School leaders must focus on values, the future

The annual exercise of systematically appointing and rotating school principals is a positive one, as it allows schools to have a mix of experiences, fresh perspectives and new energies ("Jesuit priest among 21 newly appointed principals"; Oct 8).

However, there could be some negative consequences to schools getting new principals every five to seven years.

First, each time there is a new principal, staff and students will spend time and energy trying to figure out each new leadership style, as well as the values and unwritten rules that go with it.

Second, a principal would want to be seen to have made an impact in the school, for his own career advancement.

As he would have only a few years to do this, he might seek to change things for the sake of change.

He might introduce new initiatives, which might then be abandoned by the succeeding principal, or focus on achieving short-term goals at the expense of those that would be more enduring.

For example, he might drive his teachers to exhaustion or take time away from developing character in students just to achieve academic results.

Third, a principal needs time to build a strong and positive values-based culture, and a vibrant learning community.

He needs time to shape and strengthen the school's ethos and traditions.

He needs time to develop constructive professional relationships with the staff, to develop a strong and cohesive team. He also needs time to engage parents and other stakeholders to provide the students with a holistic education.

Working towards achieving the educational goal of nurturing every child is a long-term commitment and effort.

I hope every principal, including newly appointed ones, will be anchored in sound values and that they will be future-oriented in their beliefs and actions as we make the shift in emphasis in education from grades to talent, and from qualifications to skills ("A study in bold moves"; Oct 12).

A successful principal is one who leaves behind a legacy, not so much for himself, but for the school and the next principals to build upon.

Poh Leong Joo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'School leaders must focus on values, the future'. Print Edition | Subscribe