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Helping Teachers to Become Leaders


La Sierra University professor Margaret Solomon tells about her project to provide leadership training to teachers and education administrators in her native India, thanks to a Fulbright grant.

Question: Last month you learned that your proposal for a U.S. Fulbright Scholar grant had been accepted. With the grant, you will be able to carry out a four-month educational leadership training program at three colleges in your native India. What does that mean? What will you be doing at the schools?

Answer: This means a dream come true for me.  When I visited Indian government and private schools over the past seven years, I saw that lack of leadership was a major challenge.  99% of leaders in Indian educational organizations have no formal training in leadership, and it is the same in the Adventist schools. 

There is also lack of leadership training programs as a field of study at the higher education levels. We do not even have a leadership training degree program at Spicer Memorial University, an Adventist institution. 

Since I teach educational leadership courses and work with principals—many of whom are my students in the U.S.—I wanted to share this knowledge with leaders in India, to help them become better leaders.  

I plan to conduct leadership institutes in three different colleges. The training has two phases.  In the first phase, there will be formal learning sessions, but they will be activity-based to engage students in the learning process.  Different types of discussion methods, case study analysis, and Socratic questioning are some of the teaching methods that will be used to help them learn the content.  In the second phase, the participants will develop their own training module to teach others what they learned about leadership.  This is the basic plan of my Fulbright proposal.  

How did you choose which colleges to go to with your Educational Leadership Institute?

Lowry Memorial College was the facilitating Adventist institution for my first Fulbright project in India in 2010.  This college is a special place for me. It became a college only 20 years ago—before that it was an Adventist boarding high school. That school was started in 1915 by a missionary named Gentry Lowry.  And this was the high school from which I graduated. 

Last year when I went to India, I visited this college.  At that time, the President asked me if I could conduct training in Leadership, but it was a last-minute request, so I could not do it.  But then, since I have a very positive relationship with the faculty and administration there, I asked them to be my Fulbright project facilitation institution again for this award, and they agreed.

The next two colleges were chosen by a professional friend I have in India.  He is a faculty member in one of the colleges of Mumbai University in Mumbai.  Its name is Karmaveer Bharao Patil College, Vashi, Mumbai. He wanted me to come to his college and do the institute.  He also found another college nearby, called Samgameshwar College, Solapur, where one of his friends is teaching.  Since leadership training is desired by many, I was able to receive invitation letters from both of them, which is a requirement for the Fulbright award application.

Who will you focus on providing the training to?

School principals, college principals, teachers with many years of experience, and others who aspire to become administrators.

Why do you think educational leadership training is important?

I have personally seen how ineffective principals and college presidents are in India when they follow the traditional authoritarian style of leadership.  They do not have any knowledge of the leadership qualities needed for the 21st century.

There is enough data to support  the idea that leadership training is urgently needed in India in all organizations. One leadership consultant in India stated: “Students, educators, and educational institutions all have roles to play in the development of the leaders for the future.  At present, too few educational institutions are taking on this task.” 

Also, during the course of my work on my first Fulbright award, I met the Vice-Chancellor of Pune University. He told me: “At the macro level, we bring out many good educational policies, but we do not have leaders who can implement those policies at the micro level.  

When did you get the idea for doing the leadership training institute? When did you decide to apply for a Fulbright grant to make it possible?

I have been in touch with the Indian educational situation for the past seven years, and whenever I saw ineffective leadership behaviors exhibited by leaders in the schools and colleges I visited, I wished I could talk to them and teach them how to lead more effectively.  As I have become more experienced in teaching educational leadership courses at La Sierra University, I have gained the confidence to teach the leadership content effectively.  

What is your goal for the Educational Leadership Institute? What do you hope it will accomplish? What is the best case scenario? How will you measure success?

The first goal is to establish a positive relationship with the leaders in each institution.  I must earn their trust first.  Then I must organize the learning sessions in a way that appeals to their interest.  

The overall goal is to inspire leaders to develop a desire to learn what it takes to be a leader and commit to develop skills that will help them become effective educational leaders.  

I plan to measure the effectiveness of the training by using basic research techniques.  First, I will be giving a leadership questionnaire before the training and another one after.  I will also interview at least 20 of the participants and use the participants’ reflections on their learning. Of course, I will be videotaping the sessions, and that will become live field notes.  And there will be brief evaluations of each session. All of these will become the data for evaluating the effectiveness of the program.  

Best Case Scenario: At Lowry Memorial College, there are three mini colleges comprised of a teacher training college, computer science college, and a nursing college. There is an overall president for the college and principals for each of the three mini colleges.  For the leaders in these institutions to work together to achieve their mission, the leadership institute should provide learning opportunities in decision-making, working as a team, and achieving their goals.  That is the first benefit I believe would happen.  

