My name is Alicia Merodo; I am a professor and researcher at the National University of General Sarmiento, province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. At this university, I train teachers for secondary education. Thanks to future teachers’ training, I have visited many schools in the university area during a significant period, from 2005 to the present day. This immersion in schools, both for the purpose of training teachers and for research purposes, has allowed me to have an approach to the role of management teams; knowledge from within the challenges that schools go through in complex contexts, such as the contexts in which these schools are.
In secondary school, in our countries, in contexts of universalization and budgetary restrictions such as the ones we live in, and where secondary schools serve students who are the first generation in their families who access the secondary level, management implies navigating a complex set of challenges.
Together with this, the secondary level is susceptible to cultural, political and economic changes. In the current stage of expansion of compulsory secondary school in our country, the main challenge relates to the meaning of the education experience, the experience that young people go through in schools.
And on the other hand, a significant challenge that we are going through in Argentina has to do with the generation of possibilities, not only for young people to enter secondary school but also for the progress and completion of studies. Today, many young people finish courses but are in debt for some subjects. The number of young people who stay and graduate has increased, but it is still a challenge to offer them a significant secondary school in terms of learning.
In this context, then, the position of the management teams, the decisions they make, and how they approach their task of managing the schools are of very particular importance, especially concerning some specific topics that I am going to point out now.
An important issue is the monitoring, the pedagogical support for the teacher’s work. Secondary school teachers who serve these young people who are the first generation of young people at secondary school face a set of challenges concerning the necessary adjustments that they must make to their teaching proposals, considering the specificity of this student population. And for that, they need the support of management teams. They need to have a space to evaluate their proposals and engage in dialogue and reflect on their didactic proposals. The principals who accompany their teaching teams manage teachers to build a relationship with the school, a relationship with their task that is much more likely to resolve the problematic situations that arise.
Another critical point is the approach to the problems and interests of young people. We have seen secondary schools that implement workshops and activities addressing young people’s specific interests. This has repercussions in the construction of identity with the school, a link and permanence at school as it opens the possibility of contemplating their interests. It is a sensitive and vital aspect that we have appreciated in different schools: schools that put together music bands, schools where young people express themselves artistically through graffiti, digital production, and artistic works in general. These schools achieve permanence for young people and a transit through the school with greater identity and more significant affiliation to the school itself.
Another critical aspect in which principals occupy a central place is in the teams that manage to build a democratic, participatory, inclusive, and collective school culture. These management teams open the instances of decision and participation on topics considered valuable for joint discussion. School emerges in such cases. It also serves to build a democratic school culture where conflicts are addressed collectively, laying the foundations for young people to appreciate what dissent is about, what consensus is about and how putting these issues into the collective consideration provides solutions accounting for that shared conversation. This is a crucial aspect that also produces school identity, right? And it creates the joy of being and working in schools.
Another issue, the last point that we consider and especially sensitive in today’s secondary school, is the social practices linked to evaluation. Evaluation has a tradition; some forms of assessment settle there. However, when the management teams open a public conversation around evaluating and diversifying their assessment methods, share the criteria and make them public, the school itself, the school workers themselves, teachers enrich pedagogically. And it is also made public to students: why? Why and how are they evaluated? Because evaluation has public consequences, from evaluation comes graduation, from evaluation, comes promotion. So, in terms of control, evaluation has a greater weight than the teaching itself.
In addition, there are certain evaluative practices that, due to the way they have been conceived, sometimes leave young people out or generate instances where young people end up repeating the year and, as we know, repetition, is a practice that often precedes drop out. So, a school that wants to be inclusive, a school that wants to generate meaningful school experiences, needs to review evaluation practices. And we have been able to appreciate how those management teams that have reformulated the ways of evaluating, that have submitted evaluation to an instance of public discussion, have achieved very significant effects in their own school culture.