Scholarly article on topic 'Instructional leadership for the improvement of science and mathematics in South Africa'

Instructional leadership for the improvement of science and mathematics in South Africa Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

CC BY-NC-ND
0
0
Share paper
OECD Field of science
Keywords
{"instructional leadership" / "distributed leadership" / "science and mathematics education" / "teaching and learning"}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Loyiso C. Jita

Abstract The role of leadership in the improvement of teaching and learning has long been established in the literature. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of attempts to influence (or lead) classroom teachers, especially in the areas of science and mathematics. What remains unclear and somewhat contentious however, is what kinds of leadership matter for the improvement of learning and achievement in schools. This paper presents findings from a large-scale, qualitative research project on the leadership practices of 102 successful schools serving formerly disadvantaged children in South Africa. Data from a rich set of interviews with school administrators and subject specialists, document analysis, and school observations suggest that the more successful schools, in the group, distinguish themselves in the way they define and construct the overall goals of leadership around instruction and have developed fairly elaborate structures and processes for monitoring instruction (especially in mathematics and science). Using the framework of distributed leadership, we develop an account of how leadership for instructional improvement is constructed in the more successful schools in South Africa. We conclude the paper by puzzling over the rather strained (or non-existent) relationship between leadership and instruction in most (South African) schools, and explore why improvements in school achievement are rather rare among such schools serving the poor and (formerly) disadvantaged learners.

Academic research paper on topic "Instructional leadership for the improvement of science and mathematics in South Africa"

Available online at www.sciencedirect.com

ScienceDirect

Procedía Social and Behavioral Sciences 9 (2010) 851-854

WCLTA 2010

Instructional leadership for the improvement of science and mathematics in South Africa

Loyiso C. Jita a *

a School of Education, University of South Africa, PO. Box 392, Pretoria 0003, South Africa

Abstract

The role of leadership in the improvement of teaching and learning has long been established in the literature. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of attempts to influence (or lead) classroom teachers, especially in the areas of science and mathematics. What remains unclear and somewhat contentious however, is what kinds of leadership matter for the improvement of learning and achievement in schools. This paper presents findings from a large-scale, qualitative research project on the leadership practices of 102 successful schools serving formerly disadvantaged children in South Africa. Data from a rich set of interviews with school administrators and subject specialists, document analysis, and school observations suggest that the more successful schools, in the group, distinguish themselves in the way they define and construct the overall goals of leadership around instruction and have developed fairly elaborate structures and processes for monitoring instruction (especially in mathematics and science). Using the framework of distributed leadership, we develop an account of how leadership for instructional improvement is constructed in the more successful schools in South Africa. We conclude the paper by puzzling over the rather strained (or non-existent) relationship between leadership and instruction in most (South African) schools, and explore why improvements in school achievement are rather rare among such schools serving the poor and (formerly) disadvantaged learners.

Keywords: instructional leadership, distributed leadership, science and mathematics education, teaching and learning;

1. Introduction

The difficulty of changing what teachers do in their classrooms is well documented across Africa and abroad (Fuller, 1987; Spillane, 2000; Tabulawa, 1997). In the last 50 years, many of the efforts to improve teaching and learning in Sub-Saharan Africa have focused on the development of policies and materials designed to bring about changes in teachers' and learners' classroom activities. Unfortunately, though, the results of these new policies and materials in effecting lasting changes to the "core technology" of schooling remain unconvincing. The need for improvement in education is often more pronounced in such scarce skills areas such as science and mathematics. The question of what it will take to influence and guide the classroom practices of the many science and mathematics teachers whose classrooms have hitherto remained impervious to changes in policies, materials and professional development efforts remains unanswered.

While it is commonly acknowledged that leadership is important for the improvement of teaching and learning in schools, in Africa there has been no sustained attention by researchers to the study of the links between leadership, instruction and learning. Much research on leadership and learning in developing countries has sought to highlight

* Loyiso C. Jita. Tel.: +2712-429-4840; fax: +2712-429-4922. E-mail address: jitalc@unisa.ac.za.

1877-0428 © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.12.247

the inadequacies of the conditions of leadership without paying sufficient attention to the practices and consequences of leadership for teaching and learning in specific subjects within a cultural context (See for example the studies by Krause and Powell, 2002; Bush and Oduro, 2006; Pheko, 2008). Neither has such research focused on what Spillane and Orlina (2005) term the "practice" of leadership as opposed to the "practices" of leaders. The research presented here sought to understand this challenge by examining the instructional leadership practices, which were designed to improve science and mathematics teaching and learning, in 104 high schools in South Africa. In more specific terms, this paper discusses the experiences of the more successful group of schools within the sample, and explores the leadership practices, structures and resources that account for better results in terms of improving participation rates, student performance, and the quality of classroom instruction in science and mathematics. What is it that these schools do differently in terms of their leadership practice, and what structures and resources do they use?

2. Conceptual framework

To answer the question whether and how schools overcome the imposition of their structures and cultures to become centres of instructional leadership, we first and foremost used the concept of instructional leadership. Instructional leadership has long been used to explain achievements and improvements associated with leadership at the school level (Heck, 1992). We further extended the notion of instruction leadership by drawing on Spillane's (2002) framework of distributed leadership, to give a comprehensive account of how the schools construct and carry out their mandate of instructional leadership. Spillane and Orlina (2005) argue for a view of school leadership that focuses on the "practice" of leadership and takes into account that such leadership often involves multiple players performing similar or different tasks to accomplish a common goal, namely instructional improvement in a particular context. According to this view instructional leadership is socially distributed (Dimmock and Walker, 2000).

