The group of people occupying a school on a regular basis doesn’t include only teachers and students. Depending on the size of the establishment there are school nurses, cleaners, cafeteria staff, maintenance, administration personnel etc. The person responsible for leading these people and the operations of a school is the principal, and to manage their task efficiently and with the best possible results the leader needs to be able to lead intelligently.
Training the Whole School Culture
For this article, I interviewed experienced coach, mentor and education expert, Kari I. Mattila. He has worked as a principal himself but is now focusing on training other leaders. Mattila takes part in several operations but his most recent company is called Johtajuustaito.fi Oy, which means leadership skills in English. The company, unsurprisingly, offers leadership training and consulting.
Mattila sees training school management something bigger than training just the people. He explains that the aim is to train the whole school culture, and the leader of the change should be the principal. According to Mattila, the culture of a school is far more important than certain individuals. If the culture is good, challenges are easier to face with a group that works together.
Education is facing lot of changes in the form of globalisation, digitalisation and changing working life; or as Mattila sees it: “The change is already here. It’s the way you lead it that matters.There is no point in going against the change or bathing in self-pity. The adults in the schools must be trained to manage and lead the wave of change before they are left behind.”
Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Are Aware of Their Unawareness
Mattila talks a lot about the emotional intelligence of the leader. He sees that it’s the key to good leadership. A person who knows their strengths and weaknesses well enough and admits not knowing everything but instead seeks help from those who have the knowledge needed is emotionally intelligent. Emotionally intelligent leader is also capable of noticing the competences of others and thus guiding them to activities that benefit from their expertise the most. “When you share a piece of your leadership it doesn’t mean that you lose your leadership. You actually promote your leadership because it’s all you have and more”, declares Mattila.
A good leader understands that trust is a two-way street. By showing you trust people and their abilities, they’ll trust you in return. All in all, the atmosphere in the working place starts from the leader. With emotional intelligence, right attitude and ability keep the spirit alive any leader can achieve great things together with the whole team. Mattila uses the latest Finnish national ice hockey team as an example. Lead by their head coach Jukka Jalonen the team, consisting mainly of first timers, won the World Championship in spring 2019. No one thought they could succeed in the tournament but with right kind of leadership and attitude they proved everyone wrong.
School Culture in Finland Also Needs Improvement
The Finnish education system became world-famous when in year 2000 the news about the success in the PISA test reached every corner of the world. How could a small country like Finland do so well compared to big Western countries?
Indeed, there are many lessons we can teach, but the school culture in Finland is not perfect, admits Mattila. He criticises especially the career training for teachers or the so-called VESO–days in Finnish. Teachers are obligated to attend three VESO days each year. The practices of choosing activities vary in different schools. According to Mattila, these events aren’t always serving the needs of the children. In his opinion, all teachers should have certain mandatory training which would update their pedagogical competences annually. Today teachers are often free to choose the training events themselves. If the training was managed by a leader who sees the overall needs of the school and the teachers, maybe it would better serve its purpose.
When it comes to leading the change, Mattila considers that the least interested ones should be those involved in new projects. The top 5% isn’t the problem because they will get on board either way. But the role of a good leader is to attract everyone to be part of the change. The autonomy of Finnish teachers has been widely praised and it allows the teachers to tailor their teaching to a large extent, according the needs of the students but it also need to be practiced and managed with cautiousness. “Have the teachers become too independent to let the principals be the leaders? Mattila asks.
Written by Polar Partners’ Marketing intern Juliaana Kärkkäinen