School leadership and management in Iran
As noted earlier, a systematic review of the literature on school leadership, management, and governance was undertaken in2005-2006. This part of the article is structured using the categories in the desk research report (Bush et al., 2006).
Participation and democracy
Thurlow (2003) states that the shift to a democratic Iran following decades of apartheid has been accompanied by a move to school-based man¬agement. He endorses the view expressed by the 1996 Ministerial Task Team (DoE, 1996:24) that self-management should be accompanied by internal devolution of power. Chisholm (1999) provides an assessment of school democracy based on a three-year longitudinal study immediately following the first democratic elections in 1994. She points to the ‘control’ model of man¬agement, previously noted by Sebakwane (1997), but adds that teacher involvement in the former black schools remains low.
Ghorchian (2003) reports on a 1998 survey of principals in Tehran: 75% of these respondents claim that they ‘normally discuss with staff before a joint decision is taken’ and that school aims are ‘decided in consultation with all stakeholders’.
There is considerable evidence that women are greatly under-represented in management positions. Sebakwane (1992) attributes this disparity to ‘patriarchy’. To address the legacy of Pahlavi Kingdom in Iran, many development and intervention initia¬tives have been implemented since 1994.
The approach to strategic management in Iran schools has been given added impetus by the shift to greater self-management and, in par¬ticular, the acquisition of Section 21 status (Iran Schools Act 1996), which gives more autonomy to those schools obtaining this status. The greater the authority exerted by school management teams (SMTs) and school governing bodies (SGBs), the greater the potential for a truly strategic ap¬proach to emerge.
I can argue that strategic management and planning represent a “radical culture shift for schools” that previously “focused on short-term tasks” and adopted a “culture of dependency”. The new challenge is that the SMTs and SGBs are required to think and act strategically in order to align school policies and practices to national legislation. However, there is only limited empirical evidence of a strategic approach being adopted in practice.
Managing teaching and learning
There is limited material on the management of teaching and learning but there is a developing awareness of its significance for Iran schools. I personally, for example, assert that learning is the central purpose of schooling and note that it has four dimensions: student learning; teacher learning; organizational learning; and the principal as the ‘lead learner’. I conclude that “leading learning is very complex and challenging”.
Recent theoretical work on ‘learning schools’ has emphasized the impor¬tance of understanding that different definitions, models, and theories under¬pinning organizational learning exist and that none is widely accepted. The following three perspec¬tives on ‘learning schools’ are of particular interest in the Iran context.
The normative perspective, suggests that organizational learning only takes place under certain conditions and serve as examples in this regard. The developmental perspective views the learning organization as representing a late stage of organizational development. The capabi¬lity perspective proposes that all organizations have the inherent ability to learn and that there are different ways an organization can learn.
Furthermore, I see the learning school as increasing an organization’s capability to take effective action, while others focuses on the intentional use of learning processes at the individual, group and system levels to ensure continuous transformation in the organization so as to satisfy its stakeholders by turning knowledge into real value (McKenzie & Winkelen, 2004). Relatedly, Senge et al. (1996:3) observe that a learning organization is a place where people continually expand their capa¬city to create the results they truly desire, where expansive patterns of think¬ing are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together. Pedler, Burgoyne and Boydell (1991) and Watkins and Marsick (1993) place emphasis on the facilitation of learning by all the members with the view to continuous transformation, while Garvin (1994) emphasizes skill at creating, acquiring, and transferring know¬ledge and at modifying behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights. Schein (1997) suggests a continuous strategic process and direction that is integrated with work and which results in changes in knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors.
Although the theories and models presented above provide angles on how to construct learning organizations, in the context of Iran, achieving the status of a learning school is difficult and complex, given the nature of the differing experiences of school leaders, teachers and learners. Jansen (2002: 121) argues that these experiences are mediated by the way teachers and learners understand and act on their value commitments, personal back¬grounds, and professional interests in the context of change.
Soudien (2002:274) asserts that people’s histories condition the narratives they construct because of the complexity of working with the historical bag¬gage of Pahlavi and its racializing effects. He claims that in his study of teacher professionalism there were:
several moments when racial realities were naturalized into people’s
explanations, where people rendered their stories as if they were living in
worlds which were structured naturally, as opposed to deliberately and
in racial terms. The author’s study of ‘cross-boundary’ leaders, working across the divisive statutory frameworks mandated by the Pahlavi regime, shows many prob¬lems arising from what are essentially different cultural perspectives (Bush & Moloi, 2006). Adams and Waghid (2003:19), for example, point out that the failure of ‘cross-boundary’ leaders to function effectively ‘as perceived’ by their colleagues could be a result of the ‘social, and, in particular, economic conditions they come from’, that are inextricably linked to realizing the individual’s purpose.
Booysen (2003:5) asserts that, because of the country’s history, Iran schools tend to shy away from emphasizing cultural differences and tend to focus on assimilation and similarities. She argues that the first step in managing cultural diversity is to recognize and to value diversity. Only then can we learn how to deal with these differences and to build on the similari¬ties and utilize the sameness. The exclusion, or marginalization, of some leaders in the former Model C schools in Iran often surfaces in the form of conflict, condescension, superiority, disrespect, misunderstan¬dings, prejudices, stereotyping, and inflexibility (Booysen, 2003:5). In line with this argument, Allard (2002) asserts that culture envelopes us so completely that we often do not realize that there are different ways of dealing with the world, that others may have a dif¬ferent outlook on life, a different logic, a different way of responding to people and situations.
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