Notes from presentations on School Leadership - Cluster Approach by Suparna Diwakar

Notes from Project Presentation, SLDP Cluster Approach, Ramanagara, by Suparna Diwakar, C-LAMPS

The School Leadership Development Programme in Ramanagara Block has taken a cluster aproach. The cluster is a group of 10-12 schools. Every cluster has a Cluster Resource Person to support the schools. While the cluster was envisaged as an academic unit, it is increasingly playing an admnistrative role to meet the needs of planning and implementation of the state and district level project. Through the cluster approach toschool leadership an attempt has been made to help HTs and the CRP work together for the betterment of their respective schools through sharing of resources and supporting each other. It is expected that over a period of time this strategy would lead to the emergence of a community of learners/practitioners. The sharing of 'complex resources'1 and the emergence of 'collaborative competition'2 helps to spur development in the schools. The SLDP follows the Training-Application-Coaching Model in which the HTs, having participated in classroom sessions and engaged with content, go on to prepare school development plans. The school development plan is broken down into smaller components called the School Development Initiatives that the HT then scopes, plans and implements in consultation with stakeholders. In the cluster approach, at least half the HTs from a cluster participate in the same batch of training along with the CRP creating spaces for better communication and sharing. The assignments between phases create opportunities for the HT to have focused conversations with the teachers in the school and to catalyse collaboration among the teachers of the school, as well as the immediate school community. The following is a brief report of a few of the presentations done by the Second Batch of SLDP. It attempts to identify some salient features of the cluster approach as they emerged during the presentation.

