Someone wisely said “a station master minds the train, and a headmaster trains the mind”.

A headmaster or a principal does it indirectly with the support of his or her masters (teachers). It is a widely known and an established fact that a ‘team’ is as bad or as good as the leader. Defining a true leader is a hard task and there is enough already been said about the leadership qualities and traits. Enough has also been written about the distinctive traits of a manager and that of a leader. The role and the leadership traits of a head of school (Principal, Headmaster, Director etc.) are particularly crucial as they play a huge and crucial role of shaping the future of thousands of young minds in a school. Their day-to-day decisions directly impact the lives of the teachers and thereby the students. Quite often, leaders forget that, teachers are the most important and irreplaceable “resource” in a school. If you think that teachers are no more important with the advancement of technology and will soon be replaced then I would encourage you to read the book called “Class Not Dismissed” by Anthony Aveni . The Irony is that one needs a teaching qualification to become a teacher, but there are no such expectations from a head of school! I pause here to ask a question; is there a difference between a leader and an educational leader? If yes, then how important it is to have a qualified educational leader?

Based on my personal experience of being an educational leader and working closely with many educational leaders across the world, I am set to see the leadership traits of a school leader from the view point of a teenager. A teenager’s life is hugely influenced by the members of their family, peers & siblings, neighbours and teachers. I am leaving the other influencers like authors, movie stars, rock stars etc. as they do not influence them in person. An attempt to compare a teacher with a teenager and a school with a family may not be the best idea but it gives me an opportunity to categorise and explore various leadership types into the following categories which would be helpful to answer some important questions!

The Motherly leaders

Such leaders are genuinely interested in you (the teacher) and are extremely committed to the organisation and very approachable. (S)he can be very strict and come really hard on you to get the best out of you but has no interest other than your success and thereby success of the organisation . Such leaders are very hard working, versatile and multitasking comes naturally to the. They manage to keep a straight face under all circumstances whether it is the financial crunch or pressure of delivery. They do not believe in sacking, rather would find time to guide you, teach you, push you, nudge you and never leave you in your distress and save your back no matter what. For them appraisal is not a yearly event, rather a continuous process. Such leaders does not believe in showing off and usually do not expect anything any appeasement or reward. They are; however very emotional and at times puts rational and logical thinking at the back seat and allows emotion to take over.

His/Her comments on your sick-leave request:“Sanctioned! Take care and if required an extra day to recover well”    

The Fatherly leaders

Such leaders are extremely committed to the organisation and mostly genuinely interested in you but your best interest is guided by his best interest and the interest of the organisation. (S)he is  strict disciplinarian, hard task masters and very demanding but does not always have the time to guide and teach you and not very approachable. Such leaders are extremely hard working but multitasking is not natural to them and he often demands a lot of unjustified work or support from others but one will eventually learn a lot while working with or for him/her. He can get very agitated with your shortcomings and appraisal is a yearly event for him. He expects reward and re-organisation and likes to brag about his personal achievements. They are mostly driven by logic and do not allow emotion to lead but are not insensitive at any cost.    

His/Her comments on your sick-leave request: “Sanctioned! But before you leave, ensure that you have set work for your students”    

The Peer or Sibling leaders

Such leaders are friendly and would like to support and help you but they themselves are not very experienced and they may not always have your best interest in their mind. They are not very committed to the organisation and always looking forward to opportunities elsewhere. They are also very unpredictable as sometimes can make your life very difficult and the next day can surprise you with a totally unexpected gift or reward. They usually are the first one to take credits for success and do not hesitate to the blame you when things go wrong. They are also in their learning stage and may see you as their competitor and hence they are not the best team players. In your distress they are the first one who you can reach out to but trusting their advice may not be the right choice.  

His/Her comments on your sick-leave request: “Sanctioned! Try not to fall sick in the next two months”    

The Neighbour leaders

Such leaders are neither interested in you nor in the organisation and they have only their best interest in their mind. Usually, you will not find them when you need them as they will busy attending seminars, workshops, award ceremonies. But at the time of appraisal they will be the first one to show up and you know what next.  They are mostly fault-finders and looking for opportunities to give you those unwanted advise and show off their achievements. They are best students of “political science” or rather the “science of politics” and are usually surrounded by his or her favourites. Such leaders can ruin your life, put the reputation of a school at stake and strongly believes that he or she is bigger than the institution. They are usually good orators and manage to keep the most stake holders by their side and somehow can produce excellent logical answer to the management to justify their acts of haphazard or discretionary ways of running the school.

His/Her comments on your sick-leave request: “Not Sanctioned! Remember, I came to school even on the day my father died. You need to show more commitment for your students.”    

