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Do the academic leadership in schools exhibit signs of chaos?

By G. Balasubramanian

It appears difficult for me to say a ‘NO’ to the above question. Academic Leadership is a synthesis of various dimensions of leadership in an educational ecosystem. It is a non-linear administration of processes and often calls for the cooperation of timely, and intellectually valid and credible concepts to ensure its progression, dynamism, and sustainability. Many of the factors that describe the theory of chaos seem to be appropriate to the current issues haunting its workstations. To put in a nutshell

  • The academic ecosystems are always dynamic
  • The academic ecosystems are open ended and influenced by changes of all types
  • They tend to show a reasonable disorder
  • They exhibit a state of randomness
  • No wonder, the academic ecosystems are susceptible to the factors that may generate of cause a chaos. Recent happenings in the academic world also indicate the butterfly effect characteristic of the above theory. Issues that seem to be impacting academic leaders seem to be too many.

    1. Managing the direction of academic progression

    With the impact of covid on socio-economic and cultural domains of most communities and consequent closure of institutions, there is lack of clarity about the resultant direction in which things will move in the next few years. Given the learning gaps, inadequate and inappropriate inputs to learning processes, the academic leaders do find it difficult to set the sails for navigation in the proper direction. The need to ‘manage’ the situation appears more important than to set the compass towards far-off lands. Knowledge delivery and Knowledge packaging issues dominate over knowledge creation needs.

    2. Managing the focus in academic progression

    With a number of current issues on hand, the academic leaders are unable to set their focus on academic goals. The management of campus, the management of online issues, the imperfections in the pedagogical deliveries, the urgency to manage the governmental concerns, inability to have a supporting team and lack of clarity from the educational boards are raising a number of questions at every dawn. In trying to set their priorities right, the academic leaders seem to be fighting with their time and energy to set their focus more precisely, as they used to do earlier. The replacement of scheduled management systems in institutions by a more ‘laisse-faire’ approach, has destabilized the existing learning culture. To focus on any differentiated learning culture is neither easy nor possible given the uncertainties ahead.

    3. Managing the support systems that scaffold its architecture

    Any good leadership has always a back up of a strong support system. In institutions, the curricular support, the pedagogical support, the assessment support does give the academic leaders the much-needed energy to push things ahead. With all these domains totally destabilized, they suffer from weak support systems. Collaborative work, joint strategies for effective implementation, shared vision, and maximization of the individual competencies to a synergetic goal could not be achieved for over a year which has both short term and long-term effect on positioning the school brand.

    4. Absence of control over contributing components

    With many of the supporting systems remaining either closed, inoperative or working under remote, it is indeed difficult for academic leaders to coordinate, lead, mentor, or counsel them for effective management. This has both direct and indirect effect on the quality of pedagogical delivery and ensuring its appropriacy to the client from time to time. This also leads to variance on the qualitative and quantitative spread of the curriculum pedagogy and its related universe.

    5. Too many compromises with quality

    Given the need for a more compassionate approach to all stakeholders with their unique problems, sufferings and inadequacies, the academic leaders are driven to make several compromises in the quality management of the curriculum and pedagogy. Further, the directions from the administrative agencies like the Government, the Boards of education and local authorities, they find it difficult to put any plan of action with a long-term perspective.

    6. Inadequate time and tools for training

    Many academic leaders who are enthusiastic about accepting, triggering, and mentoring changes also tend to stay at crossroads because they have no adequate time to usher in these changes. They need to plan and induct both people and resources for initiating these changes. Training the personnel for accepting the change, to understand the change and to put action plans for change needs financial, human and knowledge resources which are not accessible either in plenty or at easily accessible levels.

    7. Poor feedback for re-engineering

    In the normal course, the academic leaders depend on the feedback systems to make internal and intermittent corrections both in the plans and the execution to maximize their results. In the current scenario, the flow of feedback is slow, irregular, undependable and unpredictable. The credibility and validity of these feedbacks are not dependable to facilitate them to take meaningful steps for re-engineering the system.

    8. psychological demotivation among stakeholders

    There is enough evidence that the entire universe of the operating system is under stress of different types. That makes all stakeholders to work under restraints and constraints. With less freewill operating, there is less free flow of ideas or opinions to create a healthy psychological environment for free and frank discussions. Fear, doubt, insecurity, low self-esteem, and other negative factors inhibit positive psychological motivation for a free enterprise. Hence academic leaders need to invest more time and energy to restore normalcy in the operating universe.

    Given the above, the academic leaders need to keep the following points in their minds to maximize their efficiency:

    1. Generating Trust systems to deal with uncertainty

    2. Work with greater flexibility and ensure inclusion

    3. Simplify structures and formats of the operating universe

    4. Stimulate participation, collaboration, and enterprise

    5. Focus on developing shared vision for achievable goals

    6. Engage in creating Social Responsibilities

    7. Focus on self-leadership that would model for other leaderships in the community

    8. Focus on high quality cordial relationships which are sustainable

    In their article on “Understanding and Managing chaos in organizations” in the international journal of Management, S.L. Dolan and others, professors in the faculty of Management in the University of Barcelona, Spain write “Because complexity demands leadership oriented toward an attractor rather than ordering instructions or objectives, it also presupposes an evolution of transforming order-following workers into autonomous professionals. Although many people interpret the concept of leadership in a grandiloquent way, one should not lose sight of its essential characteristic comprising the capacity to inspire, to articulate a vision, and to hold teams of professionals together and channel their efforts.”