Leading the change you wish to see in your school : lived experiences of teacher leaders in public and private schools.
Ballard, Erin Rae.
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In the quest to improve school leadership there is a growing academic scholarship around the notion of teacher leadership and mobilising the leadership capabilities of teachers. The literature does not, however, seem to be as rich with regards to the day-to-day lived experiences of teacher leaders, especially in the South African and the private (independent) school contexts. Furthermore, empirical evidence suggests that where teacher leadership exists in South African schools, in the majority of schools it is only being practiced in a restricted way. In the light of this, the purpose of this study is to explore the lived experiences of teacher leaders in public and private schools in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. Grounded within the interpretivist paradigm and using a qualitative research approach, this narrative inquiry sought to gain a nuanced understanding of the identities of teacher leaders in private and public schools; how they enact teacher leadership; and the enabling factors and barriers to teacher leadership in these schools. Data was generated through narrative interviews, artefact inquiry and a unique, non-traditional form of collage inquiry. This study took place in two private secondary schools, one former Black public school and one former Indian public school from May to July 2016 in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Four post-Level One teachers were purposively selected as research participants. Using Social Identity Theory, distributed leadership theory, and Grant’s model of teacher leadership to frame the study, the generated data was analysed in two stages. Firstly, in collaboration with the participants, the data was ‘re-storied’ into four different narrative accounts. Thereafter the stories were deconstructed by identifying common plotlines and unique, yet interesting, threads that emerged from the narratives, using the study’s theoretical framework to guide the analysis. The findings of this study suggest that teacher leadership across public and private schools is most prevalent within the realm of the classroom and non-existent at the whole-school level. It is also evident that the day-to-day practice of teacher leadership is, in many ways, contingent upon teachers’ specific school context. In addition, formal leaders, along with the existing school structure and culture, act as gatekeepers to teacher leadership. The success of teacher leadership in schools therefore relies both on teachers who are courageous enough to ‘go against the grain’ and proactively pursue positive change at all levels within their schools, as well as formal leaders who intentionally and unintentionally support teacher leadership.