The Teacher Leaders

They come in all variety, shape, size and degrees and there are too many of them and might become very difficult for you to decide who to follow, the one who sends you facebook friend request or the one who requests you to face the books. They want to have your best interest in their mind and help you in your distress but the problem is that they have too many of you in their life and cannot really give you that individual attention you would expect. Your life will change if you get a teacher who exhibits one-tenth of the attributes of an ideal teacher but they are rare and on the verge of becoming extinct. They believe in continuous assessment and appraisal and you will find them coming out with some sort of assessment evaluation almost every month. But they also take time to evaluate your work and give you feedback to improve by being your friend, philosopher and guide.

His/Her comments on your sick-leave request:Sanctioned for half a day to see the doctor. ”

An educational leader has a great impact and influence on the lives of students and the teachers and it is crucial to evaluate his or her personal conduct and his/her leadership traits. The job of an educational leader is unimaginably challenging in today’s world. Just recall those ugly school incidences of molestations, accidental deaths, corporal punishments and in all those cases the principals were held responsible. Is it fair? I think the bigger question would be, “Is it fair to appoint a Principal and provide no training and simply rely on his or her past experiences and wit?”, and probably the biggest question would be, “Are there any institute in India for the aspiring and exiting educational leaders?”. How can we expect an educational leader to deals with matters related to , the 21st century skills, emerging pedagogical framework, emerging trends in higher education, changing trends in the  job market, psychology, child psychology, teenage issues, issues arising out of advancement in technology, technology for education, depression, bullying, cyber bullying, emotional well-being, social well-being, health& safety norms, food safety norms, finance & sustainability, theories of continuous improvements and the list can go on.  

Unfortunately, we have only the M.Ed. Program which attempts to prepare the candidates to take up the role of a school Principal but this program has not been revised for many years.  IGNOU offers some diploma courses in school management and administration but those are ineffective. As a result of which few eager educational leaders enrols into MBA, which probably is a testimony of the fact that how schools are run as typical business enterprises with the prime objective of optimum profit.  There are many educational leaders who are doing a fantastic job without any formal educational leadership degree and I have had the opportunity to speak to some of them and work with them. It is evident that they are self motivated, an ambit reader and clearly stands out as an educational leader as opposed to a leader. How wonderful would it be to have a forum where the relatively new educational leaders could benefit from the inspiring and established educational leaders? A forum where, “the Principals directly shares the principles of educational leadership and propels the transformation of our educational landscape!”.

Till the time such collaboration happens one may consider to opt for the courses offered by Universities overseas, like the School Leadership Program(SLP) offered by the Harvard Graduate school of Education. One may also find a list of 30 online master’s in educational leadership program here.

I leave you with the final question; “what principles should we expect from a principal?”.  

Disclaimer: This article in no way attempts to typecast parents, peers, siblings, neighbours, friends and the teachers. The characterisations draws inspiration from the stereotypes projected in the media. The categorisations of leadership traits in no way reflect the leadership traits of the school leaders with whom I have worked closely.


About our guest author -

Santanu Bhowmik

HoD, Faculty of Mathematics at St. Dominics International School, Portugal

As a mathematics facilitator and educator my objective is to make mathematics likable and achievable. I would like to help students understand that mathematics is like a coconut and it’s shell may be hard; however with persistence, patience and practice it is not difficult to taste the sweet and soft kernel inside it. This is possible through use of modern technologies and traditional techniques (like Vedic mathematics). By incorporating class discussions, open-ended questions, and co-operative learning I am able to facilitate a highly interactive and inquisitive class atmosphere keeping the students emotional intelligence and different learning styles in mind.

I strongly believe that a teacher should never limit himself within the boundaries of a class room; as a matter of fact I can say from my experience that the real bonding with students happens outside the class room engagements. To support this "belief" I have always taken initiatives to promote co-curricular activities.

As an administrator and Curriculum Manager, more than anything else, I wish to remain a positive force in both teachers' and student’s lives and continue to inspire them to be lifelong learners and prepare them to be global citizens. I believe in fostering a conducive environment to be able to cater to students' and staff well being through leading, directing, counselling, inspiring, innovating, creating, facilitating and supervising both personnel and programs. I believe in teamwork where each individual is being inspired to bring in their best to achieve common goals.

As an educator I have a dream to promote "teaching as a career" and make it desirable by the students; empower millions of fellow educators in India with the required training, tools and technology and Lastly I have a dream to help my students understand the meaning of true "education" and not see it as a mere means to earn their bread & butter or social reputation.

I know, I have miles to go before I sleep!


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