Distributed teacher leadership in South African schools : troubling the terrain.
This publication-based study aims to ‘trouble’ the terrain of teacher leadership – at the level of both theory and praxis, in the South African schooling context. The motivation for this study came from my increasing research interest in shared forms of school leadership, particularly the leadership practices of teachers in terms of their potential as ‘agents of change’. The thesis is organised according to my ‘logic of connectivity’ which operated at a range of levels. Eight academic, peer-reviewed, independent articles constitute the ‘core’ of the study and are connected through the following emergent research questions: 1) How is teacher leadership understood and practiced by educators in mainstream South African schools?; 2) What are the characteristics of contexts that either support or hinder the take-up of teacher leadership; and 3) How we can theorise teacher leadership within a distributed leadership framing? For its connectivity at a theoretical level, this study privileges distributed leadership theory (after Spillane et al, 2004, Spillane, 2006), and specifically, a view of distributed leadership which foregrounds a ‘leader-plus’ and social practice perspective. In attempting to connect the independent pieces of work at a methodological level, I have organised them in inter-connected clusters within a three phase contingent design, and thus locate the study within the mixed methods research tradition. My study does not seek convergence in the classic sense of triangulation but rather an ‘expansion of inquiry’ which involves a secondary analysis of the findings – a meta-inference - guided by the research questions. The study thus offers an example of a PhD by publication; it reflects on the associated methodological challenges and it problematises the retrospective use of publications. The key output of the overall research which emerged from and connects the publications, is a model depicting the zones and roles of teacher leadership. The main findings of the study which emerge from the connectivity of the publications as well as from the extended literature review, suggest that while teacher leadership is regularly espoused (especially by management), in practice it is often restricted to either mundane tasks and/or the classroom and/or situations where teachers work together on curriculum issues. The data highlights the ease with which the School Management Team can operate as a barrier to teacher leadership even when national policy is underpinned by an ideological position that endorses shared forms of leadership. Despite the restrictions on take-up, however, the study argues that teacher leadership within the South African context, characterised as it is by such diversity, is nevertheless a dynamic possibility. If conceptualised within a distributed leadership framework which, in its ideal form, is democratic and which calls teachers (and management) to new forms of ‘action’, the transformation of schools and communities can become a reality.