Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
In the
“A decade of educational change: Grounded narratives of school principals”
Is my own work and that all the sources I have used and quoted have been
acknowledged by means of complete references.
Signed: ____________________________ Date: __________________
I, the undersigned testify that I was responsible for care of the language of the
thesis: A decade of educational change: Grounded narratives of school principals.
M.W. White
I dedicate this thesis to:
My beloved husband, Daniel Mphahlele and our two children, Kagiso and
Katlego for their unfailing support, motivation and understanding during my
years of study. They have been there for me all the time and praying for my
daily strength to bring this work to an end.
To my late parents Abram Leburu Malele and Bachipile Anna Malele for the
encouragement and support they gave me to go to school. My mother has been
there for me, believing in me that I will always make it. She has been a strong
pillar of my life and has always valued education far above everything. Her
encouraging words have led me to reach where I am today. I wish both my
parents were still alive just to tell them how I appreciate to have parents like
To all the children, grand children and great grand children from both families
of Malele and Mphahlele. May this thesis be an encouragement and an
inspiration to all of you so that you reach the level of knowing and
understanding of how much significant is education.
To all the South African school principals who are carrying the education of
learners at their schools upon their shoulders to ensure that teaching and
learning continue to take place. Continue doing the good work for the benefit of
the South Africans.
Working on this thesis was the most difficult, challenging and exhausting
journey I ever had embarked on in my life. The road was long, hard, painful
and hurting. I have traveled on this long and winding road which when I look
back and remember what happened, I find myself thanking God every minute
of my life for the many blessings, talents, wisdom and privileged opportunities
and for the prayers answered during my long journey. Without these, such a
gruelling project could have never come to an end. I would also like to
acknowledge the contributions of the following that helped me to realize my
My family, and in particular my husband Daniel and our two children
Kagiso and Katlego, who had to cope with my absence whilst I was
working on this project, deserve special thanks. I would like to thank
them for their unfailing support, encouragement and prayers that
made me to go on even under difficult circumstance. To them I
dedicate this thesis.
I would also like to express my sincere gratitude for the competent
assistance of my supervisor, Dr. Beverly Malan, to whom I owe a huge
debt for her intellectual inspiration, insights and encouragements. I
have had countless meetings with her and in every of our meeting I
would leave with a lot of insight and words of encouragement. I really
appreciate her support through the period she stood by my side and
believe that I would ultimately make it. Dr Malan, I really appreciate
the support you gave me and I will never forget the inspiration you
brought to my life.
I also would like to give special thanks to my daughter, Katlego who
always stood by me and told me that I will make it. Katlego did a lot of
typing work in this research project. My girl, I will always be grateful
for the contributions you have made to this work.
Ultimately, may the Honour, Glory and Majesty be unto the Lord
Almighty God for giving me the everyday strength to complete this
Introduction and background …………………………………………………
Research problem and rationale ……………………………………………….
Research purpose ………………………………………………………………
Research questions …………………………………………………………….
Research objectives ……………………………………………………………
Working premises ……………………………………………………………..
Conceptual framework ………………………………………………………...
Theoretical framework ………………………………………………………...
Knowledge claim ………………………………………………………………
Research paradigm …………………………………………………………….
Research methodology ………………………………………………………...
Research design ………………………………………………………………..
Defining data ………………………………………………………………...
Sampling ………………………………………………………………………
Data collection …………………………………………………………………
Data analysis …………………………………………………………………..
Research ethics ………………………………………………………………...
Trustworthiness ………………………………………………………………..
Limitations of the study ………………………………………………………..
Significance of the study ………………………………………………………
Research programme ………………………………………………………….
Concluding Comments…………………………………………………………
Introduction and purpose ……………………………………………………… 28
Knowledge claim ……………………………………………………………… 29
Research paradigm …………………………………………………………….
Research methodology ………………………………………………………..
Research design……………………………………………………………….
Stories as data…………………………………………………………………
Sampling: Identifying story-tellers……………………………………………
Deciding on data collection instruments………………………………………
Reflective journal……………………………………………………………...
Accessing principals’ spaces………………………………………………….
Collecting principals’ stories …………………………………………………
Interpreting principals’ stories ……………………………………………….
Narrative Ethics ………………………………………………………………
The clearing house ……………………………………………………………
Protecting my sources………………………………………………………….
Validating my story ……………………………………………………………
Conclusion …………………………………………………………………….
Introduction and purpose …………………………………………………….
The macro story of educational change ……………………………………...
Change as complex phenomenon ……………………………………………
Sustaining educational change ……………………………………………….
Managing change at school level ……………………………………………
South Africa’s story of educational change ………………………………….
Implementing change at school level ………………………………………..
66 Curriculum change …………………………………………………………..
Parental involvement ………………………………………………………..
Corporal punishment …………………………………………………………
Principals as change agents and managers ………………………………….
Sacred change stories ………………………………………………………..
Concluding comments ……………………………………………………….
Introduction and purpose …………………………………………………….
Main characters as narrators …………………………………………………
Character 1 – a principal in school A ………………………………………..
Character 2 – a principal in school B ………………………………………..
Character 3 – a principal in school C ………………………………………..
Character 4 – a principal in school D ………………………………………..
Character 5 – a principal in school E ………………………………………..
Narrative context …………………………………………………………….
Narrative content …………………………………………………………….
Narrative discourse …………………………………………………………..
Restructured narratives ……………………………………………………….
Kedibone’s story ……………………………………………………………..
Goboima’s story ………………………………………………………………
Rekopane’s story ……………………………………………………………..
Somisanang’s story …………………………………………………………...
Kedisaletse’s story ……………………………………………………………
Emerging themes ……………………………………………………………..
Concluding remarks …………………………………………………………..
Introduction and purpose ………………………………………………………
Research focus, purpose and procedures ………………………………………
Research findings ………………………………………………………………
5.3.1 Educational change in South Africa during the period 1998 to 2008 ………….
5.3.2 Feeding change into schools ……………………………………………………
5.3.3 The effect of educational change on schools …………………………………...
5.3.4 The effect of educational change on the role of school principals ……………...
5.3.5 Participating principals’ experiences of educational change ……………………
5.3.6 Sustainability of change …………………………………………………………
Conclusions ……………………………………………………………………..
Motivated recommendations …………………………………………………….
Table 1.1
Research questions, premises and procedures………………………. 8
Table 2.1
Interview Schedule ……………………………………………………41
Table 2.2
Data collection schedule……………………………………………….46
Figure 1.1
Holistic data analysis…………………………………………………..20
Figure 1.2
Research programme……………………………………………….
Annexure A:
Application letter to Gauteng Department of Education
Annexure B:
Permission letter from Gauteng Department of Education
Annexure C:
Application letters to school principals
Annexure D:
Ethical Clearance Certificate
Annexure E:
School principals’ consent letters
Annexure F:
Interview schedule
Annexure G:
Transcripts of interviews
Curriculum change
Department of Education
Head of Department
School Governing Body
School Management Team
Integrated Quality Management System
Gauteng Department of Education
Performance Management Development System
South African Schools Act
National Qualification Framework
South African Qualification Authority
Learner Teacher Support Material
Department of Education and Training
Since 1994 South Africa has changed dramatically in all spheres, not least of which in the
sphere of education. Not only are all schools now open to learners of all races, cultures,
religions and language groups, but class sizes have also been standardized leading to the
redeployment of a number of teachers from previously advantaged schools. Many schools
have also changed from being single-medium to parallel-medium or double-medium
schools. Some schools have been accorded Section 21 status, which makes their school
governing bodies responsible for the financial affairs of their schools while others have
been altogether exempted from school fees. The State has also introduced feeding and
school transport schemes and has launched a number of initiatives aimed at teacher
It is clear, therefore, that the forces that led to political, social and economic change are
now also changing school teaching, learning, leading and management. On the teaching
and learning fronts schools have seen the introduction of two versions of an outcomesbased curriculum, the mainstreaming (inclusion) of learners who were previously
marginalized because of mental and physical disabilities, and a new emphasis on active
learning, critical thinking and group work. On the management and leadership front
schools have seen the introduction of shared ownership of schools, with school governing
bodies being tasked with school governance while the principal and his management
team are responsible for the day to day management of schools.
The primary means used by the State to effect these changes in schools is the
development of policies aimed at redressing past imbalances at schools coupled with
extensive staff training, especially those staff members expected to ensure the smooth
implementations of policies towards educational transformation. Since principals are
responsible for the day-to-day management of schools it follows that they are the ones
who represent the various departments of education at school level. They are also,
however, the ones who have to ensure that the voices of the teachers, learners and parents
forming part of their school community are heard at government level. They therefore
find themselves in the middle of two groups of people whose needs are often different but
both of whom they – the principals - represent. It is principals, therefore, who most often
bear the brunt of change and/or are the target of criticism from above or below.
Being a principal myself I empathize with the position in which principals of South
African public schools find themselves during these times of change. It was my personal
experience, coupled with my exposure to other principals’ experiences of change,
experiences often discussed at principals’ workshops and meetings, that made me decide
to conduct an inquiry into principals’ experiences of change. It was while I was reading
up on the topic that I became convinced that the most appropriate way of investigating
these experiences was through the collection and analysis of principals’ first-hand
accounts of change and the challenges change posed for them at a personal and
professional level. I therefore opted to use narrative methodology in collecting,
interpreting and presenting principals’ stories of change.
Also informing my inquiry was the fact that, notwithstanding all the research that had
been conducted into educational change in South Africa since the demise of apartheid,
very little attention had been paid to principals’ experience of change or of the real
impact of change on schools and the people who worked there. I asked myself whether
things had really changed or whether the changes were merely superficial. Informing my
inquiry was an urgency to find out what has really been happening in schools since 1998,
when policies were first implemented. Could policy makers really claim that what they
had formulated translated as intended into educational practice, and would those changes
be sustainable over time? What happened in the interim? What happened to school
principals? What were their feelings and experiences about the educational changes that
had occurred from 1998 to 2008? What are they thinking now? Have they changed as
individuals? Have their performance, leadership and/or management styles changed over
the years, and if so, in what ways and why? Put differently, what was new about the way
they conducted themselves and/or managed their schools? Have they learnt anything
during the past ten years that could assist them in managing their schools differently than
they had managed them prior to 1994?
What I found was that, while the principals who participated in my study were very
different in terms of culture, gender and personality, they were all challenged and
are still being challenged by change and the way in which it has upset their own and
their respective schools’ equilibrium. Even so, none of them are entirely negative
about the changes that have been effected. Rather, they all have their own ideas
about how change can be sustained and utilized to improve not only the quality of
education but also human and other relations in the country.
The conclusions I reached as a result of my research findings cannot be generalized
across schools or made applicable to principals across the country since the study
was conducted in a very specific region of the Gauteng Department of Education
with a relatively small sample of schools. I am, however, of the opinion that the
findings are significant in that they indicate commonalities and differences between
principals that could be ascribed to race, culture, history and gender. Consequently I
believe that, should the study be replicated in other contexts, it is quite possible that
the same themes might emerge, thereby creating the possibility of making the kind
of generalizations that could be of use to policy makers and/or educational change
agents of the future.
Key words
1. Leadership
2. Management
3. Transformation
4. Education management
5. Curriculum change
6. Communication
7. School principals
8. Agents of change
9. Motivation
10. Implementation of change
PSALM 116:12
Introduction and background
On the 27th of April 2004 South Africa commemorated the first decade of democracy,
a decade in which many things, including the education system, had changed
radically. As regards education, the new government developed a range of farreaching acts, policies and guidelines aimed at ensuring that all South Africans,
irrespective of race, colour, creed or ability, will have equal access to quality
education (RSA, 1995(a); RSA, 1996(b); DoE, 1997; DoE 1998; DoE 2000 and DoE,
2002. Key acts in this regard were the South African Qualifications Authority Act
(1995), the South African Schools’ Act (Act 84 of 1996), the National Education
Policy Act (1996), and the Employment of Educators’ Act (1996). Notable policies
were those relating to curriculum, admission to public schools, discipline, initiation
and school safety, while guidelines aimed at the effective and efficient management
of schools included Guidelines to Governing Bodies on the development and adoption
of school codes of conduct (Potgieter, Visser, Van der Bank, Mothata and Squelch,
(1992:12, 31); Bray, (2006:96-98) and Guidelines for the management and control of
drug abuse at school.
A number of strategies were used to ensure the implementation of these acts, policies
and guidelines. These included, amongst others, the restructuring of higher education
institutions, which resulted in the closing down of teacher training colleges, coupled
with the development of new teacher education qualifications, the provision of a
range of state-subsidized training programmes, and a code of conduct for teachers; the
integration of schools previously separated in terms of racial and/or language groups;
the provision of ‘free’ education to all those who could not afford to pay school fees,
and the redeployment of teachers on the basis of teacher/learner ratios.
While the development of Acts and policies started before 1994 in anticipation of a
changed political dispensation, implementation happened gradually, with most of the
changes only starting to have an impact as from 1998. The decade of educational
change that I am focusing on in this study is, therefore, the ten years from 1998 to
2008. In describing these changes and the effect they had on schools and on the
principals responsible for managing these schools, I have to ask myself whether the
changes so visible in the political, social and economic spheres are reflected in
education, specifically in school education. Allied to this question is one about the
way educators, especially those in management positions, responded to the changes
that had to be implemented in schools. Can policymakers honestly say that the
policies they were at such pains to develop have been effectively implemented, that
they have transformed schools and will continue to do so? What about school
principals? How do they feel about the changes that have happened or should have
happened? Have these changes affected them personally and professionally? Have
they changed the way in which they used to manage their schools and, if so, is this the
result of changes imposed from the top or changes that started at grassroots level? Put
differently, how have school principals, given their position as leaders and managers
of schools, navigated the changes that should have happened in schools from 1998 to
Having studied Fullan and Stiegelbauer’s (1991) theories about the ‘new’ meaning of
educational change, I realized that change meant different things to different people,
that the concept itself had both an ‘objective’ and a ‘subjective’ meaning, that people
who resist change often do so because they associate it with a ‘lowering of standards
and that people’s understanding of change is often ‘false’ or lacks clarity. I also
realized, from my own experience and from reading about change, that real change is
often accompanied by a sense of loss, feelings of anxiety and a struggle for survival
(Marris, 1975:78).
Marris (1976:78-79) also mooted that, unless people are
convinced of the value of change and/or buy into the reasons given for change the
chances of their accepting it are slight or non-existent, especially if change is imposed
from the outside. When change happens from the inside, that is, if those who have to
implement change are also those who initiated it in the first place, there is a much
better chance that the change will actually take place in the way it was meant to. In
other words, the need for people to make sense of change in terms of their own
experience is crucial to the acceptance and eventual success of change initiatives.
Since the focus of my study is on principals’ experience of change I had to determine
whether they understood the changes and the reasons for their implementation. I also
had to determine whether or not they accepted the changes or not and why. I had to
determine whether or not the principals I involved in my study considered the changes
they were supposed to implement in their schools as politically rather than
educationally motivated and that, since politically motivated changes do not last they
could therefore ignore them (Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991:23). Because I know that
principals cannot single-handedly implement change, that they need the support and
commitment of the entire school community, I had to determine to what extent the
principals in my study were able to wear the hat of change agents, to what extent they
were willing to ‘get their hands dirty’ in effecting change, and to what extent they
were able to instill hope in the hearts of those whom they had to lead towards a new
way of schooling. I realized above all that, unless principals, as school leaders and
managers, led the charge in changing their schools, things would simply remain the
same (Fullan and Stigelbauer, 1991:25).
Research problem and rationale
While research on outcomes-based education mushroomed with the adoption and
implementation of Curriculum 2005 (DoE, 1997a), its review and the subsequent
amended version of the curriculum - called the National Curriculum Statement (DoE,
2000d) - relatively little research has been conducted on the way in which people at
the chalk face – principals and classroom teachers – experienced and dealt with all the
changes that they had to implement on a daily basis. Consequently, very little is
known about the impact of the changes I mentioned earlier on South African
educators’ personal and professional lives.
My interest is specifically on the impact that educational change has had on the
professional lives of school principals. My interest was sparked when I was appointed
acting principal in 1995. Moving from having had to manage change at classroom
level to managing it at whole school level was a life changing experience, primarily
because I was now compelled to look at things from a totally different perspective. It
was during this time, during my attendance of principals’ workshops and meetings
that I became aware of the impact that change had on other principals. While
principals’ discourse during the meetings and workshops conveyed a sense of their
being supportive of change and determined to make it work, the conversations that
happened at teatime and over lunch told a different story. These conversations seemed
to suggest that principals felt overwhelmed, not only by the extent of the change but
also by the pace at which it was happening.
Mentioned most frequently were changes to the curriculum, the abolition of corporal
punishment, the redeployment of teachers, the imperative to involve parents in school
matters and the increased accountability of principals for what happens at their
schools. That these changes were mentioned most frequently did not mean that
principals were in agreement on which changes were positive or negative, easy or
difficult to manage – this differed from person to person. Some principals were in
favour of curriculum changes, others were not; some expressed the opinion that the
banning of corporal punishment was long overdue, others felt that it had changed
schools into ‘war zones’; some argued that everybody should be entitled to ‘free
education’, others that only the ‘previously disadvantaged’ were entitled to such a
privilege; some argued for English as the only medium of instruction, others for dual
or parallel medium, and so on. They did, however, agree that the changes initially
caused confusion, and that many educators who had been in the profession for a long
time felt incompetent and/or unwanted as a result. Consequently many of them
resigned from the teaching profession, either retiring or finding jobs elsewhere. As
one of the principals said to me during a tea break, ‘No one knew what was happening
and there was frustration, stress among everybody and worse, those who did not
survive the period left teaching’. Those principals who felt that things in their schools
were gradually ‘settling down’ indicated that this was because ‘educators are now
informed about what is happening’ and because they were ‘supporting and
encouraging one another to continue with the changes even under difficult
circumstances, sharing burdens and solving problems together’.
Having recently ‘discovered’ research, and having read up on educational change and
change management, I regarded the existence of such diverse positions on educational
change and ways of managing it as fertile ground for research. Until that moment I
had thought that my difficulties in managing these same areas were due to my novice
status as a principal, but listening to other principals made me wonder whether the
reason could be change itself. I therefore decided to embark on research related to
educational change in South Africa, with specific reference to the way in which
changes during the decade 1998 to 2008 had impacted on principals and on the way
they perceived their roles to have changed
Research purpose
Bearing the research problem and rationale in mind, I decided to focus my exploration
on the way in which school principals experience, narrate and attach different
meanings to educational changes that have occurred to school education during the
period 1998 to 2008. More specifically, my research purpose is to determine whether
or not these changes and the ways in which they were implemented and managed
have had a beneficial or detrimental effect on school principals’ views of themselves,
their schools and education in general.
Informing the direction that I thought my research would take were the following
What changes have South African school principals had to deal with during
the period 1998 to 2008?
How were the changes fed into schools during the period 1998 to 2008?
Are school principals of the opinion that their role functions have changed
from 1998 to 2008?
How did the changes initiated by the Department of Education during the 1998
– 2008 period affect education in general?
How did the changes initiated by the Department of Education during the 1998
– 2008 period affect school education in particular?
How did the changes initiated by the Department of Education during the 1998
– 2008 period affect school principals?
How sustainable do principals think the changes to school education are?
Research questions
Having determined my research purpose and realizing that I could not, within the
scope of this study, determine the experiences of all South African school principals, I
reworked the questions uppermost in my mind into a single research question that
reads as follows:
How does a group of selected school principals in the Gauteng North District of
South Africa experience changes to education in this country during the period
1998 to 2008?
So as to focus my thinking I then broke up the main research questions into a number
of sub-questions. These, I hoped, would better enable me to present a holistic image
of the way in which those school principals selected to participate in my study
experienced educational change during the years 1998 to 2008. This process resulted
in the following sub-questions:
Which changes did all South African school principals have to deal with
during the period 1998 to 2008?
How were the changes to school education fed into schools by the Department
of Education during the period 1998 to 2008?
What effect did the changes implemented by the Department of Education
during the period 1998 to 2008 have on the schools whose principals selected
to participate in my study?
How did the changes implemented by the Department of Education during the
period 1998 to 2008 affect the role of school principals as seen by those
principals selected to participate in my study?
How do the school principals selected as participants in my study experience
the changes effected to school education during the period 1998 to 2008?
What, according to the principals selected to participate in my study, are the
chances that the changes made to school education during the period 1998 to
2008 will be sustainable?
The first two questions are meant to generate contextual data with regard to the
changes initiated at national level. This context served as a frame of reference
within which I could locate and interpret participating principals’ purposes to
particular changes mentioned by them.
Research objectives
Informed by my research purpose and directed by my research questions, my
objectives were to:
Describe the changes that all South African school principals had to deal with
during the period 1998 to 2008.
Explain how the changes to school education were fed into all schools by the
Department of Education during the period 1998 to 2008.
Determine and describe the effects that the changes implemented by the
Department of Education during the period 1998 to 2008 have on schools
whose principals selected to participate in my study.
Determine and describe how the changes implemented by the Department of
Education during the period 1998 to 2008 affected the role of principals as
from the point of view of those selected to participate in my study.
Describe the experiences and feelings of selected school principals regarding
the changes effected to school education during the period 1998 to 2008.
Give an indication of the sustainability of the changes made to school
education during the period 1998 to 2008 as perceived by participating
Working premises
Informed by these and my initial research questions, I used a number of working
premises as basis for the selection of my research approach and activities (see
Table 1.1).
Table 1.1: Research questions, premises and procedures
How did school principals selected as research participants experience the past
decade (1998-2008) of educational change in South Africa?
What changes have all South
principals had to deal with
during a decade of educational
Principals have been dealing with changes
regarding the new curriculum.
Principals have been dealing with different
policies initiated by the Department of
Some principals have been dealing with
alternative ways of maintaining discipline in
their schools.
Changes were fed into schools through the
workshops, meetings, departmental circulars,
memorandums and policies
How were the changes fed into
How did the school
stakeholders implement the
How do school principals
selected as research
participants view the past ten
years in terms of their
development and performance?
How did the different changes
initiated by the Education
Department affect the schools
of participating principals?
How did the different changes
initiated by the Education
Department affect the role of
school principals according to
research participants
How sustainable is educational
change in the future of schools
according to the participating
The school stakeholders implemented changes
by way of sharing views on departmental
circulars, policies and memorandums.
School stakeholders attended meetings,
workshops and trainings initiated by the
Education Department
Principals view themselves as being completely
different people from what they were and as
performing their work differently to the way
they used to.
Schools have completely changed from the way
they use to look like in terms of leadership,
management and provision of resources.
The different changes initiated by the Education
Department have greatly affected the role of
school principals in the way they used to lead
and manage schools as well as what the
Department of education expects them to do.
Educational change is sustainable provided
people in the leadership positions will support
and encourage those who are responsible for
implementing changes.
Conceptual framework
Given that my research focuses on principals’ experience of educational change, the
conceptual framework that I regarded as most appropriate to my purpose was that of
education management, with specific reference to the management of educational
According to Bacal (2006: 66) as well as Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991:15),
educational change is typically aimed at helping schools to ‘accomplish their goals
more effectively’ by adjusting structures, programs and/or practices and/or replacing
them with ‘better ones’. Following this claim I accepted the notion that, when change
is deliberately planned and executed it is because it is necessary and expected to lead
to improvement. For this improvement to occur those who are at the receiving end of
change must, however, accept its necessity and must do whatever is required to make
it happen. Should they regard the change as unnecessary or threatening there is the
very real possibility that they will resist it by either ignoring or deliberately
undermining it.
Literature on school management (Earley and Weidling, 2004:83; Trewata and
Newport, 1976:22) indicates that school management involves ‘planning, organizing
and controlling an organization of human and material resources essential to the
effective and efficient attainment of objectives’. The capacity to do exactly this was
particularly crucial in South Africa during the period 1998 to 2008, when most of the
changes envisaged prior to 1994 were developed into policies implemented in
schools. The effective implementation of curriculum change, for example, depended
on principals’ ability to coordinate, lead and guide the implementation of new ways of
teaching, learning and assessment, all of which are essentially school management
tasks. The use of education management as the frame of reference therefore seemed
most appropriate to my study.
According to Whitaker (1993:73), a person demonstrates the ability to lead when
her/his behaviour ‘enables…others to achieve planned goals.’ Since school principals
are expected not only to manage their schools but also to lead them towards a better
future (Davies, 2005:43), they were the ones expected to implement the changes that
occurred in school education in South Africa during the years 1998 to 2008. Since
these changes were imposed from the top, where they were deemed necessary, and
since principals had little say in the kind of change that was necessary or on the way
in which it should be implemented in the schools they managed, it seemed appropriate
to discuss principals’ experiences in terms of a conceptual framework that would help
me understand not only their attitudes towards change in general but also their
willingness and ability to manage the implementation of the many changes to school
education that were effected during the period 1998 to 2008.
Given that most, if not all, of the changes were preceded by the development of some
or other act, policy or guideline document and that the various departments of
education trained principals in the implementation of these policies, it was also
important to determine the extent to which principals understood and were willing to
lead the way towards the transformation of school education through a process of
policy implementation. In this regard leadership is crucial to the creation and
maintenance of more effective schools, better performance and public accountability.
I regarded the use of a conceptual framework that would acknowledge the relationship
between effective management and transformational leadership, as is the case in
education management, as imperative to the success of my study.
Theoretical framework
I did not embark on this study with a pre-determined theoretical frame of reference in
mind since I had decided to present principals’ experiences in the form of grounded
narratives that would allow theory to emerge from data ‘systematically gathered and
analyzed through the research process’ (Strauss and Corbin, 1998:12). Informed by
the notion that my understanding of South African school principals’ experiences of
change would develop inductively, as I collect, analyze and interpret raw data, rather
than at the end of the data collection process, working beyond the confines of a
specific predetermined theoretical framework seemed fitting. The purpose of
grounded theory is, after all, ‘to build a theory that is faithful to the evidence’
(Neuman, 2000:146), rather than to a specific theory.
Since I planned to involve principals from across racial, cultural, linguistic and gender
lines - including those who manage primary, secondary, urban and farm schools - I
knew that I would at some stage in my research have to compare unlike stories in
order to identify differences as well as similarities. Also, since I was going to focus on
principals’ experiences of change imposed through macro level decision but
implemented at micro level, in the schools they managed, the absence of a
predetermined theory would give me the opportunity of either reconstructing existing
theory and/or formulating evidence-based theory based on my observation of
connections between micro-level events and larger social forces (Hammersley,
As it happened, the theoretical propositions that emerged from my analysis of
principals’ narratives reflect the kind of understanding typically developed by
researchers who operate within an interpretivist and/or constructivist theoretical
framework. As is the case in these research approaches I learnt to understand the
phenomena of change and principals’ responses to change through ‘mental processes
of interpretation…influenced by and interact(ing) with social contexts’ 1 (Henning,
Van Rensburg and Smit, 2004:20). Moreover, the answers to my original research
questions regarding principals’ experiences of the changes that occurred from 1998 to
2008 reflected the existence of individual principals ‘multiple realities’ (Merriam,
1994:4) constructed in the social context of change, yet another feature of
interpretivist and constructivist theoretical frameworks.
Knowledge claims
My epistemological claim also reflects constructivist theory since I believe that
knowledge is tentative, intangible and dynamic (Cohen, Manion and Morrison,
2000:6), primarily because it is constructed by people, acquired by people and
communicated to people as a means of social interaction (Cohen et al 2000: 6;
Henning et al, 2004:20). By implication, the knowledge I gained, constructed and
shared in the course of my research is not mine alone. Every principal who
participated in this venture is a co-constructor of the final research story I present
Italics mine.
In terms of my research purpose, namely to study principals’ experience of change, I
claim, moreover, that experience, including educational experience, is best described
narratively (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000:19) and that it is in interpreting first person
accounts of experience that researchers are best able to understand both the outer and
inner worlds of those whom they are studying. Since all people ‘live stories and, in
the telling of these stories, reaffirm them, modify them and create new ones’
(Clandinin and Connelly, 2000:20), all people are narrators/storytellers ‘by nature’
(Marshall and Rossman, (1995:86).
My ontological assumption was also verified more than once during the course of my
investigation. Not only did my engagement with selected principals confirm my
assumption that individuals are always busy constructing and reconstructing their
reality (Cohen et al, 2000:5-6) - by interpreting and attaching meaning to what they
hear and experience - but also that, because people interpret events, words, situations,
et cetera differently, no two people’s realities are ever exactly the same (Henning et al
1.10 Research paradigm
In view of my research focus and knowledge claims, I decided to conduct my research
in a qualitative rather than a quantitative research paradigm. Qualitative research is
interpretive, naturalistic and inductive in approach (Creswell, 1998; Merriam, 1994;
Strauss and Corbin, 1998; Tutty, Rothery and Grinnell, 1996). It allows for the
collection and generation of rich, thick descriptions of experience and is flexible yet
rigorous in terms of the procedures to be followed in the collection and analysis of
research data.
In terms of my research focus, a qualitative approach to research gave me the
opportunity of investigating people’s ‘lived experiences, behaviours, emotions and
feelings as well as …organizational functioning’ (Strauss and Corbin, 1998:10),
enabling me to obtain and present in rich verbal descriptions the complexity (Creswell
(1998:15) of the social phenomenon of educational change as principals experience it
in their natural settings.
Philosophically, as indicated in my epistemological and ontological claims, I lean
towards constructivism; hence I accepted as a premise for my research the notion that
individuals interacting with their social worlds construct reality from a variety of
perspectives. It is only in the use of qualitative research methods that I was able to
understand how and why principals attached the meanings they did to the changes that
happened in and around them (Merriam, 1994:6). It was the use of qualitative
research methods that enabled me to observe and share the lives principals live, the
talk they engage in, the way they behave as well as the things that excite, captivate
and distress them. None of this would have been possible if I had approached my
research from a more traditional, positivist, and/or quantitative research angle.
