its downfall? What would the brief be?

While it is convenient to allocate blame to the thick-skinned frontline bureaucrat, how comfortable are we with as many degrees of quality in outcomes as there are bound to be difference in vision and competencies, cultural context and political will. Everyone agrees that there should be rule followers. Not everyone can be a rule maker. But who is to decide who gets what role?

The simple answer to that question is that the administrative mechanism has a formula that it has and will continue to use. While it may seem to entertain a different conception, its own existence is tied to the decision that managerial processes and structures will not change, certainly not en mass. What is a simple school leader meant to do but agree and plug on.

In following blogs, I will explore courageous efforts at mass change and their consequences on systematic change.

1Accountability Initiative has been been working in the Bassi block in Rajasthan, to ascertain the challenges to the education management as it takes on the task of running effective SMCs. Of the many levels of education bureaucracy we work with, there are 6 principals of schools who are provided inputs on coaching SMCs on fiscal literacy.

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