Opening Ceremony of the 40th Anniversary International Conference
Developing Teacher Leadership and Education Partnership in the Face of Education Reform
The Faculty of Education
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
2 December 2005
Address by Professor Arthur K C Li
Secretary for Education and Manpower
Dr Alice Lam, Professor Lawrence Lau, Professor John Lee, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great honour and pleasure to be here to address such an august gathering of educationists and education practitioners from around the world. I thank the Faculty of Education of The Chinese University of Hong Kong for inviting me to this international conference, which is held in celebration of its 40th anniversary. I wish the Faculty a joyous 40th birthday, and many many happy returns.
With four full decades of excellent achievements behind it, the Faculty is a proven leader in teacher education, education research, and educational services of all kinds. Over the years, it has also partnered with policy makers, frontline educators, schools, and other professional groups in pursuit of quality education for our young people. Few would disagree that it is both a leader with much initiative in the local education scene and a much-respected partner in collaborative educational ventures.
Well, leadership and partnership are exactly what this conference is about, and I am happy to share with you some of my thoughts on these two ‘ships’ that carry us on our journey of education reform, taking us to the fabulous shores we dream of.
Some lay-persons may ask: in any education reform, is it fair to expect leadership from frontline teachers? Shouldn’t leadership be provided by the education chief of a government and his advisors and consultants ― people with a title, a position, and a budget?
I would readily debunk this myth that leadership is a place or a position reserved for the privileged few. I’d rather consider it a process involving skills and abilities that are useful, whether one is in the principal’s office or in the frontline. Leadership is everyone’s business, and it is possible for everyone to lead. Frontline teachers are as capable as anyone else of developing themselves as leaders and achieving important feats ― in curriculum development, classroom instruction, education research, school management, and the list goes on. To quote Michael Fullen: we cannot expect reform on any scale until there is strong leadership at many levels.
But what is it that prompts the leader in a teacher to step forward? I would say it is their vision of what quality education should be, their passion for the teaching profession, and their inner call for adaptation to change. Leaders are people so infused with a sense of mission and urgency that they inspire those around them to follow their lead, to strive for a common cause, and to rise to the challenges of the times.
In other words, leadership is a relationship ― a relationship between those who are ready to lead and those who choose to follow. At the heart of this relationship is trust. Exemplary leaders build relationships based on mutual respect, which empowers individuals to communicate and implement change, to turn strategic goals into reality, to get extraordinary things done. To succeed in such a relationship, cynicism and criticism have no part to play. True leaders see things from other people’s perspective and take other people’s views; they get along well with team-mates in a concerted effort to improve the education system.
I would also say leadership starts with action – action driven by the intensity of passion and the great sense of urgency felt. True leaders won’t wait for decisions and ideas to be handed down through the hierarchy. They want to get started immediately on their own because they already have a clear vision and there is no time to lose. They set clear goals and focus on practical improvements. They are conscientious ‘doers’: they inspire confidence not by high-sounding slogans but by persistent deeds, which bespeak their selflessness and dedication. In due course, the many small but solid steps forward, and all the little successive victories will add up to a lot of credit.
In the final analysis, teacher leadership is about developing oneself to be an instrument for making a difference. As such, it requires teachers to keep learning and growing throughout life so that they understand their own strengths and weaknesses, so that they know what they want to do and why they should do it. When they have heard their inner voice and found their true calling, they should be able to articulate it, to enlist people in a common cause, to set clear targets for themselves and others, and to venture forth with competence, conviction, and compassion.
I believe we all wish to have more and more teachers being thus empowered to be leaders in our education reform. And not only teachers, but all other stakeholders in schools, universities, the government, parent associations, and school-sponsoring bodies. Success hinges on both leadership and partnership. The increasing number of alliances and collaborative projects among them means that leaders at various levels and from different groups will have to work together in a broad coalition to achieve the best results. Education partnership implies shared leadership, and shared leadership will promote a greater degree of creative and rational thought at the levels where it is needed. It fosters an environment that responds in agile ways to change and newness. It allows individuals to take ownership of their initiatives and to test their assumptions without being unnecessarily constrained by directives and permissions.
Ladies and gentlemen, the very theme of this conference is Developing Teacher Leadership and Education Partnership in the Face of Education Reform. I have no doubt that the conference proceedings will provide much food for thought to those of us involved in the implementation of education reforms, and pave the way for greater collaboration among policy-makers, frontline educators, and professionals. I deeply appreciate the admirable efforts made by the organizers to put together this important international conference. I wish all of you most productive discussions ahead, and most fruitful exchange of expertise and experience in the two days to come.