1.11 Research methodology
Within the qualitative research paradigm I chose to use a combination of grounded
theory and narrative research in the collection and analysis of my data. I wanted
selected school principals to tell me their stories of change – to tell me, from their
perspectives, what had changed, how it had changed, what effect it had had on them
and how they felt about it all. On the one hand principals’ narratives would serve as
their autobiographies, their attempts to ‘articulate how the past is related to the
present’ (Coffey and Atkinson, 1996:68) as far as educational change is concerned.
On the other hand these narratives would enable me to move beyond description into
the domain of theory (Strauss and Corbin 1998) in that they could provide me with
data from which could emerge a new theory on the effect that change has on school
principals in general and perhaps a new theory on the way such experiences could
best be studied.
‘An increasing number of scholars are suggesting that narrative research offers a way
for us to hear teachers’ voices and begin to understand their culture from the inside’
(Cortazzi, (1993:1). Narrative inquiry is the most effective way of describing real life
problems and real life stories in naturalistic settings (Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach and
Zilber, 1998; Punch, 1998; Somekh and Lewin, 2005) because ‘one of the clearest
channels for learning about the inner world is through verbal accounts and stories
presented by individual narrators about their lives and their experienced reality’
(Lieblich et 1998:7). These ‘stories’ are, in fact, ‘overt manifestations of the mind in
action…windows to both the content of the mind and its ongoing operations’ Chafe,
1990:16). As such they provide fertile ground for the generation of the kind of theory
that is grounded in data ‘from the field’, especially data gathered from the ‘actions,
interactions, and social processes of people’ (Cresswell (2007:63).
In order to describe these experiences I had to find out what principals had to say
about events that occurred in education during the past ten years. Allowing them to
tell me their stories provided me with a key that would help unlock the door to their
identities (Lieblich et al, 1998:8). All experience, including educational experience,
happens ‘narratively’ and should therefore be studied narratively (Clandinin and
Connelly, 2000:19). Since principals’ experiences are educational experiences, it
follows that such experiences should also be studied narratively. I anticipated that, in
talking to me, in conversations and during interview sessions, principals would tell me
how they dealt with the educational changes that they have had to manage at their
schools during the years 1998 to 2008. I would therefore be privy to their
reminiscences of past events, their experiences of current events and their
expectations of the future. I anticipated moreover that, listening to the ‘chronicling’ of
their lives, from the point where it all started to the point where they currently are, as
well as to ‘how it all happened’ and to how they came to be where they currently are,
I would be able to determine if and how things had changed for them and whether or
not they have made sense of these changes (Coffey and Atkinson, 1996:68).
Moreover, in terms of the grounded theory that I hoped would emerge from this
enterprise, I would be able to formulate one or more theoretical propositions
regarding the effect such changes had on their professional lives. These propositions,
in turn, could moreover, suggest new ways of studying principals’ experience of
change than had hereto been used.
1.12 Research design
Qualitative researchers examine ‘cases’ or ‘phenomena’ as they arise in the natural
flow of social life - their naturalistic settings – aiming to present authentic
interpretations that are sensitive to specific social-historical contexts’ (Neuman,
2000:122). Because of this, they tend to collect and interpret ‘soft data’ (Neuman,
2000:122) - impressions, words, sentences, photos, pictures and symbols. By
implication, the techniques and strategies utilized in the collection and analysis of
data should help the researcher to achieve this aim. Because the collection of soft data
requires the use of more than one technique, and because the results of inductive data
analysis done during the course of the data collection process might suggest the use of
alternate or additional techniques, qualitative research designs tend to be tentative and
non-linear rather than rigid and prescriptive.
Bearing this in mind, my initial research design served as no more than an indication
of the route I had in mind. While I had decided that the social phenomenon I wanted
to investigate was the management of educational change in South Africa during the
years 1998 to 2008 and that I therefore had to select my participants from the ranks of
those responsible for the management of this change, I kept an open mind regarding
the methods I would use to collect and analyze data. Given my epistemological and
ontological positions I was relatively certain that I had to focus on the stories that
school principals had to tell about their experience of change during this period and
that the best way to generate these stories was by means of open-ended interviews. I
did not, however, exclude the use of other methods at this stage. Consequently, my
initial design, presented here, was flexible enough to allow me to change course if and
when needed. My cue would be to allow data or research participants to redirect my
design to optimize the quality of data collected.
My initial research design therefore represented nothing more than a map of the
journey that I was about to embark on. It is not a description of the journey itself. The
actual route followed, that is, the research design that emerged from the research
process, including specific techniques used for collecting and analyzing data, is
reported in Chapter 2, which deals extensively with my research methodology. As
will be evident from the rest of my research story, I did not undertake this journey
alone. I was accompanied by a number of principals who willingly shared their
experiences of educational change during the period 1998 to 2008 with me. By
implication they had a role to play in the choices I made regarding data collection and
analysis. Given the highly personal nature of each of their individual journeys I had
to be especially sensitive to the effect my interview questions would have on them
and on the ways in which they would attempt to hide their vulnerabilities, fears, anger
and other disturbing feelings and attitudes. I therefore had to plan the procedures I
would use in collecting their stories - the basis of my own research story – with great
sensitivity. This sensitivity was even more crucial given my plan to involve principals
from different cultural, linguistic and other dispositions than mine in my study
because I had to ensure that the ways in which I collected and analyzed data would
enable me to accommodate different views and ways of narrating very different
realities of the same phenomenon.
Defining data
As indicated earlier, my research was aimed at the collection of selected principals’
professional stories of educational change in South Africa from 1998 to 2008. The
stories they told me were the stories they lived and experienced, told by them, from
their perspective and in their words. Since narratives are in fact written or spoken first
person accounts (Merriam and Associates, 2002:286) that relate events and actions
that are chronologically connected, I was convinced that this was the most effective
way of gaining an understanding of their outer and inner worlds (Cortazzi, 1993:2) –
in this case, their inner and outer responses to the changes that occurred in school
education in South Africa during the years 1998 to 2008. Their stories are my raw
There is no single method for the selection of research participants in qualitative
research but there is relative consensus amongst qualitative researchers that
participants should be selected in terms of the contribution that they would be able to
make in terms of the research purpose (Grinnell 1993:153; McMillan and Schumacher
2001:169). By implication research participants should be good informants, people
with a good understanding of the culture being studied and with the ability to explain
what was going on in their lives. The selection of participants in qualitative research
is therefore not random but purposeful.
Even though the purpose of qualitative research is not to generalize (Struwig and
Stead, 2001:121), I wanted to collect sufficient evidence of similarities and
differences in the way the principals in my study dealt with change to be able to
identify common trends or patterns that might indicate how changes to school
education in South Africa should or should not be handled in future. I therefore had to
ensure that participating principals – the narrators of the original stories of change –
were people who had first-hand quality experiences of change as and when it
happened and that they were able and willing to share these experiences with me.
Data collection
As is common in qualitative research I planned to utilize a number of data collection
strategies to collect the stories that I needed in order to write my own research story.
Key amongst these was the use of open-ended, in-depth interviews, ‘probably the
most common form of data collection in qualitative studies in education’ (Merriam,
1994:70; Tutty et al, 1996:52). I opted for open-ended interviews because they
allowed me to engage in semi-structured conversations (Bailey, 1994:176) rather than
in an interrogation with selected school principals. Since this kind of social interaction
involves dialogue between people, promotes mutual understanding and establishes
relationships between the researcher and the research participants, I supplemented the
interview schedule that I used as basis for the interviews with in-depth probes of
emerging issues.
According to McMillan and Schumacher (2001:443) in-depth interviews help
researchers to collect the kind of rich data necessary for a critical understanding of the
ways in which individuals ‘conceive of their world’ and explain or make sense of
important events in their lives’. In using in-depth, open-ended interviews I hoped to
gain an in-depth understanding of principals’ experiences, thoughts and feelings
regarding the decade of educational change of which they were a part. I anticipated
that, during the interviews, principals, as storytellers, would share their individual
professional stories with me in response to the questions I posed to them, thereby
allowing my researcher’s voice as well as the unheard voices of school principals to
be heard. Making both voices audible is typical of narrative research because the
narratives emerging from the interview constitute social constructs resulting from
‘narrative collaboration’ (Marshall and Rossman, 1995:87).
I also planned to engage in semi-formal conversations Cohen et al (2000, 287-288)
with individual participating principals prior to data collection. The purpose of these
conversations was to establish a working relationship with and to orient participating
principals to the research purpose and procedures. McMillan and Schumacher
(2001:443) support the use of semi-formal conversations because they allow for
questions and issues to ‘emerge from the immediate context and…in the natural
course of events’.
Given the importance of context in qualitative research, especially so in narrative
research, I intended also to take careful note of the different naturalistic settings in
which each principal lived out his/her professional persona. I planned to make notes
on the ways in which people in these contexts interacted with one another and,
especially, with the principals whom I would be interviewing. I planned to make notes
on the culture and climate of the respective schools as reflected in the condition of
school grounds and buildings, anticipating that observations like these would provide
me with a different kind of data, data that would give me an insight into the
conditions within which participating principals had to effect change. In this sense
observation data would support and complement the data provided in the interviews.
Also, observation data would enable me to place each principal’s narrative in an
authentic milieu when I re-storied it.
Finally, informed by Tutty et al’s, (1996:79) contention that reflection is ‘an activity
that must take place in all qualitative research studies, and especially throughout the
data gathering process’, I planned to keep a research journal in which I noted
everything I observed, everything I heard and everything that came to mind during my
observations of and conversations with principals in their naturalistic settings.
Following McMillan and Schumacher (2006:327) as well as Patton (2002), I planned
to jot down the thoughts, ideas, feelings impressions, and questions that formed in my
heart and mind each day as I reflected on the day’s research activities and on the
stories I had heard. I was of the opinion that the reflective notes I kept would serve
not as a summary but as an attempt to record activities taking place in the field. Also,
I hoped that they would help clarify my thoughts on what I observed and heard,
thereby facilitating the process of inductive data analysis. In short, I hoped that, the
keeping of a reflective research journal would assist me in what Cortazzi (1993:3)
called the process of ‘constructing and reconstructing.’
The use of multiple instruments and techniques for the collection of narrative data
reflects Charmaz’s (2003) social constructivist perspective on the generation of
grounded theory. Arguing that constructivist grounded theory lies squarely within the
interpretivist paradigm, Charmaz (2003) justifies an emphasis on the complexities of
diverse local worlds, multiple realities, views and actions. By implication this means
that data should be collected from more than one source and, given the interpretivist
angle, that the researcher’s views and voice should also be heard.
Data analysis
Realizing that the collection of soft data, especially words and impressions, result in
the accumulation of voluminous data, I knew that I would have to structure the data
generated by principals’ stories into a manageable format before I even attempted to
analyze it (Tutty, et al 1996:161). Because qualitative data analysis is inductive in
nature this restructuring would have to take place on a continuous basis, as and when I
reflect on individual stories and on my impressions every day.
Having noted the views Strauss and Corbin (1998:37) expressed on the structuring of
qualitative data for analytic purposes I realized that I might have to restructure or restory (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000) principals’ original first person accounts into
stories with a clear beginning, middle and end, that is, in a new, more manageable,
format. Realizing that this might involve a reduction of data and/or a structuring of
data into meaningful bits so as to facilitate conceptualization and, since I planned to
structure my interviews in such a way that principals’ stories would be descriptions of
their professional journeys as principals, I decided to use the metaphor of a journey as
the primary organizing principle in my structuring and restructuring of data. This
decision was informed by the landscape metaphor that Clandinin and Connelly (2000)
used to tell teachers’ stories. In doing so I hoped to do what they had done – to sketch
the ‘ever-changing epistemological and moral world’ in which the principals whose
stories I was going to collect work every day.
Because journeys take place over time and space, the use of a journey metaphor
would create the opportunity for me to reflect on changing contexts while
restructuring the stories in terms of a beginning, middle and end. I assumed,
moreover, that the spaces and times I would be able to explore or ‘open up for
reflection and examination’ through this metaphor would include those that were
‘secret’ (hidden) and ‘sacred’ (revered/ untouchable) (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000:
Having restructured the original stories into a ‘journey’ format, I then planned to
follow renowned narrative researchers (Bryman, 2001:412-413; Lieblich et al,
1998:13; Punch, 1998:219; Punch 2000:139) by focusing respectively on each story’s
content, form and discourse (see Figure 1.1). This holistic approach to the analysis of
my stories, I assumed, would enable me not only to trace where each principal’s
journey had started and what had happened on each one’s journey but also to uncover
what motivated each one to embark on and continue with this journey regardless of its
trials and tribulations.
Content Analysis
Structural Analysis
Discourse Analysis
Figure 1.1: Holistic data analysis
(Adapted from McMillan and Schumacher (2006:144)
Because I study was not conducted in terms of a specific theoretical framework (see
1.8), I also made use of the ‘constant comparative method’ (Johnson and Christensen,
2004:383), typical of grounded research, in the analysis of my data. According to
Johnson and Christensen (2004:383), this method involves a ‘constant interplay
between the researcher, the data and the developing theory’ because in it coding is a
staged process that moves from open through axial to selective coding. Combining
methods typical of grounded research with methods typical of narrative research
would, I enable me to identify tentative theoretical propositions regarding the way in
which principals experience change and the way in which such experiences could be
1.13 Research ethics
Taking note of the warning issued by Pole and Morrison (2003:144) that the use of
narratives as research data could result in narrative researchers manipulating the data
to suit their own purposes, I was determined to ensure that my research would be
conducted in such a way that it satisfied the most stringent of ethical standards.
As a first step, informed by the assumption that the narration of selected principals’
stories could affect their ‘sacred’ status as principals and/or expose their ‘secret’
vulnerabilities if their identities were known, I decided not to use their real names or
to name the schools they managed, but rather to use pseudonyms for both. In doing so
I was following Kvale (1996:114), who urged for the anonymity of research
participants in social research. I informed prospective participants of my intention not
to identify them and of the measures I would take to ensure their anonymity when I
first approached them to become co-narrators of my research story. This gave them
the opportunity of deciding for themselves whether or not they wished to become
involved in my study. Moreover, to ensure that they fully understood what the
research entailed, why it was being conducted and what effects it might have on them
(Tutty et al, 1996:40) before they consented to become part of it, I arranged a preresearch meeting with each of the principals individually to tell them what I wanted to
do, why I wanted to do it and how I planned to go about it (Kvale, 1996:112).
To ensure that the processes and procedures I used in collecting and analyzing my
data were scientifically as well as ethically sound I applied for ethical clearance from
the ethics committee of the institution where I was enrolled for my PhD studies. Since
this committee bases its decision primarily on the research design and on evidence
that the researcher has obtained the requisite permission to conduct research from the
relevant authorities I had to submit to this committee a comprehensive research
proposal accompanied by documentation that would convince them that this had
happened. Relevant documents included letters from the relevant education
department to conduct research in the schools under their jurisdiction as well as letters
from principals consenting to participate in my study.
With a view to ensuring that my own bias would not unduly influence the collection
and analysis of the data generated by participating principals I also openly declared
my role – as researcher, as narrator, and as a principal – and continuously
acknowledged the way in which my own cultural and other orientations and the
relationships established between the research participants and me might be colouring
my research story.
1.14 Trustworthiness
Lincoln and Guba (1985:290), warn that the value of any inquiry depends on the
extent to which the relationship between its ‘central question’ and findings evokes
confidence in the ‘truth’ value of the findings and the credibility of the inquiry as
such. This was especially important in my inquiry given the tenuous truth value of
stories in general and of ‘cover stories’ (Clandinin and Connelly (2000) in particular.
To ensure confidence in the accuracy and truthfulness of my representation of
principals’ stories I tape recorded and transcribed all interviews, had each
transcription verified by the respective narrating principal (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper
and Allen, 1993:31), and included the verified transcriptions in my final research
story. To encourage confidence in my ethical use of research data, research processes
and research techniques, I laid a clear audit trail (Erlandson et al, 1993:35) of what I
did, when I did it, how I did it and who were involved in what I did at each stage. This
audit trail is presented in Chapter Two of my research story.
With a view to ensuring the credibility of the data collected by means of storytelling, I
followed other qualitative researchers (Cohen et al, 2000:108; De Vos, 2002:351-353;
Erlandson et al, 1993:28-30; McMillan and Schumacher, 2006:326; Seidemann,
1991:224) in using different sources for data collection purposes, constantly
comparing data emerging from these to determine whether or not they revealed the
same patterns or uncovered the same themes (McMillan and Schumacher, 2006:374).
The reason for the utilization of integrated data collection instruments and techniques,
which included open-ended interviews, informal conversations, observations and a
reflective journal, was to generate a theory that is grounded in data – a theory that
would assist in explaining a process, an action or an interaction. The combination of
multiple data collection strategies, also known as triangulation, is acceptable in the
social constructivist perspective of grounded theory as described by Charmaz (2005),
because it is based o the premise that theory develops from the researcher’s growing
understanding of research participants’ experiences as he/she uncovers hidden,
embedded networks, situations, relationships and hierarchies of power. This was also
one of the premises on which I based my investigation. Triangulation was also used in
the analysis of emerging data in that I considered principals’ stories from three
perspectives - a content, structural and discourse one – and based my conclusions on
the holistic stories that emerged from this technique.
1.15 Limitations of the study
Because this study is contextual in nature, focusing as it does on the stories of selected
principals in a particular province and district, the findings are not necessarily
generalizable to other contexts. This was not its purpose. Rather, its purpose was to
present and interpret the stories of a specific group of principals who had first-hand
experience of educational change in South Africa during the period 1998 to 2008. It
may well be that other principals’ stories would be different from those collected
during the course of my inquiry. It may, however, also be possible that the stories told
in my study reflect other principals’ stories. In identifying with these stories such
principals might better understand their own journeys. Also, the stories told by the
narrators in my study as well as the research story evolving from these might
encourage other principals to reflect on their own stories and, in doing so, to better
understand their own response to the kind of educational changes that they have to
deal with every day. In this way the limitations of this study might be minimized to
some extent.
1.16 Significance of the study
As indicated in the introduction and background to this study, very little research has
to date been conducted into the ways in which school principals in South Africa
experienced the radical and continuous changes that have taken place in education in
the period 1998 to 2008. I was of the opinion that principals’ stories – stories that are
seldom heard from the perspective of the principals themselves – would add to the
already existing body of research into principals’ experiences of change – i.e. of their
perceptions of change as well as of the way these changes have affected them at a
personal as well as a professional level - in other parts of the world.
It is my view that hearing the stories of South African principals, principals who have
to simultaneously deal with educational, political, social and economic change is
important, not only because these stories give a different perspective on educational
change management but also because they allow people in other parts of the world to
get a peek into the multiple realities of change experienced by a people trying to build
a new, humane but globally competitive society on the ruins of one that used to be
fragmented, divided and intolerant.
1.17 Research programme
My research report, which reflects the research programme I followed, is presented in
five parts, each of which links logically and conceptually with the one preceding and
following it (see Table 1.2 overleaf).
In Chapter One, I present the parameters of my study as envisaged when I started my
research journey. Included in this chapter are the background to my inquiry, a brief
description of the conceptual framework in which I lodged my study, and a
declaration of my theoretical framework, knowledge claims and working premises.
Also included are my problem statement, research purpose, research design, and
considerations regarding ethics and trustworthiness. Concluding this chapter are my
expectations and/or assumptions regarding the significance and limitations of my
Chapter Two is devoted to a description of my research methodology. In it I have
presented fellow researchers with an audit trail – a detailed description of the
processes and procedures I followed in collecting, organizing and interpreting my
research data. In the sense that it is a report rather than a plan, Chapter two could be
seen as an ex post facto research design.
In Chapter Three I present the insights I developed from reading about educational
change and change management in general as well as educational change in South
Africa in particular.
In Chapter Four, I focus on the stories presented by selected school principals as
main characters. I also included the restructured narratives as well as the emerging
In Chapter Five, I present the research conclusions and recommendations. The
research focus, purpose and procedures are also outlined and research findings are
Chapter Four: Principals’ stories
of Educational change
Table 1.2: Research programme
4.1 Introduction and Purpose
4.2 Main characters as narrators
4.3 Narrative Context
4.4 Narrative Content
4.5 Narrative Discourse
4.6 Restructured themes
4.7 Concluding comments
Introduction and background
Research purpose
Research questions
Research objectives
Working Premises
Conceptual Framework
Theoretical Framework
Knowledge Claims
Research paradigm
Research methodology
Research design
Research ethics
Limitations of the study
Significance of the study
Research Programme
Concluding comments
Chapter Five: Conclusions and
5.1 Introduction and Purpose
Research focus, purpose and
5.3 Research Findings
5.3.1 Educational change in South
Africa during the period 1998 to
5.3.2 Feeding change into schools
5.3.3 The effect of educational change
on schools
5.3.4 The effect of change on the role of
5.3.5 Sustainability of change
Concluding comments
Chapter Two: Research Design and
2.1 Introduction and Purpose
2.2 Knowledge Claims
2.3 Research paradigm
2.4 Research Methodology
2.5 Research Design
2.6 Interpreting principals’ stories
2.7 Narrative Ethics
2.8 Concluding comments
Chapter Three: Generic stories of
Educational Change
3.1 Introduction and Purpose
3.2 The macro story of educational
3.3 South Africa’s story of
educational change.
3.4 Sacred change stories
3.5 Concluding comments
1.18 Concluding Comments
Chapter One provides readers of my research report with the map for my journey into
the lives and experiences of school principals in South Africa during a decade of
educational change. In using this chapter to map my research journey I sketched the
background to my inquiry, indicating what motivated me to embark on it in the first
place. I then stated my research purpose and protocol, indicating what contribution I
think my research findings could make to the body of research on educational change
management and what limitations I imposed on the significance of these findings.
Having declared my initial plan I report on its execution in Chapter Two. Whereas
Chapter One represented the map of the journey that I would take, Chapter Two
represents the journey itself. It is in Chapter Two that I describe in detail the routes I
followed, the people I invited to accompany me, and the assumptions that directed our
relationship and collaborative journey. In this sense, Chapter Two presents fellow
researchers with an audit trail of my first journey into narrative research.
Introduction and Purpose
In Chapter One I set the parameters for my inquiry by briefly describing the
background of my research; by declaring my research purpose, questions,
objectives and working premises; by providing a rationale for my research; by
presenting my conceptual framework, and by briefly sketching my tentative
research plan/design. In the sense that Chapter One stipulates what has been
researched and how research was conducted it provides other researchers with a
map of my journey with the principals whose professional journeys are recorded
and interpreted in this research report. At the same time it helped me focus on the
phenomenon that I planned to investigate – South African principals’ experience
of a decade of educational change – and enabled me to bring together the research
questions, strategy and plan for data collection and analysis (Blanche and
Durrheim, 1999:29-30; Marshall and Rossman, 1995:18).
Chapter Two, which deals with research methodology, follows logically on
Chapter One in that it provides a detailed description of the route I followed in
collecting and interpreting participating principals’ first-hand accounts of
educational change. This ex post facto description of the amended research design
- the processes and procedures used to identify research participants as well as to
collect, re-story, interpret and compare the stories they told me, is meant to serve
as an audit trail that could serve a dual purpose: it could enable subsequent
researchers who wish to replicate the study in different contexts but to the same
research purpose with a clear indication of what I did and found, but it could also
serve as an indication of the trustworthiness or not of the research process and
findings presented in this report.
The audit trail is especially crucial given the fact that I opted to embark on my
research journey without locating it in a specific theoretical framework. Rather, I
chose to present my findings in the form of grounded narratives that would either
reflect or lend themselves to the emergence of one or more appropriate theoretical
frameworks. Unless I therefore clearly mapped the route I took the trustworthiness
of my research findings might well be queried. The audit trail enabled me to chart
my movement from ‘here’ – my research questions - to ‘there’ – the answers I
found to these questions and the conclusions I reached regarding school
principals’ experiences of change in South Africa in the period 1998 to 2008
(Mouton, 2001:55; Yin, 1994:18). This research approach seemed most suited to
the collection of principals’ professional life stories because of its flexibility and
adjustability. Not only did it allow me to encourage participating principals to tell
their stories in their own way and in their own time but it created the opportunity
for me to listen to them in both an empathetic and a scientific way as they relived
their experiences of a decade of educational change in South Africa.
Knowledge Claims
As indicated in Chapter One, I chose not to locate my inquiry in a specific
theoretical framework in advance. Rather, I opted to do grounded research,
expecting the emergence of theoretical propositions from the collection and
analysis of my data. As the evidence presented in Chapters Four and Five will
show, these propositions, presented in Chapter Five, reflect elements typical of
interpretivist and constructivist theoretical positions in that they reflect my
growing understanding of the social reality of educational change as experienced
by selected school principals who had experienced and are still experiencing
change first-hand (DeMarrais and Lapan, 2003:6; Henning, et al 2004:13).
In the sense that I, too, have been experiencing educational change first-hand
during the past ten years and therefore operate within the confines of the same
frame of reference as participating principals, it was not only they who reached a
better understanding of the way they interpreted the world around them but also I.
Our common frame of reference also enabled me better to understand their
interpretations given that, from an interpretivist/constructivist perspective an
authentic understanding of individuals’ interpretations of the world around them
has to come from the inside not the outside (Cohen, et al, 2000:20). The principals
in my story, including myself, are on the inside – we are the ones who have to
channel the changes imposed from the outside to those on the inside but, because
we are also inside the institutions and the school communities who are at the
receiving end of these changes, our views on and experiences of change are
essentially those of insiders rather than outsiders.
Epistemologically the interpretive paradigm denies the existence of a hard,
objective and tangible knowledge (Cohen et al, 2000:6). This was also abundantly
clear from my findings (see narrative evidence in Chapter Four). The narratives of
school principals in a decade of educational change, and the theoretical
propositions that emerge from these narratives support my epistemological
assumption, namely that knowledge is a social construct: something that is
constructed by people, acquired by people and communicated to people (Cohen et
al, 2000:6; Henning et al, 2004:20). These propositions also dovetail neatly with
the interpretivist theoretical framework in that they support its basic premise,
which is that because knowledge is constructed by people research participants
should therefore not be regarded as passive sources of knowledge but as cocreators of shared meaning and experiences. This premise forms the basis of one
of the theoretical propositions that emerged from my collection, recording and
sharing of principals’ experiences of change (see Chapter Five), with specific
reference to the crucial role that reflecting with principals on their personal,
unique and subjective experiences of change as presented in a discursive form that
makes sense to them could play in researchers’ growing understanding of the
impact of change on principals individually and collectively.
The grounded theory that emerged from my data (see Chapter Five) also reflects
my ontological assumption that people construct meaning not only for purposes of
interaction but also to make sense of their own and others’ realities. This is
evidenced in the stories participating principals shared with me, stories that
illustrated their continuous engagement in the construction of multiple realities
(Cohen et al, 2000:5-6) as they interpreted events and situations, attaching
meaning to them and, in the process, constructing not only cover stories but also
secret and sacred ones (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000). The results of my inquiry,
specifically the theoretical propositions emerging from my data, therefore
validates Henning et al’s, (2004:21-22) contention that the interpretive framework
allows for the discovery of multiple realities, of varied interpretations and ways of
experiencing the same event.
2.3 Research Paradigm
As indicated in Chapter One, the reasons I chose to conduct my inquiry in a
qualitative rather than a quantitative research paradigm were primarily
epistemological and ontological: the key philosophical assumption upon which
qualitative research rests, namely that individuals interacting with their social
worlds construct reality from a variety of perspectives (Merriam, 1994:6), was
also the main premise on which my inquiry rested. Also, because inductive
analysis, typical of qualitative research, allows for the construction of such
multiple realities, it allowed me to select participants who would reflect such
different realities.
As it turned out, qualitative research was also the most appropriate research
paradigm within which to try to understand the social phenomenon of educational
change (Creswell, 1998; Merriam, 1994; Strauss and Corbin, 1998; Tutty et al,
1996) as viewed through the eyes of those personally affected by it because of its
inherently interpretive, naturalistic and inductive orientation. In my inquiry I
began to understand principals’ experiences of change as these emerged from the
complex, holistic stories they told about their professional lives, lived experiences,
emotions and feelings (Creswell, 1998; Strauss and Corbin, 1998). The semistructured interviews I conducted with principals gave me the opportunity of
sharing in their relived stories, vicariously experiencing the strong emotions and
feelings they had to deal with during the past ten years of educational change, and
recording what captivates and distresses them most.
One of the strengths of qualitative research, so it is claimed, is that it enables
researchers to explore the ‘hidden’ areas of people’s lives – their feelings,
attitudes and emotions – by entering their ‘sacred places’ and unraveling their
‘cover stories’ (Lieblich, et al, 1998:15). This, too, was confirmed in my study.
The complexity that made the principals in my story human and whole emerged
from their stories – my research data (Smit, 2001:69) – and, because qualitative
stories are essentially ‘verbal data’, they are perceived as richer and more textured
(Miles and Huberman, 1994:10; Tutty et. al. 1996:89) than statistical data, hence
my choice of qualitative rather than quantitative research.
Qualitative research also allowed me to conduct in-depth interviews with and
observe principals in naturalistic settings (Leedy, 1993:123; Merriam, 1994:7),
schools in this case. Importantly, the qualitative research paradigm is currently the
only one that allows for the use of literary devices, crucial to the telling of stories,
which was the thrust of my study. Moreover, it allowed me to enter the research
activity not only as a researcher but also as a participant, a co-constructor of
stories, someone who could refer to him/herself in the first rather than in the third
person (Creswell, 1998:18; McMillan and Schumacher, 2001:14-15). This was
especially important in my case because I, too, am a principal of a school and
have had to deal with the changes that occurred in education during the past ten
years. Like the principals whose experiences I shared, I, too, am an insider and,
because of this, have an insider’s understanding of the emotions, feelings and
thoughts fighting one another in our psyches as a result of educational change. My
story is, therefore, implicitly interwoven with those of the people whose stories I
tell in this study.
2.4 Research methodology
As indicated in Chapter One I opted to use a combination of grounded and
narrative research in the collection and analysis of data for my study. Narrative
methodology is but one of the many forms in which qualitative research can be
conducted. Although there has been a marked increase in narrative research in the
recent past, not everyone in the scientific community is convinced that the
approach is ‘scientific’ enough to warrant its being referred to as research
(Lieblich et al, 1998:1). In particular, critics raise epistemological concerns,
arguing that the humanistic approach that narrative inquirers adopt in the
investigation of complex and multi-faceted social phenomena is doubtful.
