In late 2012 The Employers’ Consultative Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ECA) hosted its Annual Leadership series which featured a lecture by Mrs. Elizabeth Crouch, Change Agent & Role Model and former principal of St. Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain speaking on the topic of Youth Employment entitled Expectation, Education, Enterprise: Putting the Next Generation of Leadership into Context.

Mrs. Crouch’s message began with examining the Trinidad and Tobago Education system in its early origins of attempting to align education for all with the needs of the economy and the issues faced interspersed with her personal experiences in addressing this dilemma. The final part of her lecture addressed the new thrust for 21st century schools in Trinidad and Tobago becoming a foundational centre for youth development lead by school principals who must be trained as leaders and not just administrators.  Today we feature Mrs. Crouch segment on The Leadership Idea in Schools.

Is this school leadership idea unique? The answer is no. In every developed country, the education sector has moved on to this leadership idea for the express purpose of turning education around at the level of the school itself in order to improve student attainment through the creation of high quality teaching teams, continuous self evaluation and the provision for children of rich and wide opportunities for learning. There is an important lesson here. In the thinking of those who are moving forward with the Youth Employment Network internationally, there is the sentiment that countries should “get it right the first time”.

When the valuable primary and secondary years are lost, retraining by the state or the private sector is expensive.

It is not strange therefore that there are Principal and School Leadership Centers in every state of the United States. There is the National College of School Leadership in the UK. There is the prestigious Academy of Principals in Singapore. In these places, Principals are trained in the leadership attitude. They learn to build leadership capacity not only in themselves but also in their teaching teams. In Singapore, a country whose education system is much admired, the Academy “serves as an important platform for school principals to reach out to local and overseas colleagues from affiliate associations, institutes of higher learning, corporate and industry partners to share ideas, debate issues and discuss policy indicators all of which will contribute towards building sustainable leadership through strong and mutually beneficial networks.” Further, the stated goals of the Academy include establishing close links with industry and staying attuned to employer expectations. It is envisioned that school leaders “will also learn about best practice in organizational development which could be modelled upon and applied within the schools.”

An examination of the National College of School Leadership in the UK reveals that there are four corporate goals underpinning the college's work which are described as:
1. Inspiring new leaders: identifying, inspiring and developing future leaders to sustain the supply of talent.
2. Providing great leadership development: giving all leaders the expertise they need to become great leaders by providing guidance and support tailored to individual needs, access to knowledge and resources, and unrivalled leadership development and networking opportunities.
3. Empowering successful leaders: harnessing the expertise of the best leaders to drive improvement beyond their own schools and organisations
4. Shaping future leadership: supporting leaders to adapt the way they work to meet changing demands, influencing policy and advising government

“We need to get it right the first time” Because for every development that I have describe briefly above, at the end of the day, all grand policy statements and ideas rests in what happens in the school.  Over these past decades, it was the Principals who had to shepherd the changes and preside over the tumult in the system. From GCE to CXC to CAPE, who stood at the door? Why do we expect promoted teachers to do this work?

Even where the Principal has a Masters in Educational Leadership, the ongoing training and support must continue as in any other profession. In preparation for this talk, I looked at a recent study by the UK National College of Leadership which highlighted 20 secondary and 20 primary schools in the most dire situations which are now schools of excellence and in every instance the consistent factor that was responsible for the turnaround was the quality of leadership exercised by the Principal and his or her high quality teaching teams.

What we want now in Trinidad and Tobago are schools which have leaders, not good bureaucrats.

A good bureaucrat in this country, can give you a very long list of reasons why it is impossible to be transformational.
In order for you to be convinced that the leadership attitude is important, may I point out we do not need leadership only for the teaching and learning, but also for moulding pupils and building a school culture that produces good citizens.

The Principal’s work is about how students are received on their first day at school, how age and stage are treated, how students are cared for, what efforts are made to bring out gifts and talents, how adults are received, teachers and parents alike.

In describing what leadership should look like, the Bridge Change Leadership framework speaks about two important types of capabilities; the rational and the emotional. The rational capabilities include how to manage programs and create living visions. However, emotional capabilities are equally important and they involve how to take people with you, get your message across and enable your stakeholders to connect to the vision in a living and heartfelt way. I believe that we are in a place in our history where our education system is crying out for schools to have leaders with both rational and emotional capabilities.
In a school, someone has to care. That person is the Principal with his or her high quality teaching teams.

We have a school system where everyday more than two hundred thousand children show up - the primary pupils all waiting to be taught in the first instance, reading and mathematics; the secondary pupils to be educated in a manner commensurate with their talents and abilities. They show up and wait for something to happen, for their lives to be enriched and developed for the youth employment opportunities they need in providing for themselves and their families in the future.

It is imperative that the school itself be a transformational place and not a holding centre producing dropouts, young persons who cannot read, young persons condemned to few job opportunities, angry at their wasted lives and recruited to crime. School is the place which serves as the foundation of youth employment.
It is in school that the skills, abilities and gifts of our youth must be discovered, drawn out and employed. Only then will we see a society where the choice is not to go away- whether the going away is literally to leave the country and be part of the brain drain that has never stopped in this country or to cross boundaries into the criminal life. Today we are in changing and dynamic times, when we are about to experience in the secondary and primary sector, the full launch by the Ministry of Education of two significant strategies.

The first is the full adoption of the Caribbean Vocational Qualifications in schools, where students will demonstrate competence in reaching CARICOM approved occupational standards developed by practitioners and employers.  As happened in 1975, this is once again, a response by the State to make Education more relevant to our economic needs and in preparation for job market requirements, providing assessment of a wider range of ability levels, giving young  people the ability to be employed or to become self employed.

Equally significant is the major reform which is about to be launched by the Ministry of Education in the primary sector with the Continuous Assessment Component within an expanded subject offering, which has been long on the books- Music, Art, Dance, Character Education, Citizenship Education and Agri-science - all geared to healthy all round development for our primary pupils and our national development, and all previously too often ignored by schools.
If we can be optimistic that these changes can be successful, this will represent the opening up of new possibilities for youth employment and employability in 2012 and beyond. For this to happen we need to include in the reform process, among other things, a change the way we view our Principals and I know that the corporate sector has the means and ability to work with the state and key stakeholders to impact this.

You have asked me to talk about realignment in the system. Here, right now is a moment in our history for the corporate sector to make something work well, work very, very well, for our young people and our country.

Corporations can help schools “to get it right the first time”

In conjunction with our universities they can consider:

Foundations supporting Principals’ Centres - Foundations in Trinidad and Tobago can build healthy and sustained alliances with Principals’ organizations. Whenever you touch the working life of a Principal, you literally have the likelihood of touching the potential of thousands of young lives.  .

Conferences - Other corporations support the hosting of annual leadership conferences for Principals and teacher leaders with a cutting edge programme and dynamic national, regional and international presenters on wide ranging topics, to develop learning and leadership capacity which include promoting a culture of high expectations and no excuses in schools.

Fellowships - There are programs which provide awards to principals who submit proposals to effect a measurable change in their schools, for example, a program to raise reading standards among five and six year olds in Infant One and Two.

Creating a mandate for Change- In some states of the United States, there has been corporate sponsorship of a think tank of 15 or so excellent principals to chart a way forward. This way forward can then become the basis of a school leadership framework for Trinidad and Tobago in relation to creating opportunities for all our young people within the school itself and thereafter in the society at large.   

In conclusion then, with regard to Education and youth employment for the good of all of young people and of our country’s development, I say to you: Let’s get this right the first time.