Becoming a New Principal (Azerbaijan)
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Case Study: Becoming a School Leader in Azerbaijan: Why and How?
Case Study: Becoming a School Leader in Azerbaijan: Why and How?

Ulviyya Mikayilova

Ulviyya Mikayilova is Assistant Professor at ADA University, Azerbaijan. Her degrees are in Physics (MA, Baku State University), Biology (PhD, Tbilisi State University), Leadership in Early Childhood Education (MA, Moscow School of Social and Economic Studies, Manchester University). Ulviyya Mikayilova worked on early childhood education reform and inclusive education reform in Azerbaijan from 1998 to 2013. She has been involved in consultancy work in Central Asia. She was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 2006. Her research interests include diverse aspects of education reform in Azerbaijan with special focus on teachers’ professional development and social inclusion of children with disabilities, children from socially disadvantaged families, and other vulnerable children. Previously she was Executive Director of the Center for Innovations in Education (CIE) in Baku, Azerbaijan.

How to learn from this case study?

Critical thinking questions:

1. What are the limits (if any) within which a school principal can succeed in motivation of school students and teachers?

2. What makes a school principal effective in terms of being able to motivate school students and teachers?

3. How do various state agencies influence school leadership practices and motivate school principals?

4. Can school leaders use their power and authority for social justice, and if they can, then how?

5. What are the changes the school leader wants to promote at school?

6. Do you think, these changes are important for a school improvement? School effectiveness? Pupils’ well-being? Teachers’ professional support? Why do you think so?

7. Please think, discuss in pairs and share what would be the changes you would propose to bring if you are a school leader?

8. What are the key issues you learned from this interview?

9. What could be possible reasons for leaving a position of a school principal?

10. Describe how you would support the principal if you were a student, a minister of education, a teacher, a parent?

Class activities:

1. The participants of the class reflect on (qualities of a) school principal from their own experiences and capture them in a drawing.

2. The participants read the transcripts and determine similarities and differences in their own cultural/family/academic background and the ones portrayed in the interviews.

3. The participants determine strategies of communication used in the interviewees’ daily lives as principals, apply them to their own school context and evaluate them.

4. The participants reflect on and discuss their own convictions, values and beliefs about becoming a principal and then being a principal.

5. The participants brainstorm their learning trajectory as principals (what would they envision their path to be and how they can follow it, including naming obstacles).

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For more detailed information on school leadership in Azerbaijan

Scholarly Articles Regarding School Leadership In Azerbaijan

Kazimzade, Elmina (2017). School Principalship Developments in Azerbaijan: Challenges of Professional Development of School Leaders vs. Managers. Network of Education Policy Centers: Lana Jurko.


In the last decade school leadership has become a priority in Azerbaijan education policy agendas. The establishment of transparent, results-driven, and effective management mechanisms were highlighted as one of the main goals in the strategic plan for long-term national development 2013-2020 (Azerbaijan–2020, 2013). In education, it is expected that this goal will be realized through the promotion of shared leadership practices and implementation of measures to move from the so-called “memory school” to the school of ideas and thought” (The State Strategy, 2013). In recent years, challenges in the tertiary sector have also received attention from the government of Azerbaijan. A key national objective has been identified as developing human capital through increasing the quality of educational institutions. Azerbaijan seeks to increase investment in education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels; improving educational leadership has been identified as a key development priority (Kazdal, 2017). In this case we examine the dynamics in school principalship policy development including school principal appointment and school principal preparation and training during and after education reforms, covering the period from independence in 1991 to the present, with emphasis on key developments in 1999 and 2014. The following set of questions were used to guide our analytical framework: 1 How have principalship development programs aligned with real school conditions and school management and leadership demands? 2 Who provides educational programs (pre-service and in-service) for working and aspiring school principals? 3 How do school principal appointment policies impact the preparation and training for working and aspiring school principals?