Criticisms like these are not uncommon in traditional scientific communities
where scientific research is still equated with positivism. Consequently,
researchers who opt to conduct research in a non-positivist way have to take
extraordinary steps to ensure that the strategies they employ are acceptable to the
post-positivist research community and that those who are part of that community
will regard their research findings as trustworthy. The likelihood of such criticism
of my research, aimed as it is at the formulation of theoretical propositions that
emerge from narrative research, is even stronger since grounded research has
traditionally been part of the positivist tradition, which is much less flexible in
terms of the kind of data and procedures that may be used in scientific
investigations. In an attempt to ensure that my initial venture into groundednarrative research will be regarded as credible and trustworthy by other
researchers I decided to include in this, my research methodology chapter,
understanding/conceptualization of this type of research and its value.
According to Riessman (1993:17), narrative inquiry entails the researching of ‘first
person accounts of experience’, that is, accounts of specific events that happened
to the teller in the past or accounts of events that are happening in the present. It
follows that people’s individual life stories are the focus of narrative inquiry. These
stories are the narrators’ identities, ‘created, told, revised and related throughout
life’ (Lieblich et al, 1998:7). Not only do these life stories reflect narrators’ past
lives but they also reflect each narrator’s inner reality while simultaneously
shaping and constructing his/her present reality and personality (Lieblich et al,
1998:7). Narrative inquiry is therefore seen as opening ‘a window to the mind’
(Cortazzi, 1993:2) of those who tell their stories, a window that enables those who
listen to the stories to understand the inner thoughts and inner world of the
storyteller. In the sense that, in my study, these stories provide the research
systematically gathered data, the systematic analysis of which would yield one or
more theoretical propositions (Strauss and Corbin, 1998:12), they could be
regarded as grounded narratives.
Narrative inquirers study the significant moments of people’s lives and the ways
they sequence events and experiences that occurred in the past. Given that the
narrator ‘takes the listener into a past time or world and recapitulates what
happened then to make a point (Riessman, 1993:3), narrative inquirers also use
narratives to get clarity on the ‘point’ being made’. It follows that temporality is
crucial to the presentation and interpretation of narratives in narrative inquiry;
hence narrative researchers typically restructure original narratives to reflect
temporality. To this purpose they re-story original narratives in such a way that
each reflects a clear storyline, i.e. sequencing events in such a way that each
narrative has a beginning, a middle and an end (Cortazzi, 1993:85) as well as a
logic that makes sense to the narrators and to the readers/listeners (Coffey and
Atkinson, 1996:55). According to Cortazzi (1993:85) the beginning of a narrative
typically describes a state of equilibrium where a character – the original narrator
- envisages what is likely to happen next and, on the basis of the anticipated event
or action decides what to do about it. The middle part of the narrative tends to
describe a state of disequilibrium – the moment of tension - caused by change or
conflict with self, others or the environment. The final part is that part of the
narrative that follows the unfurling of events, when balance is restored and/or
conflicts are resolved.
Given the active role that narrative researchers play in re-storying original stories
narrative inquiry is in itself a form of narrative experience. According to
Clandinin and Connelly (2000:20), the creation of narratives is a responsibility
shared by the researcher and the individual research participants who collaborate
with each other ‘over time, in a place or series of places, and in social interaction
with milieus’. In my study the production of stories was therefore not the
responsibility of the school principals only. Neither was it solely my
responsibility. I asked questions that opened up topics and allowed respondents to
construct answers in ways they found ‘meaningful’ (Riessman, 1993:54). I then
re-storied their narratives in temporal terms ensuring that each had a clear
beginning, middle and end (Cortazzi, 1993:84). Having read and interpreted their
stories, I then created my own story – the story presented here, namely the story of
my research journey with participating principals.
2.5 Research Design
According to Blanche and Durrheim (1999:29-30) a research design serves as a
‘strategic framework for action that serves as a bridge between research questions
and the execution of research’. Put differently, a research design could be used as
a ‘roadmap, an overall plan for understanding a systematic exploration of the
phenomenon of interest’ (Creswell, 2002:58; Marshall and Rossman, 1995:18)
As indicated in 2.4, qualitative research focuses on the collection and
interpretation of what could be referred to as ‘soft data’ - impressions, words,
sentences, photos, pictures and symbols (Neuman, 2000:122). The collection and
analysis of soft data, according to Neuman (2000:122), require research strategies
and techniques that differ from those used by researchers who focus on hard data
– numbers. By implication, research designs aimed at the collection and analysis
of soft data will differ from research designs aimed the collection and analysis of
hard data. More to the point, because qualitative research is usually interpretive or
critical in nature, the strategies and tools used for data collection and analysis are
those that will enable the researcher to collect rich, verbal or visual data that can
be deconstructed and reconstructed again and again, until as much of the meaning
as is possible has been extracted from the sources concerned.
Given the need to continuously deconstruct and reconstruct data in qualitative
research, qualitative researchers tend to follow a nonlinear research path, applying
what Neuman (2000:121) calls ’logic in practice’, examining ‘cases’ or
‘phenomena’ as they arise in the natural flow of social life - their naturalistic
settings – and presenting authentic interpretations that are sensitive to specific
social-historical contexts’ (Neuman, 2000:122). Because I was doing grounded
research, my theoretical propositions had to emerge during the course of data
collection and interpretation; hence ‘logic in practice’ had to be an essential
feature of my inquiry. Also, participating principals’ stories ‘lived and told’
(Clandinin and Connelly, 2000: 20) are my data, therefore inductive analysis,
another term for ‘logic in practice’, was inevitable.
Collecting participant stories – the focus of narrative research – is not an exact
science; rather, researchers tend to rely on the informal wisdom generated by
previous researchers. This could be a messy process because nothing is fixed:
research participants could increase or decrease during the course of the research
process; data collection tools could change as cases change and the original,
tentative research design could be completely different from the one reflected in
the eventual research report (Cortazzi.1993:86; Neuman, 2000:124). Because my
inquiry was not located in a specific theoretical framework, with no dictates
regarding research instruments or procedures, my research design had to be
equally tentative, as indicated in Chapter One. However, to ensure that the
research community at large regards the results of my inquiry as trustworthy, I
decided to present a more ‘fixed’ research design after the event, that is, after I
had wrapped up my research. This ex post facto research design does not tell what
I planned to do to collect and analyze information but what I actually did. While
the original design sharpened my focus, the ex post facto one is meant to establish
my credibility as a researcher and confirm the trustworthiness of my research
findings. It is in this sense that the design presented in Chapter Two is, in fact, an
audit trail of my research journey, a report of what I did.
To this purpose I describe the kind of data that I collected and the reasons behind
this. I declare the manner in which I selected principals to participate in my study
and provide a rationale for doing so. I present and discuss the strategies and
techniques I used to collect, analyze and present the data - principals’ stories,
supporting my choices by citing other narrative researchers’ views on narrative
data collection and analysis. I declare the role I played in the collection,
construction, reconstruction and interpretation of principals’ stories as a means of
enhancing the trustworthiness of my eventual conclusions and, finally, I describe
the steps I took to ensure that my research was conducted in an ethical and
accountable way.
Stories as data
As indicated earlier, people’s individual life stories are the focus of narrative
research. In interpreting these stories, the researcher not only recreates the
narrator’s life but also reveals the personality and inner world of the narrator
(Cortazzi, 1993:2) to those who read or listen to the story. Should the narrators be
representative of a specific culture or group, a collection of their stories could also
reflect key features of the outer and inner world of this particular culture. The
stories included in my study do all of these: they reveal the personality of each
participating principal, give me a glimpse of each one’s inner or ‘secret’ world –
the world of their thoughts and emotions – and provide me with a much clearer
sense of the culture of principalship.
Since all people ‘live stories and, in the telling of these stories, reaffirm them,
modify them and create new ones’ (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000:20), all people
are narrators, storytellers ‘by nature’ (Marshall and Rossman, 1995:86). Although
the stories in my report are professional stories, they qualify as narratives because
they are ‘first person accounts’, spoken or written, that relate ‘an event/action or
series of events/actions that are chronologically connected’ (Merriam and
Associates, 2002: 286). Specifically, they represent stories lived and experienced
by school principals during a decade of educational change in South Africa. They
were constructed during and reconstructed after the one-on-one interviews that I
personally conducted with participating principals and, as such, presented me with
descriptions rich in detail and character, enabling me to draw conclusions not only
about each individual principal’s experience of change but also about
commonalities and differences in their collective experience of the past decade of
educational change in South Africa.
Sampling: Identifying story-tellers
According to Mason (1996:83) ‘sampling and selection are principles and
procedures used to identify, choose and gain access to relevant units which will be
used for data generation by any method’. According to De Vos (2002:285),
participants in qualitative research, or ‘key informants’ as he calls them, should be
‘respected and knowledgeable people in the setting under study’. Since the
success of narrative inquiry depends largely on the quality of the narratives and/or
the lived experience of the narrators (Grinnell, 1993:153; McMillan and
Schumacher, 2001:169), I had to ensure that my key informants were people
whose perspectives would facilitate insight and understanding of educational
change in South Africa during the period 1998 to 2008. I therefore had to ensure
that they were not only knowledgeable and experienced but also that they were
willing and able to share their knowledge and experience with others (Grinnell,
1993:153; Mason, 1996:83; McMillan and Schumacher, 2001:169). I therefore
selected school principals who had first-hand experience of educational change in
South Africa over the past ten years and who were willing to provide me with
crucial information on change in general, on change in their schools, on their
perception of change and their ability to cope with it, and on the effect change had
on their personal and professional lives.
Given that qualitative research does not have as purpose the generalization of
findings to an entire population but, rather, a greater understanding of people or
phenomena in specific contexts (Erlandson et al, 1993:82; Struwig and Stead,
2001:121), I used purposive rather than random sampling to choose participants
for my study. Selecting participants by means of purposive sampling implies that
the researcher chooses people who not only have first-hand experience of the
phenomenon being studied but who, having reflected on their experience, have
developed a critical understanding of the phenomenon. As a first criterion for
selection I therefore considered only those principals who had been appointed in
this position after 1994 because that is when the entire education system started
Given the historical contexts in which education was offered in South Africa prior
to 1994, and how these contexts changed post-1994, I also had to ensure that I
selected a group of principals who would be representative of different cultures,
races, language affiliations and different school categories. I therefore included
white as well as black, male as well as female principals in my sample. Informing
this choice was the assumption that men and women might experience and/or deal
with change differently and that the changes to school education might have been
experienced very differently by black and white school principals and/or by
principals of small and big schools. Some of my participants were, therefore,
principals of farm schools, others of peri-urban schools; some headed primary
schools, others secondary schools; some were in charge of schools with a single
medium of instruction, others of parallel-medium schools. All of them were,
however, considered equally knowledgeable about the decade of change and
equally able to relate their experiences, simply because they were recipients as
well as agents of change during this period. I therefore assumed that all of them
would have developed a critical understanding of the changes that occurred (De
Vos, 2002:285) and would be equally willing to share this understanding with me
and others.
Unfortunately, and this is one of the limitations of my study, none of the
principals selected were representative of Indian or Coloured communities. This
was due to the fact that I had to factor cost and time into my sampling procedures,
using an element of convenience sampling in my purposive sampling approach.
Since I am a principal myself, and my studies were done part-time, within a fixed
time period, efficiency was crucial. I therefore limited the area from which I
selected participating principals to an area that was easily accessible to me – either
in terms of my workplace or in terms of my home, the Gauteng North district, an
area with little or no previously coloured or Indian schools. (More detail regarding
the sample of schools is provided in Chapter Four.)
Deciding on data collection instruments
Typical of qualitative research, I used a variety of techniques and strategies to
collect principals’ stories and to obtain information about the contexts in which
they worked. Verbal information regarding the principals themselves and their
experiences with change were collected by means of conversations and interviews
while contextual information was gleaned from my observations of the naturalistic
settings in which principals worked.
In response to the Kvale’s (1996:1) question, ‘If you want to know how people
understand their world and their life, why not talk with them?’ I decided to
include informal and semi-formal conversations (Cohen et al, 2000: 287-288) as
data collection instruments in my study. Given that I myself am a principal and
that I therefore attend meetings and workshops arranged for principals by the
various departments of education I had ample opportunity to hear what other
principals had to say about their experience with educational change and to
engage in informal conversations with them on issues raised. I used my reflective
journal (see to jot down my thoughts on the ideas and feelings expressed
during these conversations. These notes were extremely valuable when I started
formulating questions for interview purposes because they sensitized me to the
issues on hand as well as to the personalities and attitudes of the people I intended
to include in my study.
I also engaged in semi-structured conversations with each of the principals I
selected as research participants prior to the formal data collection process. As
anticipated these ‘conversations’, which were aimed at orienting participating
principals to my research purpose and procedures (Bailey, 1994; Mc Millan and
Schumacher, 2001), helped me establish a comfortable working relationships with
them because they knew exactly what to expect. The fact that we agreed on time
schedules that suited them as well as me and that we agreed I would not disrupt
the school or their routines in any way also helped them relax. Finally, when they
realized that I, too, was a principal, they knew that I would understand what they
were going through and would, therefore, not misrepresent them.
Taking note of Merriam’s (1994:70) and Tutty et al’s (1996:52) observation that
interviewing is probably the form of data collection most commonly used in
qualitative studies in education, I decided to use in-depth, open-ended interviews
as my primary data collection instrument. Given my research purpose, namely to
gather information on South African school principals’ experiences of educational
change during the period 1998 to 2008 so that I could better understand why they
respond to and deal with change in the way they do, it seemed appropriate to use
open-ended interviews that would generate verbal data, in the form of first-hand
accounts, as my primary data collection instrument.
Because I wanted to collect data in the form of stories, that is, in the form of firsthand accounts with a beginning, middle and end (Riessman, 1993:3; Cortazzi,
1993:86) and because interviews allow the respondents as well as the researcher to
move back and forth in time, to reconstruct what happened in the past and to
predict the future, the use of open-ended interviews (Kvale, 1996:5; McMillan
Schumacher, 2001:443) seemed to be a perfect match with my research purpose.
Informed by the criteria for interviews discussed in literature on qualitative
research, and using the field notes I jotted down in my research journal after
informal conversations between other principals and me at workshops and
meetings as a basis, I designed an interview schedule (see Annexure F for the
complete interview schedule) consisting of ten questions only (see Table 2.1).
1. How long have you been principal of this school and how do you like being
principal here?
2. Tell me how it happened that you became a school principal? Was it the
result of specific training? Did somebody ask you to apply, or what?
3. How did you find the move from being a teacher to being a principal? Was it
difficult to suddenly have to manage grown-ups rather than children, for
4. How, according to you, has the job of principals changed since 1998? Do you
regard these changes as positive of negative and why?
5. How have schools, your school in particular, changed since 1998? What
challenges did these changes pose to you as a school principal and how did
you manage these challenges?
6. Do you think these changes had any effect on school community
relationships? I’m thinking specifically of relationships between management
and staff, staff and learners, parents and the school, etc.
7. Have things at your school stabilized now or are things still changing and how
are you dealing with the current situation?
8. Thinking back on the way South African education has changed since 1998,
do you think the changes led to improved education or not? Please explain, or
give reasons for your answer.
9. Thinking forward, do you think the changes to education in South Africa are
sustainable or not? Why/why not?
10. Is there anything you would like to add or to ask before we conclude the
Table 2.1: Interview Schedule
Because the interviews were open-ended, with the minimum number of predetermined questions, they allowed me to ask for clarification and/or more
detailed explanations by means of in-depth probing questions when required.
Consequently, principals’ responses became increasingly informal, resulting in
interviews that felt and sounded more like purposeful conversations than
interviews and yielded much richer data than would probably have been the case
if I had prioritized structure over content.
Because the narratives I present in this study were generated by means of
interviews, principals and I taking turns talking and listening, the stories are, in
fact, the result of a collaborative effort between the researcher and the research
participants, with ‘both voices…heard’ (Marshall and Rossman, 1995:87).
According to Clandinin and Connelly (2000:81), this is normal practice in
narrative research because narrative inquirers are never ‘disembodied recorders of
someone else’s experiences’; rather, they are ‘co-creators of the stories’ since they
too are in the midst of an experience, ‘the experience of the inquiry’. The fact that
I not only took notes on what was said but also tape-recorded our conversations
with their permission, made it easier for me not to remain a ‘disembodied’
inquirer but a ‘co-creator’ of the stories emerging from the interviews.
Since I had to visit schools in order to interview and talk to principals, and since
context/milieu is an important aspect of story telling, I also made use of
observation as a means of collecting data. A narrative without context would be
disembodied and therefore, less meaningful as research data. I jotted down my
impressions of the physical and emotional environments in which the respective
principals operated in my reflective journal (see below), analyzing and reflecting
on them every evening when I left the field. I also jotted down my impressions of
the way in which each principal lived out her/his professional persona and my
observations on the ways in which they interacted with others in their schools.
Informed by the assumption that non-verbal communication – body language,
tone, facial expression and gestures – are often indicators of the ‘secret’ stories I
wished to uncover, I also jotted down notes on these during my interviews with
principals and analyzed these for meaning each evening when I left the field and
reflected on the data collected during the course of the day.
Reflective Journal
Given the inductive and reflective nature of qualitative research analysis I made a
point of jotting down my thoughts, ideas, feelings and impressions as and when
they emerged but also at the end of the day when I reflected on what happened
and on what was said. While the notes I jotted down during the day served
primarily as a record of field activities, my reflection on these activities assisted
me in thinking not only about the data but also about the process and the questions
I asked during interviews. Often, because of insights gained during my reflections,
subsequent interviews included questions not asked in preceding ones. By
recording what transpired each day I was able to identify and set aside data not
specifically related to my research purpose and/or questions; to identify data of
particular relevance; to become aware of instances where principals might have
been withholding information, and deciding what I could have done to uncover
these ‘secrets’.
In doing my daily reflections I increasingly realized that without these reflections
my study would have been much poorer in terms of the insights I gained into
principals’ experiences. In fact, the data I collected might well have ended up
being nothing more than unfocused and irrelevant information repeating itself. I
realized, moreover, that my daily reflections helped clarify my thoughts on and
feelings about the things I observed and heard, thereby facilitating the process of
inductive data analysis. In short, as I had hoped when I planned to use a reflective
journal, reflecting assisted me in the continuous process of ‘constructing and
reconstructing’ (Cortazzi, 1993:3), which is typical of narrative research. Not only
was the use of multiple methods appropriate to the qualitative research paradigm
and the collection of narrative data but it also reflected Charmaz’s (2006) socialconstructivist perspective on grounded research, which argues for the
investigation of experiences embedded within hidden networks, situations, and
relationships with a view to making visible hierarchies of power in
communication and relationships.
Accessing principals’ space
As indicated earlier, I conducted my research in the Gauteng North District where
I am also a principal. Even though I had met all these principals before and was
myself an employee of the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE), I could not
just go into schools and interview principals: I had to apply for and obtain written
permission from the GDE before I could do that, indicating how I would go about
selecting participants (See Annexure A: a copy of application letter to Gauteng
Department of Education and Annexure B a copy of the permission letter from
Gauteng Department of Education).
Having obtained permission from the GDE I contacted each of the principals
telephonically to determine whether or not they would be willing to see me so that
I could discuss my planned research with them before they decided whether or not
to become involved in it. A ‘survey’ visit like this is extremely important in
educational research because school principals serve as gatekeepers and are, by
implication, responsible for the safety of their schools. Consequently I had to go
through a process of negotiation with them regarding times, processes and levels
of involvement (Berg, 1998:131). Each principal then received a copy of the letter
in which the GDE gave me permission to conduct research in their schools (see
Annexure B) as well as a letter from me in which I repeated my oral request that
they participate in my study (see Annexure C). Each principal then had to commit
to the research in writing (see Annexure D).
It took me approximately two months to complete my first round of visits (see
Table 2.2): some of the principals were not available when I called them while
others could not see me at that stage because they were too busy. We also had
problems deciding on times because some of them wanted me to meet them
during school time, an arrangement that was not feasible for me because I, too,
was working. Eventually, however, I met with all of them, obtained their
commitment and arranged four meetings with each of them to collect their
‘stories’. I also made arrangements for follow-up visits once I had transcribed the
interviews so that they could do a ‘member check’ on the transcription.
Having shared with each principal what the aim of my research was, how data
would be collected, under the auspices of which institution I would be doing the
research, and having addressed ethical issues such as the tape-recording,
transcription and storage of interview tapes, all the principals agreed to participate
provided that my visits would not disrupt the schools or the principals’
programmes. I was quite relieved because I had been very nervous about going
into schools, especially white schools, because I, too, was still adjusting to the
‘new’ South Africa.
I regarded the first round of school visits as crucial to the development of a
relationship with the principals since they would be the ones who would have to
construct and share the stories that I would eventually use as basis for my
‘research story’. Not only did it contribute to our establishing a relationship of
openness and acceptance, the kind of relationship crucial to the uncovering of
‘cover stories’, but it also helped to settle me down, allaying the fears I had about
visiting schools, especially white ones. Having done so I had to acknowledge to
myself that many of the assumptions I had had regarding white schools and white
principals were unfounded and that their involvement in my research would
ensure that my story – the research story – would be richer and more
comprehensive than it would have been without them.
During the second visit I engaged in an informal conversation on the way in which
education has changed in South Africa over the past ten years. This visit was
followed by a third, during which I conducted a semi-structured interview with
each of the principals. The fourth visit was simply to hand the interview
transcripts to participating principals for member checking. The fifth visit was a
courtesy visit, during which I thanked principals for their participation and for the
insights they had given me into their person and the naturalistic settings in which
they performed their jobs. This was the point at which I disengaged myself from
the research field (Berg, 1998:153).
Table 2.2: Data Collection Schedule
Stage 1:
Stage 2:
Stage 3:
Stage 4:
Stage 5:
Purpose of
Purpose of
Purpose of
Purpose of
Purpose of
Date: 21/04/08
School A
14 /05/ 2008
Negotiation with
with school
Interviews with
Verification of
principal to
from the
research field
become research
Date: 24/04/08
School B
Negotiation with
with school
Interviews with
Verification of
principal to
from the
research field
become research
School C
Negotiation with
Interviews with
Verification of
principal to
with school
from the
become research
research field
Date: 05/05/08
School D
17/06 /2008
Negotiation with
with school
Interview with
Verification of
principal to
from the
research field
become research
Date: 08/05/08
School E
Negotiation with
with school
Interviews with
Verification of
principal to
from the
research field
become research
Collecting and recording principals’ stories was a five-stage process (see Table
2.2). Having obtained ethical clearance from the Ethics Committee of the
University I took the first step towards data collection, namely to contact those
principals who had agreed to be part of my study with a view to arranging a
meeting schedule that would be amenable to them and feasible for me in terms of
the deadlines I had to meet.
The second step was to engage participating principals in conversations about
themselves, educational change and its effect on them during the past decade. The
conversations gave me, as researcher and research participant, the opportunity of
establishing a relationship of trust with the participating principals because I was
also a principal and had also been affected by educational change. A relationship
like this is crucial in narrative research because those who tell their stories are
expected to share not only their ‘cover stories’ but also the ‘secret’ and ‘sacred’
ones (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000), exposing their vulnerability. Unless they
feel safe with the person whom they are telling these stories they will do nothing
but cover stories.
Because the primary purpose of these conversations was not to collect stories but
to lay the ground for doing so, I did not prepare any detailed questions, only a
focus – to talk about the way change has affected them and me as a principal.
Engaging in these conversations sharpened my focus, sensitized me to the way in
which I should approach each of the participating principals during the interviews
and gave me a sense of the direction participating principals’ stories might take
(Cohen et al, 2000:287-288).
The third step was to conduct a one-on-one semi-structured interview with each of
the participating principals. Because my aim with the interviews was to collect
stories, I structured the interview in terms of what I considered to be significant
episodes in the lives of South African principals in general (see Annexure F for a
copy of the interview schedule). Given the inductive nature of qualitative data
collection and analysis, I transcribed and critically read each tape-recorded
interview prior to conducting the next one. In doing so I created the opportunity
for me to use insights gained from reading previous interviews as basis in-depth
probes in subsequent ones. Consequently, although the basic interview schedule
was the same for all participants, no two actual interviews were exactly the same
The fourth stage involved member checking (Cohen, et al, 2000:108), where
participating principals had the opportunity of studying the interview transcripts
with a view to verifying their accuracy, pointing out errors and/or adding more
information if they wished to do so. None of the participating principals wanted to
add anything to what they had initially shared with me. Neither did they make any
adjustments to the original transcript except to correct the odd language error.
The fifth step of the data collection process did not actually involve data
collection. Rather it signaled my disengagement from the research field so as to
focus my attention solely on the reconstruction of principals’ stories and the
construction of my own research story (Berg, 1998:153). My last visit was
therefore devoted to thanking them for their participation, informing them what
would happen next in my research journey and wishing them the best for the road
2.6 Interpreting principals’ stories
According to Erlandson et al (1993:111), data analysis is a process aimed at
‘bringing order, structure and meaning to the mass of collected data’. Because
qualitative research generates data in the form of words and images, the researcher
ends up with voluminous data. This is especially the case in narrative research
because the generated data are stories, a collection of stories, to be exact. Because
qualitative data is aimed at better understanding some or other social phenomenon
(Tutty, et al 1996:161) raw data need to be structured in some or other
manageable format before analysis can take place. Often this requires a reduction
of data and/or the structuring of data into meaningful bits to facilitate
conceptualization (Strauss and Corbin (1998). In the case of narrative research
data have to be reduced and structured by means of a process in which the original
stories as told by participants have to be re-storied by the researcher into a format
that will facilitate interpretation and/or comparison. This is a ‘messy, ambiguous,
time-consuming, creative and fascinating process…of bringing order, structure
and meaning to the mass of collected data’ (De Vos, 2002: 339).
While data analysis in my study occurred inductively in the sense that I
transcribed and did a cursory interpretation of tape-recorded interviews after each
interview, the structuring of raw data – the re-storying of principals’ original
narratives in this case - was only done once I had left the field and the
identification of theoretical propositions only after the re-storying had taken place.
More specifically, in my re-storying and interpretation of principals’ narratives I
used an eclectic holistic approach (see Figure 1.1) that reflects a combination of
narrative analysis techniques suggested by Bryman (2001:412-413) and Lieblich,
et al (1998:13), and Punch (1998:219) and techniques deemed appropriate to
grounded theory research.
According to Lieblich et al (1998:13), narrative researchers should, in
interpreting/analyzing participants’ stories, read the entire story, first focusing on
content (the episodes that make up the story) and then on its structure (the
sequence of the episodes as narrated by the participant) as a way of determining
what the narrator reveals about him/herself and his/her life. Bryman (2001:412),
adding to this view, contends that narrative analysis requires the identification of
themes in the story as a means of uncovering significant moments in the narrator’s
life. Punch (1998:219; 2000:155) focusing more on the ways in which narrators
use language to tell their stories, argues that the focus should be on the analysis of
the metaphors used because ‘people use metaphors as a way of making sense of
experience and of expressing and conveying its meaning’.
Informed by these narrative researchers’ contentions I first restructured the
transcribed interviews by removing the questions I asked so that what remained
resembled a monologue, or personal story. I retained pauses and descriptions of
body language in the re-storied versions because more often than not they reveal
the secret story behind the cover story. Following Lieblich et al, (1998), I then
read each ‘story’ a number of times to get a sense of each principal’s character
and to determine the significant events in his/her professional journey. Having
done so, I broke the story up into episodic or thematic vignettes. Where deemed
necessary I moved excerpts around, combining them with other parts that seemed
to belong to the same vignette. I then did a structural analysis, focusing on the plot
- identifying conflicts, climaxes, turning points and denouements (Lieblich, et al,
1998:13 & 88). Having gained a sense of significant episodes and/or turning
points in each principal’s life, I focused on the language used to tell each story. In
doing the discourse analysis I focused specifically on the use of linguistic features
and metaphors Bryman (2001). Finally, I went back to the original re-storied
narratives to determine what each narrator revealed about the secret stories hiding
behind his/her cover stories.
To my mind these methods, while typical of narrative analysis, reflects the staged
coding process that Strauss and Corbin (1990, 1998) associates with grounded
research. According to them data analysis should start with open coding and move
through axial coding to selective coding. Open coding, which is aimed at the
identification of segments of information that constitute sub-sections/segments, is
similar to my having identified significant events in each principal’s narration of
his/her personal life. Axial coding, according to Strauss and Corbin (1998)
involves the identification of central categories, the exploration of causal factors
for actions/feelings, etcetera and the delineation of the consequences of these.
This stage, I believe, is reflected in my identification of the themes running
through each story and in the analysis of the discourse used in the telling of these.
The final stage of Strauss and Corbin’s analysis, selective coding, involves the
researcher writing a ‘story line’ that connects all these categories and/or
formulating propositions or hypotheses. I have done both – written my own
‘research story’ based on the narratives of participating principals, and formulated
a number of theoretical propositions regarding the effect that educational change
might have on principals in general (see Chapter 5).
2.7 Narrative Ethics
All research should be ethical but often is not. Because narrative researchers are
given the opportunity of ‘sharing in the lives and feelings’ of the tellers of the
stories (Pole and Morrison, 2003:144) they could very easily manipulate or
misrepresent the characters and/or their lives. Also, the consequences of the
stories told could be negative – affecting people’s relations with others and/or the
way they are perceived. In my study there is the danger that participating
principals’ stories could jeopardize their position in the education community,
especially if the stories they tell are perceived as critical of the education system
and/or those in power. I therefore regarded it as of the utmost importance to
ensure that my stories were as trustworthy as possible and that my sources – the
principals and the schools where they worked – would be safe. Consequently I
took the necessary steps to ensure that my study satisfied the criteria for ethical
The Clearing House
Before I could conduct my research I had to meet the stringent criteria set by the
Ethics Committee of the institution where I was registered as a PhD student. In the
first instance I had to present and defend my research proposal in front of the
Faculty Research Committee. I then had to obtain permission from the Gauteng
Department of Education to enter schools and interview principals in their
jurisdiction. I also had to obtain the informed consent of those principals whom I
planned to involve in my research study. Finally I had to present my research
proposal, with all the letters of consent attached, to the University Ethics
Committee, which scrutinized it for possible ethical problems. It was only after this
committee had given me ethical clearance (see Annexure E) that I commenced
with the empirical part of my study.
