School principals' ability to influence the improvement of learner performance in selected rural schools in Limpopo
Baloyi, Rirhandzu Peggy Portia
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The focus of this study was on school principals' ability to influence the improvement of under- performance in rural schools. The effectiveness of school leadership lies within the principal’s competency in management, knowledge, his/her capacity to manage teaching, learning and school discipline. School leadership is regarded as an important tool for guiding schools out of their under- performance. Bourdieu’s theory of habitus and field was used to contextualise effective school leadership and to explore how principals can make use of capital and power to improve schools’ under-performance. A detailed literature study was undertaken to understand what effective school leadership is and how it can be used to improve learner performance. The literature was also used to explore how contextual and individual factors influence leadership for the sustained improvement in rural schools’ performance. The researcher used a qualitative, phenomenological approach embedded in interpretivism to examine the ability of principals to influence the improvement of performance in under-performing schools in rural areas. Purposive sampling was used to select participants to gain insight into the challenges and difficulties in improving under-performance in rural areas. The interview schedule was used to guide the researcher in conducting individual interviews with selected principals to generate the empirical data. Trustworthiness of the study was ensured in the collection and interpretation of data. Collected data was transcribed, analysed, and interpreted. The data was also arranged according to themes using content analysis. Findings in the research include the following: The literature revealed that effective school leadership means that the principals must demonstrate the ability to effectively carry out mandated administrative duties aimed at achieving the school's goals and objectives. Effective school leadership was also explained as the principal's capacity to manage groups of people. The theory of habitus and field identified the effective use of a principal’s habitus, capital, field, and power in leadership. The literature regards effective school leadership as an important tool in guiding schools out of under-performance and dysfunctionality. Bourdieu’s theory explained that people in leadership positions have the legitimate power to influence the improvement of under-performance. Literature emphasised that principals have the power to influence, which is the ability of the principal to convince and inspire people to work towards achieving the vision of the school. The findings emphasised on principals deliberate and conscious practice or exercise of power. The non-usage of power by principals of under-performing schools hinders their ability and strength to persuade people to do what the principal believes to be right and beneficial for the school. Data proved that principals of under-performing schools do not have power to influence, convince and inspire people to work towards achieving the vision of the school. Findings outline that the following powers were unavailable to principals of under-performing schools, expert power, referent power, charismatic power, information power, as well as Legitimate power: Both data and literature outlined factors that pose leadership challenges to principals in under- performing schools in rural areas. These factors were found to be within the immediate school environment and in the larger school environment. Factors within the immediate school environment include the quality and attitude of educators towards their work, educators’ low motivation, overcrowded classrooms, the lack of adequate facilities (i.e., libraries and laboratories), a shortage of textbooks, conflicts and power struggles and inadequate financial resources. Factors in the larger school environment were identified as ineffective support by stakeholders and socio-economic factors. The data also revealed that principals do not have the skills to resolve power struggles and conflicts. Furthermore, literature indicated that leadership challenges in under-performing schools are a result of the inability of principals to use power and capital in leadership. Principals of underperforming schools fail to correctly implement policies in the field to address issues in the school. The findings also identified socio-economic factors in rural areas; it was, however, noted that there are little principals can do to address these challenges. Principals can only be given the capacity to manage schools amid such challenges. Principals of under-performing schools in rural areas expressed difficulties in improving under- performance. Factors making it difficult for principals to improve low academic performance were found to be in twofold: the field factors which included ineffective feeder schools; inadequate resources; the lack of parental involvement; the lack of educator development; ineffective SGBs and other community structures; low levels of learner-motivation; poor policy implementation and management; poor monitoring and control; and the habitus factors which involved lack of consistency; lack of decisive leadership; ineffective communication practices; lack of problem solving skills. Bourdieu’s theory explored the ability of principals to improve learner performance in under- performing schools in rural areas. The theory emphasised on the effective use of habitus (personal traits and characteristics), capital, and power in school leadership. Bourdieu’s theory also identified the field of power that influence principal’s leadership in the school. Findings indicated that all schools in rural areas experience the same field factors. Therefore, principal’s habitus contributes largely to the way they exercise leadership in the school. Bourdieu’s theory recognises the issue of power in leadership. Principals’ power is legitimised by legislation. Principals possess hierarchical power which is delegated power by the Head of Department to make informed decisions to improve learner performance. Principals are in a rightful position – through this power – to influence change in schools. Various forms of power were discussed and were found lacking in under-performing schools; legitimate, reward, charisma and coercive (positive or negative) power. The findings revealed the need for strategy development. The strategy is aimed at assisting principals to improve their under-performance in schools. The strategy clearly pointed out on how principals can employ their habitus, capital, and power to improve under-performance in rural schools. Actions to be taken by principals to improve learner performance were clearly outlined. The strategy also revealed the potential capital and power that can be employed by principals to improve learner performance.
- Education