Recently the Ministry of Education announced the names of approximately three dozen educators who had been promoted to the position of principal in primary schools across the island. All this week they have been engaged in training sessions to optimise their preparation for the task ahead.
As they had been reminded repeatedly during the opening session of the training programme, the job ahead will not be easy. They are now among the leaders of a profession that has taken a beating in recent times, and based on the direction our society is headed, they will continue to be targets for some time.
Our principals have to play multiple roles daily. They have to be educators, motivators, mentors, administrators, parents, psychologists and so much more to students, teachers, parents and in many cases the communities in which they operate.
They have to, on a sustained basis, perhaps more intimately than any other profession, manage the worst and the best of society at the same time. They are mandated not just to feed the intellect of their students, but very often their bodies and their consciences in an environment where personal thanks may come only a decade or two later when the consistently as well as occasionally wayward have been turned into society’s best examples of success.
Because of the traditionally conservative character of the educator, and the fact that having attained the status of principal most likely means they are veterans of the craft, many of them might not have been personally exposed to many of the common challenges that confront today’s student — and by extension his or her household.
Yet, it is expected that our principals must be able to not just detect the odour of marijuana, but they must be able to recognise the signs of its use and abuse — when perhaps many of them have never even seen a live marijuana plant, a Ziplock bag is more readily associated with keeping a sandwich fresh than with the distribution of any illegal substance; a “roach” is best countered with Baygon and “colly” is an affectionate way of referring to literary icon Frank Collymore.
Now add to all that a situation where so many principals lament that they are far more familiar with their troubled students than their high performers because they spend so much time dealing with the former, or the consequences of their conduct.
And in the face of all this, we have developed a society they essentially judges our teachers and their in-school managers primarily on two factors — Common Entrance Examination results and Caribbean Examination Council passes.
We also believe that the recent protracted impasse at the Alexandra School also serves as another object lesson on the challenges that can and do confront teachers and administrators and ought to provide some guidance, not only about what they should do, but what they should not do if they want to be effective principals.
Fortunately though, the beating the teaching profession took as a result of this debacle, in the grand history of teaching in Barbados should not be seen as more than a bump in the road. Our headmasters and headmistresses of a past era have left an enviable legacy and one only need look at some of the names our schools now bear for a reminder.
In recent times as well Barbados has been blessed with principals, particularly at the primary level, who have set exceptional examples for this most recent crop to follow. The current Acting Chief Education Officer, Karen Best has demonstrated without a doubt how a principal who respects and engages her community, enlists the involvement of parents and sees her teachers as partners with a voice, can make a school a centre of excellence.
Colleagues like Ivan Clarke (Hilda Skeene Primary), Angela Smith (Gordon Greenidge Primary), Judy Sobers (now retired, Half Moon Fort), Eudora Mascoll (Cuthbert Moore Primary), Jenifer Hoyte (Arthur Smith Primary), Lorna Bynoe (Good Shepherd), Shirley Marshall (Deacons), Phillip Roach (George Lamming Primary), Heather Bryan (Christ Church Girls) and Beverley Parris (Lawrence T. Gay Primary) are also worthy of emulation.
Our newest crop of principals has an awesome responsibility to society, huge shoes to fill, an often unthankful society to serve and increasingly challenged school populations to raise — but they are embarking on a path that many have travelled successfully before. You have our support!