Protecting my sources
Bless and Smith (1995:102) warn that lack of co-operation can be ‘disastrous’ in a
research project but remind researchers that participants have the right to refuse to
participate and researchers have to respect this right. No person may be ‘bribed,
threatened, deceived or in any way coerced into participation’ (Tutty et al,
1996:40). Instead, they must be presented with all the necessary information
regarding the nature and purpose of the study and then have to give – or not give –
their voluntary and informed consent. Informed consent, according to Tutty et al
(1996:40) is consent given by someone who ‘fully understands what is going to
happen in the course of the study, why is it going to happen and what its effects
will be on him or her’. By implication, research subjects should be cognizant of
the ‘overall purpose of the investigation and the main features of the design, as
well as of any possible risks and benefits from participation in the research
project’ (Kvale, 1996:112).
To ensure that the principals who participated in my study were informed, I
visited them at their schools before I started collecting data. The purpose of these
visits was to provide them with the kind of information they needed in order to
make an informed decision regarding their participation or not (see Annexure C). I
did not in any way threaten or intimidate them into participating – their
participation was entirely voluntary (see their letters of consent attached as
Annexure D).
They were also given the assurance that no details that could identify them would
be included in the research report.
According to Neuman (2000:128)
confidentiality implies that, while the researcher knows the names attached to
specific data s/he keeps this information hidden from the public. In other words,
the identity of participants is not revealed to anyone at any time (Kvale,
1996:114). To ensure the anonymity of principals who participated in my study I
used Sepedi pseudonyms that reflected their personalities (see Chapter Five for
details) but that gave no clue to who they really were. I also assured them that the
tape recordings of the interviews I conducted with them would be safely stored
and would be destroyed once the research report was completed.
Validating my story
Crucial to establishing the trustworthiness of my research story is a declaration of
the role I played during the collection, structuring and interpretation of principals’
stories. I therefore declared that my interest in principals’ stories was directly
related to my being appointed as acting principal and later as principal of a school
during the decade of educational change that is the context of my study (Tutty et
al, 1996:27). At the time I was curious as to whether other principals experienced
the changes in the same way I did. This was the initial motive for my research
My determination to pursue this line of research was strengthened by the ‘stories’
I heard principals tell one another at principals’ meetings and workshops.
Listening to the challenges they were facing, I was convinced that this was an area
that needed to be researched. I was also convinced that my being a principal
myself would enable me to better understand and respond to the stories that other
principals had to tell. I did not, however, at any stage, try to manipulate their
stories in any way or to guide them into saying something that I wished to be
heard but they were not saying. In this sense I retained my scientific distance from
other participants.
2.8 Concluding Comments
As indicated in the introduction to this chapter, its purpose was to lay down an
audit trail of the research processes that I followed in obtaining permission for
my research, identifying research participants, collecting the first-hand accounts
of participating principals, restructuring these for analytic purposes, and
interpreting them so as to use the insights gained in the construction of my own
‘research’ story. Included in this audit trail was an explanation the differences
and similarities between narrative and grounded research and a justification of
my choice to combine the two in my study. In doing so the knowledge claims I
made in Chapter One were confirmed.
Chapter Three is also logically linked to Chapter One in that it provides a
detailed explanation of the conceptual framework within which my inquiry is
lodged. Having done a comprehensive review of literature on educational
change and its management I constructed what I believe to be an informed
academic argument that forms a frame of reference not only for my analysis of
principals’ stories of change but also for the identification and discussion of
common trends and patterns regarding educational change in South Africa
during the decade 1998 to 2008 emerging from the collection of principals’
stories that I used as basis for my research report.
Introduction and Purpose
As indicated in the title of my research report as well as in the research
parameters described in Chapter One, the focus of my study is on the way in
which selected school principals experienced the changes that were effected to
school education in South Africa during the period 1998 to 2008. In presenting
my tentative research design I indicated that I would use participating
principals’ first-hand accounts of their experiences of change as raw data, that I
would reshape these first-hand accounts into a narrative format, and that I would
then analyze these narratives – participating principals’ ‘stories of change’ – for
emerging themes, answers to my initial research questions and theoretical
propositions regarding the impact of educational change on school principals in
As also indicated in Chapter 1, the conceptual framework in which my inquiry
took place is School Leadership and Management, with specific reference to the
management of change and the role that school principals play in this regard.
Implied but not explicitly stated is the relationship between my conceptual
framework and the use of individuals’ narratives of their change experiences. It
is the clarification of this relationship that is the focus of Chapter Three. More
specifically, this chapter is aimed at answering three questions, namely:
How is change defined within the framework of educational management
and leadership?
How, according to this framework, should educational change be
To what extent does the educational change process and the way it was
managed in the period 1998 to 2008 reflect the principles and procedures
associated with this framework?
With a view to answering these questions, I start this chapter with a brief
explanation of educational change and its management as viewed from the
perspective of complexity theory.
Having done so, I critically discuss the
changes that have taken place in education in South Africa since the demise of
apartheid. I conclude the chapter by arguing that change theory could serves as a
macro story within which or a backdrop against which the generic story of
educational change in South Africa and the personal stories of principals’
experience of change play themselves out.
The macro story of educational change
According to Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991:3), people seldom or ever react to
change in the same way. Some people embrace it, some resist it, some are
confused by it, and some simply ignore it. The reason for these differences,
according to Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991:3), becomes clear once one
understands that experiences of change can be either objective or subjective.
Objectively, change is simply change; subjectively it is something that threatens
the status quo, upsets the balance, undermines stability, lowers standards, forces
people to move out of their comforts zones, etc. In other words, change is a
complex phenomenon that often involves loss, anxiety and struggle (Marris,
1975: 25). Real change typically involves “passing through zones of uncertainty
… the situation of being out at sea, of being lost, of confronting more
information than you can handle” (Schön, 1971:12).
3.2.1 Change as a complex phenomenon
Noting the complexity of change in general and the difficulties associated with
‘real’ or ‘deep’ change, I looked at educational change through the lens of
complexity theory. In terms of this theory, the process of change is
uncontrollably complex (Fullan, 1993:19), primarily because of unplanned
factors that cannot be ignored, factors that interfere with the dynamics of the
change process. This is due not only to the complex nature of schooling systems
but also to the changing dynamics of human relations in such systems. Given
these dynamics cause and effect are removed from each other and can therefore
not be easily traced (Fullan, 1999:18), creating feelings of uncertainty and
inadequacy on the side of those held responsible for implementation. In short,
because change is complex it cannot be imposed from the top (Fullan, 1993:24).
The complexity of change is particularly evident in attempts to innovate or
transform education. School districts and/or schools are often required to
implement a bewildering array of multiple innovations and policies
simultaneously. Restructuring reforms are often so multifaceted and complex
that solutions for particular settings cannot be known in advance. Also, the longterm future of such organizations is completely unknowable because the links
between specific actions and specific outcomes become lost in the detail of what
happens (Stacey, 1992), resulting in implementation plans that are unwieldy and
cumbersome (Fullan, 1997:43). Consequently change is experienced as a
complex and unpredictable process full of uncertainties.
What the theory implies is that change in dynamically complex circumstances is
“non-linear” (Stacey, 1992) which means that the process cannot be precisely
predicted. The separation between cause and effect means that the results of
educational change cannot be exactly predicted. Even though the planned
intervention strategies are put in place, they cannot produce the expected
outcomes because there are other unplanned factors that keep on interfering.
Furthermore, this theory implies that a long period of time elapses before the
actual effects of educational change are experienced. Stacey (1992) elaborates,
“the long-term future of such organizations is completely unknowable because
the links between specific actions and specific outcomes become lost in the
detail of what happens.”
A point raised by Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991:71) is that, whilst the
complexity of change could create problems during implementation, it is the
complexity that may, ironically be the stimulus for significant change, simply
because of the increased effort required to make it work. On the other hand, one
should not underestimate the fact that the possibility of failure is also higher in
cases where people attempt too much, overreaching themselves (Miles and
Huberman, 1984:7) by attempting to implement innovations that are beyond
their ability to carry out.
It follows that, since ‘real’, or ‘deep’ change is complex, unpredictable and
demanding (Fullan, 2005:x), those responsible for its implementation will either
have to confront and deal with change or choose to die a slow death (Quinn,
1996; Quinn, 2000), that is, they have to choose whether to leave the world they
are used to, the world they are certain of, to step out of their paradigms, to think
and behave differently, or to stay as they are, holding on ‘just a couple or more
years’ then ‘this problem will belong to someone else’, thereby choosing to die
psychologically, to live a meaninglessness life (Quinn, 1996:19). Choosing the
former, to confront change head on means ‘facing the unknown, walking naked
into the land of uncertainty’ (Quinn, 2000: 41), a ‘land’ where people must
break their links with the past, where they must unlearn what they know and
learn what they don’t know. Deep change is therefore a personal matter, a
personal act of faith in which the person involved embarks on the journey in
search of new meaning.
Deep change at an organizational, and/or school, level happens in the same way.
The organization/school has to be willing to commit itself to breaking with the
past, trying out new ways of thinking and doing, forming new kinds of
relationships and discarding the ‘myths’ of the past (Fullan, 2005:x; Quinn,
2000:41). Only then will real/deep change take place. According to Quinn
(1996:45), ‘we must courageously journey to a strange place where there are a
lot of risks and much is at stake, a place where there are problems to require us
to think in new ways’. This requires discipline, courage and motivation – all
character traits of people and organizations ready and willing to commit
themselves to deep change.
3.2.2 Sustaining educational change
The success or failure of educational change at school level depends on what
teachers, not managers or policy-makers, do and think – it’s as simple and as
complex as that (Sarason, 1971:193). Teachers often resist change for the simple
reason that they feel nobody understands their working conditions or appreciates
what they do. It is important, therefore, for change agents, whether or not they
are government officials or contracted agents, to first understand where and who
teachers really are and what teaching and learning are really about if they want
their change efforts to succeed.
In this regard, research into education change and teacher attitudes to change
indicates that change at classroom level will only occur if the initiators of
change acknowledge that educational change – whether its purpose is to
innovate, reform or transform (Valdez, 2004:35) – is multidimensional in nature,
in other words that it requires training in and use of new materials and/or
technologies; the use of new teaching/learning approaches or ways of managing
learners and classrooms; changed beliefs about teaching (e.g. pedagogical
assumptions and theories underlying particular new policies or programmes),
and a trial period during which time teachers get the opportunity of testing out
and/or practising new ways of doing things, giving them the opportunity of
making inputs that could lead to adjustments in the initial plan.
As regards the sustainability of change Fullan (2005:27) argues that
sustainability revolves around leadership, that in order to sustain change the
entire system needs to be mobilized in the direction of change, and that
leadership at all levels must be the ‘primary engine’ (Fullan, 2005:35). Leaders
also have to prevent change burnout, giving them a double reason to address
cyclical energizing: not only could burnout, and eventual apathy, affect them but
it could have far-reaching consequences for those with whom they work (Loehr
and Schwartz, 2003:5).
Indications from literature (Fullan, 2005:x; Jansen, 2002:199) are that, in many
instances, promises with regard to change often disappear after few years of
implementation. Many a times, policies dealing with educational change, while
compelling, have little or no effect on the situations they are meant to change.
Regardless of the wonderful ideals they encapsulate and the excellent ideas they
propagate to realize these ideals very little appears to change ‘in the daily
routines of schools and classrooms’ (Jansen, 2002:199). Even changes that
enthuse people because they promise significant change often peter out without
having had any effect.
According to Hargreaves, Earl, Moore and Manning (2001:159) the success of
change initiatives is often ‘eroded or sabotaged by a predictable set of factors’.
One of these factors could be that little attention is paid to possible obstacles or
to the way they could be avoided or overcome in implementation plans.
Policymakers and senior administrators often ‘underestimate, overlook or are
oblivious to the difficulties of implementation change’ (Hargreaves et al,
2001:115), introducing change without providing the means for identifying and
confronting situational constraints and without attempting to understand the
values, ideas and experiences of those who are at the receiving or
implementation ends of change (Fullan and Stiegelbauer, 1991:96), such as
teachers and principals at their specific schools.
A second factor could be variations in people’s understanding of change and
what it is supposed to achieve. Often those who are tasked with implementing or
managing change suffer from what Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991:98) calls
‘false clarity’ –they think they understand and/or have changed as expected
when this is, in fact not the case: they have simply assimilated the superficial
trappings of the new practice. Allied to this are those who suffer from ‘painful
unclarity’ (Holbeche, 2006:9) due to change agents, at whatever level,
attempting to introduce innovations that are either unclear or do not create
opportunities for the development of people’s subjective meanings of change.
A third factor that could contribute to the failure of change initiatives is a lack of
commitment to change, either from the side of the change agents or from the
side of those responsible for its implementation (Holbeche, 2006:12). Successful
change, according to Hargreaves et al, (2001:160) can often be ascribed to the
efforts of a ‘special group of enthusiasts’. When enthusiasm fades, for whatever
reason – resignation, promotion, redeployment, etc. - change efforts lose their
momentum and eventually stop altogether.
That is, unless the original
enthusiasts can be replaced by others with a ‘similar vision or levels of
commitment’ (Hargreaves et al, 2001:159; Hargreaves and Fink, 2003).
A fourth factor that contributes to the sustainability or not of change is what
Fullan (2005:37) calls the ‘skillful and balanced management of energy that will
keep people going on.’ According to Fullan (2005:37), this is key to
sustainability. It is not only Fullan (2005) who raises the argument of skillful
and balanced management of energy as the key to sustainability but also
Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee (2002:73). They add to Fullan’s explanation by
pointing out that ‘pacesetting’ could poison the climate, at great emotional cost,
especially if the pace setter puts so much pressure on people to produce results
that it provokes unmanageable anxiety. While this kind of pace setting,
according to Fullan (2005:37), is good for short-term performance it is ‘fatal for
Neither justification for nor a positive attitude towards educational change is
sufficient to sustain change: what it needs is to be nourished (Hargreaves and
Fink, 2003:38), not only by the change agents but by all involved – those tasked
with the responsibility of making it happen. According to Fullan (2005:31), ‘the
main mark of an effective principal is not just his or her impact on the bottom
line of student achievement, but also on how many leaders he or she leaves
behind who can go even further’. Moreover, those who are at the receiving end
need to believe in the value of change itself and need to accept the responsibility
for nurturing and sustaining it. With specific reference to educational change
this means that not only policy makers, or change agents, or school principals
have to nurture change but also classroom teachers, (Holbeche, 2006: 17).
To summarise, the meaning of educational change is closely related to the costs
and rewards the change holds in store for those at the receiving end and, unless
they have proof of the potential reward of change they are traditionally reluctant
to effect changes, (Holbeche, 2006:173). If they are convinced that change will
benefit them in the long run they will change, no matter what the cost in terms
of time, effort and their personal lives. This is the challenge to school leaders
and managers.
3.2.3 Managing change at school level
According to Clarke (2007:35), there are differences between leadership and
managerial functions in that leaders innovate, managers administer; leaders
initiate, managers copy; leaders develop, managers maintain; leaders focus on
people, managers on systems; leaders inspire trust; managers rely on control;
leaders have a long-term vision, managers have short-term goals; leaders ask
what and why, managers ask how and when; leaders keep an eye on the horizon,
managers on the bottom line; leaders challenge the status quo, managers accept
it unconditionally; leaders think before they do or obey, managers obey without
question; leaders do the right thing, managers do things the right way; leaders
create culture, managers operate it.
School principals have to be both – leaders and managers and, because of this it
is not surprising that they are often caught in the middle (Holbeche, 2006:25;
Mintzberg, 1998:47; Moran and Brightman, 2001:22), being accountable to
those with more authority that they - officials at national and provincial
departments of education - to ensure that policies are implemented, as well as to
those with lesser authority than them - teachers, learners, parents, etc. This is
true as regards the ordinary management of schools as well as the extraordinary
leading of change at school level. Because of this school principals often have to
take the blame for imposing changes that have been imposed on them from
above, changes over which they had no say.
Successful change requires inspired leadership and effective management.
Leadership implies ‘direction and purpose, while management is about
efficiency and effectiveness’ (Beaudan, 2002:42; Clarke. 2007: 1; Graetz,
2000:559; Holbeche, 2006:19; Noonan, 2003:24; Seel, 2000:14). Leadership is a
process in which someone – the leader - directs the behavior of others – his/her
followers - towards the accomplishments of certain objectives, and involves
elements such as influencing people, giving orders, motivating people - as
individuals or in groups - managing conflict and communicating with
subordinates (Smit and De Cronjé, 1997:278). According to Ubben, Hughes and
Norris (2001:13), leadership is an approach aimed at the identification and
solution of problems, a ‘dynamic process that challenges the organizing to
higher levels of consciousness and growth.’
Various researchers (Hall, 1988; Kirby and Stringfield, 1989; Lewis and Ecob,
1988; Louis & Miles, 1990; Mortimore, Sammons, Stoll, Teddlie, Valdez, 2004;
Theron, 2007:8) have reported that principals who succeed in balancing the
contradictory demands often associated with educational change typically knew
what was going on in their schools and in the world of education outside the
school and shared this knowledge with the rest of the staff. These principals
chose not to lead change single-handedly but rather to move from one thing to
another, easily and readily applying their talents and skills to each new
challenge and engaging in discussions with staff that enabled them to influence
the content of guidelines drawn up within the school without taking complete
control. They influenced the teaching strategies of teachers selectively, and only
where they judged it necessary. According to Leithwood, Jantzi and Steinbach,
(1999:22), successful principals typically take actions that strengthen the
school’s improvement of culture or stimulate and reinforce cultural change if
communication about cultural norms, values and beliefs; share power and
responsibility with others, and use symbols to express cultural values.
Real/deep change requires more than simply implementing an innovation or
two. It requires a change to the culture and structure of the school. It follows
that, unless teachers ‘buy into’ the change, it will not happen. More importantly,
unless the principal, as head of the organization, leads changes in the culture of
the school nothing will happen. That is, improvement will not happen (Fullan
with Stiegelbauer, 1991:169; Fullan, 1999; Hargreaves and Fink, 2003). ‘It is
the leadership provided by the head teacher, which is the critical factor in raising
standards of pupil achievement, head teachers must have a clear vision of the
curriculum, the strength of personality and an interpersonal tact to engage with
teachers on raising standards’ (Woodhead, 1994:10-11).
South Africa’s story of educational change
In 1994 the African National Congress won the first democratic elections in
South Africa. Their victory meant that everything in South Africa would
change, not only politically but also socially, economically, and educationally.
Prior to 1994 every decision made with regard to these areas of societal life
was based on race. As regards education, educational institutions were
separated in terms of race; there were different policies and curricula for the
different, racially based schools, and the funding formulae for education were
racial in nature. In short, South African society was divided, unequal and
racially tense (DoE, 1997).
All of this changed after the 1994 elections. In terms of its new Constitution
(RSA, 1996d), all South Africans would be equal: there would no longer be
any discrimination based on race, gender or ability (Daudet and Singh,
2001:15). Informed by the vision of a country that is ‘prosperous, truly united,
democratic and internationally competitive…with literate, creative and critical
citizens leading productive, self-fulfilled lives in a country free of violence,
discrimination and prejudice’ (RSA, 1996b), the new government set about
erasing everything that smacked of discrimination and inequality. All
institutions would have to promote the values of the Constitution – namely,
human dignity, non-racialism and non-sexism, the supremacy of the
constitution and the rule of law, and universal adult suffrage - and operate in
accordance with these. In terms of the Bill of Rights - Section 7 of the
Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (RSA, 1996b) – the rights of
everyone in the country is equally protected and must, therefore, be respected
(Daudet and Singh, 2001:175).
With regard to education, the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA)
established an integrated National Qualifications Framework (NQF) with
relevant structures and procedures to ensure that education and training at all
levels of the system would be outcomes-based and of an acceptable
international standard (Hoadley and Jansen, 2002:29). In future no education
institution would be able to offer any program without its having been cleared
by the relevant Quality Assurance Body and registered on the NQF.
The Higher Education landscape also changed. Previous divisions between
higher education institutions, made on the basis of race and academic
orientation, were eliminated by not only merging white and black institutions
but also technically and academically-oriented ones. Teacher training colleges
were closed down and/or merged into university Faculties of Education.
Technikons were either absorbed by universities or became universities in
their own right. All these institutions now had to give account, amongst
others, of their admission criteria, program choice, student support strategies
and student throughput.
At school level new, national policies, including a new outcomes-based
curriculum, was developed and implemented. Learners were now free to
attend the school of their choice, irrespective of race or socio-economic status.
School education was compulsory for all children up to the age of 15 and no
child would be deprived of education because s/he could not afford to pay
school fees or because s/he was physically or mentally disabled. The
aspiration of learners from other racial groups for ‘better’ and ‘quality’
education could well be one of the reasons for huge learner migration into
what were previously advantaged schools (Lombard, 2007:43). Teacher
allocation would be based on learner numbers and parents would be
responsible for school governance (RSA, 1996f).
Ministerial committees, appointed to investigate a range of educational issues,
recorded their findings in the form of a White Paper, and invited public and
parliamentary comment on the content of these. Key among these was the first
White Paper on Education and Training (RSA, 1995a: 21-23), which outlines
the proposals for a transformed education system in South Africa and the
second White Paper (February, 1996), which dealt with the organization,
governance and funding of schools. The second White Paper leaned heavily on
the Hunter Report, which highlighted the role of governing bodies, parents,
and the community in education, thereby removing the focus from the teacher,
as the person solely responsible for the education of children. Section 29 (1) of
the Constitution (RSA, 1996b) stipulates that everyone has the right to
education, including adult basic education. And in 1996 the National
Education Policy Act (RSA, of 1996e) placed education squarely in the hands
of the Minister of Education. In the same year the South African Schools Act
(Act No 84 of 1996) placed the onus on parents to ensure that their children
attend school from age seven to fifteen, or until they reach Grade nine
(Beckmann, Foster and Smith, 1997:7), and stipulated the functions and
responsibilities of school governing bodies (SGB) and the procedures for their
These changes had far-reaching implications for school education. In the first
instance legislation and policy documents made it clear that the transformation
of education in general, and school education in particular, was aimed at
ensuring access and equity by means of redress measures, quality teaching and
learning and democratic process (CEPD, 2001:3). Previously ‘advantaged’
(white) schools were compelled to open up their doors to those who were
previously ‘disadvantaged’ (black, coloured and Indian children) (Sekete,
Shilubane and Moila, 2001: vii). While these schools initially maintained a
51% white majority in their population (Vally and Dalamba, 1999:10), this
changed rapidly. Since the majority of black parents wanted their children’s
schooling to take place in English, formerly Afrikaans-medium schools had to
become either dual- or parallel-medium schools. Fee-paying schools could no
longer refuse children access to their schools on the basis of their inability to
pay and children who used to be referred to ‘special’ schools – the blind, deaf,
mentally and physically handicapped – now had to be included in mainstream
education. In addition to this, classes had to be ‘right-sized’ in accordance
with a predetermined teacher-learner ratio, with consequent redeployment of
teachers to schools where classes were too big (RSA, 1996d; RSA, 1996e).
Apart from these, and the implementation of a brand new approach to teaching
and learning, spelt out in the national curriculum – Curriculum 2005 - schools
had to promote the values of the Constitution and protect the rights of all
learners (Bray, 2000a: 70; RSA, 1996b). By implication no language, religion
or specific cultural traditions could be prioritized and no child or teacher’s
rights could be violated. This meant that school assemblies could no longer be
used for religious purposes, that all languages should be accorded equal
respect and that no child should be subjected to corporal punishment (Bray,
2000a: 30; Imbrogno, 2000:127; Squelch, 2000:28-30). By implication all
persons in the school had the right to due process and to the protection of their
human dignity (RSA, 1996e).
3.3.1 Implementing change at school level
In order to support teachers, principals and parents in the implementation of
change, the various departments of education organized in-service training
workshops for all concerned, developed new teacher education programs to
help teachers upgrade their qualifications, formed partnerships with higher
education institutions to assist in the teacher upgrading process and provided
funding for teachers to do so. Even so, the change process was fraught with
difficulties and, as Jansen (2002:199) points out, little has changed in schools
and in classroom practice throughout South Africa ‘despite the production of
literally thousands of pages of formal policy documents after apartheid’.
It may be that too many changes were introduced at the same time (Strebel,
1998:113) or that, as Jansen (2002) argues, the State lacked the capacity to
deliver on their promises. As indicated earlier (see 3.2) change is complex
and, as a result, is seldom welcomed if it is perceived as unnecessary or
imposed (Fullan and Stiegelbauer, 1991:88). Unless it is approached in an
informed and appropriate way the effort and time spent on its implementation
are nothing more than a waste of resources. Also different changes require
different strategies. Implementing curriculum changes are not the same as
involving parents in school governance. Likewise, changing the language
policy of schools require very different strategies to those required in the
maintenance of learner discipline. Perhaps the ‘one size fits all’ change
strategy – policy development followed by training – adopted by the
Department of Education was at fault here.
66 Curriculum change
As regards the implementation of curriculum changes, the various departments
of education organized training workshops to orient teachers towards new
ways of thinking and to support them in changing the way they used to do
things. These were not particularly effective, first of all because trainers and
program consultants were frequently ineffective, and/or because consultants
inside the district were often unclear about their roles (Fullan and
Stiegelbauer, 1991:85).
Teachers tend to view curriculum change as a criticism of their ability and/or
expertise as subject specialists and professionals and, therefore, react
negatively towards such change. Older, more experienced teachers often
remember previous change efforts, claiming that they ‘have seen it all before’,
that ‘educational fashions come and go’, that ‘we’ve gone full circle’, and that,
‘if you wait long enough you will end up swimming with the tide again’
(Fullan and Hargreaves, 1992:45).
Moreover, if teachers were not consulted about the proposed changes, they
experience change as an imposition, an attempt to change who they are and
what they do. Since successful change is dependent on the active involvement
and commitment of people, there is little hope of successful educational
change unless teachers are fully committed to it and have the requisite skills
and capacity to implement the changes proposed (Du Plessis, Conley and Du
Plessis, (2007:40).
It is important to remember, though, that when people try something new they
often suffer ‘implementation dips’ (Fullan and Hargreaves, 1992:51), in which
things get worse before they get better, only becoming clearer as people
grapple with the meaning and skills of change. They may, for example, be
intimidated by new technologies or new equipment, falling back on tried and
tested methods but, if supported and if willing to experiment, to take risks,
they might eventually become as comfortable with the new as they once were
with the old. In other words, change is a process, not an event, and it takes
time for people to adjust to it.
Parental involvement
In terms of the South African Schools’ Act (1996), parents are responsible for
school governance, a function that requires the establishment of a school
governing body (SGB). The SGB is a statutory body to which parents are
elected to serve and represent the parent body of the school. Because parents
need to be informed about and involved in school activities (Heystek,
2001:113), it is up to the SGB to ‘devise methods for the active involvement
of parents in the education of their children’ (Du Plessis et. al, 2007:127).
The South African Schools Act (1996) clearly outlines the roles and
responsibilities of parents and how best they could assist their children’s
schools. Involving parents is not an option (Stern, 2003:1); it is ‘a critical
dimension of effective schooling’. ‘Involving parents in school means
involving the people who have the responsibilities and duties that teachers
borrow’ (Stern (2003:4). Even so, it does not happen ‘spontaneously’:
principals and teachers are responsible for bringing it about.
Literature on parental involvement in school matters has shown that there are
different reasons, why parents find it difficult to support schools. One of the
reasons, mooted by Shah (2001:8), is that ‘some teachers see the promotion of
parents’ rights as offensive because their rights appear more important to the
government as the pupils’ or teachers’ rights’ while parents, on the other hand,
perceive teachers as being more knowledgeable and better placed than they to
make decisions about their children’s progress and welfare. As a result, they
often see their roles as being undervalued.
Both Swap (1993:25) and Squelch (1994: 55) refer to parents who care about
their children’s education no matter what their educational background and
want to assist but do not know how. The onus therefore rests on the SGB, not
only to enquire about parents’ abilities but also to put strategies in place to
empower them and to provide opportunities for them to become involved in
school activities. This will ensure that role stretches further than paying school
fees and collecting reports (Mphahlele, 2003). One way of doing this is
through meetings, where parents and teachers can discuss children’s
performance (Monareng, 1995:56), thus ensuring the presence of a consistent
engagement between school and community that supports the child’s progress
(Shah, 2001:13). Another is to determine parents’ expertise and to ask for their
support in these areas.
Involvement in school activities require a lot of time and commitment and,
because both parents often work, they find it difficult to play a significant role
in their children’s education at this level. On the other hand, many families are
extremely poor either because parents are unemployed or ill. Because of this,
parents’ sole focus is on providing for the basic needs of their families, not on
the ‘luxury’ of their children’s learning (Mashile, 1991:42)
Ineffective communication between the school and the parent community
could be another impediment to parental involvement in school activities.
Schools typically communicate in writing although many parents, especially
those in rural areas, are not able to read or write, hence their lack of response
to communication from the schools. Also, children do not always convey to
their parents what the school wishes them to know (Du Plessis et al,
2007:130). It is therefore, up to the SGB and the management team of the
school (SMT) to discuss with parents the best, easiest and most cost-effective
communication methods.
Corporal punishment
The abolition of corporal punishment as a means of maintaining school
discipline (SASA, 1996) is a direct result of the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in
the Constitution of South Africa. By implication, schools are required to
develop and adopt a disciplinary policy – a Code of Conduct – that spells out
the kind of behaviour that learners should and should not engage in and the
steps that the school will take to ensure that all learners abide by the Code,
without infringing in any way on learners’ human rights.