Next, the college president has agreed to bring school principals from our Adventist schools in the union, as well as other non- Adventist schools, to have a conference for the Institute.  Here the principals would receive knowledge and skills in leadership, especially in developing a positive school culture based on our Christian faith.  

Can you tell us a little bit about growing up in India?

I am a third-generation Adventist growing up in the first really established Seventh-day Adventist church in India.  My grandfather was one of the first Adventists in India. There was a whole community of Sabbath-keepers in our village before the Adventists came. The leader of this group was very well educated, and in his diary, he had discovered the Sabbath truth and taught people about it and had a large group of followers in my village, called Prakasapuram.  He noted that in 1878 he had a dream of Seventh-day Sabbath-keepers coming from America. (Here I have taken an excerpt from a book on the history of this first SDA church that I co-authored.) 

According to Sattampillai the leader of the Sabbath-keeping Adventists wrote in his 1878 diary, he had a dream in which he saw the arrival of Sabbath-keeping Americans to his village.  Perhaps, because of this, when he came across some information  about seventh-day Sabbath keepers (it was written by and about Seventh-day Baptists) on a report by the Congress of World Religions in Chicago in 1893, he wrote to “The Seventh-day Keepers, New York, North America” asking for more information about them.  Sattampillai’s letter eventually reached New York City; however, the distributing mail clerk, not knowing any seventh-day Sabbath keepers in New York City, but being aware of the Seventh-day Adventist headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, tossed this letter into the Battle Creek pouch, which ended up at the desk of F. M. Wilcox, the foreign mission board of the General Conference of the SDA.  Wilcox acknowledged Sattampillai’s letter, and sent him some pamphlets, tracts and papers, setting forth the doctrines and beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Both parties now knew that on the other side of the Globe, besides Jews, there were some seventh-day Sabbath keepers, but nothing came out of this.


Meanwhile, Seventh-day Adventists were moving into British India.  In the early 1890s, S. N. Haskell and G. C. Tenny scouted through India.  In the later part of the last decade of the nineteenth century, mission stations were established in Calcutta, Karmatar, and Rangoon, and the International Tract Society (the forerunner of the Oriental Publishing House, now located in Pune) was founded, and the journal Oriental Watchman began to be published.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, literature evangelists were moving into different parts of British India with health and religious books and journals.  The focus of the missionary activities was on the English-speaking people of British India, and very little attention was given to evangelize the rest of the people of the sub-continent.


Missionaries from the U.S. started coming to begin the work in India.  At this time, there was one missionary Armstrong in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He met a group of Sabbath keepers near Colombo meeting every Sabbath to worship.  Those people were from my village; most of them were my grandparents’ relatives, and they were all doing different businesses in Ceylon.  They were all Sabbath keepers; they closed their businesses from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset and met for worship every Sabbath.  Elder Armstrong, the SDA missionary, heard about them and met with them and made the first contact.  My relatives, including my grandfather who was in the group in Colombo, asked for a missionary to come to their village in India. This was between 1905-1906.  After making these connections, the leadership decided to go to my village in the Southern tip of India.  Elders Shaw, Enoch,  and James came to my village in December of 1907 and met with the Sabbath-keeping groups leader and felt very welcomed by them.  Then James was stationed in my village from 1908.  He started a dispensary and worked with the Sabbath-keeping group and taught them the three-angel’s message.  He could not convert them all to the SDA truth, only 34 people separated themselves with the original Sabbath-keeping believers and joined James.  My grandfather was one of the 34 people who became Adventists.  The first church officially began from 1910. (Sustained by God’s Grace:  A Brief History of the SDA Church in Prakasapuram, South India, Solomon, M. & Raj, S., 2016.)

I had to give you this background history to tell you who I am.  I was raised as a traditional Adventist in this community and went through Adventist schools until I finished my Master's degree at Andrews University.  I am a product of Adventist education in India.  

Why did you initially decide to come to the U.S.? 

I finished my college education at Spicer Memorial College, the Adventist Senior College in India.  Indian universities did not recognize the (BLA) degree I received from Spicer as a valid degree; therefore, I had to come to the U.S. to study.  My husband and I were fortunate to come to Andrews as students, and pursued our graduate degrees here. He finished his Doctor of Ministry degree at Andrews Theological Seminary, and I earned my masters at Andrews and my PhD at Michigan State University.

Have you considered moving back to India? 

My husband is a fully trained missiologist from Andrews Seminary.  He has dedicated his life to sharing the love of Jesus to the Hindus, so he has started a Christian Ashram in India to contextualize the Christian message for the Indian culture.  He is there for six months of every year, and I go almost every summer to work in the schools in India.  So we have spent a lot of time back in India doing service work.  But since my children and our only grandson live in the U.S., I do not want to move to India permanently.  However, we will always have our presence in India as we work to make a difference forth Kingdom of Christ till our last breath.

