Unpacking school leadership in the public school context

“पब्लिक स्कूल के संदर्भ में स्कूल नेतृत्व को समझना” – इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें

“शासकीय शाळेच्या संदर्भात शालेय नेतृत्व” – हा ब्लॉग मराठी मध्ये वाचण्यासाठी, येथे क्लिक करा

When we talk about leadership, what thoughts come to your mind? What does it mean to lead a team? Is it only taking tough decisions? or there is something more with the term “leadership”?

The word leader can evoke a variety of images. For example:-

  • A Political Leader leads their party to achieve a social cause they are fighting for.
  • An explorer who is leading their own life. 
  • An executive developing strategy to achieve organizational goals. 

At the same time, leadership is also working together, working as a team. As a leader, it is not only important to understand group strength but also to understand the uniqueness, and abilities of each individual or group.  Leadership differs from person to person. In the same way, leadership also differs from institution to institution. When we talk about leadership, it is mostly understood from sports, corporate, or management lenses. There is another lens which is not much talked about – School leadership, especially public school leadership.

How is school leadership different from corporate or management leadership?

The resources from the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)(1.1) on school leadership highlight the following:

  • In a school, leadership training has not been recognised as an important area.
  • Leadership has not been developed intentionally in schools. In most cases, experience and seniority get more value than capacity building. This situation occurred primarily because there are no clear instructions in existing policies for school “principals” (who’ve been considered the key leader in schools). The lack of policy clarity and well-suited systematic structure as in how they should get recruited, what kind of training they should go through, and how the educational system builds their capacity so that they can organize the school as a whole team. Due to this lack of clarity and opportunities, most of their time is consumed by day-to-day administrative work.  

The documents also highlight that School Principals should have a certain leadership approach (1.2) like;

  • Instructional leaders who can design the process of students learning. 
  • Organizational leadership where they keep everyone connected with the school from the community, caregivers, students, teachers & the school infrastructure.   
  • Build a team, and build a sense of togetherness towards a common school vision. 
  • Build community partnerships, they should not only work with students, because many of the students are 1st generation learners and their context is very different hence building community partnerships is critical where we can also educate the community and take their support in the learning process.
  • Create spaces for reflections where the entire school team takes pauses to reflect on how the learning process is happening, what work, and what can be done better or differently so that they keep improving the learning process. 

From this literature review and our interactions with Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) schools we work with, we notice that there are little to no dedicated professional development opportunities for principals to build their leadership skills to work in that position effectively(1,3) but the expectation to deliver improved schooling outcomes are high. They are expected to ongoingly plan students’ learning and wellbeing and in doing so, also expected that they should build their skills on their own.  When we explored how this situation is being addressed, we came across a 3-year leadership programme(3)for school heads which is aimed at substantially improving schooling outcomes. This leadership training programme is organized by Piramal Foundation the programme is known as Principal Leadership Training Program (PLDP), and they are running this programme for the past 7 years in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. it aims to impact an entire education cadre being implemented through workshops and on-site coaching in the states(3)

Apni Shala’s work is informed by Narrative Practices. One of the core ideas of the practice is around expertise and agency. It says, “People, including the young and very young, possess expertise regarding their own lives. People, including the young and very young, are always taking action in response to circumstances in their lives.” 

While systemic support can be further bettered, in our work with some of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) principals and teachers-in-charge, we found that many are effectively leading their schools and centering students’ learning & wellbeing by finding different solutions. To find out more we interviewed the school principal & teacher incharge of Tilak Nagar Mumbai Public school, a government school in Mumbai, India.(3.1) Here are some sharings from them and insights from our conversation:

How did the journey begin?

They shared that, in the beginning, they used to observe their senior teachers and principals to learn what they do and how they do it. After taking charge in their respective roles, they have gone through different situations, such as managing students’ learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, mobilizing tech resources to support students learning and trying to get ration support for students and for their families who are struggling for food due to loss of employment or decrease in wages.  When further asked the school leads mentioned that situations like these arise for them a lot of times. They shared, “such situations are opportunities for us to showcase our skills, which we have learned from experiences but also pose challenges for us because certain situations are very new in its nature, and the COVID situation was like that where we felt a bit challenged to respond the situation but got support from the authorities & school staff to address the same.”

What are your hopes for your school?

Some things that they hope for are:

  • holistic development of their students. students should receive a proper chance to develop their personality, get a sound understanding of the job market and understand how to build a career, build critical thinking skills, make inventions and try various innovations in their fields, and get application space or exposure to the practical experience of theories they are learning in the classroom through participating in fun-fair and through other relevant events, understand co-relationship of a different subject, take part in different competitive exams and events, have micro to macro approach, etc.
  • school to get 100% results in grade 10 so that students continue to be on the learning journey by staying connected with any educational institutions.
  • To be able to complete government processes and be recognised for the same.
  • Create visibility of the school and build awareness amongst caregivers.

