Help, I’m a school principal in the middle of nowhere! Challenges to the principal’s leadership and management style

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Abstract

School leadership has been widely investigated. The competence of principals in remote areas is often questioned as principals are moved to remote areas for various reasons. This study deals with principals located in remote areas that have their own unique challenges. Access to schools is often extremely difficult as dirt roads provide the only access to the school. Furthermore, these schools have limited water supply, sanitation facilities and communication connections. The factor of poor socio-economic conditions stood out in the study. Due to unemployment and a lack of income, these schools were lacking the necessary support from parents. The payment of school fees was meagre, and the collection of extra funds for the maintenance of the schools was inadequate. Unemployment contributed to theft, alcohol abuse and drugs in the community. Another problem was new principals being appointed from other towns; such “new” heads are not trusted at first, and cooperation between the principal, the governing body and the parents is insufficient.

Communities play an important role in the education of learners. Mutual trust, cooperation and cohesion should exist between the school and the community. However, in many remote communities, the parents, learners and governing body function separately. Learners have no sense of responsibility towards their school commitments, parents have no interest in their children’s daily school routine and the governing body uses its power to make decisions regarding the school without the permission of the principal. Yet, in some communities, it seems to be different. In one community, the principal was accepted and good collaboration existed between the principal, the parents, the governing body and the learners.

This study was highlighted by the social identity theory, which consists of three main components: the social-psychological component, the system component and the societal component. The social-psychological component of the social identity theory is related to the understanding of the cognitive and motivational processes which narrate to a form of intergroup discrimination (social competition) that makes social identity inevitable in individual self-evaluation and links individual self-values to the value of the group. The system component entails three socio-structural variables, namely the permeability of group boundaries, the stability of the intergroup status system and the legality of the intergroup status system. The system component predicts that social competition will occur only if group boundaries are impermeable and the intergroup status system is unstable and unlawful. The societal component of the theory relates to the specific historical, cultural, political and economic context that contains and defines the groups and their status system. The details of this societal context can be described as the social reality of the intergroup situation. Two important aspects of the societal context are social norms and the societal value of intergroup behaviour. This group membership carries emotional value and is of great importance to the individual. The three components of the social identity theory are important when the topic of leadership is raised. It is important for the leader to be accepted in the community; in other words, in reference to values, it is essential that the leader’s values match those of the group. Depending on how strong the boundaries of the group are, these will determine whether a newcomer is accepted, especially when strong leadership qualities emerge. The group’s cultural, political and social status will further determine whether or not a new member is accepted.

According to the social identity theory, people define themselves as members of a group that has characteristics that do not necessarily match the characteristics of other groups. Members of social groups evaluate the activities of people outside the group and determine whether these are consistent with their own. The members have an emotional connection with or commitment to the group, and a sense of pride and belonging prevails.

The study followed a qualitative approach from the interpretivist paradigm. A phenomenological design was applicable to the study. The study aimed to gain a holistic perspective of principals’ leadership and management within the environment in which they interact with people daily. The study sample consisted of ten principals, both male and female. Schools in towns with fewer than 4 600 residents in the Northern Cape were identified. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to gain insight into the leadership of the principals. The inductive data analysis process was used. Firstly, the data were coded and subdivided, and themes were formed, linked to the research objective and deduced by referring to the literature. The required ethical clearance was obtained from the Research Ethics Committee of the North-West University. I also obtained permission to conduct the research from the Northern Cape Department of Basic Education and the school principals.

In the study, it was found that principals in remote areas, in the absence of technology, infrastructure and support bases, have to use their skills creatively, and they need the support of the community, teachers, school management and governing body. Without the approval of the community, principals find it difficult to become part of the community. Being accepted by the community requires a lot of trust. Principals have to prove themselves first and will only then be accepted. Based on the social identity theory, there seems to be categorisations of “outside” (i.e. the principal) and “inside” (i.e. the community).

As the schools are isolated, support, trust and respect are crucial for the school to function fully and motivate learners to have a vision for the future. With the social identity theory arguing that the members of the group (community) have a commitment or an emotional commitment to the group (school) and a sense of pride and belonging is important, the concept of a community school should be considered. The management and leadership skills of the principal predominate ethnicity in that when these skills of the principal are very strong, ethnicity is overlooked and how well the school functions become more important. In other words, it is not about who runs and leads the school, but how the school is run and managed. It is precisely these management and leadership skills that distinguish principals from one another in terms of relationships, finances, challenges and problem solving.

When clear guidelines are given regarding the principal, the school management team and the governing body, the school functions as it should – for the benefit of the child. When a school focuses on its learners, ethnicity and language fades and a positive school climate is experienced. For this reason, principals must be appointed for the right reasons. Often principals are appointed in remote schools simply because no one else is willing to take the job. At the same time, principals must receive sufficient training to ensure they are prepared to act as principal under difficult circumstances. The same applies to the appointment of governing body members, who often experience a sense of power when they are appointed, which they do not know how to handle. If the role of the governing body is clearly spelt out, everyone will understand the various roles and a good relationship can exist between the principal and the governing body. The principal’s visibility also plays a role. When principals make a contribution in the community, their task as principal is being facilitated. A school can be successful only if the community, governing body, school management team, principal, teachers and learners all understand their roles and take responsibility for these. 

Keywords: acceptance; challenges; community; school principalship; schools in remote areas; social identity theory; teaching context

 

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Help, ek is ’n skoolhoof in ’n afgeleë gemeenskap! Uitdagings tot die skoolhoof se leierskap- en bestuurstyl 

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