Even though corporal punishment is now illegal in terms of SASA, school
communities are divided about the appropriateness of its abolition. Teachers
and parents who are accustomed to the use of corporal punishment as a means
of maintaining discipline regard its abolition as an undermining of their
authority and status.
Others welcome its abolition in support of the
Department of Education’s contention (2000:7) that ‘children exposed to
violence in their homes and at school tend to use violence to solve problems,
both as children and adults’. Other reasons for its abolition (Department of
Education, 2000:7) include claims that:
The culture of human rights, tolerance and respect cannot be built by
applying corporal punishment to learners
Corporal punishment evokes feelings of aggression or revenge that will
lead to anti-social behaviour
Children worry about being caught, not about being responsible for what
they have done
Some children, who are used to being beaten and no longer feel the pain,
boast about it in front of others
There is no caring relationship between the learners and the teacher who is
always applying corporal punishment;
Children with learning problems develop a negative attitude to school as
their self-esteem is being undermined
Conceding that the abolition of corporal punishment has resulted in many
teachers experiencing disciplinary problems in their classes, the Department of
Education (2000:1) drew a distinction between discipline and punishment and
listed various alternatives to corporal punishment in the Guidelines provided
to SGBs regarding the development, adoption and implementation of school
codes of conduct.
Discipline is aimed at involving learners, ‘helping them to achieve and realize
the importance of being organized and well prepared’ (Scalps and Solomon,
1990:40). Discipline is not confrontational or punitive; rather, it is aimed at the
development of self-control, self-discipline and respect for self and others. It is
therefore constructive and educative. Punishment is the opposite of discipline
and includes measures like shouting, beating and sarcasm. Such methods are
punitive and in many cases fail to correct the wrong behaviour. It is therefore
necessary to implement disciplinary measures that will encourage learners to
behave appropriately. In order to maintain classroom discipline learners need
to feel safe and accept responsibility for their own behaviour.
Suggestions for maintaining discipline include collaborative formulation of
class and school rules, adequate lesson preparation by teachers, and the
nurturing of positive relationship between the various members of the school
community – parents, learners and school staff. Classroom discipline may be
enforced through ground rules. Rules should be developed together with
learners. All learners need to understand what the rules mean and adhere to
them. The rules must be displayed where everyone will see them. Because it is
an agreement with everybody in the class, learners must sign and bind
themselves to obey those rules.
What happens in the classroom must happen in the school: ‘classroom and
school strategies should be congruent’ (Department of Education, 2000:12).
Consistency in applying rules is crucial but should at all times be fair and
aimed at establishing relationships of trust with learners. Learners who feel
positive about themselves and their ability to succeed will perform better
(Department of Education, 2000:13).
Principals as change agents and managers
One of the greatest challenges that school principals currently face is the art of
weaving both leadership and management together in the execution of their
duties in schools. According to Van Heerden (2002:11), ‘too many schools
are over-managed and under-led’. The radical changes that have and are
continuing to take place within the education sector in South Africa
necessitates the presence of principals who are both – leaders as well as
Traditionally, school principals were regarded as head teachers responsible for
executing tasks with limited complexity. However, as a result of continuous
change, especially in the education sector, schools have become complex
educational institutions and principals have to display new skills and accept
new responsibilities – that is, they must match the positions they occupy. By
implication, there is an urgent need for them to be trained, academically and
professionally, in educational management (Van der Westhuizen, 1991:2).
Because it believes that it is imperative to establish a clear and agreed
understanding of what the country’s education system expects of those who
are entrusted with the leadership and management of its schools (DoE, 2005:
4), it supports principals who are currently in position of leadership and
management of schools in the furtherance of their studies and/or selfdevelopment by offering departmental workshops and funding tertiary studies.
In this way, claims the Department, it is demonstrating its commitment to
raising the professional standards for leadership and management in South
African schools, something that will benefit education as a whole.
The Department of Education (DoE) regards the ‘core purpose of
principalship’ as the provision of leadership and management in the school
because it enables the creation and support of conditions under which high
quality teaching and learning can take place and promotes the highest possible
standards of learner achievement in any context (DoE, 2005:10). Informed by
this notion, DoE has identified six areas of principalship that, together,
constitute the job description of principals. These, as stipulated in the
Employment of Educators Act (Act 76 of 1998), are:
General/Administrative duties related to the acceptance of responsibility
for the professional management of the school, like giving instructions and
guidelines for timetabling, admission and placement of learners; keeping
records of school accounts and events; ensuring that information in
departmental circulars is conveyed to staff members and/or stored in an
accessible manner; regularly inspecting the school premises and equipment
to ensure that they are being used properly and that good discipline is
being maintained.
Personnel management, which entails the provision of professional
leadership in the school through actions like guiding, supervising and
offering professional advice on the work and performance of all staff in the
school and, where necessary, discussing and writing reports on teaching,
support, non-teaching and other staff. It also involves ensuring equitable
evaluations/forms of assessment conducted in the school are properly and
efficiently organized.
Teaching, a duty that requires the principal’s teaching a certain percentage
of the time and assessing learner performance in accordance with the
workload of the relevant post level.
Interaction with stakeholders, by serving on and rendering assistance to
the governing body of the school and by participating in community
Communication with school staff and the school governing body to
ensure the efficient and smooth running of the school; liaising with the
Circuit/ Regional Office, Section concerning the administration, staffing,
accounting, purchase of equipment and updating of learner statistics, and
cooperating with the governing body regarding specified aspects in the
South African Schools Act.
Managing the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS),
designed by the Department of Education to ensure quality public
education for all and to consistently improve the quality of teaching and
learning. In accordance with Collective Agreement Number 8 (DoE
2003:3), principals, in managing the IQMS, have to:
appraise individual teachers in a transparent manner with a view to
determining their strength and weaknesses and to follow this up
(Developmental Appraisal Program).
evaluate individual teachers (Circular 64/2007, 2007:3-4) for
salary progression, grade progression, affirmation of appointments
and rewards and incentives in terms of a performance agreement
between the principal as supervisor and the relevant teacher
(Performance Management)
evaluate the overall effectiveness of a school, including the support
provided by the District, school management, infrastructure and
learning resources (Whole School Evaluation).
Change involves ‘moving from a present state to a different future one
(Schumacher and Sommers, 2001:89). Many changes, at both personal and
organizational level, require new knowledge and skills to enable us to
adapt successfully to new requirements and circumstances’ (Whitaker,
1993:49). Indications in literature are that principals are responsible for
turning around and bringing change to schools: they are the apex of every
institution and are responsible for setting the tone and giving direction
(Hausman, 2000:39-40; Quaglia and Quay, 2003:27). In order to do this,
principals must not simply be leaders but ‘facilitators, balancers, flag
bearers, bridgers and inquirers. They recognize that although all these
forces and constituencies are resources, the proverbial buck stops with
them’ (Ralles and Goldring, 2000:135). In the end the buck stops with the
principal: it is s/he who has to see to it that change is effectively
implemented (Rust and Freidus, 2001).
School managers were under considerable pressure to implement the
unprecedented array of change initiatives that came with the demise of
apartheid and that this has resulted in intense emotional fatigue amongst
them. Such ‘emotional fatigue’, according to Fullan and Stiegelbauer
(1991:165), is typically due to principals not understanding the changes
that they are supposed to implement, not being supported by central
administration to deal with change but also to their keeping their concerns
and fears about change implementation to themselves so that others might
not think them ‘stupid’, ‘incompetent’ or ‘subversive’ and not sharing such
concerns with teachers either because it is easier to ‘manage’ teachers if
one ‘keeps one’s distance’. Consequently, many principals have not lived
up to such expectations in recent times (Duignan, 2007:6).
In their execution of leadership and management tasks, principals should
work democratically with teachers, parents and learners as well as with
other stakeholders (Atkinson, 2000:16; Nadler, 1999:93; Theron,
2007:201). This requires effective two-way communication between the
principal and all other parties. Through communicating with one another
the entire school community can retain the motivation and inspiration
required to make change happen and to sustain it for as long as required
(Kruger and Van Deventer 2005:156; Holbeche, 2006:315, Johnson,
2001:32; Nadler, 1991:93; Weideman, 2002:16-18). Feedback and
consultation are important elements of effective change in that they ensure
clarity and test understanding (Smit and De Cronje, 1997:345; Weller and
Weller, 2002:112). The principal should therefore not only talk but also
listen, ensuring that the message is tailored properly and that the
environment in which it is conveyed is one of trust and receptivity to
alternate or new ideas (Smit and De Cronje, 1997:343). The principal
should also avoid ‘information overload’ since this could result in a
breakdown of communication.
Finally, given the complexity and subjective meaning of change, principals
who act as change agents need to expect and be able to resolve conflict,
(Mullins, 2005:904; Robbins, 2005:422) It is up to them to ‘find a
harmonious balance between conflict and cooperation’ (Martin, 2005:746;
Prinsloo, 2001:3) by distinguishing between the person and the problem
that causes conflict (Prinsloo, 2001:7). In a situation where teachers
experience difficulty accepting and dealing with educational change, for
example, the principal should try to identify and address the cause of the
difficulty rather than blaming the person or his/her attitude towards
change. Above all, the principal should accept that it is natural to want to
win in a conflict situation (Kruger and Van Deventer, 2005:32) and try to
create a ‘win-win’ situation.
Principals could utilize a variety of strategies to resolve conflict, bearing in
mind that ‘he is dealing with a group of intelligent and reasonable
professional people, who will attempt to remain loyal to him (Van der
Westhuizen, 1991:319). He should, therefore, strive to get groups or
individuals to the point where they admit the validity or basis of one
another’s viewpoints so that they can discuss the problems frankly and
objectively. Such a situation becomes possible when people involved
cooperate, and are open and willing and ready to reach a certain level of
With regard to conflicts resulting from resistance to change, principals
should remember that the reason for the resistance might simply be the
result of people not knowing how to cope with it (Fullan, 1999, p. xii;
Rossow and Warner, 2000:283-284). More often than not ‘resistance to
change results because most of the working environment are structured
and arranged to deal with the work in the way that they have understood it
and not with the work arranged in the way they thought of’ (Kendall,
1990:23). By affording teachers the opportunity to express their fears, to
speak about change and how it will affect them, and to express their
frustrations, principals are creating a trusting safe environment more
conducive to the acceptance of change. Also, by involving teachers in the
change process throughout (Newton and Tarrant, 1992:93; Smit and De
Cronje 1997:267; Surowiecki, 2005:29)) principals will be breaking down
resistance to change. Honesty is crucial in this regard. No matter how
promising and innovative educational change may appear to the principal,
he/she has the responsibility of informing, consulting and actively
engaging teachers about the impact the change would have on their job
function in its genesis, (Massie and Douglas, 1992:17; Earley and
Weidling, 2004:58; Hobson, 2003:15).
Above all, principals should remember that staff members are usually
more readily inclined to accept programmes of change if the principal
seems to favour these changes and if s/he directs and facilitates the change
(Hall and Hord, 2001:149) in supportive ways (Theron, 2007:198; Van der
Westhuizen, 1991:648). The role of the principal is to create conditions
within the school that will appreciate, cultivate and support change.
(Mphahlele, 2003: 23). In the management of curriculum change, for
example, principals, in providing initiative and leadership, should be seen
to be involved in many curriculum tasks as a major player and decision
(Ubben, Hughes and Norris, 2001:116). In this regard Coleman, Graham
and Middlewood (2003:66) suggests that principals should have a holistic
understanding of the curriculum in its entirety; should accept
accountability for the maintenance of consistently high standards; should
develop and maintain an appropriate culture for curriculum innovation;
should manage the relevant structures required for curriculum innovation;
should delegate operational roles to able staff members, while still
managing the whole process. In this sense the principal is the key figure in
implementation and continuation of change (Fullan and Stiegelbauer,
3.4 Sacred stories of change
Key to an understanding of the ‘re-storied’ principals’ narratives presented in
the next chapter is an understanding of the context in which they experience
change, in which their stories are played out. It is important, therefore, to
spend some time on a discussion of the sacred nature of the educational
change story in South Africa.
It was Reid (1987:12) who first applied the phrase, ‘sacred story’ to policy making and implementation. Following Clandinin and Connelly’s (2000: 3-5)
discussion of the way policies are ‘funnelled’ into schools and how school
staff ‘professionalized’ policy material so as to make it part of the communal
knowledge environment in which they worked, Reid (1987:16) argued that
policy, ‘stripped of its deliberative origins has the abstract epistemological
quality of theoretical knowledge stripped of its inquiry origins’. Consequently
it simulates the ‘rhetoric of conclusions’ typical of theoretical discourse, that
is, ‘theoretical knowledge uprooted from its origins and standing in abstract,
objective independence’ (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000: 9).
According to Spence (1982:36), it is the ‘universality and taken-forgrantedness of the supremacy of theory over practice gives it the quality of a
sacred story’. In taking something for granted one implies that it represents
that which is or should be, that which is to be adhered to, not criticized. These
stories are, moreover, ‘sacred’, according to Spence (1982:37), in their
elusiveness – they can seldom be ‘fully and directly told because they live, so
to speak, in the arms and legs and bellies of the celebrants’, those in whose
consciousness it lies so deep that it cannot be spoken about.
Clandinin and Connelly (2000:8-10) argue that teachers’ professional
landscape is embedded in a sacred story, one which they should not
interrogate but accept because it has been ‘packaged for them in textbooks,
curriculum materials and professional development workshops’, but also in
policy documents.
School principals, in their capacity as managers and
leaders, are required to know, understand and facilitate the implementation of
policy directives as a matter of course. This is part of their job. By implication,
they are obliged to provide those whom they manage and lead with a ‘policy
knowledge and skills package’ – the rhetoric of conclusions – that they
themselves received from the policymakers ‘up there’.
Principals therefore find themselves with a moral and professional dilemma.
They are expected to ‘preach the gospel’ (Bacal, 2006:13; Mathibe, 2007:533
and Prew, 2007:458) according to this sacred story to the ‘disciples’ at their
own schools, regardless of the fact that the language in which policy
documents are written – also the language used in policy training workshops –
is abstract and unfamiliar to them. Secondly, they have been ‘screened’ from
the subjective reality of the policy because they do not know those persons of
flesh and blood who were responsible for the documents with which they are
presented. Rather, they meet the change agents, whose only responsibility is to
ensure that they have the requisite knowledge and skills to implement the
policy. Thirdly, principals are themselves at the receiving rather than the
creation end of the scale, not having been involved in the development of the
policy documents, only in the implementation part (Weller and Weller,
2000:88) Their entry into the arena of educational change is, therefore, an ex
post factum one –they have had no opportunity to debate either the policy
itself or issues related to its but they are morally obliged to ensure its
implementation at their schools.
On the one end of an imagined scale principals are expected, even demanded
to willingly and ably manage (implement) policy changes in their schools
without question or criticism. On the other end of the scale they are expected
to lead in change, critically reflecting on what they do, distinguishing between
what works and what does not, thereby paving the way forward (Duffy,
1999:30-31; Dunklee, 2000:91). The very different positions represented by
these two ends of the imaginary scale typically result in conflict – internal as
well as external. Principals might well have to choose between their own
values and understandings of their leadership and management role and the
expectations of those whom they are representing – the policy makers versus
the teachers, learners and parents. According to Cuban (1992:6), ‘competing,
highly prized values’ in contexts like these are seldom fully satisfied.
Consequently, principals have to operate in an‘uneasy professional
environment’, never sure of their position and/or constantly confronted by the
conflicting demands of policy and practice.
In order to cope with this moral dilemma, principals often adopt different
personas appropriate to difference spaces and situations, forcing them to ‘split’
their professional ‘existence’ into different parts (Clandinin and Connelly,
2000: 5; and Cuban, 1992). This is especially true in the South African
situation. Given its past history of racial fragmentation, social inequality and
current tensions related to the integration of diverse peoples, cultures,
languages and religions, school principals are trapped in this dilemma.
Principals who have been stripped of the power they previously had, power
based on their race, are morally obliged to support the sacred story of
educational change in South Africa in fear of being called racist, and/or at the
risk of being retrenched. Those for whom the changed dispensation brought
liberations are morally obliged to support the initiatives of those they voted
into power even when they are uncomfortable about some of the changes. If
they were to criticize the innovations they could be regarded as disloyal to the
cause, corrupted by western ideas or undermining the dream of a new South
African. While all ‘policy stories’ could therefore be regarded as sacred, the
policy story of educational change in South Africa seems to be more sacred
than others because its moral dimension involves more than commitment to
educational change – it involves a commitment to the creation of a new
society, irrespective of loss and gain.
3.5 Concluding comments
Principals are the last link between the school communities and the
Department of Education. Whilst they are seen by the Department of
Education as leading professionals and responsible to carry the transformation
process forward, they are teachers in schools who also have to go through all
the challenges that are experienced in school.
This chapter outlined the
significant role of principals and the impact they have on schools.
Comparing various theorists’ positions on educational change and the way
those who have a stake in education deal with change, I argued in this chapter
that change theory is also a story, albeit a different kind of story. While
researchers such as (Carter, 1997, Clandinin and Connelly, 2000) emphasize
the moral and epistemological differences between theoretical and narrative
knowledge, I maintain that the theoretical story of educational change and its
management is, in fact, the macro story within which the individual stories of
the principals who participated in my inquiry are framed.
prepositional, generic, relational, impersonal and situation-independent
whereas narrative knowledge/language is prototypical, personal, contextual,
and subjective, I argue that school principals, having being exposed to
theoretical knowledge on the management of educational change and having
adopted the terminology of educational change theory in thinking and talking
about their own experiences of change are, in fact, adding to generic change
It is on the basis of the preceding thesis that I used this chapter to juxtapose
the theoretical story of change - as propagated/narrated through the lens of
complexity theory – with the official story of educational change in South
Africa during the period 1998-2008. In doing so, I suggested that the official
story of educational change and the way it should have been managed in South
Africa represent what Clandinin and Connelly (2000:8) call a ‘sacred story’, a
story that is ‘so pervasive’ that it remains ‘mostly unnoticed and, when named,
is hard to define’ because it lies ‘too deep in the consciousness of the people to
be directly told’.
The results of my inquiry, which are presented in the next chapter as
individual principals’ narratives of change, suggest that the sacred story of
educational change in South Africa has been told so often, with such passion
and conviction, that it has become an intrinsic part of the consciousness of
those who have to live it even if and when it sits uneasy with them.
Introduction and Purpose
This chapter is aimed at presenting, in narrative form, principals’ experiences
of educational change in South Africa during the period 1998 to 2008 as told
by the five principals who participated in my inquiry. As indicated in Chapter
2, I restructured – or re-storied - the original versions of principals’
experiences of change with a view to ensuring that each story had a
chronological storyline that enabled me to identify similarities and differences
between individual principals’ stories. In interpreting the re-storied narratives,
I took cognizance of the ‘sacred story’ of educational change in South Africa
that I presented in Chapter 3, since it forms the context within which
principals’ individual and collective stories were shaped.
Given the qualitative nature of my inquiry, specifically the fact that qualitative
data analysis is inductive rather than deductive, the stories presented in this
chapter no longer represent raw data in pure form. The vignettes presented
here are merely what I regarded as significant excerpts from my restructured
versions of principals’ first-hand accounts of the way they experienced the
educational changes referred to in this study. In this sense the vignettes
represent what I regard as significant and are the result of my re-storying of
principals’ original accounts that emerged from the interview data. The
transcribed interviews (Annexure G) represent the raw data in pure form. My
restructured narrative version of each of these transcripts represents the first
stage of my interpretation of the data, the selection of significant vignettes the
second, and the interpretation of these the third. The fourth stage of my data
analysis, the results of which are also included in this chapter, is the
identification of common themes or patterns in principals’ stories. The
answers that these themes provide to my initial research questions are
presented in the next chapter.
My approach to the restructuring/re-storying of principals’ first-hand accounts
of their experiences of educational change is explained in detail in Chapter 2.
Suffice it to restate here that I approached the analysis of the eventual
narratives in a holistic way. As indicated in Chapter 2, holistic analysis is a
three-dimensional process focusing on the content (what the narrator tells the
listener), structure (how the narrator merges the various parts of the story into
a cohesive narrative) and the form (the words, expressions, figures of speech,
etc. that the narrator uses in telling the story) of each story told.
In reading principals’ stories I formed a mental image of each character
(Lieblich et al, 1998:13) that suggested what it is that drives, exhilarates,
upsets and calms down each of them. Informed by this understanding I was
then able to infer the reasons for each principal’s particular response to
change, whether self-initiated or externally imposed. I then double-checked
the inferences against the turning points, climaxes and denouements that
emerged from the structural analysis (Bryman, 2001: 412) and/or the themes,
hidden attitudes and emotions reflected in the way each principal told his/her
story – verbally as well as non-verbally (Punch, 1998: 219).
I took cognizance of the milieu (physical and emotional) in which each story
played itself out as well as of the way in which different characters in the
story interacted with one another. As regards the protagonist in each story –
that is, the principal who is telling it with him/herself as the main character – I
speculate on the influence that his/her milieu might have on his/her response
to change, indicate what inspired him/her to embark on the journey of
principalship, highlight events that I regard as milestones in his/her journey
towards principalship, mention obstacles, or stumbling blocks, on the way and
draw inferences about the difference between the dream and the reality of
principalship – their destination – as experienced by each of them.
Using a journey as metaphor for principals’ experiences of change made it
easier for me to compare individual parts of the stories with one another
(Lieblich et al, 1998:88) and enabled me to link the themes emerging from the
stories to my initial research questions.
In terms of this metaphor, principals’ reasons for embarking on the journey
towards principalship and the steps they took to prepare themselves for the
journey represents the first stage of the journey. The second stage focuses on
the journey itself, the obstacles along the way and their eventual destination –
being appointed as principals. The third stage focuses on the eventual
destination, the extent to which it lived up to their expectations, and their
views on the way forward.
Main characters as narrators
Character 1-The principal of School A
The principal in School A was given the pseudonym Kedibone - meaning ‘I
have seen many events taking place here’. She was given the name because
of challenging events that are taking place in her school. Kedibone is a black,
single secondary school principal of medium height with manageable weight.
She is in her mid-forties. As a result of the events taking place at her school,
she is depressed and this makes her ineffective in her work.
Character 2 – The principal of School B
The principal of School B was given the pseudonym Goboima – meaning ‘It is
difficult.’ She was given the name because of the difficulties she experiences
at her school. She was appointed as a teacher without teaching qualifications.
She is a black married primary farm school principal who is in her late forties,
short and overweight. She experiences difficulties in her daily work and this
makes her to be timid, fearful and depressed in her work. She is an ineffective
Character 3 – The principal of School C
The principal of School C was given the pseudonym Rekopane – meaning ‘we
are united’ The name has been give to him as a result of the transformation in
his school, which includes, amongst others, the introduction of English as an
additional language and the admission of black learners at the school. The
name suggests that black and white learners and parents are uniting. Rekopane
is a white male married secondary school principal who is in his early-fifties.
He is tall and well built. He is confident and optimistic and that makes him to
be an effective leader and manager.
Character 4: The principal of School D
The principal of School D was given the pseudonym Šomišanang, which
means ‘working together.’ The name was given to him because of the
presence of learners from different racial groups in his school. Though it is a
former Afrikaans model C school, learners from other racial groups are
learning through the language of Afrikaans. The name appeals to the white
teachers and parents to work together with learners and parents from other
groups. Šomišanang is a married, white male school principal. He is a tall and
overweight person who is in his late fifties. He is a confident person that
makes him to be an effective leader and a manager.
Character 5 – The principal of School E
The principal of School E was given the pseudonym Kedisaletse – meaning ‘I
have been left behind to solve them.’ He was given the name because of the
events that were happening at his school where everybody seemed to be
moving out and leaving him behind to solve problems of the school.
Kedisaletse is a black male primary farm school principal. He is a married
person in his early forties, tall and overweight. He sometimes feels depressed
because of the situation at his school but his confidence makes him carry out
his work well.
Narrative context
Context, as used in this chapter, refers to the physical and emotional milieu in
which each of the participating principals currently carries out his/her
managerial and leadership duties, as well as the cultural and/or racial
background by which their individual characters were and are still being
shaped. Since all their stories – past and present – play out against the broader
South African background, (pre- and post- apartheid), context also refers to
South Africa and the changes it has gone through, with specific reference to
the changes that occurred in education.
In describing individual principal’s specific working milieus I took the
necessary steps to ensure that the inferences I make regarding their responses
to change are informed by contextual data rather than subjective bias on my
part. Moreover, it gave me a sense of other factors, apart from the change
factor, that could have had an effect on principals’ experiences of change and
the roles they are playing in this regard.
As indicated in Chapter Two, the empirical part of my investigation was
conducted in five Gauteng North District schools. Some schools are situated in
a town surrounded by farms and close to the Mpumalanga border. Although it
is a relatively small town, its infrastructure is sound: basic services, such as
water and electricity, housing, education, libraries and policing, are available
to all. The rate of unemployment and illiteracy is, however, relatively high,
with those who are employed typically working in the local municipality, on
farms, or in government institutions like schools, clinics and police stations in
the area. Some, though, work in Pretoria, an urban area approximately 60 km
away from town. Schools in the area are in a relatively good condition and are
managed by the Gauteng Department of Education. Nearly all schools in the
area fall partially under Section 21 and they therefore receive an annual
subsidy from the Department of Education.
As also indicated in Chapter Two, I made use of purposive sampling to select
principals who were to participate in my study, a choice that enabled me to
choose cases (schools and principals) exhibiting features relevant to my
research focus (Silverman, 2000:105). Some of the schools are situated in
town; some are in townships and others are on farms. The principals I
identified include one white male secondary school principal, one white male
primary school principal, one female black primary farm school principal, one
male black primary farm school principal, and one female black secondary
school principal, all of whom have been heads of institutions for at least 10
years. I specifically selected principals from different racial and gender groups
because I wanted to factor these differences into my understanding of the way
these influenced their experience of and response to educational change during
the period 1998 to 2008.
Narrative content
The selected principals themselves provided narrative content, that is, the firsthand accounts that provided the data for my ‘research story’. Their stories
emerged during my one-on-one interviews with each of them. To enable me to
capture everything principals told me, I tape-recorded each interview, with
their permission, promising to protect their identities and the identities of their
schools, to give them the opportunity of doing a ‘reality check’ (Lincoln and
Guba, 1998: 211) reading and, if necessary, amending the tape-recorded
transcripts, and undertaking to destroy all the recordings once the study had
run its course.
In analyzing the narrative content, I combined holistic and categorical content
approaches (Lieblich et al, 1998:13) because I first wanted to get a sense of
the professional life stories of the original narrators before I attempted to trace
emerging themes and uncover hidden stories, motives, thoughts and emotions.
Following Lieblich et al, (1998:62) I read the transcribed interviews conducted
with each of the participating principals more than once, highlighting specific
incidents and utterances that would help me better to understand the person
whose story I was planning to analyze.
I then removed the original interview questions so as to foreground the voice
of the original narrator. That done, I re-storied the original narratives by
organizing them in terms of a journey – the metaphor I chose as the organizing
principle for my research story (see Annexure G for complete restoried
versions). I then read the stories again, noting the plots and emerging themes
of individual vignettes - the ‘little’ stories that the original narrators used to
illustrate a point (Rogan and de Kock, 2005:14) – relating them to the story as
a whole. In this way I managed to trace what Polkinhorne (1988:15) termed
the ‘progression of the plot’, where the hero – or protagonist - advances
towards his/her goal.
Following Van Manen (1988:107), recurring patterns/trends were noted
throughout but only grouped as emerging themes in retrospect, once the
structural and discourse analyses of each story had been completed. The
identification of ‘universal statements’ – themes emerging from principals’
collective stories was done in the same way, by comparing the themes of
individual stories with each other.
Narrative discourse
Various researchers (Lieblich et al, 1998:155) have argued that specific
aspects of narrative ‘can yield insight into the emotional experience with
which a narrative is charged’. Amongst the aspects they mention are:
What Lieblich et al (1998:155) call ‘mental’ verbs, such as thought,
understood, noticed, etc., that could be indicative of the extent to which
the character is consciously processing the experience being related.
Ways in which narrators use denotations of time and place to create or
bridge distance between what is being related and what was in fact
experienced, thereby suggesting the extent to which the narrator is able or
willing to identify him/herself with the experience concerned.
Narrators referring to themselves in the first, second or third person and
their tendency to switch between these, indicating the probability that
narrators are – consciously or unconsciously – creating a split between
their speaking and experiencing selves in an attempt to cope with
disturbing emotions associated with the event being related and/or with the
traumatic nature of the event itself.
Repetitions (of syllables, words, sentences and ideas) and detailed
description of events, both of which may indicate difficulty in verbalizing
the experience and/or in an upsurge of emotions associated with the event.
In analyzing the way in which participating principals communicated their
experiences I focused not only on the language they used, but also on voice,
tone, facial expressions and body language. To do so, I reread the original
transcriptions of the tape-recorded interviews, marking all the episodes that
seemed to cause a disturbance to the narrators, those that suggested some kind
of disharmony in their stories, and those that were indicative of their reasoning
processes. Thereafter I marked the formal linguistic aspects described in the
previous paragraph to determine whether or not there were any disjuncture
between the content of the narrative and the way in which it was
communicated (Lieblich, et al, 1998:156).
Restructured narratives
Individual stories are presented in similar, but not identical, vein in that some
parts are summarized, some presented verbatim, all accompanied by my
comments or interpretations, and all concluding with brief concluding
comments on my impression of the original narrator’s character and the
impact that educational change has had on him/her. In commenting on each
character’s story, I draw distinctions between what I regard as cover stories
and secret stories, indicating as far as possible, the relation of each to the
sacred story or stories in which they evolve and/or are resolved.
Kedibone’s story
Kedibone, a black woman in her mid forties, has been a principal for 11 years,
since 1997. The secondary school at which she is principal is situated in a
township approximately 15km from town and had a learner enrolment of
approximately - 800 to 850 at the time of my inquiry, with some of the
learners coming from nearby farms. The school has had a democratically
elected governing body since May 2006. Even though the school is subsidized
by the Gauteng Department of Education, which allocates funds to the school
to pay for services and to maintain the school buildings annually, the school
has been experiencing financial difficulties. This is partially due to the fact
that the majority of parents are unemployed and some are farm labourers and
are unable to pay schools fees with the result that the school was declared a
‘no fee’ school – exempting parents from paying school fees - in 2007.