Dance Competition



Social Emotional Learning Sessions

What are some professional development and support available for school leaders?

When asked what kind of training they have received so that they can effectively work towards these visions, they said there is no such training that they have gone through which has been designed for principals. However, they have been part of training/meetings organized for teachers and organized to get guidance to implement certain initiatives or plans of action. This takes place twice a month. 

School Culture

The principal and the teacher in charge shared that they aim to keep the infrastructure learning-friendly and clean. For school teachers, there are spaces created where all teachers come together and create a plan of action on students’ learning and well-being and share their ideas. 

Community Partnerships and Caregivers

Then we further talked about community partnership and caregivers’ engagement, they said that they engage with caregivers on a monthly basis, talk about school issues and how they can support the school with respect to the same, and also work with the School Management Committee (SMC) & School Management & Development Committee (SMDC), parents teachers association (PTA) to strengthen community partnership. The Principal & teacher-in-charge both with other teachers intentionally put efforts into knowing the students’ context and extending their support to students.

Collaborations for School Development

When talking about networking and collaboration they shared, “some organizations are connected to their schools because the department has assigned them to our schools. Some organizations we have identified who can support us in different areas such as we have collaborated with the Adani foundation so that students get counselling support, partnered with Apni shala to build life skills & partnered with local police stations to maintain harmony around the school campus. Teachers effectively manage these partnerships and when the partner organizations need support from us we step in, we also sit with these organizations to reflect upon their work and think of different support systems.”

Collaboration with the local police station for students’ safety

Planning School management committee

Teachers’ Professional Development and Spaces of Reflections

  1. “All the teachers & staff come together once a month to reflect upon and plan their work. When needed, they do these collaborative planning meetings, multiple times in a month.” 
  2. Through these reflection meetings, we have realized that teachers need to take ownership of different sets of students so that they can move in their learning journey, in which teachers individually work with students to support them. We also sit with teachers individually to support them in resolving their challenges & guide them in different possible ways.”

The insight we have generated from these interviews that how both principal & teacher in charge of Tilak nagar Mumbai Public School with self-driven training and with guidance getting from the system create solutions to center students learning & center their physical and mental wellbeing.(3.2)  

  • Maximizing available resources (motivating students to make the best use of them) sending them for competitive exams & events, and asking them to take part in fun fairs, and field visits.
  • Collaborating with organizations for relevant support & putting efforts to know how they can contribute in the best possible way to students learning (taking support from Adani foundation for students’ counseling so that students get adequate support if they are going through something, taking Apni Shala support to build required skills, approaching police & building relationship with them to maintain harmony among students community and help them not get into any difficult situations)        
  • Negotiating with different stakeholders & students, negotiating with students that you play sports which you genuinely want to be part of but also give me assurance that you will fulfil academic requirements, negotiating with vendors on material prices & quality, negotiating with teachers that they will get adequate support if they will put efforts to finish tasks. 
  • Group reflection spaces & Identifying areas of growth for self and teachers: monthly spaces where school principals meet the teacher groups and plan students’ learning, create action plans for better academic results, and inculcate healthy behaviours among students and other relevant activities of schools. The school principal has also partnered with Apni Shala to organise personal and professional development on Social Emotional Learning for teachers, considering it’s an area of growth for teachers and it will further contribute to students’ holistic development. This also supports teachers in their social-emotional development so that teachers can take some wellbeing practice in their own lives and in the classroom. Apart from that the principals also identify & take some time away to attend trainings which are optional but useful to build relevant skills required to perform leadership roles.

Reflection & planning meets with educators

Field & exposure trips & training

We notice that adequate professional development for school principals, in form of trainings, coaching, mentoring and/or supervision can deepen the impact they make on the school. They are often required to do a very diverse array of work, and many of them are motivated to serve students for their growth and wellbeing. Imagine what will become possible if there is well-designed structural and systemic support created for them?

About the Authors: 

Jesika Bamne:  Has completed her Bachelor’s degree in Social work from Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work. She has spent four years in the social field, and while exploring this field she finds out that working on children’s mental wellbeing is a high-level ground need. At the moment she is working as a fellow at Apni Shala. When Jesika is not working, you will find her watching movies, creating time to talk to herself, crocheting and playing the guitar. 

Abhijeet Dhurve: has completed his Master’s Degree in community organization and development practice (MSW) from the Tata Institute Of Social Science. He has been in the field of social work since 2011. He works at Apni Shala as a Program Lead. When Abhijeet is not working he is busy playing cricket or travelling to places.

Hindi Translation: Sannidhi Shetty


  1. NCERT
  2. Interviews
  3. Piramal foundation 

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