Magno, Cathryn and Kazimzade, Elmina (2011). Entrepreneurial Leadership: Female School Principals in Azerbaijan. In Educational Leadership and Leadership Education in Asia. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon City.


The transformation from a centralized, autocratic regime to an ostensibly democratic regime in Azerbaijan since 1991 has affected public institutions and organizations, including schools, in various arenas ranging from teacher practice to   school   principal    appointments.  This   paper   focuses    on   the experiences and practices of female school principals who are demonstrating innovative and effective leadership approaches and evidencing a particular— and perhaps surprising—form of leadership imbued with unique historical and cultural features.

In this paper, we describe the newly emerging female school leader in Azerbaijan   by presenting themes based   on life narratives   of current female school principals along with their views on leadership in modern-day Azerbaijan. We first introduce the Azeri context through a brief presentation of its Soviet, post-socialist and cultural influences, then we turn to Azeri school principals as they reflect on school leadership across time, culture and gender.

Magno, Cathryn (2013 ). Perspectives from Azerbaijan: Cultural Hybrdity and Leadership Transparency Forming Accountability in Azerbaijan. Chapter in Comparative Perspectives on International School Leadership, Policy, Preparation and Practice.


Since Azerbaijan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has been transitioning from authoritarian to democratic systems of governance across social sectors from health care to law to education. In the education sector in Azerbaijan, intermittent democratic approaches to teaching and learning at the classroom level have taken precedence over changes in school governance, exposing a lack of stable democratic practices at the school-leadership level. Nearly all the innovations over the past 20 years have targeted the teacher and classroom (e.g., student-centered teaching, critical thinking, curricular reform, textbook revisions), however, these efforts tend to be fragmented and tenuous. They depend on committed teachers who may or may not have the ongoing support of school directors. They rarely have recurring mentoring or feedback mechanisms for continual improvement and refinement. Now, however, the Ministry of Education (MOE) is embarking on a restructuring initiative focusing on school leaders for the first time, with the Minister saying, “we need to take new steps . . . in the education system” (FG 3, emphasis added).

Magno, Cathryn (2009). Reimagining the School Leadership Paradigm in a Postsocialist Context. European Education, 41(3): 23-41.


Although Azerbaijan’s education sector has experienced intermittent democratization efforts since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, school leadership has remained untouched. This article argues that while Anglo-American models such as transformational and distributed leadership could benefit the schools, based on interview and self-assessment data from a select group of principals in Azerbaijan, such foreign models of leadership may not be readily acceptable in the cultural context of Azerbaijan. Principals in Azerbaijan are well skilled in task management and place lower priority on relationship building and developing visions or strategic plans for their schools, both unsurprising given the legacy of centralized decision making in Soviet times. The article concludes that local principals, in coordination with the Ministry of Education, will need to consider the current strengths and needs of principals in Azerbaijan and the future direction of schooling in Azerbaijan as they develop locally relevant school leadership policy and a first-ever principal preparation program in a country struggling to move toward public-sector accountability and transparency.

Mikayilova, Ulviyya (2008). Strengthening Community Participation in the Azeri School Governance: Lessons Learned from Some Project Experience. Human Rights Education in Asian Schools, 12, pp. 127-135.



In Azerbaijan, the community has become a main target in the development agenda dur­ing the last ten to fifteen years. Since the 1990s, a number of reform projects in Azerbaijan targeting communities have been implemented. Community participatory projects in Azer­baijan were mostly unsustainable, rarely focused on community-school connections, imple­mented on individual project-basis and have not given a valuable feedback at the policy level. In our opinion, a “school budget formulae” developed and piloted by the WB and the Min­istry of Education within the education sector reform project may be identified as an attempt to reform school budget management without reforming school governance.  We believe that school reform should start with reform of school governance and com­munity involvement. Addressing the alienation between schools and parents is an essential means of deepening democracy in education.

Mikayilova, Ulviyya and Radsky Vitaliy (2013), School Leadership in Azerbaijani Early Childhood Education: Implications for Education Transfer, in book “Researching Leadership in Early Childhood Education”, Eeva Hujala, Manjula Waniganayake and Jillian Rodd (eds), Tampere University Press, pp. 201-220.



