MANY his age call principals “Miss” or “Sir”, but it’s safe to say that his principals should call him Sir, as he’s the one imparting knowledge. Through the Ministry of Education’s National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL), Keriffe Clark has been managing, coordinating and overseeing the recruitment, training and certification of school leaders across the seven educational administrative regions in Jamaica.
Clark, 32, has been doing so as a programmes officer since 2018. That means at a fairly young age he would have been training and continues to train individuals who are far older than he is.
“There are times when I find myself in spaces with school leaders and so on who may initially perceive me as being and looking young, and so they may be apprehensive at the beginning of a training session. However, I think that based on my competencies, personality, knowledge and methodologies, these fears would be quickly removed and then the affirmations would come at the end of the session,” Clark told Career & Education.
“Assessments are done by three reviewers. If a person fails, then I intervene and provide support for the weak areas around to be addressed, and I coach the person. Technically, I don’t fail anyone.”
He noted that he often hears that they are impressed with how he engages them, as well as how they had doubts at the beginning.
“I started teaching adults when I was about 22. I would teach French to adult learners who had already established themselves in their respective careers in medicine, health, law, etcetera. I also taught at Shortwood Teachers’ College, so by the time I got to NCEL I had overcome that notion of teaching people who are older.”
The NCEL was established in 2011 under the Education System Transformation Programme (ESTP), with the mandate to develop excellent leadership in Jamaica’s education system. It provides strategic initiatives to improve leadership, facilitate the provision of support, and create local networks.
The education ministry said the NCEL is a direct response to the recommendations outlined, and was established and given the responsibility to develop excellent leadership in the island’s public schools and supporting institutions.
“Typically, we enrol more than 80 educators on average, but we have at least 80 completing the programme. It’s pretty much a one-year programme, including the assessment period,” Clark added.
Clark, who also facilitated training with school leaders in the Turks and Caicos Islands, described his role as interesting.
“This is in the sense that, because I interact with the aspirants, I may be called upon to make recommendations for individuals to be interviewed for a principal post. My interactions with them therefore gives me first-hand experience in identifying and witnessing the admirable dispositions, qualities, and competencies of individuals who are able to take on leadership roles in their schools,” he explained.
He added that while not everyone ascends to principalship immediately, once they go through the training they speak highly of its impact and some are promoted to senior leadership positions in their schools.
“At NCEL we really take a 360-degree approach to development. It is not only about the honing of skills and deepening of knowledge; it is about evolving as a better individual who is able to lead, change, touch lives and build capacity of others whilst being a reflective practitioner who is conscious of self and his or her environment.”
Prior to his NCEL appointment, Clark taught Spanish and French at St Andrew High School for Girls and St George’s College, and then worked as a teacher educator at Shortwood Teachers’ College.
Currently, he works part-time at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, and Northern Caribbean University (NCU) while juggling his NCEL duties.
“NCEL is full-time. UWI is part time and typically semester one of the academic year, while typically NCU is semester two. So it’s really about time management, investing in the present for what is to come in the future, doing what I love, and securing another source of income.”
He reiterated that with his work he has to be very prudent with his time.
“I have a full-time job; those seasonal, part-time jobs, I am a research assistant; I’m pursuing my own terminal degree; I serve as the president of a research associate; and I try to have a life outside of all that.”
Clark told Career & Education that he has given thought to transitioning to a principal role because he has seen how it could really result in change.
“However, that change may be limited to one school. Training principals and aspirants means that the impact is wider. For example, I may interact with 80 aspirants for a cohort. They hail from all parishes in Jamaica but that’s 80 individuals who I would be able to inspire in 80 different communities. If I were to become a principal, it wouldn’t be the same,” he explained.
“My idea for the education system is one where practitioners are fluid and not tied to any one level or space. For example, as a teacher educator at the tertiary level, I wouldn’t be opposed to doing like a semester in a secondary school while still having my substantive job at the university or teachers’ college. To me, such an experience would help me to better prepare teachers.”
But teaching established adults, he added, is distinctively different from instructing regular people.
“At times it is stressful but the reward of seeing their successes is priceless. But, because they are adults their needs will be different. They have adult responsibilities such as families, education, work, etcetera. There are times when I get calls and e-mails about some very unfortunate situations like illnesses, death, financial difficulties, and so that is why I say it requires a humanistic approach.
“While dealing with all of these issues they remain committed to completing the programme and so, I have to provide support in ways that are appropriate. So, there are times when I have to be on a call for hours with an aspirant to provide support or guidance.”