Presentation by Mrutanjaya, CRP, Harisandra and Suggenahalli Cluster The CRP is overseeing two clusters currently. From his perspective, one of the highlights of the programme was the 'follow-up' done by the C-LAMPS' RPs and the way they coordinated with him. When asked about the components of the follow-up, he talked about the support that the RPs gave in the choice of SDIs, helped them in problem solving and provided inputs with respect to the project. He felt that the presentation was not he end of the programme but that they would view the projects as a continuous process. He shared that the number of visits by HTs to each others' schools has increased. Resources are being shared by schools which was not happening earlier. The schools are talking to each other more now. The conversations that have begun with the stakeholders must continue. The HTs are competing with each other while at the same time sharing resources. The competition is about who is doing a better project (this has been referred to as 'collaborative competition' by Fullan). The maintenance and records by the Hts has improved. Currently, the cluster does not have a building for a cluster resource centre. The CRP has approached the Department as well as the local MLA for a room that can house the CRC. Another CRP who made a presentation shared that the relationship among schools had improved on account of the SLDP. “HTs are keen on cooperating. There has been a change in the mindset.” Presentations by Head Teachers D R Ranganatha, Hegdegere, has 13 years experience as assistant teacher; became acting HT in July of 2012 and the SLDP began soon after. The programme was like an 'induction programme' for him. The SDI that he set out to implement resulted in five SDIs getting implemented during the same time period. These were in a sense 'spin-offs' from the original idea. During discussions with parents and children of the school, there was a strong expression of a desire for an educational trip. The school had not organised such a tour for the children for over 7 years. Ranganatha involved the parents in a discussion as to possible locations for the visit. The parents went a step further and identified suitable transportation and prepared a budget for the trip. The original plan was to visit a place near Mysore. But with the Cauvery agitation, the school decided to change the place of visit. The children expressed a wish to go toward Malnad. So the HT called the parents again to revise plans. The found that the cost per child for the trip was working out rather high. The HT was also not confident of taking the children so far away as he had never done this before. It was decided at the meeting to request another experienced HT of a school in the same cluster if the two schools could plan a combined trip. That HT had taken the children of his school for several trips. In addition, by getting a larger number of children to go for the trip, the would be able to bring down the cost per child. This collaboration led to the children of two schools going on a trip to Malnad and visiting a bioseeds company, a poultry farm as well as a jelly crusher unit. This was a great learning experience for not only the children but the teachers as well. “The teachers were also asking questions and taking notes. We had not realised that these operations were so complex and needed to be planned and executed so carefully while also taking care regarding hygiene and quality”, shared Ranganatha. Ranganatha listed a variety of learnings from the experience of the SDI planning and implementation. 1. Interacting with an experienced HT was a learning experience. Collaboration with another school has been advantageous for us. Want to build this further. 2. Planning skills have improved. Realised the need to prioritise to be able to accomplish what needed to be done. 3. Learnt to interact with stakeholders and how to get them to participate in school activities. 4. Learnt the skill of resource mobilisation. 5. The process of discussing with the parents and teachers resulted in the assistant teachers taking more responsibilities. This has resulted in the development of leadership skills of teachers too. 6. For the teachers, the trip was a learning experience. 7. Children and teachers documented their experiences from the trip. These have been kept in their school library. 8. During the school trip, we took the telephone numbers of all the parents to be able to contact them in case of any emergency. We are now able to call them when their children do not come to school or if there is some issue. The contact with parents has been strengthened. Nagaratnamma, Ramanagara Town 2 Cluster has 30 years of experience as a teacher, 23 of them as an assistant teacher and 7 as a HT. She has been in this school for the past 7 months. She had not attended any training programme in leadership and found the SLDP very useful. The school chose to take up was the improvement of the school library as a SDI. Nagaratnamma described some unique features of the process that they adopted in her school to choose the SDI. The radar chart is a chart that helps a school assess itself along various parameters. This enabled the school to not only collectively identify all the things that needed improvement but also helped them to prioritise the improvements required. (The choice of the library project may have been influenced partly by the fact the at the Department had also taken up a programme to get schools to open their library cupboards and make the books accessible to children.) Nagaratnamma described a shift in their perspective to libraries and its role. Earlier the teachers would choose a limited number of books from the library cupboard and keep them in a reading corner in the classroom. Only a few students used to be interested in picking up books form the reading corner. During the scoping discussions of the project, questions regarding the available number of books, the lack of facilities for storage of the books in a way that would be accessible to children, and none of the teachers in the school was willing to take the responsibility for the management of the library. Nagaratnamma discussed these issues with the teachers as well as the SDMC. When the community around the school got to know of the need for a book-rack for the school, a member of the old SDMC got racks made. The 2500 books were catalogued by the teachers using a simple method. Though the teachers used to 'float' because of being called into other programmes, they stayed on after school hours to complete the cataloguing and organising the books on the racks. The school children also lent a hand and the work was soon completed. One of the teachers volunteered to oversee the management of the library. The children were given the responsibility of managing the library – issue of books, return of books, arrangement of books on the shelves, repair of books that are damaged etc. Children are now free to choose the books that they would like to read and are also allowed to carry books home. A notice board has been put up. This is a space for the children to display their own writing. They write 'reviews' of the books that they have read, or something that they have created. Since the children got an