“Perseverance is the real test of leadership ability. It is one thing to set a goal or an objective for a group of people; it is quite another to persevere toward it and inspire others so that they are motivated to follow us.” (Cyril J. Barber in Nehemiah An Expositional Commentary, 1991).
If I had to narrow the choices down to one specific leadership quality that my Kurumbuka colleagues consistently activate it would be perseverance. Determination and grit describe their relentless pursuit of achieving transformation for their organizations and communities.
I began to understand their dedication and even stubbornness of action when many shared their testimonies of overcoming obstacles during their leadership journeys. What struck me was how devoted and faithful they are. Despite daily roadblocks, they never seem to give up hope.
My colleague John (name changed) is an exemplary model of perseverance and faith. As a coordinator of education for three new schools, John was tasked with training teachers in best teaching practices. When he started his new role, he visited the schools to discover the teachers’ learning situations and abilities. John soon recognized that the main challenge was that the teachers lacked knowledge of and application of teaching strategies. He discovered that there was a dire need for extensive teacher training.
In his own words, John describes the challenges that he discovered, the challenges the teachers faced, and his perseverance to overcome this obstacle, which hindered student progress. While gaining success implementing the teacher training during the year, John discovered an unexpected and potentially insurmountable impediment; the challenge of authoritarian leadership.
I was committed to helping these teachers, and without waiting, I organized the first teacher’s training on basic knowledge and skills. I introduced skills on how children learn and develop, how to introduce new curriculum. I had them visit model schools for observing how other teachers deal with how children learn and grow. The training went well and was successful. Some of the teachers started to apply what they had learned during the training.
I was amazed by how the teachers were picking up and applying what they learned so quickly. After eight months on the job with intense teacher training and monitoring, I recognized that some of the teachers were doing well, while others were not.
I wanted happy, active and engaging teachers but realized that some of the teachers were happy and enthusiastic during the training, but unhappy and quiet when they were at their schools. I started wondering why some teachers seem to have the potential to do well but were not. I wanted to understand them, their challenges, feelings, and thoughts on what could be done to help them do their job better and find out the problems they faced within the school.
During these discussions, teachers at one of the schools shared how they were treated by their headmaster (principal). I encountered leadership issues that I didn’t think would be an issue before starting the new job. Here are some of the challenges that teachers at this school faced;
- The teachers could spend four to six months without being paid, while they knew that the school had money because the teachers were the ones who collected fees. The teachers were always afraid that they might be fired.
- The headmaster refused to let them try out the new practices learned in training. They were only allowed to do what he told them to do.
After conducting my research with the teachers, I found out that the headmaster was difficult to work with and was even harsh to the teachers. Teachers were not allowed to ask him anything; he did things as he wanted and, he even locked things up so the teachers did not have access to equipment the children could play with. I also discovered that the headmaster did not trust the teachers and fired those he disliked and hired those whom he liked. He did not care about the teacher’s performance. All he cared about was that the teachers stay obedient to him and accept whatever he wanted.
I realized that I also needed to solve these leadership issues and not just focus on the teachers. So, I began to organize headmaster meetings and provide training to the headmasters. I wanted to obtain a shared understanding and shared vision on how leaders should lead. The training was conducted, and some headmasters started to improve their schools’ leadership while others resisted. Some of the problems were solved, teachers got their salaries, and the newer teaching strategies were used.
Even though some of the problems were solved, there is still a long journey to go. Other things need to be solved, such as transparency on school resource management, fair treatment of teachers, and flexibility to allow teachers to be creative and try new skills and strategies.
I learned that leading is a continuous process where you need to keep on trying, adjusting, changing, learning and teaching so that you can bring impact to a whole school system from students, teachers, leaders, parents and community in general.
John’s leadership was tested right from the outset of his new position. Although his initial perceptions of the teachers’ abilities were not accurate, he swiftly moved to purposefully overcome their inexperience by implementing a successful teacher training program. His intentional actions and perseverance addressed the initial challenge, which resulted in some teachers improving and some not. John was not satisfied, however. He continued his pursuit to ensure that all of the teachers in the training program improve. His diligence led him to discover that the authoritarian leadership practices from some headmasters alienated teachers, causing them to lose heart and motivation to learn.
John’s persistent journey to address the barriers were successful. Self-admittedly though, he still recognizes that more energy and effort is required. Knowing John, I am confident that he will succeed and, in the process, motivate others to follow him.