Leader influence behaviours and school leadership: an ethnographic study of three primary school heads in the Zvishavane district of Zimbabwe.
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Of late there has been an outcry about poor leadership and mismanagement amongst school heads by the Zimbabwean public media (Gore, 2012; Mhlanga, 2013; Nziramasanga, 2000; Share, 2013) and Teachers’ Union representatives, parents and District Education Officers at various meetings I attended in the Zvishavane District in Zimbabwe. However, from my experience as a school head and the literature available for the preparation of school heads in Zimbabwe, little if any is known about school heads’ use of leader influence behaviours in educational leadership and management. Such knowledge is important for school heads for them to be able to effectively influence teachers so as to achieve school goals. This study aimed to contribute knowledge and push this peripheral attention given to this key aspect of educational leadership and management. This is a qualitative ethnographic study, couched within the interpretive paradigm. An ethnographic approach suited this study because it allowed for a deep and sustained engagement with participants. A theoretical toolkit consisting of more than one theory was seen as appropriate to bring influence and leadership issues under study into sharp focus. As such a three legged theoretical framework utilising, the distributed leadership, the collegial model of educational management and Foucault’s notions of power were used. School heads and teachers from three rural schools in the Zvishavane district of Zimbabwe were selected for the study. The school heads and teachers participated in the study to learn how school heads influence teachers in day to day work situations. Sampling for the school heads who participated in the study was purposive to generate data from high performing school heads. These school heads were recommended for selection for this study by the district education officer. The following findings emerged from this study: School heads use leader influence behaviours of empowerment, consultation, stewardship, sharing responsibility, inspirational appeal, rational persuasion and legitimation to influence teachers. School heads utilise different influence behaviours in different core areas of their work. The success of influence attempts is determined by meanings, values and experiences the school heads and teachers bring to bear in the school head/teacher interactions. A blend, instead of the use of just one influence behaviour at a time increased chances of an influence attempt suggesting that the more influence behaviours a school head uses at a time, the more will be his or her chances of success at influencing teachers. Issues of integrity, collaboration, transparency, knowledge, evidence, authority, culture of achievement, trust and seniority culture mediated leader influence attempts. Using a model, based on these findings, I showed that the interplay between leader influence behaviours and contextual and cultural issues mediate school heads’ influence attempts. This study can contribute to the growing body of literature on leader influence behaviours in particular and educational leadership and management in general by adding to what we can learn about how school heads influence teachers in their day-to-day leadership practice.