opportunity to articulate their own ideas for the library, they have become more articulate and share their thoughts and feelings more clearly. Since the books are now accessible and well organised,the teachers are able to quickly refer to books that are relevant to the curriculum/lessons that they are teaching. What did Nagaratnamma learn during the course of the planning and implementation of the SDI? She shared that her planning skills have improved. She is able to break-up plans into smaller activities. The role of stakeholders in the school as well as ways of getting them to participate in school activities has become sharper. Her relationship with the assistant teachers in the school has become much stronger. She has been coaching them through conversations which include explorations of alternatives when things do not go as planned. Nagaratnamma invited the local councillor as well as nearby schools for the inauguration of the library. The children shared their own experiences of the library. This spurred the school in Balepet to start its own library and Nagaratnamma and her colleagues have shared their experiences to help the Balepet school. Nagaratnamma and her colleagues have started planning their next SDI, a school garden. One hopes that these conversations will also lead to structured conversations about children's learning. As the BRC was sharing, she intends to 'push' the HTs to start exploring SDIs that would have a direct impact on the learning outcomes of children. She sought C-LAMPS' support for the same. Chandrabai, the HT of Kothipura school, Ramanagara Town 2 Cluster, had also taken up the library project as a SDI. As a part of her SDI implementation she visited the library of another school as well as the town library to understand its functioning, method of cataloguing etc. She has got books out of locked cupboards into racks that she got built for the purpose. 157 books have been added to the library through a donation drive that she organised with her teachers. “People give help if we ask them,” she shared. A flannel board has been made available to children for putting up things that they would like to share. Chandrabai got the teachers together for the entire process. What was interesting was that she shared that she was very nervous about talking in front of so many people but that SLDP had given her confidence. In fact, for many of the HTs it was the first time that they were making a presentation in front of so many people. All of them spoke quite confidently. The BRC shared how proud she was of them! In another school the HT had mapped all the stakeholders in the school, the vocation of parents and in what ways they might be able to contribute to the school. Another interesting tool that the HT had used was to create a list of challenges that they might face in the process of trying to implement the project. Against each challenge the HT and the teachers of the school found solutions for each of the challenges that was listed. The library was a 'hit' and Hts from other schools came to visit. K M Gurumurthy of Ramenahalli, Bidadi Cluster, chose to improve the SDMC meetings in his school. As a part of the school mapping exercise, he invited the members of the SDMC and parents to the school. The assistant teachers as well as the children participated in the discussions. Gurumurthy shared that by doing such an exercise, they had a collective recognition of the strengths that they had as well as all the improvements that needed to be made. This also led to further discussions regarding sharing of responsibilities. However, getting the SDMC members to attend the meeting was no mean exercise! Gurumurthy met each of the SDMC members individually. He also met the President of the Gram Panchayat, explained what he was intending to do and then requested him to call the SDMC President to impress upon him the need for the SDMC meeting. Some interesting discussions took place during the meeting. “Private schools use so many strategies. Why should we not do the same?,” he said. So a Sports Day was planned. A committee was set up for this and events were planned for the fathers and mothers respectively. The events took place over a few weeks and culminated with an Annual Day during which prizes were given to not only the children but also to the 'winning' parents. A school trip was also planned in consultation with the SDMC. It was a joint trip with another neighbouring school. (Did they hear of the experience of Ranganatha and get inspired?) The process of school mapping and prioritisation used quality tools. So how did the process of the SDMC meeting change? The HT shared that the process has changed from 'telling' to sharing, discussing and deciding. The next SDI being planned is the library. “I have learnt from the sharing of my friends so it will be easy to implement,” Gurumurthy said. Curious about the management of the funds collected for the Sports/Annual Day events, I asked about the mechanism that they used for taking decisions about the expenditure and who was accountable? He replied saying that the decisions about expenditures were taken transparently and a meeting had been called to share the accounts with the SDMC. Rajeswari of Madarasabardoddi School took up the setting up a school garden SDI. We called a meeting for a school mapping exercise. The anganwadi teacher, the head cook, assistant teachers, SDMC members, children and parents participated. “The school of our dreams would have a garden so we decided to go ahead and make one. The challenge was that in a school that did not have drinking water, how would we make a garden. While there is a tank, the connection to the main tank was not functional. The garden became an excuse to get the connection activated.” With the CRP's support they were able to get the water connection done. However, one question that remained unanswered was, “why choose a SDI of garden when there seemed to be other issues that needed to be looked into? What was the process of prioritisation that was used? What was the logic of choosing the garden?”

  	In one of the schools where improving the parent-teacher relationship was taken up as a SDI, the HT attempted to set the agenda for the parent-teacher meeting through a discussion with the parents. This discussion meant that many of the priorities of parents was also addressed. Participation of parents in the meeting increased. The HT felt that having learnt tools during the training programme helped him to plan the  meetings well while also listening to parents' concerns. He felt that listening to the parents and dialoguing with them had resulted in the parents paying more attention to their children's learning. This seems to be having an effect on the children's learning. Donations to the school have also increased.

The presentations made by the CRPs and the HTs seems to indicate that the cluster approach can help schools to cooperate and collaborate for overall improvement. The strategy of focusing first on collaboration within the school and then between the school seems to have paid off. While the initial sharing is more with respect to physical and financial resources, from the second SDI onwards the hope is to nudge the collaboration towards more teaching-learning processes.