Collectively, in our education system and in most public schools, we seem to have created a “Kolkata environment”. Barring fortunate exceptions and pockets of excellence, it is an environment that is the opposite of energetic. Let me explain.
Professor Sumantra Ghoshal explains in a video lecture that every year he used to go to India for almost a month to visit his parents. In Kolkata in July, the temperature is over 38°C, with humidity of 98 percent. He would spend most of his time indoors, resting and conserving energy.
In contrast, he used to live in Fontainebleau, 65km south of Paris. He says the forest there “is one of the prettiest forests in all of Europe. You enter the forest in spring, with a firm desire to have a very leisurely walk and you cannot. There is something about the smell of the air, about the trees, that will make you want to run, jog, jump up, catch a branch, to throw a stone, to do something.”
He called the difference between Kolkata and Fontainebleau “the smell of the place”. He hypothesised that many companies hurt their profit and performance because their corporate environment – the smell of their place – was more like Kolkata and less like Fontainebleau.
In these companies, the culture disengaged employees rather than energised them. (See The Smell of the Place on YouTube.)
So why do we have a “Kolkata environment” in so many schools? What role does leadership play in this? What difference, if any, can the leader of a school make?
Tom Hamilton, the headmaster at St Alban’s College in Pretoria, has institutionalised a “Fontainebleau environment”. There have been great leaders before him, but as a colleague said: “There is no doubt that it is he who has put St Alban’s College firmly on the map of top South African schools. In this, he has left his own mark and his own legacy.”
Via Andrew van Zyl