This study looks at educational transfer from a school leadership perspective. Imported, internationally-inspired educational interventions designed to change or update teaching methodology that is considered outdated or ‘traditional’ by the international education community cannot change local leadership and educational paradigms. This study focuses on educational change at the micro level, specifically on the role of the preschool director in leading change. The results suggest that leadership is a critical part of educational transfer, but that transformational leadership theory may not be sufficient to describe specific leaders operating in contexts where consciousness of alternate leadership or educational discourses is lacking. In addition, the case studies suggest that it is difficult to separate leadership change from educational consciousness in both school and education system transformation.



Azerbaijan is democratic, constitutional, secular and unitary republic which located in the eastern part of South Caucasus, on the coast of the Caspian Sea. Territory of the country is 86,6 thousand The population is 10 million (ACS, 2019). Azerbaijan is proud of being a first democratic republic in a Muslim world (1918-1920). After Soviet rule for over 70 years, the country restored its independence in 1991. First secular public schools were opened in Azerbaijan in early 19th century. In 1874, the first Muslim school for girls in the world was opened as Saint Nina gymnasium, by initiative of Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev, a famous national philanthropist.

Azerbaijan’s Human Development (HDI) value for 2018 is 0.754— which put the country in the high human development category— positioning it at 87 out of 189 countries and territories. [1]

The Constitution of Azerbaijan Republic (1995) [2] stipulates that every citizen has the right to education. The state guarantees free compulsory basic secondary education (1st-9th grades). The state guarantees continuation of education for most gifted persons irrespective of their financial position. And the state establishes minimum educational standards.



General Overview of Education System in Azerbaijan

Since restoring its independence, a number of key legislative and strategic efforts were made to determine the structure, role, functions and development directions of the education system including:

  • The Public Education Policy (1992), The Education Law (1992) and Second Education Law (2009) provide basic principles of education, explains the structure of the education system and the role of personnel at different levels, outlining the purposes and directions for educational reform, introducing decentralization of the education management, provisions allowing for educational programs to be offered by the private sector and changes to the school curriculum to reflect Azerbaijani culture and identity.
  • Presidential Decree on a Programme of Education Reform (1998) that initiated the large education reform called National Curriculum Reform with the technical assistance of the World Bank through the establishment of a State Reform Commission.
  • Presidential Decree on the Improvement of the Education System (2000) that provided for greater decentralization of the management of the education system and improvements in educators’ conditions of service.
  • Education Concept (2001) that is providing a framework for education within the overall context of fundamental changes in social, economic, political and governmental structures. This document states that education should be: free of any totalitarian processes, open to scrutiny, based on principles of democracy, humanity, individuals’ needs and on student-centered approach, and of high quality. [1]
  • The State Strategy on Development of Education (2012) that outlines strategic directions necessary for meeting challenges of development of national human capital and getting national quality indicators closer to European standards [2].
  • General Education Law (2019) that identifies main principles of general education in Azerbaijan, as well as its legislative, organizational and economic foundations. [3]




Ministry of Education (MoE)

Schools in the Republic of Azerbaijan are administered under the supervision of the Ministry of Education (MoE). A structure of general education system is provided below:


Table1: Structure of General Education System in Azerbaijan[1]

Voluntary General Education Full Secondary Education 15-17 3 years (9-11 grades)
Compulsory General Education Basic Secondary Education 11-15 4 years (5th-8 thgrades)
Primary Education 6-10 4 years (1-4 grades)
Necessary School Readiness 5-6 1 year
Voluntary Preschool Education 3-5 3 years
Voluntary Infant and Toddler Education 1-3 3 years


[2]After the successful completion of school education, students receive a certificate. Admission to Higher Educational Institutions requires school graduates to pass the examination administered by the State Examination Center. [3]





Azerbaijan Case Studies