Newsletter 36 Views of School Managers

Vuyisile Msila from UNISA did research in 2011 on “School management and their struggle for school efficiency”. The research paper presents the “viewpoints of school managers from various dysfunctional, historically black African schools. The 56 school managers from four Eastern Cape districts addressed several questions pertaining to what is really causing the lapse of management and leadership in various “failing schools”.

The findings of this “study highlighted a common pattern of themes relating to the challenges that school principals experienced in their schools. The “majority concurred that poverty was the main challenge that seems to thwart their efforts to change schools for the better. The second important challenge that was highlighted is paradoxical: the principals cite democratic policies as sometimes “too accommodating” and at times interpreted in a “skewed manner” by the teachers in schools. According to the participants, teacher unions are in control in some schools and principals maintain that they frequently find themselves “impotent and unable to upstage the unions’ strength”. “They also contended that the confusion was sometimes created by the education district officials who did not give any direction when needed.

Here are the voices of participants during this study;

  • “I do not know how many workshops I have been to where I have heard people emphasizing the pivotal role of the school’s mission and vision. I have never really sat down with my teachers to emphasise this. Now that I hear colleagues highlighting this again here – I’ll go back and see how I can use this”
  • “I have tried to use the vision in my school. Teachers were very positive when I did; however, I do not see them following this vision. Maybe it is teacher apathy or maybe they did not see me living this. I share the sentiments of all who have said that it should be one of the important roles we play in our schools as leaders. Setting the vision and leading by it”
  • “Our schools are mired with problems. We are easily sidetracked. You might have the vision but before you can work on it other issues surface; the poverty of learners, teacher stress, low morale and a host of others. It is difficult to work in a climate of despondency, where people are always skeptical”
  • “It was “a sad reality” that even among principals, some are not sure about the mission and vision in their schools”
  • “Another summed it up well when she said: Indeed, it is high time that we do not perceive vision and mission statements as additional useless burdensome paperwork. Teachers tend to detest the administrative papers. I am guilty of that too…We need to drill this in the minds of our teams – schools with no vision are like lost ships. I know this from experience”
  • “One stated that “in a poor school well-intentioned vision falls through like a pipedream”.
  • “Another summed it up by stating that “unfortunately, poor parents breed poor schools”.
  • “It is difficult to have any vision when you do not have all the stakeholders in school governance. Our parents are not empowered. We have many indigent single parents who hardly help in the school. I am sure there are parents who have the zeal but they are reticent to be involved in school governance because of their poor status.
  • “The main difference between successful schools and unsuccessful schools is the poverty of the most important stakeholder, the parents. Poor parents and poor learners bring less to school that expect resources such as financial and material resources. Many poor parents in our schools are also never there when you need them. It is mentally draining to work with absent parents. We do not want rich parents in our schools, we will probably never have them, but something must be done to sensitize our parents”
  • “Sometimes it is scary. You find yourself not sure as to what is right and what is not. The teachers are very much aware of their rights. The learners are very much aware of their rights”
  • “Some participants, however, pointed out that the existence of unions is not necessarily bad. However, the manner in which members of staff use unions to “promote their personal agendas” is conspicuous.
  • “I am frequently not certain as to what will be accepted or not accepted by teachers, especially union members. Last year the SGB appointed a teacher as deputy principal. However, because the appointed teacher was from a less popular union, there was pandemonium in the school. The other union wanted to push their candidate although he had lost through a democratic process. How do you lead in such circumstances?”
  • “The participants also concurred that “district officials were usually aloof” and gave minimal support to the schools. The majority of the participants stated that effective district officials should be visible in schools”
  • “I started working as a teacher in the early 1970s. During those days we had inspectors; they were more visible than district officials today. In my school I normally see them on my premises maybe twice a year, apart from the matric examinations period. We cannot run schools when our immediate supervisors do not know the conditions we work under. They do not see our day-to-day challenges”
  • “The participants averred that many school managers managed schools through “trial and error” and a number of them believe that there is a need for managers to be prepared for the current changes in South African education.
  • “The participants also highlighted the need to induct and sustain the training of school managers and leaders”

Four important common themes emerged from the interviews:

• Vision and school success

• The challenge of poverty and its impact on management

• Democracy, teacher voice and school management

• Professional development

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