Introduction to Noel Calleja's case study

by Antoinette Camilleri Grima

Noel Calleja
Noel Calleja is head teacher of Mgarr Primary School, Mgarr, Malta..\Workshop\Calleja ppp.ppt.  In this case study he focuses on the role of the Head teacher in the implementation of innovation in language education.  Head teachers, although they are almost always ex-teachers and have plenty of teaching experience at the chalk face, and sometimes also in academic research, they do not necessarily have a background in language

education as many of them might be coming from other curricular areas such as mathematics, history, the sciences and so on. Nonetheless, as Calleja illustrates, they have a key role to play as instruments of change.  Head teachers need to have a vision - of where they are leading the school - based on a deep understanding of the issues involved - such as those explained in the Guide.  It makes sense, therefore, to pay attention to the proposal exemplified in this case study where a kind of 'policy for policy-making', based on action research, and involving several partners such as teachers, parents, and experts, is presented as a realistic way of successfully implementing change with a view to plurilingualism and plurilingual education (ACG_introduction.ppt) .

The sociolinguistic and educational context of Maltese schools is different from the others described in this publication because Malta has been a bilingual country for several decades.  In fact, Maltese and English have co-existed in a bilingual system of education from early primary school onwards.  Yet, Noel Calleja shows that the head teacher will always have a key role to play in providing a vision for development in language education.  The head teacher is like a master conductor who needs to keep all the different musicians playing together in tune and harmony.

The Role of the Head teacher in the Implementation of Plurilingual Education

Noel Calleja


One must recognise the efforts of the ECML and the Language Policy Division of the Council of Europe to promote plurilingualism among its member states. All this is happening when Europe is going through many social and political changes. The Council of Europe has described this societal context in detail, and has expressed its vision in the Guide (p. 109):

"The aim of the Guide is to provide a reference for the shaping of policies for language education and therefore for establishing goals and identifying the technical means of implementing them."

My aim is to describe how we have proceeded to establish goals for school development in the area of language education, and to link the process in a critical way to the Guide - not to argue for or against what is said in the Guide, but to promote a school-based action research approach as a realistic and grounded way towards change and innovation. At the out stead, I would like to make it clear that there is a strong emphasis on bilingualism in this context because of the reality of the Maltese situation and not in contradiction with what is being advocated in the Guide. In fact, the long existing tradition of bilingual education in Malta must be viewed as a stepping stone towards the other goals of plurilingual education.

As head of school, I would also like to represent and explain the key role of the Head in any school improvement plan, highlighting his/her qualities for the success of an approach favouring innovation. The workshop for Head teachers held in Graz in December 2005 was a concrete recognition of this fact. Formal and informal meetings there, created the right atmosphere for future international collaboration. This happened because a number of people holding key positions in schools, came together for a number of days of intensive and focused work.

In the following description I make reference to the theoretical principles behind school- based action research leading to school development planning, with particular reference to the role of the Head of School. At the same time I illustrate how this approach was successfully adopted at Mgarr Primary School in Malta.

Mgarr Primary School is a co-educational school
for children aged 3 to 11.

Heads of School and School Improvement - Identifying Needs

Heads are considered to be in an advantageous position from which they know what is going on in their school. They are in a better position to identify needs for improvement because of greater contact with outside agencies at the same time. School Heads are expected to be the managers of improvement, creating in their schools the right atmosphere for it to happen. They need to have a clear sense of direction for their schools and, in collaboration with their staff, discuss and draw up plans of how to get there. Action research is one way of implementing school-based development in order for improvement to take place in an effective way. Without dynamic leadership on the part of the Heads, who develop a clear vision for their schools and who communicate it well to their staff in such a way as to mobilise all members so that they all take part in school-based development, effective improvement in schools cannot occur.

As soon as I became head teacher of Mgarr primary school in 2002, I immediately felt the need to look at the way language education was being carried out there. The Maltese National Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 1999) recommends a language policy which highlights the need to develop every learner's bilingual competence, but I understand that linguistic policies have to be integrated in everyday life at school, and should underlie school development planning (Lakesandrivers_results).

The Maltese sociolinguistic context is one where (i) Maltese and English are official languages, and Maltese is defined as the national language, and (ii) bilingualism in Maltese and English is considered as the basis of the Maltese educational system. Principle 10 of our National Minimum Curriculum (NMC) (Ministry of Education, 1999) highlights this point and, in conclusion, states that it is the task of each school to develop a linguistic strategy which reflects the particular needs of its students. And that:

"In so doing, it should not overlook the fact that Maltese society has its own native language and recognizes English as an official language that has also developed into an international lingua franca. Equal importance should be given to the teaching of the first and second languages at all levels." ( p.38)

The teaching of both Maltese and English at primary level has long been an integral part of Maltese Education. Let us not forget that before independence in 1964, Malta had been a British Colony for almost two-hundred years and, that during this time, social ties developed while there was a political relationship evolving. This helps one understand that efforts to teach the two languages effectively have always been made. And so, one might ask, "What is new here and now?"

