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Leading successfully against the odds in highly functional disadvantaged schools.

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In this thesis the poor performance of learners in the vast majority of public schools in South Africa provided the impetus to study leadership practices in previously disadvantaged, highly successful schools. This research was to find out what these schools were doing in terms of how they led that contributed to them becoming highly successful. Three previously disadvantaged, highly successful schools were purposively selected with the aim of understanding their leadership practices in greater depth. While data was collected, analysed and interpreted for all three schools, due to the limitations of space, only two of the cases are presented in this thesis. A critical realist ontology, coupled with a qualitative approach and a multiple-case study research design with a variety of data generation methods were utilised as a means to examine questions regarding leadership practices. The data generation methods comprised journal writing by the principals, individual open-ended interviews, focus group interviews, observations (both formal and informal), transect walks around the schools, document analysis as well as a self-reflective journaling process. Four teacher leaders at each school from across the post levels were purposively chosen as participants at each of the schools. This was to provide a clearer understanding of how leadership was practised. To rise above the adversities experienced at their schools it was found that participants from across the post levels were resilient and collectively contributed to the leadership practice and this impacted on the overall success of their schools becoming highly functional. They made every endeavour to adopt and adapt legislated mandates and all aspects of leadership and management to engage in what best suited the contexts of their individual schools. Structural boundaries were broken to accommodate and engage with the expertise of all teachers. They therefore shattered the myth of the traditional ‘heroic leader’ paradigm and consequently achieved school-wide success. Once the structural boundaries were broken there emerged a more collaborative culture and the agents arose from being primary agents to that of being corporate agents. The principals from each of the schools emerged as powerful Social Actors who were instrumental in ensuring active participation in the leadership practice by all teachers. At the heart of all decisions that participants took were the learners. In this regard they were found to be embodied beings and every opportunity was grasped at to enhance the quality of teaching and learning. Their roles as educators extended far beyond that of teaching and learning. They also forged various networks in order to improve their schools infrastructure and to meet the needs of their impoverished learners. What is recommended therefore, for previously disadvantaged schools to become highly functional is an engagement with the collective expertise of all teachers so as to achieve school wide success. At a theoretical level the study contributes by extending Grants Model of Teacher Leadership (2008a) which indicates that one of the prerequisites for teacher leadership is that of a collaborative culture. This study adds collaborative structures and agency to the notion of collaborative culture and has demonstrated that for leadership to be distributed the structural, cultural and agential emergent properties play a crucial role. From a critical and social realist perspective a Three Tier Model is offered to make meaning of leadership practices in previously disadvantaged, highly functional schools.


Doctor of Philosophy in Education Studies. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Edgewood 2015.


Public schools--South Africa., Low-performing schools--South Africa., Educational leadership--South Africa., Teacher effectiveness--South Africa., Theses--Education., Teacher leadership., Previously disadvantaged schools.