Leadership, professionalism and unionism : a case study of six teacher leaders.
The arrival of democracy in 1994 saw the departure of certain policies and an education system that was congruent with an autocratic, apartheid South Africa. One of the many policy changes was the introduction of the Norms and Standards for Educators (2000) which suggests that teachers fulfil the seven roles as laid down in this policy, amongst them being the role of leader and manager. Prior to this, these roles remained exclusively for those holding formal management positions. Since this study adopted the stance that teachers are leaders, it was worked from the premise that all teachers have the potential to enact self-initiated, voluntary roles, and to lead from different levels within the organisation. Thus an organisation needs both leadership and management, with teachers conducting themselves as professionals. Against the backdrop of the National teacher strike of 2010, I became interested in understanding the leadership roles teachers, either post level one teachers or SMT members enact, especially in relation to their professionalism. As a consequence, I designed my research as a case study of six teacher leaders. The core question aimed to investigate how teachers can lead schools better to ensure that they are professional places of teaching and learning. The first subsidiary question involved an inquiry into how professionalism was understood by teachers. The second subsidiary question was about identifying the factors which enhanced and inhibited professionalism in schools. The duration of the study was approximately two months, and data were collected using semi-structured individual interviews, a focus group interview and a questionnaire. Data were analysed using thematic content analysis. The main findings of the study revealed that although the primary participants faced many challenges, they worked collaboratively as members of teams. This was made possible as a result of the support and encouragement from the principal and SMT members, together with there being a collegial school culture. Their innate goodness, love for their learners, and passion for teaching saw them lead in various social justice projects. This uplifted the plight of many learners who experienced financial, academic and emotional challenges. These teacher leaders were aware of the code of ethics as espoused by SACE, and conducted themselves accordingly. Some of the primary participants argued that, at times, the call of the union clashed with their role as professionals. This was evident when teachers were called out during the school day to attend union meetings. Since leadership and management roles did not lie exclusively with the principal and SMT, level one teachers also led in activities.