As head teacher I was inspired by the sociolinguistic reality described above, and by an understanding of the reference from the NMC, as well as by the following, complementary quote from the introductory note to chapter 6 of the Guide:

"If the cultural and political conditions are established, it will be possible to organise language education on the basis of plurilingualism. It will not, however, be implemented in exactly the same way everywhere since the aim is not to produce citizens with identical linguistic repertoires throughout Europe, but to enhance the status of and extend repertoires according to local situations in the framework of a shared plurilingual education." (p.77)

I decided to move with a view to improved bilingual education provision first, and then to slowly proceed to a diversification of language provision. The linguistic, cognitive and social advantages of bilingual competence are uncontested. The international research literature is replete with examples of different forms of bilingualism and bilingual education, all of which are conducive to successful language learning and language education.

Head teachers as Educational Leaders
with a Vision

School improvement, followed by planned changes in school policies and practices, is not possible without a clear vision for the future. Vision is central to any school based development. However, tensions may arise when a head of school has a clear vision for the school's future which may not in the first instance be shared by the staff members (Lashway, 1997). This is where the Head teacher has to have other skills such as the ability to take the lead and actively push things forward because he/she remains the chief instigator, promoter and guardian of that vision. Lashway (1997) ends his paper by highlighting an important strategy to be adopted by leaders with a vision, that of facilitating change/improvement:

"Above all, principals must create a climate and a culture for change. They do this by speaking about the vision often and enthusiastically; by encouraging experiments; by celebrating successes and forgiving failures and by remaining steadfast in the face of the inevitable problems and missteps." (p.3)

Thus, the first step I took in 2004 was to discuss my plan with an expert from the University of Malta, Dr Antoinette Camilleri Grima, and to organise a staff development seminar to introduce the idea of action research with a view to improved language provision to the teachers. During this seminar teachers listened to a presentation by the expert about the aims of bilingual education, and of action research, and then had plenty of opportunity to voice their opinions and give an oral assessment of the language situation. The first stage of the action research plan was to take stock of existing policies and practices (a fact-gathering stage) because each school is unique in its linguistic make-up. Thus, each school needs a language and learning policy that takes into account the specific characteristics that help or hinder the development of language education within its given context (School profile). As part of the stock-taking exercise, which lasted from October 2004 until March 2005, the school embarked on a number of initiatives in order to establish facts about:

  1. Home language background of staff and pupils
  2. Teacher education experiences (training, philosophies, etc)
  3. Explicit policies in existence (national policy for state schools; any other more localized and specific school policy)
  4. Actual day to day practices (who speaks/writes which language to whom, when, why)

The sources of evidence for the above included:

  • Existing documentation (previous school policies and plans, language history within the school, children's writing, circulars, etc.)
  • Interviews (by the expert with the Head, the Assistant Head, Teachers, other staff)
  • Classroom observation (by the expert during January-February 2005)
  • Participant observation (diaries kept by Head about which language is used when and for what purpose, e.g. morning assembly, to communicate with teachers, with parents, with other persons present on the school site; and by teachers who were asked to reflect about, and verbalise their own philosophy of bilingual education, and to become aware of how they use the two languages at home and at school)
  • A record of language use in writing (e.g. charts, notice-boards, signs, art-work with titles and other information)

A questionnaire to assess the use of the two languages, inside and outside school, by pupils, teachers and administrative staff was produced. The results gave us a clear picture of the linguistic reality at Mgarr. The main outcomes confirmed Maltese as being the home language of both pupils and teachers while both languages are used, at different times and in different ways, at school.

A five year-old pupil filling in a handout in English
on the topic 'transport'.

Facilitative Leadership -
Collaboration and Empowerment

A shared vision brings people together to discuss and draw up school development plans, to improve upon existing school policies and practices. The second phase of our action research, now that we were all concentrating on the data we had gathered, was to organise a phase of reflection and decision-taking for the implementation of revised policies.

From my point of view as head teacher, I kept in mind that the modern style of management is that of collaboration and empowerment, and not as it was up to a few years ago, rather hierarchical and based on authority. Lashway's Facilitative Leadership (1995) and Strategies of a Leader (1996) both deal with the shift of emphasis from authoritative to facilitative leadership. He quotes Dunlap and Goldman (Lashway 1995) who say that, "In short, facilitative power is power through, not power over". (p. 2)

At another staff seminar in the Spring of 2005 the results of the fact-finding phase were shared. This was seen as an opportunity for the head to disseminate, among the teaching staff, the principles underlying the National Minimum Curriculum as well as the Head's own vision. It was done through an internal debate and culminated in the re-formulation of the School Development Plan for the next school year.

