Beyond the call of duty : a case study of five teacher leaders in a deep rural independent high school in KwaZulu-Natal.
Ndlamlenze, Lindiwe Cynthia Nokusa.
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Nowadays, teaching is increasingly becoming a complex task which demands the highest degree of professional practice. Teachers are viewed as agents of change in today’s society and without them; the future of the country is stillborn (Harris and Muijs, 2005). However, a number of strike actions by teachers that have been reported in the media, have caused the attractiveness of teaching as a profession to fade and this is causing the public and important stakeholders to doubt the status of teaching as a profession. Teachers have been considered as political activists and union leaders and this has overshadowed them as professionals and as such has undermined their agency role as leaders. Furthermore, this is causing the teaching profession to lose its status as a calling and a prestigious profession in which they commit themselves to the teaching of learners. Teachers are now viewed as workers who are more focused on their rights, better working conditions and salaries and this they pursue sometimes at the expense of learners. It is therefore a challenge to the teacher unions to change their focus and help teachers to fulfil their primary responsibility which is teaching and learning in order to restore the professional status of teaching. Furthermore, the traditional top-down approach leadership style that exists in most schools makes it even more challenging for teachers to exercise their leadership roles in schools in order to lead them into becoming professional places of work. However, amidst all the despair and loss of hope, Harris and Muijs (2002, p.11) call for the ‘new order’ of leadership which is premised upon the view of “leadership that is distributed and empowers those closest to the classroom to undertake leadership tasks and actions”. Aspects of interpretivist educational research inform my study because it does not seek to get the 'truth' but tries to understand people’s views and experiences in their own natural settings (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2006). I have used this paradigm because I work from the premise that people define their actions by providing different interpretations of the situations they find themselves in. I agree with Maree (2007) who asserts that qualitative research approaches are only concerned with understanding the process and the social and cultural context which underlies various behavioural patterns and is mostly concerned with exploring the ‘why’ questions of research. Furthermore, Cohen et al (2006) also advocate that qualitative research typically studies people or systems by interacting with and observing the participants in their natural environments and focusing on their meanings and interpretations. The emphasis is on the quality and depth of information and not on the scope or breadth of the information provided as in quantitative research. Case study methodology was used to frame the investigation of the research questions. The study took place in a rural independent high school in KwaZulu-Natal. Qualitative data was collected from the five primary participants, through the use of individual interviews, focus group interviews as well as observations. Data was analysed using thematic content analysis and discourse analysis. The findings revealed that teachers understand professionalism as formal qualifications, and that skills and expertise in education are necessary to qualify as a professional. Furthermore, a long period of time is necessary in order to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge expected. When it comes to leadership, it was clear that teachers still associate leadership with a position and formal appointment by a legitimate body in order to be accepted as a leader is necessary. Barriers to teacher leadership and professionalism that were identified were: impact of teacher unions, incentives for role acceptance and school culture. Factors that can enhance teacher professionalism are: collaboration, leadership opportunity given to teachers and a shared understanding between the School Management Team and teachers.