Women middle managers in schools : narratives about capabilities and transformational leadership.
This study explores the narrated experiences of nine women heads of department (HoDs) in their roles as middle managers of secondary schools in South Africa. There is scant literature about women who hold such positions in schools. Too little is known about how they develop as middle managers and what capabilities they need to perform a management function. This study aims to push that peripheral attention given in education management literature to women in middle management roles in schools into sharp focus by concentrating on the women who operate in this much neglected tier of management. The study seeks to do this by understanding how women HoDs develop capabilities in a changing social context so that they become able to function as transformational middle managers and leaders at secondary schools. The key critical questions posed in the study are: * What are the narratives from women HoDs about how they developed their capabilities in a transforming and contested social context? * What are the capabilities that enable women middle managers to function as managers? * In what way do the capabilities of women middle managers enable them to function as transformational leaders? Located within the feminist paradigm, the study employs a participatory narrative methodology in two phases to generate data through qualitative participatory methods such as life-history interviews, letter-writing, journaling and participant observations. The first phase in the field focuses on eliciting accounts from nine women HODs about their lived experiences from early childhood to adulthood in order to understand how they developed their capabilities and how they came to take up management roles. Central to the development of capabilities are family relationships and educational experiences that influenced and equipped them for management. The second phase of data generation concerns observations and experiences of the women HoDs in their middle management roles. In this part of the study, role models, mentors and practices as middle managers come to the fore. To understand how women middle managers develop as managers in a transforming school context, and what capabilities enable the women middle managers to function in their role as transformational leaders, the study uses two theoretical lenses. The first lens is Nussbaum's and some educational scholars‟ expansion of Sen's capability approach; and the second lens is Bass and Avolio's and Leithwood et al's work on the behaviours and attributes of transformational leaders, which are used to separate out the capabilities that enable women to function as transformational middle managers. Five key findings emerge in this study: * The foundational management capabilities that enable women to function as transformational leaders in school management develop over an extended period of time from childhood into early career years. * Women identify mentors and/or role models who are afar from or in close proximity to them and who are located within their personal and/or professional domains as significant formative influences on them as middle managers in schools. While some women assert that their mentors and role models put up some barriers to their development as middle managers, these women employed their agency and resilience to offset any weak capability development. * Women middle managers' capability to function as transformational HODs is constituted in four attributes that emerge through the practice of behaviours and attributes that characterise transformational leadership. The management capabilities and the transformational leadership functionings are aligned on the basis of leadership attributes, namely, developing knowledge and skills; setting departmental directions; developing people in the department; and redesigning the department. * While women middle managers in schools have the internal capability to function as transformational leaders based on the foundational management capabilities they developed over many years, the external conditions within the school context may constrain them from functioning as transformational leaders. When external conditions support the development of women‟s management capabilities, then women appear to have a strong capability set; however when there are barriers to their capability development, then their capability set may be weak. * Neither the capability approach nor transformational leadership theory on their own is sufficient to understand how women develop capabilities to function as transformational leaders within the middle management tier of schools in the South African context. Based on these five findings, especially the fifth finding, the thesis of this study is that the affinity and complementariness between the development of foundational management capabilities and the behaviours and attributes of a transformational leader proposes a hybrid of the two theoretical lenses. This new approach, referred to as the Transformational Leadership Capabilities Approach, provides an explanation of how women middle managers develop capabilities appropriate for a management role and how they can function in that management role as transformational leaders. The Transformational Leadership Capabilities Approach unifies the capability approach and transformational leadership theory on the basis that management capabilities and transformational leadership behavioural components and dimensions are complementary.