The outcome of the second seminar was a plan of action in which everyone in the school had a role to play. The priority targets, in this area, as expressed in the School Development Plan were:

  1. To increase the learner's exposure to the English language.
  2. To use more educational videos and books in English with structured follow-up activities.
  3. Drama activities to boost pupils' self confidence in using English.

The action that followed included initiatives such as the following:

  • The Head together with the expert wrote an application for a Comenius Language Assistant. The aim of having a Language Assistant was to provide pupils with an opportunity for interacting with a native English speaking teacher - given that most of the pupils in this school lacked this kind of experience. (the Guide on p. 81, for example, lists some possibilities for introducing specialised teachers).
  • The teachers offered to attend a two-week staff development programme specially organised for them after school hours. An application for funding was made, and accepted by the National Curriculum Board, so that special training could be offered on the writing-process (the Guide on p. 82, for example, specifies the need to develop language courses "concerning languages approached in a diversified way, that satisfy the expectations of regional communities and national requirements").
  • The drama teacher agreed to use English only in his interaction with the children. (The Guide, in section 6.4, talks about decompartmentalising language education and diversifying provision).
Parents help the class teacher during an
outdoor activity.

The most satisfying aspect of what was going on was that everyone felt that they owned this project. The collaboration of every teacher was amazing and their enthusiasm was infectious. One of the reasons for this was that they themselves had identified the issues, and had made suggestions for improvement based on their knowledge of the context and of children's needs (School policy). It is interesting to note that members of the Parents Council also became motivated to help when they witnessed the way the school was working. One parent approached the local council and asked for financial support for books for the local library, and the President of the Parents' School Council, who owns a local restaurant, organised an informal meeting with an English couple resident in the village who offered their time to the children. (The Guide in section 6.5 talks about structuring diversified educational paths, which in our case started with an experiment, inviting English residents into the school).

The implementation phase will continue during the coming school year, October 2006 to June 2007, when the intensive and focused staff development programme will also take place.

Evaluating change - a loop of re-organisation

It is also envisaged that during the school year 2006-2007 an evaluation activity will take place. The Guide (section 6.2.1, p. 78) recommends a periodic review of the language education which is provided in terms of what is known of user expectations. We are aware that we need to continually take stock of the changes implemented and to review our policies and practices. We know that we have been successful in some areas, less successful in others, and that we have reaped some fruit which came as a side effect of our project. For example, as a 'side effect' of the plan, there has been an increase in the use of the reading room, and a small project which included e-mail correspondence with an English school. Furthermore, as a direct result of the December 2005 workshop in Graz, initial exchanges with a Spanish and a Romanian school took place and it is planned that all our European contacts will be consolidated in the year 2006-2007 (Network x4, Maltese team, resource 1 Malta).

This photograph documents a visit by Wolfgang Pojer, an ENSEMBLE workshop participant, to Mgarr Primary School in November 2006. From Left to Right: Noel Calleja, Head of Mgarr Primary; Alessio Saliba, the Assistant Head; Wolfgang Pojer, Head of Sprachen-Hauptschule Birkfeld in Austria; Mrs Pojer.


Finally, I would like to clarify a distinction between organisational philosophy and culture. Whereas, to my mind, philosophy refers to the Heads' personal beliefs, culture refers to those underlying the behaviour of the organisation. Therefore, the beliefs of the Heads guide their managerial behaviour, while the organisational culture affects the behaviour of everyone within the school. Managerial style is the chosen manner that determines the behaviour of the Heads within the constraints placed by the organisational culture and guided by their personal philosophy. There can be no doubt that Head teachers need to familiarise themselves with the Guide, and similar documents produced by the Council of Europe, as well as with the numerous projects of the ECML so that they can be in a better position to develop a language education vision for their school. I have tried to show that the head teacher has a crucial role to play in instigating change, and implementing innovation in school. In order to do this he/she must have the right philosophical baggage which comes from reading the relevant documents and more effectively by being involved in projects like the ENSEMBLE one, so that they can feel empowered to affect their school's organisational culture.

School-based action research is an ongoing experience. It is important for the school head to be an educational leader with a vision, but it is also important for him/her to facilitate school improvement and for decisions to be taken in collaboration with his/her staff. I encourage other head teachers to try this approach because in time it evolves into a wonderful, meaningful and fruitful experience.


Lashway, L. (1995). "Facilitative Leadership." ERIC Digest, (ED 381851)

Lashway, L. (1996). "The Strategies of a Leader." ERIC Digest, (ED 468636)

Lashway, L. (1997) "Visionary Leadership." ERIC Digest, (ED 468641)

Ministry of Education (1999) Creating the Future Together. National Minimum Curriculum. Malta: Ministry of Education.

The Role of the Head teacher in the Implementation of Plurilingual Education
Project work for pluringualism
Diversifying the language curriculum
Let's begin with the youngest
Challenges and opportunities of bilingual education
Social and economic considerations in setting up a new bilingual programme
Using a foreign language as a medium of instruction