Kedibone started her teaching career at Post Level 1, as a classroom teacher.
Later she was appointed as deputy principal and eventually as acting principal
of a primary school in the largely rural Limpopo Province before she applied
for the position of principal at her current school. Kedibone indicated that she
had always dreamt of being a principal but that it was while she was acting
principal and had the opportunity of attending a number of principal’s
workshops on school leadership and management that her dream was
resuscitated. It was also during this period that she saw the advertisement – for
a principal’s position at a secondary school in the Gauteng Province – and
decided to apply for it. She went for an interview and was subsequently
appointed. Nobody urged her to apply – she did it of her own accord, motivated
by her dream and the knowledge and experience she had gained as acting
Reflecting on the move from her old school to the new one, Kedibone indicated
that it had not been an easy one, mostly because she was not used to working at
a secondary school but also because of the responsibilities attached to the
position of being a principal and the fact that principals had to account for their
actions to all the school stakeholders. The problems Kedibone remembers,
though, are not specifically related to either of these two aspects of
principalship. Rather, they indicate problems she had in establishing her
authority as a principal. She remembers problems with staff members who
resisted her appointment and learners who were bigger and more problematic
than those she had been used to at a primary school.
In reminiscing on the problems she experienced when first taking up the
position of principal at her current school, Kedibone seemingly triggered
memories of similar experiences she had when first taking on management
responsibilities in the rural school where she started her teaching career. She
ascribed the problems to the fact that teachers at her previous school were loath
to accord her the respect that was due to her because of their friendship with the
former principal – hence they resisted any changes she wanted to make – and
because her position as ‘acting’ principal did not give her the same authority
and status that an ‘official’ appointment would have.
Kedibone responds to these problems by pulling rank, ‘issuing instructions as if
I am already a permanent principal’, claiming that the problems are not her
fault but lie in others’ attitudes towards her, insisting that she enjoys being
principal because she likes ‘working with people’, pretending that the problems
do not exist. Her description of what ‘working with people’ means, namely
‘giving them direction…guiding…(and) motivating them’ suggests that she
likes being in charge of others even though she claims that principalship is not
about the ‘promotion’ but about the ‘positive impact’ that she could have on
the school and those associated with it.
Kedibone’s inclination to blame external factors for her professional problems
is also evident in her reflection on the impact that post-apartheid educational
changes have had on the school where she is principal. She specifically
mentions changes to the curriculum, resource provision, learner rights, support
given by the district office, sport participation, discipline (corporal
punishment), learner pregnancy, parental involvement, school fees, transport
to and from school, the way in which principals’ role functions have changed,
and increased workloads as personal stress factors.
Her tendency to put up a brave face, pretending that everything will be fine in
the end, is evident when she starts elaborating on the impact of these changes.
Indicating her understanding of the threats that change poses to most people,
the benefits that educational change has had for learners, and her conviction
that the changes were positive ‘because their intention was to change the face
of our schools’, she devotes the rest of her response to a one-sided discussion
of the destabilizing effect of these changes, claiming that the tempo at which
change took place caused chaos, nervousness, uncertainty, anxiety, frustration
and stress, especially on principals, ‘ who were expected to make sure that
everything goes according to plan’.
The image of Kedibone as a person torn between her loyalty to the cause,
maintaining the persona of a capable principal and the struggle she has to keep
it all together reflects the conflicts that often exist between a character’s
sacred, cover and secret stories (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000). This intensity
of this conflict is especially evident in the way that Kedibone narrates her
story, verbally as well as non-verbally.
The stories teachers tell to outsiders are often ‘cover stories…in which they
portray themselves as characters who are certain, expert people’ Clandinin and
Connelly, 2000:15). In so doing, they protect their professional and personal
image by creating an imaginary persona who will be perceived as certain,
expert and worthy of being respected. This is their way of managing their
Kedibone’s cover story is one of a confident, successful and efficient person,
someone who knows what she wants and is willing to do what needs to be
done to achieve her goals and/or realize her dreams. In this story she always
dreamt of being a principal, not because of the status attached to the position
but because she had a vision of herself leading, guiding and directing those
who needed it. What is also clear from Kedibone’s cover story is a belief in
her capability to be principal: her previous principal had appointed her as
deputy principal and later recommended her for the position of acting
principal and she had been appointed as principal of her current school based
on her application and the subsequent interview. Concluding her cover story is
Kedibone’s the impression she wishes to create that any difficulties she might
have experienced previously – at her previous and current schools – are past,
and that the situation she is currently in represents the manifestation of her
dream – ‘I like being a principal here …I am happy’.
Kedibone’s secret story, the story of her internal struggle to keep her head
above water, is reflected in her admission that being a principal is a ’huge
responsibility’, that she ‘did not have the full support from all the educators
and there was a lot of resistance among some of them: you know, dragging of
feet when it comes to carrying out instructions and their duties; submission
always late’ and that the problems she had in dealing with high school learners
were serious…because high school learners are also bigger learners.
Kedibone’s sudden switch from referring to herself in the first person (‘I’) to
the impersonal third person (‘one’) in ‘one finds himself or herself in serious
problems’, suggests a split between the speaking and experiencing self
(Lieblich et al, 1998:156) similar to the split occurring when victims of rape
and abuse adopt multiple personalities as a means of protecting the ‘real’ self.
The trauma these experiences caused her is also suggested in the repeated
interjection - ‘really, really’ - as well as in the way she communicates nonverbally - scratching her head (not wanting to believe it actually happened),
folding her arms across her chest (to protect herself from assault), and pausing
often (as if to catch her breath).
Having exposed her vulnerability, Kedibone reverts to the creation of an
illusion that everybody in her school is working harmoniously together, telling
me that learners look to ‘us as their parents … we do it’ (discipline, motivate,
guide and lead). Or perhaps this is a technique by means of which she gains
some comfort, seeing herself as one of a community of principals, recalling
the feeling of togetherness she experienced while attending the principals’
workshops during her Limpopo days. Having gathered some strength from the
communal reference she reverts to the first person -‘I guess those workshops
helped me so much that (I) started to learn many more things about being a
principal’. Implying that being a principal is an important and lonely job that
can be done only by those with courage and determination, Kedibone merges
her secret and cover stories with an illustration of her own courage and
determination - ‘…but you know, even though I was the acting principal - but
like I said, it was very difficult – I acted as if I was already the principal…but
to me it was a challenge which I knew that I will defeat it one day’.
It is in Kedibone’s reflection on the changes that have taken place in South
African school education during the period 1998 to 2008 that the first glimpses
of her sacred story make their appearance. As indicated earlier, Kedibone
first became a principal in the new political dispensation. Since she had
previously been a member of that part of South African society that had been
oppressed and disadvantaged by apartheid she might feel morally obliged to
support any changes to the old system, including the old system of education.
In this sense the story of policy change could be equated with a ‘sacred’ story,
a story that should not be questioned because it is ‘right’. As a principal,
Kedibone’s moral obligation to support change is even imperative since, in her
own words, principals have to ‘make sure that everything goes according to
plan. When things go right or wrong they all look at the principal and (pause)
as a principal I have to carry every bit and piece of information before I can
give to other people’.
As expected of any loyal disciple Kedibone explicitly mentions positive
changes in education.
‘Our learners come from the farms where there are no high schools, so
they come here. You know, in the past these learners were struggling with
transport because most of them had to travel on foot, and some were
hiking and were not safe. So, since 1994 there was an improvement for
them because the department has organized a free scholar transport to
take them to school and back home, and they are encouraged to come to
school because they have transport’.
‘And so, at first such parents were exempted from paying school fees for
their children because…because most of the parents come from poor home
backgrounds where they can hardly afford food at home, so exempting
them from paying school fees was a relief to them. As you know most of the
children in the past left school because their parents did not have money.’
Her deliberate attempt to be loyal to the doctrine of the sacred story is, however,
undermined by her non-verbal communication. While telling me how parents
and learners benefited from the exemption of school fees, she avoided looking
me in the eye, preferring to tidy up her desk, moving books around, as if she was
nervous that she might be caught out telling a lie. To protect herself she once
again uses generalization.
‘It was not good because people did not understand. I mean, educators
did not understand what was happening at first, especially the new
curriculum. The new curriculum was not warmly welcomed because
teachers did not see the need to change... The situation was stressful on
everybody, especially principals.’
Although Kedibone does not specifically refer to or even identify the sacred
(policy) story, her awareness of its existence and of the moral obligation it
places on her as a principal is clear from the fact that she once again moves
away from using the first person to using the third. The switch is different from
the earlier one, though: she now switches from the personal first (‘I’) to the
professional third (‘the principal’), implying that what is true for her as a
principal is by implication true for all other principals. Indications are that
Kedibone uses this generalization ‘that holds true in all cases’ (Lieblich et al,
1998:149) to remind herself that she is not alone in this, that other principals are
experiencing the same problems that she is, because she suddenly switches from
the impersonal third person referred to as ‘the principal’ to the more personal
plural ‘we’, referring to the community of principals of which she is a member.
It would seem as if she derives comfort from discussing the effect of change on
others rather than on herself. At the same time she reveals much about her
personality and her belief in her own ability to manage changes with which she
might not agree.
‘Things were not as we expected them to be…those changes made us to go
through tough and difficult times…we were expected as principals to
manage and to make those changes to become real…we were nervous,
uncertain, anxious and frustrated and I think this is the feeling we have
gone through during that period…I mean that corporal punishment was
abolished in schools…to many schools it was …it was a means of
maintaining discipline…Yes…it was cruel to punish learners in such an
inhuman way but today we longer have learners in our schools who are
committed…especially high school learners…Schools have turned into
centers of drugs and other forms of crime…learners they give a lot of
Kedibone provides no evidence to support her generalized contention that
corporal punishment had been a means of maintaining order and discipline in
other schools prior to its abolition or that its abolition was causing disciplinary
problems in schools other than her own. Neither does she provide evidence of
other principals being nervous, uncertain, anxious and frustrated, or that they are
finding it as difficult as she does to manage changes at school level. Even so the
sacred story is there, in the phrase ‘we were expected to’. Whose expectations
were these? When, where and how were they conveyed? Why would principals
have to live up to them and what would the consequences be if they did not?
Kedibone also makes use of what Lieblich et al (1998:149) calls ‘qualified
generalizations’, that is, generalizations framed in a way that indicates that the
person who uses them is aware of their limitations. When talking about
curriculum changes, for example, Kedibone uses the word, ‘guess’ to suggest
her awareness of the limitations inherent in her generalizations.
‘I guess even up to today the schools don’t have a clear
curriculum…that we can say it will be there with in the years to
come…they way things are changing, this brings a lot of uncertainty to
Having pointed out that ’the new curriculum was not warmly welcomed’, that
teachers ‘did not see the need to change’, and that this caused
‘confusion…making the situation to be difficult’, Kedibone pointed out that new
ways of ‘teaching and learning, where learners are participating much, unlike
in the past…’ was a move in the right direction. In explicitly balancing her
concerns with praise Kedibone once again suggests that she is aware of her
moral obligation to believe in and promote the sacred stories created by policy
makers and/or change agents. Not only does her use of understatements and the
use of abstract and/or euphemistic jargon typical of sacred stories (learning
curve; coming to terms with…) emphasize her awareness of the existence of
such stories but it also helps her cover up her doubts about the value and
sustainability of that which it preaches.
‘I cannot say that the situation is stabilized…I guess we are still battling
to come to terms with the new curriculum and how to keep discipline in
our school… “its only a few of those who don’t do their work, who stay
outside their classes and who are continually absent from school.”
Perhaps unbeknown to her, Kedibone’s use of the figurative expression,
‘battling’ calls up images of war and of schools as war zones. The same image
is reflected in her reference to schools as ’centers of drugs and other forms of
crime’ and her experience of pregnant Grade 12 girls as a “time bomb that is
ticking…once it explodes…someone is going to get into trouble’. According to
Lieblich et al (1998) the use of figurative language – metaphors, similes,
onomatopeia, etc. – is usually indicative of the state of the narrator’s mind.
Based on Kedibone’s choice of metaphors it could safely be inferred that she is
close to breaking point – like the time bomb she was referring to she might well
be on the point of exploding. Indications are that she feels she has no control
over what is happening.
The conflict between her moral obligation to obey the doctrines of the secret
story and her anger at her inability to do so is evident in Kedibone’s lengthy
description of pregnancy amongst Grade 12 girls. Interspersing her seemingly
factual descriptions with repetitions rhetorical questions to which she believes
there is only one answer, Kedibone describes the situation as ‘scary’.
‘Schools don’t have midwives but…but teachers who are responsible for
teaching and not delivering babies…It seems as if they don’t want to
change… and the other thing is these learners know that they cannot be
taken away from school because they are pregnant. According to policy
they cannot be sent home…but this is a time bomb that is ticking - once it
explodes, someone is going to get into trouble…This is affecting the school
negatively. They write their final examination. Do you think they pass?
You know last year only we had at school eight girls who were pregnant
and five of them were in grade 12. What do you call that? Keeping them
here is a scary situation because schools don’t have midwives …teachers
are responsible for teaching and not delivering babies, so keeping them
during pregnancy period we are actually putting ourselves into trouble
…very big trouble’.
In talking about the increase in learner pregnancy Kedibone seems less
concerned about the effect that pregnancy has on the lives of the girls
themselves than she is about the effect it will have on the image and reputation
of the school.
The same conflict between the content of the sacred story she is trying to live
and her secret story of being unable to do so is evident in her use of the sacred
words, ‘sensitive’, ‘roles’, and the acronyms on which policy talk rests (SMT,
SGB) is evident in her discussion of the changed role of principals.
‘A lot has taken place since 1994, and especially for principals. Their roles
have completely changed in that they are accountable to schools: principals
no longer own schools like they used to do in the past; they have the SMTs, the
SGBs, teachers and parents to manage and govern schools. Each unit has a
role to play, but the role of the principal in this time is very sensitive…’
Elaborating on the nature of this ‘sensitivity’, she switches to the plural ‘we’
again, associating herself with the collective body of principals, the one place
where, it seems, she feels that she belongs. Here she is not alone or lonely
because they all, according to her, share the same experience.
‘It was confusing because principals found themselves managing
changes in curriculum, many policies which were passed in schools:
things were not as we expected them to be because those changes made
us to go through tough and difficult times. The situation was stressful
on everybody, especially principals, who were expected to make sure
that everything goes according to plan. “When things go right or
wrong they all look at the principal and (pause) as a principal I have
to carry every bit and piece of information before I can give to other
One gets the sense that, in reflecting on the current state of discipline in her
school, Kedibone feels things have gone out of control.
‘Learners give a lot of headache: no home-works are done and they
are no longer prepared to work, study - and even the simplest things,
like coming to school in time - they bunk classes and stay in toilets
during teaching time.’
Even her non-verbal communication – looking out the window instead of at
me while talking about the problems she has with learner discipline and
coughing nervously every now and again - suggests that she cannot face what
is happening, that she would probably like to escape but cannot. Distancing
herself from the problem, Kedibone once again reverts to using the first person
‘We have the learners’ code of conduct that is …is also helping us but
it is not 100% effective as there are still those learners who don’t want
to cooperate. We have the SGB that is trying to support the school, but
the problem is with parents: they do not avail themselves in those
activities such as parents meetings, calling them to discuss their
children performance in class, for collecting the learners’ report
cards; they don’t do it, and the learners who are problematic are those
whose parents never come to school to attend the meetings. We need
the support of parents, and not all parents do help us to maintain
discipline of the learners…Learners who are problematic are those
whose parents never come to school or to attend meetings. Teachers
are pulling very hard to get to those parents and there is always a gap,
communication, between such parents, and the school has got no
results. These parents no longer care: they have shifted everything to
be carried by teachers.’
Shaking her head to and fro while she says this, perhaps trying to convince
herself and me of the truth of what she is saying, Kedibone ironically does
exactly what she blames the parents for, shifting the responsibility for learner
behavior squarely onto someone else’s shoulders, the shoulders of the parents
in this case, thereby relieving teachers, the school and the principal, herself,
from accountability for poor discipline.
Kedibone’s evaluation of the changes that have occurred in school education
during the ten years from 1998 to 2008 is ambivalent.
‘It is true that schools have changed greatly because…we can see
what is happening around us, and these changes, even though we see
them being good - on the other hand, some of the changes, they
brought chaos in our schools… Some things have changed in our
schools for the better and some changes were the worst. I thought that
we in schools…we will sort of move in the direction that we will have
stability but…it is still difficult and confusing…there is no stability,
because we are still battling with changes that keep on coming.’
Again, the intensity of Kedibone’s emotional state is reflected in the images of
war and chaos that permeate her discourse and the way in which she protects
herself against injury by identifying herself with other principals, suggesting
that the problems she experiences are common to them all and therefore no
fault can be ascribed to her, hence the use of the 1st person plural (‘we’) rather
than the 1st person singular (‘I’). The one time she uses ‘I’ in this vignette is
when she takes it upon herself to act not only as the spokesperson of all
principals but also as spokesperson of all educators - ‘I thought that we…’
In juxtaposing her acknowledgement that the sacred story - ‘schools have
changed’ – is true with her disillusionment at the effect of the change,
Kedibone is in effect confessing that she has lost faith in the sacred story.
Instead of stability change has created ‘chaos’; instead of peace, teachers are
at war, ‘battling’ it out in the trenches, so to speak. The final image of
Kedibone, regardless of her insistence that she will ‘defeat’ (another war
image) her obstacles, is one of a woman who has all but given up. She sees no
light at the end of the tunnel. What she sees is a continuance of change, of
poor relationships, of stress and despair when all she wants is for things to
‘settle down’, allowing her to catch her breath, regain her composure and feel
better about herself and the way she does her job. It is she, not the obstacles in
her way that has been defeated.
Goboima’s story
Goboima had been principal of the same school for the past 16 years when I
interviewed her. She remembered very well that she had started teaching with
no more than a matriculation – school leaving – certificate and that she had
become principal because she happened to be at the right place at the right
time. According to her, she had been informed of a vacancy at a farm school,
she had grabbed the opportunity, offered the farm manager her services as a
teacher, and was summarily appointed. There had been no interviews, no
selection panel and no formal procedures associated with her selection.
Somebody she had offered her services as a teacher at another school had told
her about a vacancy at a farm school and, that is how she came to be a
principal. Three years later, when the then principal left, the farm manager
made her the principal.
The school where Goboima is principal, a relatively small primary school with
200 to 230 learners, is twenty-two kilometers outside town on a farm. Learners
come from the nearby farms and far distant farms, some of them using
transport subsidized by the Department of Education. Of all the schools
included in my inquiry it is the only one still categorized as a Section 20
school. The three functions i.e. payment of services (electricity and water,
Telkom and photocopying), maintenance of buildings and purchasing the
LTSM is in the hands of the District Office. The school sends its requisitions
to the District Office for the materials they need.
In terms of Goboima’s cover story she used to be happy ‘here’, at this
particular school, because she enjoyed the environment, the people and her
initial job as a teacher, and ‘things were simple then’. However, since she
became the principal things have become so ‘hectic’ that she is now suffering
from ‘high blood pressure’. The way Goboima tells the story she is all alone she has no administrative assistant to help her with office work, no deputy
principal to support her with school management and she has a full teaching
load – teaching multi-grade classes. Her sense of loneliness is reflected in the
vignette that follows, specifically in her repeated use of ‘me’ and ‘no’ – ‘me,
me alone and no HODs, no deputy - me with teachers’ – and in her closing
statement, ‘That is too huge for me because I am alone.’
‘The work of principals - there is too much paper work, and no time for
teaching. It’s like we keep on writing reports and most of the things are
moving so fast…changes regarding the work of principals has changed so
much because, as a principal, in the first place I must see to it that I
develop myself because I come from a background where I started with
matric certificate, and again I must see that work is done – it’s me, me
alone and no HODs, no deputy - me with teachers. I am an administrator,
you see, to see that work in management - I mean in the office - is done
properly, like managing the finances of the school, and to ensure that there
are systems in the school that needs to be managed…That is too huge for
me because I am alone.’
In changing from being a teacher to being a principal Goboima also encountered
problems with the rest of the staff members. Although the former principal had
on occasion delegated some of his duties to her, she was not alone. Having been
appointed as principal changed the situation – now she had to monitor,
reprimand and accept responsibility for the work of the educators that she was
supposed to manage. Eleven years later this does not seem to have changed
because Goboima admits that she is still having problems with teachers who
‘don’t want to do the work…when they are supposed to submit their work is not
there.’ Sometimes she sits down with them and talks to them but more often
than not she asks one of the colleagues to do so instead. As if realizing that her
‘confession’ might label her as incompetent, she later ‘recants’, claiming that
‘God’ has given her ‘a wonderful staff that wants the school to be developed, a
staff that wants learners to be educated, to be given quality education.’
While she is not satisfied with the extent to which parents are involved in school
activities, she believes that they do care about their children’s education because
they come to school ‘when there are problems’ or when there is a ‘parents’
meeting’. Comparing parents’ concern for their children with that of teachers
for the learners in their care, Goboima takes great pains to point out that teachers
give learners
‘medication and when they are injured we treat their sores and then
bandage them, and when they are extremely injured we take them to the
doctor. And then, during the day they eat: like, in the morning they eat
breakfast –porridge - and then during the break they eat full meal …and
then, most of the time, we buy them some fruits and then some time we give
them some fruits.’
While Goboima insists that she ‘likes’ being a principal, that the work is
‘manageable’, and that even learners are well-behaved because ‘they are not
from the townships’ the content and language of the vignette suggest that the
opposite might be true, that Goboima is so overwhelmed by the responsibility of
being a principal and by the scope of a principal’s work that she can no longer
hide her secret story: she openly admits ‘I don’t cope’ and ascribes her
vulnerable state of health – ‘…even now I have high blood pressure’ – to the
stressful situation she finds herself in, even though she tries to be ‘calm with
people because if I don’t…then I become stressed.’
‘Hey, I do like being a principal here because the school around here is
different: learners are different and the staff is different, and the
environment also, is also different. But my problem is the work. The work
is difficult - the situation is hectic. Coming to the staff, the learners it is
OK. It is manageable, that’s why I like being a principal. There is too
much work and I am called to be an educator 100%, and of which I teach
more than 18 Learning areas - from Grade 4 to Grade 7, and then in
Grade 6 and 7 I am teaching Maths, and in Grade 4 and 5 I am teaching
all the Learning areas besides Natural Science…And then on the other
hand I am supposed to be the manager 100%, and when coming to the
manager 100% it’s very much difficult for me…sometimes I am supposed
to leave my class and to go the office and to attend on issues in the office.
It’s very difficult…very, very difficult - I don’t cope, and even now I have
high blood pressure.’
Goboima’s sense of being overburdened is reflected in the hyperbolic claim that
she has to teach ‘more than eighteen learning areas’: there are only eight
learning areas in the curriculum statement but because she has to teach the same
learning areas to different grades she experiences it as eighteen different
learning areas. Her fatigue and sense of desperation are also indicated in
repetitive words and phrases like ‘100%’, ‘supposed to…’, ‘very difficult…very,
very difficult’ as well as by the relatively long pause between the last two
phrases. Adding to her stress are the many changes that have been effected to
school education during the past decade – changes which, according to
Goboima, are ‘coming every day’. She admits that they fill her with fear and
anxiety even though most of the changes are beneficial to the school and the
The use of a percentage –‘100%’ – to describe the scope of her administrative
duties could suggest that the responsibility of principalship rests heavily on her
shoulders while her repeated use of the phrase ‘supposed to’ could be indicative
of her awareness of that there is a sacred story – the story of educational
transformation – and that its disciples have been charged to behave in specific
ways. They must set the tone, they must act as role models – supporting change,
adhering to its principles (lifelong learning, for example), its jargon, etc.
Unconscious transgressions, like referring to herself as a manager rather than as
an administrator -
‘I am an administrator, you see, to see that work in
management - I mean in the office…’ are immediately corrected, suggesting that
she is fully aware of what is expected of her in terms of policy, the sacred story
of educational change.
Having just confessed that she cannot cope, Goboima, as if realizing that this
might be interpreted as disloyalty to the sacred story does a complete
turnaround. Referring to the fact that she was one of the principals who were
selected by the Department of Education to attend free training in management
and leadership at a tertiary institution, she emphasizes the opportunities that this
has created for her. Even so she implies throughout that her studies have placed
an additional strain on her ability to cope with ‘the huge work I face every day,
and the limited time…encouraging me to go on…there are challenges…’
‘For me the changes are positive because I like to learn. They are positive
changes, which give me a challenge, but I like to learn. The huge work I
face - every day - and the limited time I have, makes me to grow, and today
I am a strong person because of the situation I am undergoing. Because
one of the changes I experienced as a principal is that of principals being
developed by registering them with Matthew Goniwe School of leadership.
I am one of them, and one thing that I am gaining is that I am learning a
lot about the leadership and management of the school. I am being
developed and through the interaction I have with other principals. That is
encouraging me to go on. So I think to me it was a positive change,
although there are challenges, but I am developing myself on how to
handle the difficulties here and challenges I come across.’
Like Kedibone, Goboima also seems to gain courage from her membership of
the ‘principals’ club’. Not only does she appreciate the ‘interaction’ with other
principals who study with her but she also assumes that, because she is one of
them, the problems she experiences are also experienced by them. Indications
that this is the case can be found in her use of generalization, a technique which,
according to Lieblich et al, (1998:19) serves to deflect attention from the
speaker/narrator to the issue. Hiding behind her assumption that all principals
experience the same problems, she argues that the ‘work of principals, there is
too much paper work, and no time for teaching. It’s like we keep on writing
reports and most of the things are moving fast…’
Two other words that Goboima uses throughout her narrative, words that
describe the experience of the protagonist in the secret rather than the cover
story, are the words ‘hectic’ and ‘really’. She uses the former – ‘hectic’ – to
refer to the tempo at which transformation is supposed to happen at school level,
the tempo at which she has to carry out her duties, and the pressure being put on
her to obtain the qualifications required for principalship. The latter – ‘really’ –
serves a dual purpose. On the one hand she uses it to emphasize what she is
saying, as in ‘at first it was really difficult.’ On the other hand she uses it as a
shield not to go into detail when reflecting on her difficulties, as illustrated in
‘Really, when coming to my health…’ In both instances the word is indicative of
an emotional charge.
Goboima’s story seems to suggest that she is skeptical about the sustainability of
the changes that have been effected to school education given the continuous
changes made to innovations, especially as regards curriculum.
‘I don’t think this system especially with regard to the curriculum will last
for a long time…for example we were changed from the old curriculum to
OBE and it did not last, and then we moved to C2005 and it also did not
last and then the RNCS and now we are talking of the NCS… they (the
curricula) are different, very different because learners are doing
whatever they want: they are free to think for themselves, they are exposed
more to technology than before and we teach them the skills, knowledge
and our lessons also include teaching them to have positive attitude. So the
new curriculum offers learners opportunities to learn but the problem is
that new things keep on coming and to say that changes will last - I don’t
think so.’
While pointing out the ‘supposed’ benefits of the new curriculum – according to
the sacred story – Goboima reveals her suspicions that this story might be
‘Because what they are expecting us as educators, I don’t think that they
are sure what do they want from us because things in the curriculum keep
on…keep on changing: if you tell yourself that you are OK something new
comes again and only to find that we don’t know what to do, especially
when it comes to these paper work. There is a lot of paper work sometimes you don’t even know what you write and what you didn’t write.’
We are left with an image of Goboima as a woman who is willing to sacrifice
herself for the cause. Given her ‘high blood pressure’, her realization that she
cannot cope, her conviction that the new education system, especially the new
curriculum, is temporary, and her sense that she is not sufficiently rewarded for
her services, coupled with her desperate cry for ‘somebody out there’ to ‘save’,
…farm schools’ it would seem as if Goboima is on the point of hoisting the
white flag of retreat and/or defeat. This is evident from the words with which
she concludes her story.
‘What I want to add - I just hope that one day someone can come and
rescue us, especially we as farm schools, because it is very much painful
for us. Like me as the - I am the principal, 100% principal and 100%
educator - and the salary that I earn at the end of the month… I don’t
know whether they pay me as a manager or as an educator. It is very much
hectic for me, and the learning areas I teach - some of them I know but
others I don’t even don’t know them, but I still have to teach those learners
because that is my work. The experience I have as a principal about the
change… somewhere it was a good experience but somewhere on the other
hand it is a bad experience - and this makes me to be confused…’
Rekopane’s story
Rekopane’s story is the story of a middle-aged white, Afrikaans-speaking
male who is principal of a parallel-medium racially integrated secondary
school in a peri-urban area in the Gauteng Province. He was appointed as
principal of the school in 1994, the year in which the new government took
over. The school had previously been a Model C Afrikaans-medium school
but this changed in 2005 when the school governing body, which has accepted
full responsibility for school governance, introduced a Grade 8 English class
for those learners who wanted to learn through the medium of English. While
the learner composition has changed since then the staff composition seems to
have remained largely the same, with all teachers still being white. The school
has a strong and stable governing body that was democratically elected in
In telling his story Rekopane specifically highlights his route towards
principalship and the steps he took to become not only a good principal but
also the kind of principal that external circumstances seem to dictate one
should be. In telling this story Rekopane reveals not only the dilemmas he
found himself in as an individual - his catharsis - but also the dilemma in
which the community of which he is a member – the Afrikaans community had to deal with as a result of political, social and educational changes in postapartheid South Africa. In reflecting on the adjustments he had to make to
ensure that he and his school became part of a broader, more inclusive South
African society, Rekopane gives us, the readers, some idea of the ways in
which the school community in which he plays a leadership role had to review
and adjust their thoughts, attitudes and ways of doing in order to ensure their
own survival.