Do you think the fact that you are from India yourself helps you to understand the education system there and will help your project to be successful?

Yes, certainly.  Not only because I am from India but because I have kept in touch with the educational situation in India through my research and service work in India.  I have a desire for quality education to be available for the poor children, and leadership is an important point in that connection.

You were a public school teacher in Michigan for 23 years. What did you learn in that role that helps you to teach teachers now?

What an experience of teaching and learning that was! In those 23 years, I learned so much about teaching, understanding student differences, and working toward helping underachievers to learn better.  I also learned that public schools provide many opportunities for bringing awareness to the need of equity in education.  

As a special education teacher for 15 years, I learned to help children with learning difficulties to have self-confidence to learn.   I also learned that schools are learning organizations and good school leadership would provide opportunities for learning for all. My professional experience in that phase was on an upper curve—I was learning continuously by attending conferences at the national and state levels to understand the educational issues and find solutions for them.  I worked with teachers across the district and at the state level and was very involved in developing instructional materials for teachers in Michigan state. 

So yes, I learned so many things about teaching and learning and had an up-to-date knowledge of K-12 teaching and learning. 

For the past 14 years you have been a university professor in education, first at Redlands University and now La Sierra University. What do you most like about your job now?

After I finished my Ph.D at Michigan State University, I applied for higher education jobs across the country.  I interviewed at two of the Cal State campuses, George Washington University, and at the University of Redlands.  U of R gave me the contract first, so I accepted that. U of R helped me move to southern California, near Loma Linda, which was the best thing that ever happened to me. 

My seven years of work at U of R introduced me to the challenges in higher education.  It also provided me many professional opportunities for growth.  I was very involved in many types of scholarship work like presenting at conferences at the state, national, and international levels because the university provides a large sum of money for professors for scholarship each year.  I even published a book with one of my colleagues on adopting instruction to special needs learners and second-language learners in mainstream classrooms. 

All of this work prepared me well for La Sierra University.  I have made a full circle in my profession: after starting my teaching career in the Adventist system in India, I am finally ending at the Adventist La Sierra University.  

Now I enjoy teaching leadership courses, but the most exciting part of my teaching is the relationship with my students.  As there are many international students in our School of Education, I am able to relate well to them and help them become acclimated to the American educational system.  

I also enjoy the research opportunities La Sierra offers.  After every six terms, we get a sabbatical.  I used three such opportunities for doing research mostly in India.  That’s what really helped me to get acquainted with Indian educational issues. 

Many people in your position might be thinking about retirement, but instead you are off to teach teachers in India for four months. How do you have the energy?

Well, I am beginning to think of retirement but not to sit at home and do menial stuff.  I became a teacher in 1968 after I graduated from Spicer College.  I went to teach in my high school: Lowry Memorial High School (which has become the college where I will be doing my Fulbright work).  In 2018, I will have have worked in education for 50 years. I would like to take a break and do more service work in India and other countries where I can help poor children to improve their educational achievement.

I also have three book projects in mind.  One is already started.  I have organized a group of teachers in LSU to write instructional lessons for teachers teaching poor children in grades 1 through 6.  The lessons will be on three major themes:  character building, cleanliness, and self-esteem development. The lessons will be published as books for teachers. This came about as a result of my last sabbatical research, which focused on improving the cultural capital of children in marginalized communities. I selected four schools from four different slum communities: one from Varanasi in north India, one from Bangalore, and two from my home state of Tamil Nadu.  In this study, I hypothesized that teaching motivation lessons that engages students in the learning process would make an impact on their self-esteem, internal locus of control, and sense of hope.  I provided five days of instruction for two hours each day and collected qualitative and quantitative data to find out how they felt before and after the teaching. After I analyzed the data, I found that when you teach students activity-based lessons to motivate them and inspire them to have hope, they learn better.  That experiment helped me to realize the great need to develop teacher books for this. Teachers in the four schools where I did the experiment asked me to teach them how to engage students in the learning process.

The next book is at the planning stage.  One of my colleagues from University of Redlands and I are planning to write a book on immigrant educators and their contributions to American education.  

The third book is on the stories of 10 children who were adopted from India by white American parents.  I have collected some data on that, but there is so much to do on that.

Setting up goals to do different things makes me excited and happy about life.  God has given me good health and full energy.  I enjoy sharing and loving people. Jesus has given me the desire for learning and help others.  It is not about me—it is about knowing how Jesus as my personal Savior and friend has made me what I am,and how He continues to transform me.  I want to humbly follow His directions. I claim his promise in Psalms 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” The text in Isaiah 50:4 also inspires me to keep going: “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue to know the word that sustains the weary.  He awakens me morning by morning wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.”

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