Sailing in turbulent conditions: principals’ leadership experiences about turning around underperforming schools in deprived contexts.
Nzimande, Wilson Myboy.
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The study was aimed at exploring the leadership experiences of principals in transforming underperforming schools in deprived contexts in the Umgungundlovu District. The problem that gave rise to the research was about how principals turned around the backbone of underperformance whilst working against deprivations of different nature. The deprivations that exist in both rural and informal settlements have a negative impact on learner performance. Transformational leadership approaches offer the ways and means of working against such conditions, whether these are found in rural or informal settlements. A qualitative case study design was considered appropriate and was adopted for the study that included seven school principals, purposively selected to participate. In addition, I drew on a constructivist/ interpretative paradigm to guide the design of the study. Data were generated by means of semi-structured interviews, observations and documents reviews. Findings were discussed in terms of emerging themes relating to the understanding, implementation, benefits and challenges of the efficacy of transformative leadership in seven schools. Findings point to strategic planning, problem analysis, analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threaths (SWOT), visionary leadership, attitude change, instructional leadership, school functionality, curriculum management, stakeholder management, systems for monitoring and evaluation, quality teaching and learning, extra-tuition programmes, staff recruitment and professional development as key factors in turning around the situation to ensure sustained academic performance. The implementation of shared turnaround plans is of benefit to the teachers, learners, SGBs and parents in achieving the set academic goals, despite the prevalent deprivations. The principals’ understandings of transformation is evident in the manner in which schools were able to sustain improving results over a period of time. The principals used a number of strategies to address the negative effects of deprivations as they had a negative impact on the school’s academic performance yet schools were expected to perform well, and also to provide quality education like all other schools regardless of their contexts. The success of the principals relates, inter alia, to working closely with the teachers to get their vision for the school, the understanding of their contexts, the acute awareness of the need to involve all key stakeholders in what they did and demonstrating decisiveness when dealing with a number of issues, including dealing with irregular practices and teacher indolence and apathy that, from time to time, occurred. In conclusion, this research study contributed to the body of knowledge in terms of examining the principals’ understandings of leadership practices in turning around underperforming schools in deprived contexts through their transformational and instructional leadership practices.