Rekopane has been a principal for fourteen years, that is, from 1994. He had
however, taken a conscious decision to become a principal 4 years earlier,
when he was still a deputy principal at another school in a more rural area –
‘in the Western Transvaal’ – a position he had held for three and a half years
‘And of course I also have the mindset that I would like to grow in my post,
and you know in my career, by doing that you have to apply for a post as a
principal. Then I applied at the time for the principal’s post and I went
through the interview and I was then at the time selected as the candidate
to be appointed as the principal of school.’
One of the reasons why he decided to set himself the goal of becoming a
principal was the notion that each promotion would automatically result in
‘more money, to pay for more equipments and to pay for a better house,
something I didn’t have’. Having made up his mind that he would become a
principal, Rekopane did what he thought was necessary to achieve his ultimate
‘I decided that if I want to become a principal of a school - of a
secondary school - regardless of the size of the school, if I want to
become a principal, I have to further my studies and I can only further
my studies by having a background. And by then I was already in
possession of my HED - Higher Education Diploma of 4 years - and I
have already after hours - part-time - I have studied for my BA degree,
and I realized that I will…I will pursue the need of management and
leadership for this is what the principal needs, to go into management
and leadership…’
Rekopane’s commitment to his goal is indicated by the fact that he studied
part-time, while he was teaching, of his own accord. The programme for
which he enrolled (an Honours degree in Educational Management and
Leadership) once he had obtained the basic academic (Bachelor of Arts) and
professional (Higher Education Diploma) qualifications was directly linked to
his ultimate goal of principalship and his conviction that, if he did not ‘have
the background of leadership and management here it would be very difficult
to go into a high school to become the principal to try and manage that
school.’ It is clear, however, that Rekopane is of the opinion that effective
principalship requires not only knowledge gained from academic and/or
professional studies but also expertise, something that, he argues, can only be
acquired on the job, through mentoring – ‘I have to ask the principal of the
school to help me with the management activity because… at the time…I
didn’t know how to do that’ - and what he calls ‘career pathing.’
‘I didn’t become the deputy principal immediately: I was first an HOD and
if you become an HOD - and I was an HOD for five years - and if you
become an HOD that is a big job, totally different from the educator’s job,
but when you are an HOD you already have some of the management
activities in a school that will be cascaded down to you by the
management of the school. So I was already dealing with some of the staff
on a management level and I then became the deputy principal - it was not
that big job of managing the staff and even when I became a principal it
was not that difficult.’
The need to combine academic studies with on-the-job training under the
guidance of a mentor is a reoccurring theme in Rekopane’s story. In fact, he
concludes his narrative by expressing his concern about the training of school
principals. On the one hand he is concerned that ‘the whites, the predominantly
white people…are ignorant with regard to furthering their studies…because we
need managers, both white and black to lead, yes to lead the schools.’ On the
other hand he is concerned that government initiatives aimed at supporting
principals in better managing their schools is focusing solely on developing their
understanding of the theoretical foundations of leadership and management and
not on the acquisition of practical expertise and mentorship.
‘The majority of the black educators in our sector is now trying their
utmost best to achieve a better qualification…and that is a good thing. My
concern is that they all get better qualifications but they don’t know how to
manage their schools; they don’t know how to cope with the normal
activities within their schools…I think…the District office… should take
some five or six of the principals who are really achieving in their school
and bring them together and let them draft a document of management
activities within a school, of how to run a school - I am talking of practical
hands-on business – and let them get principals, let them involve
principals who are not doing well in their schools with those who are
doing well. So, if you are part of my school, I will go to your school. I will
tell you what you have to do at your school and I will make a follow-up on
a particular basis. So I will be like your buddy, looking after you, so as to
do the management activities within the school, and I think that can bring
a lot of impact in our schools. So now the government of the day think that
if people can go through the ACE programme, getting the B.Ed Honours,
and getting M.Ed, that is fine and the principals will be knowledgeable,
which is not true. That is only academic knowledge and that will not help
them with the knowledge and the know-how, when they actually need to
manage their schools.’
It is in this part of his story that discrepancies between Rekopane’s cover story
and secret story start emerging. In terms of the cover story Rekopane is coping
pretty well with being a principal – ‘It’s not too difficult’ – primarily because the
way in which he executes his principalship duties is informed by academic
knowledge as well as on-the-job-experience. His recommendation that these
should be combined in the development of principals and that a
mentoring/buddy system might prove beneficial sounds like an informed
opinion, one with a sound theoretical basis. Further on, though, he switches
from this objective position in which he discusses how ‘principals’ could assist
other ‘principals’ to a subjective one in which he identifies himself as one of
those principals whose schools are being run well.
‘I think it is in that way that they may get some of us who are
knowledgeable with some management activities and get…and get and
form a buddy system and then to meet and work with those schools, work
with other principals and do follow-ups and to check on their work - “Did
you do this? Did you check this? Why do you do that, and how do you do
that? How do you need my help, how did the management plan work?
What did you do here?” Then I can see that this will benefit and uplift
schools and the whole system of education will be better.’
Given the history of racial inequality in South Africa and the power of the
sacred story of South Africa’s transformation, a transformation in which all
South Africans are now equal members of a new ‘rainbow nation’, the switch to
the first person – ‘some of us who are knowledgeable’, and ‘How do you need
my help?’ – could suggest that there is another, secret, layer to Rekopane’s
story. It could well be that, in his secret story the knowledgeable ones are all
white and those without knowledge tend to be black and that, because of this,
white principals should ‘check’ on black principals under the guise of
mentorship. Alternatively, it could be a desperate cry for acknowledgement
from Rekopane’s side – acknowledgement that white principals are also valued
and/or regarded as part of the community of principals and that they are willing
and able to share this expertise with those who need it, and acknowledgement
that these (white) principals gained the requisite knowledge and expertise
through their own efforts, without the help currently given to black principals
and educators.
The accuracy of these inferences is not as important as the emergence of a secret
story. Confirmation of the existence of this secret story, which often reflects
Rekopane’s hidden attitude to the sacred story of change, can be found in
Rekopane’s telling of the changes that had to be effected, in terms of the sacred
story of change, in the school where he is principal. Rekopane specifically
mentions changes to the nature and composition of schools, changes in
principals’ role functions and changes in relationships – relations between
principals and staff members as well as between schools, parents and
departments of education. Three changes that occurred in his school in particular
and that seemed to test the strength of school community relationships were the
redeployment strategy – ‘right-sizing’ – which resulted in bigger class sizes; the
change from a white, single-medium (Afrikaans) school into a racially integrated
parallel-medium school, increasing classroom teachers’ workloads, undermining
their self-confidence and causing strained relationships across the school
community spectrum; and the privatization of hostels, which resulted in the loss
of workers.
As Rekopane tells his story he had little time to get used to being a principal
rather than a deputy principal and classroom educators since he became
principal in 1994, because it was at that point where everything in South Africa
changed. Not only did he have to adjust himself to his new position as principal
but he also had to do the cloak of change agent in an environment not
necessarily conducive to change.
‘It was a challenge …that needed a lot of capability on my side…It was a
change in my attitude as well that was necessary…So it has been in the
beginning a tough job but now after a couple of years that I have the
principal I know the road, I know how to deal with some of the
activities…Of course it was negative initially because we have been school
principals for a long time in education and all of a sudden the whole
scenario changing away that now you as the principal you become the
accounting officer with everything that happens within your school:
budget, programmes, management plans, extra-mural activities, LTSM.
Everything that happens you will be accountable, for everything that
happens you will be accountable for that, and that brought a new type of
environment where the principal must provide, and all of a sudden the
principal must be the accountable manager of all activities and he must
account that to the District Office and must also account that to the
province - to the Provincial office - that what he is doing in the school also
in order to get the results, to get better results within the District.’
In terms of his cover story Rekopane did everything in his power to ensure the
survival of his school and of the things the school community valued. In fact, he
claims that it is because of the values on which the school is based that the
school manages to have such good matriculation results: ‘We stand for order;
we stand for respect; we stand for good academic achievement.’ Claiming a
change in his own attitude towards other cultures, Rekopane narrates his
attempts to negotiate the gradual ‘phasing in’ of parallel-medium instruction and
the gradual phasing out of subsidized hostels with the provincial department of
education as well as his attempts to motivate parents and staff to accept the
challenges associated with a changing school composition. In this regard he
mentions that he sent staff members on training courses, that he resolved
conflicts as and when they occurred, and that he set the tone by acting as a role
model to all concerned, ‘walking the talk’, so to speak. He suggests that it is due
to his efforts that ‘things have actually stabilized’ and that all concerned have
come ‘on board’.
Maintaining stability and balance, Rekopane’s story suggests, was particularly
difficult because of the tempo at which change was expected to take place. His
discourse is scattered with the phrase ‘all of a sudden’, a phrase that suggests the
existence of perception that the imposition of unrealistic deadlines was aimed at
the destabilization of schools, hence the need for Rekopane to ‘negotiate’ the
‘gradual’ phasing in of certain changes. Rekopane indicates, for example, that
‘all of a sudden’ principals were ‘bombarded with new activities’, that ‘all of a
sudden’ principals ‘were accountable’ and had to ‘sit down’ with their staff to
‘determine within this environment how can we cope, how can we survive the
situation’ because the ‘whole scenario was changing away.’ He uses the same
phrase when talking about the introduction of parallel-medium instruction and
the privatization of hostels, with resultant job losses, changing it for the word,
‘immediately’, when describing the effect of teacher redeployment (‘rightsizing’) on the school.
It is narrating events that created a sense of disequilibrium in the school
community that Rekopane’s understanding of and attitude to the sacred story of
educational change make their appearance. Words and phrases like
‘bombarded’, ‘negotiate’, ‘cope’, ‘survive’, ‘totally new dispensation’, ‘took
away’, ‘this is killing us’, accompanied by repetitive phrases (‘that was a real,
real big change’) and references to ‘lawsuits’ create an image of a community
being attacked from the inside as well as the outside. Hostel staff ‘lost their
jobs’, teachers’ ‘work load went up, so that put a lot of strain on them and then
put them through a lot of stress’ and they were ‘not happy.’
Even when negotiations seemed successful the party in power often reneged on
its part of the ‘deal’, changing it without regard for the consequences. The result
was that the reigning atmosphere in the school was one of suspicion, distrust and
perhaps even a sense of being abused.
‘It took us more than a year to…introduce the additional language of
tuition to the school…where all the stakeholders were involved – parents,
the unions, the educators themselves, the learners, the community, even
the education department…but we went through that…when they made a
final decision that they would include an additional language of
instruction, English as parallel to Afrikaans, we thought, that OK, we
made a deal with the MEC, we made a deal with him, OK that we will
introduce one group per year, and we will only start by the Grade 8
learners, because you must realize that this is the only Afrikaans school in
the whole area so I have to look at Afrikaans learners as well to
accommodate them first and then English learners…it was very
difficult…because all of a sudden we had to give educators subjects
because all of them were trained in Afrikaans at Afrikaans institutions,
they have been teaching Afrikaans for many years and all of a sudden we
would expect them to teach also in the medium of English, so they would
not be capable – some of them saw it as a threat…the educators said OK
but who is going to benefit by this , only the school, only the principal, or
only the governing body because we are doing all the work – this is killing
us. You must realize that at that time we said we only take one group but
the MEC asked we have to take two groups of learners. That brought a lot
of mistrust within the management from the educators.’
The division between school management and staff, between the school and the
department of education, between parents and between learners is clear from
Rekopane’s use of ‘we’ and ‘they’ in this vignette. It is also indicated
throughout his narrative in the way he describes the changes that have taken
place separating cause from effect by means of ‘but’ and literally tallying the
changes on his fingers one by one, as if to emphasize the way in which the ‘old’
was being eroded and the ‘new’ piled up. His description of the initial reactions
of different groups of people to the change also reflected his awareness of the
existence of opposite camps in the school community.
Rekopane’s description of initial relations between white and black learners is a
clear illustration of the tensions that reigned during the change over.
‘You must understand that this was a predominantly white Afrikaans
school and for English learners to come into the school and they were
black learners…The rest of the learners were worried that what are these
learners, black, doing in our school. This is our school, this is our terrain,
and this is our territory…The white learners couldn’t speak to the black
learners and the black learners moreover were very afraid and I think you
can imagine them coming to an environment where there are 700 white
students all of a sudden and you are one of the 70 learners and in total
foreign environment and you have to cope…the learners were still having
that activity that they are blacks, they know nothing and we are whites we
know everything.’
‘Initially the relationship was very tough because you know what is
happening with learners might also come from the house…the parents also
have a mindset, that they are black and they know nothing; they are the
crooks, they are the skelms, they stay in the township! Now they come to
take our school and vice versa, black learners thinking the whites, they
have been privileged for many years. Look at them, look at their place,
their arrogance!’
According to Rekopane, the same tension was evident in the relationship
between white and black parents until he told them, ‘We can call each other
names and do as we wish but I am telling you now, we are staying together
whether we like it or not! We are living together now.’ This, he claims, changed
everything. ‘Now the parents are granting each other the opportunity to have a
debate during parents’ evenings – that black parents have a say and white
parents stand and some of them support each other in the same meeting and
some of them would say, “I don’t like what you say.” And some are totally
arrogant vice versa – white and black parents – and we would just say, “This is
not your time. This is the platform for everybody.” Because of the change in
parents’ attitudes, so goes Rekopane’s story, children have also begun to accept
one another.
‘Everybody realized that we are all students: we are white and we make
mistakes and they also make mistakes; we do things right and they do
things right and it change the whole attitude. Now, I do still see that there
are still learners who don’t like the other group but it comes from them
and it has been like that for many, many years and we just take it like that,
like we don’t have to like each other, and now black and white learners
are playing together, joking together and they are part of it.’
Indicating that he cannot ‘see us going back to the past’, Rekopane attempts to
end his story on an objective but hopeful note, claiming that the only things that
should still be addressed are the Reading and Mathematics levels in schools, the
decreasing number of educators, and the quality of school managers. He leaves
us with the image of a man who tries to convince himself of his ability to change
not only himself but also those who have been placed in his charge. In fact, his
narrative seems to suggest that he believes that he and those around him has
changed in accordance with the expectations of the sacred story. Whether this is
an example of what Fullan (1991) calls ‘false clarity’ cannot be stated with
certainty. What is clear is that Rekopane is trying his utmost to satisfy the
criteria against which the success of school and its principal are assessed in the
‘new’ South Africa.
Šomišanang’s story
Šomišanang has been a principal for eleven years. He was appointed as
principal of a small white Afrikaans-speaking primary school in January 1998.
Although the school has a multi-racial learner composition – black, Indian,
Taiwanese, Pakistani, white – it uses only Afrikaans as medium of instruction.
Before Šomišanang became principal of this school he had been a classroom
teacher, a Head of Department (HOD), and a deputy principal. He decided to
apply for the position of a principal when he realized that he had ‘gained a lot
of experience’ during his time as Head of Department and as deputy principal,
and that it was this ‘experience and the knowledge of my work’ that convinced
him that he should apply.
This is the official version of Šomišanang’s ambition – his cover story. The
real version, that is, his secret story, is that he initially had dreams of
becoming a ’superintendent - the inspector in those years –‘ and had worked
very hard to achieve this goal but, because of the changed educational
dispensation, he had to settle for the position of principal. In terms of
Šomišanang’s cover story, he is happy being a principal, not harbouring any
bitter feelings about the fact that he had to compromise on his dream.
‘I enjoy it, it is a great satisfaction. I worked to achieve my goal. It was a
great strive of my self-study - when I started as an educator I had to study
and I had to climb the ranks and I climbed the ranks very fast, so I was an
educator for five years and I became an HOD for three years. I was a
deputy principal as well as a principal – acting - and then the principal,
and that’s how it went.’
Even so there are indications that Šomišanang uses this cover story as a means
of hiding his true feelings. It would seem, from his own narration, as if he was
quite ambitious when he started off in the teaching profession and that his
ambition was obvious to those with whom he worked. Reflecting on those
days, Šomišanang tells how the principal of the school where he started his
teaching career nurtured his ambition.
‘Where I started teaching I had lots of responsibilities that I carried,
responsibilities which I saw as opportunities. For instance, I was only a
teacher and the principal came to me and he said that I should manage, be
the HOD of the Educational Guidance Department, and I had to manage
the stock register of the school, and later I had to manage the terrain of
the school. Those were the responsibilities of the HOD but I think that
early as an educator I had gained opportunities that I think they took me
up and with each rank movement.’
In acknowledging that his taking on the principal’s duties was an
‘opportunity’, Šomišanang is, by implication, admitting that he saw these as
stepping stones towards realizing his ambition of becoming a superintendent, a
dream that must already have been dormant in his mind at that time. His
introduction of an army as metaphor for describing his journey towards
principalship suggest that Šomišanang suspected from the start that it was not
training but cunning, resilience and courage that were needed to satisfy/realize
his ambition.
‘One day the principal was not in school and now I took the
responsibilities on me, but that really an unhappy one to other educators. I
did not see any teacher in class that day and it was raining, and I
wondered where are they and neither anyone was in class, and I saw them
sitting in the staff-room. And as I stepped in there and said, ‘But are you
not supposed to be in your class with children even when it is raining?’
And they said, ‘Oh, but why are you here?’ And so I turned and left and
immediately I said, ‘I am and when the cat leaves I am not supposed to do
as I want.’
Although the principal’s favouritism and his colleagues’ jealousy made him feel
like an outsider he was willing to sacrifice social interaction for status and
position. There are also indications of arrogance and/or a sense of Šomišanang’s
regarding himself as superior to his colleagues in his assertion that he was ‘the
only person with responsibilities’ and that it was this superiority that facilitate
his ‘fast’ movement through the ‘ranks’. It is obvious that he knew how to play
the game from the start.
‘I had to do my (duty) because when I looked at them - the HOD and the
other people - the way they were doing, and I had to live by example and
do my work because I came from outside and through my work I gained
the responsibilities and successes regarding my work. Though it was not
easy but that helped me a lot.’
Šomišanang is convinced that his success can be attributed to his belief in
himself and his abilities, his ‘hard work’, his ‘dedication’, his ‘ willingness to
learn’ from his former principal, and to the ‘hand of the Lord that gave me the
Unlike Rekopane, who valued academic studies as well as work experience,
Šomišanang’s believes that the experience he gained as he ‘climbed the ranks’
was sufficient for the job of a school principal.
‘I was never trained. I gained my knowledge through work…I already had
the responsibilities that got me through to the deputy principal post, and
so the movement from one level to the next, like I went through, it was full
of challenges - each level had its own challenge - but I think my
hardworking and dedication to the work assisted me to move smoothly
even though, as I said, every level had its challenge. And what is important
is that those challenges had to be managed. I had no difficulty. I always
thought it as a challenge, a big challenge, but I was just positive that I will
make it at the end.’
In repeating that his journey was challenging, that it was ‘a big challenge’ but
that that he was convinced that he would ‘make it at the end’, Šomišanang
admits that his journey towards principalship was a conscious one and that he
kept the ultimate goal in mind throughout.
The picture Šomišanang paints of the school where he is principal is nearly
utopian in character.
‘The educators here are working, the children are working, as well as the
parents are working, and it is about the education of the school. In other
words, without work cannot continue: everybody has to work so that the
learners have to be educated, and that is what is happening here at school.
All of us are working, and we work as a team - to achieve our goals.’
He acknowledges, though, that it was not like that when he was first
‘It wasn’t great. I did have problems. I did have that. I was very young and
most of the educators in our staff were older than myself, and I cannot say
it was easier - some even had more years of experience than myself. So to
manage the grown-ups, some are not that easy to take your instructions.
But lucky enough, experiencing the management of the educators when I
was the HOD - even though it was a departmental level, I worked mostly
with the educators in my department - and I think that is where I
established my foot on the ground. So my movement from the HOD to the
deputy also added some more responsibilities of working with people on a
higher level. I think as I was climbing the ladder, that was my preparation
for becoming a principal, and today I just manage challenges on a daily
Šomišanang now uses a different but related metaphor to describe his journey.
He no longer ‘moves through the ranks’; rather he ‘climbs the rungs of the
ladder.’. This could suggest that Šomišanang felt somewhat unsteady when he
eventually took up the position of principal, as if he might fall off unless he
kept his ‘foot on the ground’. Although he has not openly acknowledged it in
his cover story, it would seem as if Šomišanang’s self-confidence was being
steadily eroded. There is little evidence of his earlier sense of superiority.
‘It was never like that before: there were always strictly guidelines, bound
by the core guidelines; and the educators are more free to add to the
curriculum and more free to use technologies; to use various methods and
methodologies; to add and to teach learners specific responsibilities from
various levels, in class - in curriculum site - and sports, and the admin
site, and the whole school - everyone is involved.’
Instead of being in a position of status and power, principals now have to
delegate and supervise.
‘I think that from the beginning the principal number one has to manage,
that is the HODs and the deputy principal. I had to accommodate them
and give them certain jobs, and I had to ensure that they do their jobs as
given to them, and they have to delegate their challenge down to their
departments, and they have to manage their departments and I think that is
a great challenge because they have to do their meetings, and they have to
tell educators, ‘Do this and do that’. I think that is what we’re doing, and
because they’re dealing with new things it is a challenge for them, but they
have to cope.’
He specifically mentions changes to the curriculum, the change from being a
white school to being a multi-cultural one (including Taiwanese, Pakistani and
black learners), changes to the role functions of principals, and the extra
workload placed on teachers who had to provide extra tuition to non-Afrikaans
speakers in order for them to become proficient in the language. While
claiming that things at his school are now ‘stable’, Šomišanang indicates that
there are still areas where things have not settled down, in curriculum, for
example. ‘There are always new things coming up…there are always things
to be learnt by the educators.’
It would seem that little is left of the man who was willing to take on an entire
staff to do things in a different way: all he does now is to ‘manage challenges
on a daily basis.’ He mentions that, in the new dispensation, one can make
mistakes because one is allowed to rectify them afterwards. Together, these
‘confessions’ convey a sense of defeat, an acknowledgement that things are
not the way he expected them to be: ‘The challenges that we face today were
not there in the past: work was at least easier to carry because we were
guided.’ In terms of his cover story, he has changed for the better. He has
become a people person, a team player, someone who is always there for his
staff, helping them, supporting them, evaluating them, ‘and so, through my
motivation and encouragement they…they are able to work against all the
challenges that they face. I am able to integrate with the educators…and,
because we work as team, it always becomes easier for all of us.’
In relating the role he played in transforming the school, Šomišanang indicates
that he is aware of the existence of the sacred story of educational change and
that he knows what is expected of him as principal in this regard. He duly
praises the provision of learner transport, exemption of school fees and the
opportunities for previously disadvantaged schools to become part of the
mainstream education system. He describes how he went about counseling
black parents who wanted to enroll their children in an Afrikaans-medium
school about the difficulties they might experience, giving them six months’
time to reconsider their decision he elaborates on how accommodating the
school is regarding different religions and eating habits of learners. He
describes the effort he makes to ensure effective communication between the
school and the parents by providing newsletters in Afrikaans and English. It is
due to his support and motivation, so he seems to imply, that the school
community has accepted the changes imposed on them and that, by and large,
they have come to experience change as positive.
While Šomišanang acknowledges that it remains difficult to teach a child ‘who
was not exposed to the language before’ he maintains that educators at his
school ‘are prepared to help these children’. He also admits that initially there
were problems with racial integration, reflecting on how strange it was at first
to see black and white learners wearing the same uniform, something he
described as ‘rare and funny’. He also remembers fights between learners of
different racial groups, referring to them as ‘cultural’ fights, claiming that
these have disappeared and that any fights that may still occur are the normal
kind that happens on school grounds everywhere. Everything, according to
Šomišanang, is now as it should be.
‘Now children don’t even see the difference anymore, and the parents
don’t see the difference: the black learners they go with the white learners
home to do the projects and they stay with them and do the projects, and
they are very fond of doing that and there are many projects they do
together. The parents’ participation at school is satisfactory. Our parents
are not only involved in extra-mural activities but also in the SGB and
black parents have a nominee, and they spell out that we nominate black
parents who will represent them in the SGB, and we do have a nominee
who is also a black parent in the SGB… we have an annual tour to Cape
Town… and they go. And if there is an excursion to the mines they all pay
and they all go. And if we play rugby, we have got black parents and
children playing in rugby team, and so if there is a netball… those play
netball, and that’s it.’
Claiming that he regards the changes that have happened to school education
as positive, Šomišanang ends his story with the words, ‘There is no chance
that things can go back as they were before. We are moving forward, and
therefore what has changed has to be protected and sustained.’ Even so, we
are left with an image of a character in whom ambition and passion have died,
someone who is simply marking time, someone without the hope of becoming
more than he is. In short, Somisanang’s story is the story of a life hoped but
not lived.
Kedisaletse’s story
Kedisaletse had been principal of the small farm school where he is currently
employed since the year 2000, for the past eight years, thus. The staff
composition – teaching staff and ground staff - is black and all learners are
black. The Department of Education provides subsidized transport for learners
between the school and the farms on which they live.
Kedisaletse’s journey towards principalship was slightly unusual: he started
off as a classroom teacher, then became a Head of Department and then,
skipping the position of Deputy Principal, became a principal. Reflecting on
his career path, Kedisaletse thought that being fast-tracked from Head of
Department to principal had probably not been to his advantage.
‘I think if I have moved and became a deputy before becoming a principal,
I would have learnt more things that would later help me more, some
things I was not aware of I became aware when I became the
principal…Before that I thought by the time I was a principal, that if I had
followed the channels of moving upwards – educator, HOD, deputy and
principal – I would have benefited a lot, but unfortunately I just moved
from the educators’ post to an HOD and then the principal. That was very
challenging because I had to manage, and to administer the school, and
unfortunately I was on the other hand learning some of the things
pertaining to the work of the principal.’
At the time, though, he was of the opinion that his on-the-job training, coupled
with the attendance of a range of training workshops organized by the
Department of Education had sufficiently equipped him for the position of
‘I felt that with the skills I accumulated whilst I was a teacher because I
was then involved in the administrative activities. In the afternoons I had
time to go through the activities of the school and I think that is where I
gained good knowledge. As a result I became well knowledgeable with the
administrative and leadership work and when the post was advertised I
took my chances. I then applied for the post and fortunately I was
interviewed and I was recommended for appointment. I attended some
training, run by the department of education and… facilitated by the
facilitators or by the NGO’s…related to the curriculum, some to the
management, and others were related to remedial education and others
were tackling drugs and First Aid.’
His description of the training offered at departmental workshops suggests that
the focus of the training was on curriculum and inclusion rather than on
management. It is, therefore, not surprising that Kedisaletse found the position
of principal ‘challenging’.
‘It was challenging in the sense that being the newly appointed principal –
and then we did not have the admin assistant – and I had to do the whole
work of being an administrator as well as a principal and I was in class
then. Finally, I had to organize everything to run the school. I had the
problem of finances and I had to organize the sponsors and do all these
Also, because farms schools are typically very small – currently there are 70
learners enrolled in Kedisaletse’s school - he had to carry a full teaching load
in addition to managing the school.
‘Furthermore, I am the only person responsible for the school: there is no
HOD, no deputy principal and no SMT, and even no admin assistant, and
no one except the two educators in class. I just request the advice from the
In addition to the problems he experienced in terms of juggling all the things
he had to do, Kedisaletse did not find it easy to establish himself as leader,
manager and/or authority figure amongst staff members.
‘It was really difficult, because the other challenge that the grown-ups
had is that others were older than me and having the experience that was
longer than my experience, therefore it was really difficult because
sometimes the other people think that the older people must lead and the
younger people must follow. Some of them, I did use their experience but,
unfortunately, I had one lady who was acting in this post before I was
appointed, and it was really a challenge when I was appointed because
she was not happy with everything that I do - the ideas, the suggestions I
brought to the educators - she was challenging the decisions and used to
be very, very difficult, instead of being a helping hand. But others they do
really help and are supportive to the work of the school in many ways.’
A few years after he had been appointed ‘parents from the farms relocated to
the informal settlement and those movements in fact affected our school
negatively because as learners’ numbers dropped the education department
declared one educator to be in excess’. This meant that those educators
remaining at school, including him, had to share the workload of the educator
who had left.
‘I had to reschedule my work - I mean the work at school, teaching and
other activities of the school - because I was then spending more time in
class teaching the learners because the work that was done by the
educator who left the school…had to be shared amongst those remaining
in school. And that alone made us to work harder than before because I
had to teach all Learning Areas from Grade 4 to Grade 7, and for the
principal to do that, and also on the other hand to check and control work
in the admin, it was too heavier.
And now currently we are three educators left at the school with 70
learners and again - last year - one educator was declared in excess
again. She was sent to another school but she…refused and then they have
promised to take her to another school when the school reopens in July for
the third term…Yes, when the school reopens in July…and which means
only two educators will be left at school to teach Grade R to Grade 7
learners and that alone is not going to be right. Really there is nothing
good that is going right in the school…and the management of the school
has alone been seriously affected.’
Even though Kedisaletse became a principal after 1994, he seems to
understand that the job description of principals has changed. He indicates that
before 1994 principals used to apply an autocratic style of leadership but ‘after
1994 the situation is schools was different: they had to change, and change is
very difficult for other people, because now the issue of management has to
become transparent.’
Kedisaletse claims that he supports this change in leadership style because of
its inclusive nature: it allows him as principal to consult with and get advice
from teachers in his school who might be more knowledgeable or experienced
than he is and to create opportunities for educators in his school the
opportunity to share ideas and voice their opinions:
‘They are able to have a say in the allocation of funds and to utilize them
properly and to decide about the materials, yes, to decide which Learner
and Teacher Support Materials to buy and how those funds will be used.’
Moreover, he has a very good relationship with the parent community because
he knows them by name and has their full support in matters pertaining to their
children’s education.
‘’And now the parents are playing their role, they are assisting the school
because they have been given the opportunity to be in charge of the school
governance…which now really it makes them to be involved in the
education of their children’s education. We have the SGB that is
representing the parents and the SGB reports back to the parents about the
proceedings of the school and they ultimately work together for the benefit
of their children’s education.’