The concept of socially distributed instructional leadership accounts for the notion that multiple players influenced by their cultural values, gender, race, class, social status and geography, whether as leaders and/or followers, would all have an impact on how leadership for the improvement of science and mathematics is constructed and practised. We can therefore expect a number of players to be involved in the programmes and processes of leadership. Players range from those in positions of formal leadership within the schools to those whose leadership does not accrue from being in formal position of leadership. Spillane, Diamond and Jita (2003) argue that school leadership is further distributed by subject area. This means the quantity and quality of instructional leadership designed and offered for the improvement of science will be different from the quality and quantity of instructional leadership designed and offered for the improvement of mathematics and/or other subject areas.

To summarise, our conceptual framework takes seriously the argument that instructional leadership occurs along multiple dimensions and incorporates a number of practices (Southwood, 2002). To understand instructional leadership fully, we need to contend with how the different elements interact to generate the different types of influences for the improvement of science and mathematics.

3. Methodology

The study was constructed as a qualitative project of multiple case studies. The research was designed to get an in-depth look of the leadership tasks and practices and to develop "thick descriptions" of the experiences of key school leaders responsible for science and mathematics in the sample schools. Each school constituted a case study of instructional leadership. The research team visited each school at least once, but mostly twice to interview and observe school leaders at work. A total of 102 schools were visited over a two-year period. The school principal and the entire school management team were observed (or shadowed) and interviewed during the school visits. For a more comprehensive understanding of instructional leadership for the improvement of science and mathematics at each school, we also identified and interviewed other (informal) leaders and teacher mentors who did not occupy

formal positions of leadership at the school. Such informal leaders were often identified through reference to their work and activities during the conversations with other members of the staff, including the formal leaders.

4. Findings and Conclusions

Several different themes emerged from the data collected about the most successful schools in the group. In the most successful schools, the leadership team was able to construct the goals of leadership in such a way that they focused attention on instruction as part of the day-to-day leadership and management tasks. Many of the successful schools had been redefined and characterised as "science and mathematics schools". Such characterisation tended to change both the context and content of learning at these schools in such a way that science and mathematics became focus areas.

In some of the schools, the principals redefined their own roles: they had classroom responsibilities and taught at least one subject. Instruction was therefore clearly one of their daily priorities. In fact, in our sample of 102 science and mathematics schools, the more successful schools were often characterised by the involvement of the principal in either science or mathematics instruction, or in both. The principal became an integral part of strategizing and developing structures and practices to encourage the teaching and learning of science and mathematics, whereas in the less successful schools the school leaders tended to delegate these responsibilities. This involvement required very hard and deliberate work from the principals involved and was not a natural feature of their management positions. These principals had to balance their classroom responsibilities with all their other management and leadership responsibilities at the school.

The more successful schools tended to distribute their work among teams of leaders; they did not rely on a single leader or on exceptional leaders. In one case, the leadership was structured in such a way that more than one leader were involved in leadership within a subject area. For example, the school created several paid and unpaid posts, including of heads of departments, subject heads, and grade leaders, phase leaders and curriculum leaders. In every department, for example the mathematics department, these leaders had to collaborate and interact with one another to set a mid-year assessment test that was deemed appropriate for the learners in a particular phase of learning. The collaborations and interactions were carefully orchestrated and monitored to ensure that they all contributed to the school's agenda for change in science and mathematics instruction.

Finally, more successful schools seem to have created elaborate structures to monitor not only the instruction but also the learning by the students constantly. A system of collaboration among teachers enabled them to observe their colleagues and give feedback to one another. The principals of successful schools were not the only custodian of high standards and good performance, in terms of classroom instruction. Several other leaders, formal and informal, helped to shoulder this responsibility.

It would seem that the basis of an effective instructional leadership approach in the sample schools was collaboration, dialogue and personal engagement by all involved. The principals constructed their roles as leaders to include instruction in their goals and focus. Monitoring instruction is only one element of the principal's role. The other key elements include planning, collaboration, implementation and feedback. The evidence in this paper therefore suggests that there is a need to redefines the task of school leader away from management only to include leadership, and away from general leadership tasks to focus closely on instructional leadership for the improvement of teaching and learning in specific subjects.

References

Bush, T. And Oduro, G.K.T. (2006). New principals in Africa: preparation, induction, and practice. Journal of

Educational Administration, 44(4), 359-375. Dimmock and Walker, A. (2000). Developing comparative and international educational leadership and management: a cross cultural model. School Leadership and Management, 20(2), 143-160.

Fuller, B. (1987). What schools factors raise achievement in the Third World? Review of Educational Research, 57, 255-292.

Heck, R.H. (1992). Principals' instructional leadership and school performance: implications for policy

development. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 14: 21-34. Krause, L.D. and Powell, R. (2002). Preparing school leaders in post-apartheid South Africa: A survey of

leadership preferences of principals in the Western Cape. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 8(3), 63-78. Pheko, B. (2008). Secondary school leadership practice in Botswana: Implications for effective training.

Educational Management Administration Leadership, 36(1), 71-84. Southwood, G. (2002). Instructional Leadership in schools: reflections and empirical evidence. School Leadership

and Management, 22(1), 73-91. Spillane, J.P. (2000). A fifth- grade teachers' reconstruction of mathematics and literacy teaching: exploring

interactions among identity, learning, and subject matter. The elementary school Journal, 4, 307-330. Spillane, J.P; Diamond, J.B. and Jita, L. (2003). Leading instruction: the distribution of leadership for instruction.

Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35(5), 533-543. Spillane, J.P. and Orlina, E.C. (2005). Investigating leadership practice: exploring the entailments of taking a

distributed perspective. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 4, 157-176. Tabulawa, Richard (1997). Pedagogical Classroom Practice and the Social Context: The case of Botswana. International Journal of Educational Development, 17(2), 189-204