Leadership and professionalism - an act of faith : a case study of leaders as professionals in South Africa.
Manuel, Basil L.
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Our South African schools are seventeen years after the advent of democracy still under the grip of predominantly hierarchical management with limited devolution of leadership functions to teachers. Principals and SMT’s are caught between the demands of a policy driven Department of Education, the unions who ‘control’ the teachers and a desire to transform their schools into 21st century centres of learning and teaching excellence. Somewhere into this maelstrom ones needs to factor in the expectation of teachers, parents and even the pupils who are living in a 21st century environment with all the technological trappings and a democratic dispensation which has promised to deliver a better life for all. Given the current negative view of schooling with the poor matric and grade three and six performance levels and the negative view of teachers especially after the teacher strikes of 2007 and 2010 there is an urgent need for intervention to save our education system and children. I am however not advocating a narrow view of policy intervention, which has already proven to be a failure. Such interventions fail to penetrate to the depth of the problem. I am advocating for a much more sustainable longer term intervention that must change our teachers’ views to their job, their commitment to the task and the child. I am advocating for a return to professional values and commitment coupled with a new age distribution of leadership that recognises the contribution and worth of all teachers. This recognises that all teachers have skills and insights to contribute that can change the face of schools. Given this background I attempted using a case study of five teacher leaders in an urban primary school to understand their views on professionalism, their involvement in leadership and whether the link between the two does impact positively on the culture of teaching and learning. I employed a multiple data collection method and used a questionnaire, semistructured individual interviews, a focus group interview and observations. The findings of the study indicated that there was genuine commitment to professionalism. The teacher leaders viewed themselves as professionals. They were further deeply committed to teacher leadership which they demonstrated in various ways. Their professionalism combined with their involvement in leadership spilled over into a culture of learning and teaching. Teacher leadership was present in various spheres but was limited by hierarchical school structures, time constraints and scepticism from other teachers. This relationship between teaching, professionalism and learning and teaching needs to be further researched especially in the context of South African schools in their current change environment, overshadowed by the legacies of the past. Our schools need to succeed now. Our children need it now. If the route to sustainable teacher and learner performance lies in professional leadership development, then we must explore it further without delay.