Parental commitment to education and the healthy relationships between the
adult members of the school community are reflected in the relationship
between teachers and learners, who ’have the opportunity for anything that
they don’t understand - they are free to come to the educators and get some
On the one hand Kedisaletse is positive about the changes effected to the
school curriculum because, so he claims, it prepares learners for the labour
‘Now the curriculum that they learn in class is different and, unlike in the
past when learners were taught some things that will not help them teaching them about what happened in the 16th and 17th century, you know
things that will not really help them - and benefit from the new curriculum
(which) teaches learners and prepare them for work, yes, for the market
because they learn about their immediate environment - what they see,
their country and their provinces, their immediate leaders and everything
that is not far from them.’
On the other hand he has serious concerns about the effectiveness of the
curriculum and the ability of teachers to implement it in their classrooms.
‘I think we are still struggling because the new curriculum has been
introduced and which came forth but we were not well trained and had to
apply that particular curriculum by moving from the old curriculum to the
new system. It was really, really, really challenging, and in fact now most
educators are not acquainted with the new terms, the new style of teaching
and other things are left behind, so the issue of the new curriculum has
resulted in learners not being able to read and write and construct
sentences properly because there are certain old aspects that have been
left out and the emphasis in the new curriculum is group work and
practical application.
We are trying. We are doing our utmost best, even though we are facing
many challenges because we don’t get the same and good explanations
how to deal with curriculum issues in class because even the facilitators
themselves are not experts of the curriculum.’
While acknowledging that ‘things are not stabilized’ Kedisaletse seems
unperturbed by the ever-changing education system. His philosophy is that
‘change is a continuous process, because now and then you have to review
some of the things and change them where it is necessary, especially in terms
of policies, because our curriculum seem to be having some loophole, and that
may be the reason why the new training has started again - in order to revise
the curriculum, and so the current curriculum we have has to be revised…to
change some of the aspects regarding what we have been teaching the
He is, however, ambivalent about the value and sustainability of some of the
changes that have been effected to education.
‘In some instances good improvements happened but in some instances
change brought frustration, especially in terms of maybe the topics that
are taught to the learners changes are very good, but in terms of the
arrangement, especially the paper work - because it gives frustration and
as educators we are doing more paper work than teaching the learners and if these can be reviewed and maybe the files can be reduced so that
more time can be given to classroom teaching and we concentrate more on
teaching the learners, I think that can be good.’
Kedisaletse is adamant that those responsible for change should practice what
they preach, especially with regard to consultation. Noting the exclusion of
classroom teachers from decisions that had an impact on the way they execute
their duties, he argues for greater involvement of classroom teachers in change
‘I think that maybe as the South Africans, and now that the government is
ours, they need to start to listen to the people at grassroots level and they
must not immediately introduce things without making a thorough
research whether that will succeed. Whatever is to be introduced must first
be piloted - it must be a pilot before the whole country can experience it,
and then they must assess, evaluate it before any decision could be taken
then I think we can get the good results in our schools. Changes could be
sustainable if maybe our department could listen to the people in the
ground level, that is the educators, because they are the ones who are
exposed to the classroom challenges and have to be knowledgeable about
the learners. People on the ground are the ones facing the situation. I
think the issue of top down is no longer working because people at the top
don’t know anything about the classroom situation and it should be the
bottom-up strategy that should be applied because educators can come
with good ideas about changing our schools. With changing our
curriculum the instructions given to the educators cannot be carried
successfully because they come from somewhere.’
Kedisaletse, unlike the other narrators, does not seem to be covering up his
fears, uncertainties, and sense that things are not as he expected them to be. He
openly states that he was not suitably equipped to become a principal because
he bypassed the position of deputy principal something that, in retrospect, was
a mistake. He admits that he finds principalship difficult, even now, when he
has acquired the skills that principals should have. What makes it difficult for
him, so he tells us, is that fact that he has to juggle his principalship duties
with his teaching duties.
It is in elaborating on the reason for this ‘juggling act’ that his secret fear, his
secret sense of failure, comes strongly to the fore. While he, as the protagonist
in his cover story, has battled on bravely, overcoming his personal
inadequacies, creating healthy relationships with the staff and parents, and
supporting the changes propagated in the sacred story of educational change in
South Africa, he has failed in safeguarding his school against the effects of
change. This is his secret story, the real story of his inadequacy. His cover
story is that ‘change is a continuous process, because now and then you have
to review some of the things and change them where it is necessary, especially
in terms of policies…’ His secret story is that change is destroying his school:
it is depriving him of educators, it is overburdening those educators that
remain and it is drowning them in paper work. The use of the intensifier
‘again’, in the clause, ‘ one educator was declared in excess again’, the
inclusion of ‘means’ and ‘only’ as additional intensifiers in ‘which means only
two educators will be left at school to teach Grade R to Grade 7 learners’, and
his judgment that ‘that alone is not going to be right’, all serve as reflections
of an emotional state of being vanquished, hence his conclusion that ‘Really
there is nothing good that is going right in the school.’
Kedisaletse attempts to create the impression that he supports the doctrines of
the sacred story, specifically the involvement of parents in decision-making
and the introduction of a more ‘relevant’ and ‘useful’ curriculum that prepares
children for the labour market.
‘The topics that are taught to the learners changes are very good…and
prepare them for work, yes, for the market because they learn about their
immediate environment - what they see, their country and their provinces,
their immediate leaders and everything that is not far from them…they
have the opportunity for anything that they don’t understand - they are
free to come to the educators and get some clarity.’
With regard to parental involvement in school matters he proclaims that
parents are now ‘able to have a say in the allocation of funds and to utilize
them properly and to decide about the materials, yes, to decide which Learner
and Teacher Support Materials to buy and how those funds will be used.’ In
the context of the rest of his story it is possible, thought, that his support of
parental involvement, especially in the financial side of school management, is
just another safety net for him, because the possibility of his being accused of
mismanagement of funds has been removed: ‘before the principal
was…accused of running the school by himself, and maybe the principal will
be accused of manipulating the funds…’ Further evidence that his relationship
with parents is one of his ‘sacred spaces’, a place where he feels safe and
protected, apart from his previous comment that that they are on first name
terms, is his claim that the parents are ‘protective’ of him, ‘just as they protect
their children’.
This said, Kedisaletse’s declared support for the changes that occurred in
education is undermined by his criticism of the Department of Education’s
redeployment strategy, the training provided to educators, the emphasis that is
placed on ‘paper work’ and ‘files’, the lack of consultation from the side of the
Department, the indecisiveness regarding the most appropriate curriculum, and
the decrease in learners’ reading and mathematical competence. This criticism
is also reflected in his repeated use of the intensifier, ‘really’, supposedly to
emphasize what he says but actually reflecting his increasing frustration with
the system. Examples include: ‘Really there is nothing good that going right in
the school’; ‘It was really challenging…very…very, very difficult…”; ‘Jaa…it
was really difficult…because the other challenge that the grown-ups had is
that others were older than me and having the experience …that was longer
than my experience…’; ‘Unfortunately I had one lady who was acting in this
post before I was…eehh…appointed and it was really a challenge when I was
appointed because she was not happy with everything I do…’, and ‘It was
really, really, really challenging and in fact now most educators are not
acquainted with the new terms, the new style of teaching and other things…’
My overall impression of Kedisaletse’s story is that it is a story of loss and
compromise. Having started off with the dream of becoming a principal, he
ended up managing a small school that did not assist in his professional
development - before 1994 ‘the principal was a real principal’; since then, ‘it
seems that being a principal is to delegate tasks to relevant people who
specialize in those tasks’. Also contrary to the expectations created by his
speedy movement through the ranks, he is principal of a very small farm
school, one that is at risk of being closed down. Having lost his dream and the
hope of realizing it, Kedisaletse has no dreams left; rather he simply focuses
on ‘getting through each day’.
4.7 Emerging themes
Indications from principals’ individual stories are that there are a number of
similarities as well as a number of differences in their individual experiences
of change, in the ways they respond to change and in the impact that change
has had on their personal and professional lives.
The first similarity in principals’ narratives is that all the principals, with the
exception of Goboima and Šomišanang, had always dreamt of becoming
principals one day and had taken deliberate steps to make their dreams come
true - either by using on-the-job opportunities – like accepting additional
responsibilities – as a means of career-pathing, or by furthering their studies
part-time or through opportunities created by the Department of Education. In
the case of Goboima and Šomišanang, the former had not aspired to being a
principal, simply to obtain a position as teacher in a pleasant, rural,
environment. Principalship happened by default, because the opportunity
presented itself. In the case of Šomišanang, principalship was a negation of his
initial dream - he had to ‘settle’ for it because, in terms of his perspective,
external circumstances – changes in the political dispensation in the country –
had blocked his promotion opportunities. What he had really wanted to be was
a school inspector.
The second similarity, with the exception of Goboima and Kedisaletse, is in
the route they followed to become principals: all of them started off as
classroom teachers, moved on to being Heads of Department, then deputy
principals and then principals. Goboima has only a matriculation certificate
while Kedisaletse moved from being a Head of Department to being a
principal. Goboima has had the opportunity, created by the Department of
Education, to further her studies – in school management and leadership – at
tertiary level, irrespective of the fact that she has only a school-leaving
certificate. Kedisaletse on the other hand, while acknowledging that not
having been a deputy principal made it more difficult to cope with the
responsibilities of principalship at first, creates the impression that he is now
on par with other principals, because he learnt by doing. The only principal
who feels very strongly about the need to combine academic and on-the-job
training is Rekopane, who is also of the opinion that ‘effective’ principals
should be paired with ‘ineffective’ ones in a kind of ‘buddy system’ to ensure
that everybody has an equal chance of improving themselves and their
schools. Perhaps this will enable him to prove his claim that he has changed,
that he is not racist because his ‘buddy’ is black.
The third similarity emerging from principals’ narratives is their sense of
disequilibrium - being thrown off balance – resulting from the changes
effected to South African education during the period 1998 to 2008. All of
them refer to the tempo at which change took place, the confusion or lack of
understanding amongst teachers regarding the way in which change was
supposed to be effected and/or the reasons why things had to change. All the
principals also felt that they were caught in the middle, having to represent the
views of the Department of Education as well as the views of the teachers
whom they were supposed to manage. As a result they bore the brunt of
teacher negativity and often felt very alone.
The reasons principals offered for their own anger and frustration and for
teacher negativity, confusion and loneliness are not, however, the same. In the
case of white principals, conflict was often the result of forced changes to the
racial learner composition of the school, the need to change from being a
single- to a parallel or dual medium school, and their sense of being betrayed
by the Department of Education for which they work in terms of promises not
being kept and/or support not rendered. In the case of black principals
negativity and confusion, as reported in their stories, was more commonly due
to the abolition of corporal punishment, an emphasis on learner rights rather
than on learner responsibilities, and a sense of disillusionment because the
outcomes of change do not meet the expectations they had of a new
A key indicator of principals’ emotional trauma, caused by this constant state
of disequilibrium, caused principals is reflected in the war imagery that the
majority of them use in describing their feelings about change. They use
words and phrases like ‘rank’ (to describe their movement through the
system); ‘it’s going to kill us ’ (to describe the stress cause by additional
work), ‘it’s time-bomb waiting to explode’ (to describe the prevalence of
Grade 12 pregnant girls), etc.
The fourth similarity in principals’ stories is their sense of being overwhelmed
with the pace at which change is taking place. Coupled with this is the fact
that change just keeps on happening – there seems to be no time to catch their
breath, to find their centre, to restore their balance. This is especially the case
with curriculum change – just when they think they know what is expected of
them in terms of curriculum change, it changes again and they just become
more and more confused and uncertain of what is expected of them.
The fifth similarity in the stories told by principals is that all of them had both
a cover story and a secret story to tell. In terms of their cover stories they
supported the changes that have occurred in education during the period 1998
to 2008 but the reasons they provided for their support were often different.
Principals at black and farm schools mentioned subsidized transport to and
from schools, exemption of school fees and feeding schemes, and parental
involvement in school governance as examples of change for the better.
Principals of formerly white schools now turned multi-cultural focused on the
positive spin-offs associated with the integration of different cultures, religions
and races in schools and the fact that people who were previously in opposing
camps were now getting to know and respect one another.
The sixth similarity in principals’ stories is that all the principals feel that they
have to demonstrate their loyalty to the sacred story of educational change in
South Africa by portraying an image of themselves as being in charge, of
being able to cope, not only with educational change, but also with their sense
of not being able to live up to the expectations that others, their employers in
particular, have of them. Once again the reasons for their ‘split existence’ also
differ. Indications are that white principals express their support for the sacred
story of educational change in South Africa as a means of ensuring their own,
their school’s and their cultural community’s survival while black principals
seem to feel that criticism of the system and/or the changes that occurred
during the past ten years would be a betrayal of the liberations struggle of
which the new dispensation is the outcome. To criticize the changes would be
to admit that the liberation struggle had been either a waste of time or a lie.
They are therefore morally obliged to emphasize the positive elements of
change – that is, the social upliftment aspects – and ignore all else.
The seventh, and final, similarity in principals’ stories is that all of them seem
to gather the strength to continue with their jobs from the same sacred space,
the only place where they felt ‘safe’, amongst other principals – at principals’
meetings and workshops – because there they could be themselves: they did
not have to pretend that everything at their school was wonderful; they could
admit their confusion, their sense of inadequacy and their disillusionment with
the system and/or specific changes, without fear of retribution. In this sense
the community of principals became their ‘sacred space’, a space they were
not willing to share with anyone else.
Apart from the differences already indicated, the major difference between
principals of previously white schools and those of black schools seem to be in
the effect that the changes to education have had on their sense of self – their
self-esteem – and their honesty about this aspect of change. While black
principals, on the other hand, while not necessarily doing so consciously,
confess that they need others – parents, staff members, district officials, other
principals, etc. – to help them survive, indication are that white principals are
more inclined to view themselves as being in control of the situation, claiming
that it is due to their efforts that racial integration and changes to medium of
instruction have taken place relatively smoothly. Unwilling or unable to admit
to feelings of inadequacy, they focus on how they have got to where they are
due to their own efforts. Informed by their supposed self-esteem – warranted
or not – they cry out for their ‘achievements and ‘expertise’ to be
acknowledged by those in power or another. While black principals, on the
other hand, while not necessarily doing so consciously, confess that they need
others – parents, staff members, district officials, other principals, etc. – to
help them survive.
Concluding comments
In recording and interpreting the stories that participating principals told me, I
shared their feelings of disillusionment, frustration, disequilibrium, fear,
desperation, hope, split loyalties, courage and a sense of duty, a duty that
forces them to go on, to keep on trying despite all odds. I noticed that, with the
odd exception, their appointment as principals represented the realization of
dreams they nurtured from the day they decided to become teachers that they
managed to manifest these dreams by believing in themselves and their
abilities and by taking specific measures to ensure their movement through the
ranks. Even so, regardless of their determination and self-confidence, all the
principals initially experienced the usual difficulties associated with
promotion. Most of them are also still struggling to restore their own and their
schools’ sense of balance, a balance disrupted by the scope and tempo of
educational change in South Africa during the past ten years (1998 to 2008).
I discovered that, in an attempt to create positive images of themselves as
competent and able managers and leaders in an ever-changing environment,
narrating principals made up cover stories in which they were positive about
change, capable of managing it and convinced of its value and sustainability.
In covering up their secret stories, where they felt insecure, incompetent and
disloyal, they either blamed external factors – other people and the effect of
change, for example – or made use of generalization, claiming that their
feelings and experiences were common to all principals. Finally, all principals,
no matter how discouraged or disillusioned they felt, affirmed their belief in
the sacred story of educational change in South Africa and indicated their
commitment to ‘the greater cause’, the creation of a better future for all. In
gathering courage for their journey into the future and their survival of the
present, all the principals, irrespective of race, colour, language or gender,
‘retire’ to the same sacred space – the community of principals – where they
are allowed to express their uncertainties, confess to their insecurities and
simply be themselves.
Using these findings and the insights I gained from them as basis, I attempt to
draw all the loose ends of my inquiry together in Chapter 5, using what I learnt
not only to answer my original research questions but also to formulate my
theoretical position – by means of a number of propositions – on the impact
that educational change has school principals’ professional lives and on the
way in which their experiences of change could be investigated by other
researchers. To this purpose I briefly summarize the focus, purpose and
questions that directed my inquiry and indicate what actions I took to ensure
that the results of my research would be regarded as trustworthy (valid and
reliable I positivist terms).
Introduction and Purpose
As indicated in Chapters One and Three, South Africa, a young, democratic
country has changed extensively on the political front since 1994, with equally
radical and comprehensive changes occurring in education since the
implementation of changed policies since 1998. While there is ample evidence
of political and socio-economic change, one may well ask if the same can be
said about education. Have ten years of democracy improved school
education? What impact have new policies initiated by the Department of
Education during the past ten years had on school management and
leadership? How do principals feel about these changes and how do they
respond to them?
I have attempted, by following Clandinin and Connelly’s metaphor of a
landscape (2000: xvi) in this research report to sketch the ever-changing
epistemological and moral world in which South African school principals live
and work. In doing so, I intended to contribute to existing insights regarding
the way school principals in general, and South African school principals in
particular, experienced change in the period 1998 to 2008. In conducting this
inquiry I believe that I have uncovered new insights regarding the effect that
the expectations of those in power have on principals’ estimation of their own
ability and/or on their attempts to effectively and efficiently manage the
transformation of school education in South Africa.
In narrating and analyzing the stories of selected South African principals
across racial, social and cultural divides, I believe that I have managed to paint
a richly textured landscape that reflects not only the current lives of the
selected principals but also the personal, communal, political and professional
influences of their different histories on the way they have dealt with and still
deal with the role they have to play as agents of education transformation. In
recording and analyzing their stories, I believe that I have managed to ‘open
up for reflection and examination’ (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000: xvi) not
only their ‘secret’ and ‘sacred’ spaces inhabited by school principals who have
to deal with change on a daily basis, but have also managed to identify some
categories – the ‘conduit’ and its ‘rhetoric of conclusions’ (Clandinin and
Connelly, 2000: xxv) that researchers could use to penetrate the social veneer
of educational change and its management at school level.
Following Clandinin and Connelly (2000), I moot that, in order to survive
professionally, school principals are forced to live a ‘split existence’. Some of
the reasons for this ‘split’ is that principals are expected, by those in power, to
implement the changes in their schools while those they manage – teachers
and other members of the school community – expect principals to represent
them and their ideas to those in charge of the system as a whole. In reflecting
on the patterns/themes emerging from principals’ stories, I consider the extent
to which principals are supported in satisfying these often conflicting demands
and to what extent they are able to play the role of moral agents, (Clandinin
and Connelly, 2000) tasked with motivating and inspiring those in their care
while also performing their duties as ‘forced laborers in the factories of
educational reformers’ (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000).
In presenting the findings of my inquiry I do not claim to be an authority in
this field and/or to have the answer to all the problems and frustrations
experienced by school principals as a result of educational change. Principals
participating in my study did not include all principals or even all the members
of the management team at the schools where I conducted my research.
Moreover, data were collected from principals in one district of the Gauteng
Province only hence the opinions of principals from other districts in the
province remain unheard.
Research focus, purpose and procedures
As indicated in Chapter One (see § 1.2) my interest in principals’ experiences
of educational change during the period 1998 to 2008 was sparked by two
things – my own appointment as acting principal in 1995 and the resultant
contact I had with other principals at principals’ workshops and meetings. The
main focus of my inquiry was on principals’ experience of the changes that
occurred in South African education since 1998. I wanted to explore the way
in which school principals experience, narrate and attach different meanings to
the changes that have occurred to school education during the period 1998 to
2008. More specifically, my exploration of principals’ experiences was aimed
at determining whether or not the changes that have taken place and the ways
in which they were fed into schools had a beneficial or detrimental effect on
school principals’ views of themselves, their schools and education in general.
To help me retain my focus throughout my inquiry I reformulated my research
purpose as a single research question, namely:
How did a group of selected school principals in the Gauteng North
District in SA experience changes to education during the period 1998 to
With a view to locating and collecting the data I needed to answer this
question I split the main question up into the following subsidiary questions:
Which changes did all South African school principals have to deal
with during the period 1998 to 2008?
How were the changes to school education fed into schools by the
Department of Education during the period 1998 to 2008?
What effect did the changes implemented by the Department of
Education during the period 1998 to 2008 have on the schools whose
principals were selected to participate in my study?
How did the changes implemented by the Department of Education
during the period 1998 to 2008 affect the role of school principals as
seen by those principals selected to participate in my study?
How do the school principals selected as participants in my study
experience the changes effected to school education during the period
1998 to 2008?
What according to the principals selected to participate in my study are
the chances that the changes made to school education during the
period 1998 to 2008 will be sustainable?
In collecting and analyzing data that would help me answer these questions I
adopted a grounded narrative approach, following in the footsteps of Charmaz
(2006) as far as grounded research was concerned and in the footsteps of
Clandinin and Connelly (2000) Lieblich et al (1998) and Punch, (1998) with
regard to narrative research. I selected knowledgeable informants – school
principals, in my case - conducted one-on-one interviews with them, ‘storied’
and ‘restoried’ interview data into cohesive first-hand accounts, selected
significant vignettes from these stories, holistically interpreted them, identified
and discussed emerging themes and, finally, related the outcomes of my
inquiry to my original research purpose, questions and objectives.
In attempting to validate the outcomes of my research I attempted, not to
prove what quantitative researchers call reliability and validity, but to inspire
confidence in the confirmability, credibility, dependability and trustworthiness
of research results as well as the procedures followed in producing these
(Cohen et al, 2000; De Vos, 2002; Erlandson et al, 1993; Lincoln and Guba,
1998; McMillan and Schumacher, 2006; Seidemann, 1991). In attempting to
enhance these aspects of my inquiry, I used a combination of strategies, each
with a very particular purpose.
To ensure the credibility of my inquiry I spent a prolonged period – seven
months, to be exact – engaging with participating principals at various
levels and observing their different responses to particular aspects of
change. During this period I visited each school more than once (see
Chapter 2) in order to collect contextual data. This enabled me to check the
accuracy of inferences I made from data against observational evidence
(Erlandson et al, 1993:31), a technique that minimized the possibility of
subjective bias on my side. To add further confidence to the trustworthiness
of the data collected I used member checking, asking participating
principals to verify the accuracy of transcripts I made of their tape-recorded
interviews (Erlandson, et al, 1993).
In order to further eliminate bias in the collection of data I made use of
triangulation, using different sources and looking at situations from
different perspectives (McMillan and Schumacher, 2006). Data sources
included schools, principals, policy documents and literature on
educational change and its management. To ensure that I would not forget
anything I saw or heard I kept rigorous notes of my observations and taperecorded interviews. I also kept a reflective journal in which I noted my
thoughts and feelings after each data collection episode (see Chapter 2 for
detail on data collection procedures and instruments).
I also used triangulation as a means of confirming recurring
patterns/themes by interpreting principals’ stories from three perspectives,
namely their content, structure and discourse (see Chapter 2 for detail) – a
process that reflected Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) staged coding process thereby incorporating multiple theoretical perspectives in both the planning
and interpretation stages of my inquiry (De Vos et al, 2002:342).
Following Lincoln and Guba (1998:44), I considered the possibility that
other researchers might find the same answers I did if they were to replicate
my research design. I therefore laid down a detailed audit trail of the
techniques I used in collecting and interpreting participating principals’
stories. This trail is described in detail in Chapter Two.
ƒ I confirmed the outcomes of my inquiry/research by comparing my daily
reflections on data collection episodes and the data collected during these
episodes with my field notes and the transcriptions of interviews (Millan
and Schumacher, 2006; Patton, 2002).
Research findings
As I indicated in Chapter Four, the stories that participating principals told me
about their experiences of change reflected disillusionment, frustration,
disequilibrium, fear, desperation, hope, split loyalties, courage and a sense of
duty that forces them to go on, to keep on trying despite all odds. With the odd
exception, their appointment as principals represented the realization of
participating principals’ dreams, typically ascribed to their own strategic
efforts. Without exception these principals initially experienced difficulties
typically associated with promotion and are still struggling to restore their own
and their schools’ sense of balance by coming to grips with the pace and scope
of educational change in the country. In trying to retain their self-esteem
narrating principals made up cover stories in which they were positive about
change, capable of managing it and convinced of its value and sustainability.
In covering up their secret stories, where they felt insecure, incompetent and
disloyal, they either blamed external factors – other people and the effect of
change, for example – or made use of generalization, claiming that their
feelings and experiences were common to all principals. Finally, all principals,
no matter how discouraged or disillusioned they felt, affirmed their
commitment to ‘the cause’, that is, their belief in the sacred story of change,
and gathered the courage to continue on their journey of principalship from the
same sacred space – the community of principals.
In order to determine the extent to which these research findings enabled me
to answer my initial research questions, reiterated in 5.2, I devote this section
of Chapter Five to a discussion of these findings as they relate to the research
questions and my original research purpose and focus. In doing so, I also
merge insights gained from my review of literature on educational change and
my analysis of educational policy in the new South Africa with the insights
gained from my inquiry.
Educational change in South Africa during the
period 1998 to 2008
Post-apartheid educational change in South Africa has been nothing but
radical, affecting the system as a whole as well as the people working in the
system (DoE, 1997; Taylor, 1999:94). Systemically the entire education
landscape has changed. Educational decisions are now a joint rather than an
individual responsibility, taken by a Committee of Education Ministers that
represents national as well as provincial interests (RSA, 1996e; RSA, 1996f).
The establishment of a national qualifications framework (NQF), maintained
and monitored by the South African Qualifications Authority, ensures the
integrity of the education system, integrating education and training,
monitoring standard and quality and establishing an accessible database of
these at national level (SAQA, 1997). Teacher education is no longer a
provincial matter but a national one, and all teachers are now required to have
at least an initial degree conferred by an accredited higher education
institution (RSA, 1996d).
Schools are no longer separated along racial and provincial lines: no learner
may be refused access to any public school on the basis of ability, race,
language, religion or gender; all learners are to be instructed in terms of a
single, national curriculum (NCS); the teacher/learner ratio is nationally
determined, based on enrolment figures and no learner’s human rights may be
undermined in any way, not by means of corporal punishment (DoE, (2000),
not by being subjected to illegal searches or being suspended or expelled from
school without regard to due process. Schools are no longer ‘owned’ by school
principals: parents have been charged with school governance (Christie,
1999:180), principals with school management and learners’ voices have to be
heard through their representatives on school governing bodies and learner
councils (DoE, (1998). In short, South African schools have, on paper, become
inclusive and democratic: they are safe places conducive to effective teaching
and learning (Prinsloo, 2005:5), places where the value of the Constitution are
promoted and the rights of individuals protected, places where everybody is
harmoniously working together towards a better future for all.
In practice, though, as implied in the stories of the principals who participated
in my study, things are not always as rosy as they seem – reality often differs
from the ideal, and practice is often very different from policy. The discourse
participating principals used in telling their stories does not reflect an image of
schools as ‘safe’ places where everybody works harmoniously together
towards a shared ideal. Rather, their use of battle imagery suggests that they
are still grappling with change, trying to get to grips with it while
simultaneously trying to convince other members of the school community of
its value and eventual benefits. This disjuncture is reflected in literature on
educational management which shows that, although principals are,
systemically speaking, regarded as middle managers, they are generally tasked
to act as change agents at school level even when they lack ‘practical clarity’
or feel ill-equipped to do what this entails (Fullan and Stiegelbauer, 1991:152;
Holbeche, 2006:25).
Key among the changes contributing to principals’ sense of being on a
battlefield is curriculum change. Whilst principals narrated their experiences
regarding curriculum change from different perspectives, they all felt
overwhelmed by the scope of the change and by the fact that the curriculum
has not changed once during this period but twice – first from a provinciallybased content-oriented curriculum to a national outcomes-based one called
Curriculum 2005 and then to a more streamlined outcomes-based version
referred to as the National Curriculum Statement. Given that the Department
of Education expects school principals to manage the implementation of the
national curriculum at school level, it is the principals who have to bear the
brunt of teachers’ antagonism towards what they regard as an undermining of
their professional competence (Heystek, 2007: 491-494; Ubben, Hughes and
Norris, 2001: 116).
Teachers, especially the older, more experienced ones, were unwilling to
abandon tried and tested methods for new ones, either because they were
afraid of change or because they were not convinced that their ways were
inappropriate and/or inadequate (Dunklee, 2000:143, 87; Fullan and
Hargreaves, 1992:48). Also, as a result of curriculum change, there was an
increase in what principals termed ‘paper work’. Educators are now required
to keep a multitude of files and records, continuously assessing learner
progress and performance and having less and less time for teaching and
lesson preparation. Aggravating the situation, according to principals’ stories,
were teachers’ perceptions that their expertise was not valued by those in
power because they, the teachers, were not consulted on curriculum changes
even though they are the ones with practical curriculum expertise.
Consequently they regarded curriculum change as a top-down imposition
rather than as a necessary innovation.
A different, but related, change was the determination of class size, or
appropriate teacher/learner ratios, typically based on school enrolments
(Christie, 1999:179). Schools where class size had been relatively small in the
past – mostly white schools – experienced the increase in class size and the
redeployment of staff members as traumatic. To add to their trauma, teachers
in previously Afrikaans-medium schools now had to accept double teaching
loads, teaching the same subjects or learning areas in Afrikaans as well as
English. Not only did this make them feel incompetent, because they were not
as fluent in English as in Afrikaans, but often the promises made by various
education departments concerning additional staff allocations and/or the
gradual phasing in of dual and parallel-medium were not honoured. This,
according to the principals, increased teacher negativity towards curriculum
change and made its effective implementation more difficult.
A third change that had to be managed at school level was the way in which
discipline was to be maintained. In the past just about every school in South
Africa depended on corporal punishment as a means of ‘disciplining’ learners.
Given the imperative to protect learners’ individual rights as stipulated in the
Bill of Rights (RSA, 1996 (d), corporal punishment was declared illegal in
education legislation, (DoE, 2000; Imbrogno, 2000:134). Instead, School
Governing Bodies were mandated, (DoE, 1998b) to adopt codes of conduct for
the schools they governed, having consulted with all stakeholders, including
learners, on what should be regarded as acceptable behaviour and on what
sanctions to impose on those who behaved unacceptably (Squelch, 2000:2428). While not all the principals criticized the abolition of corporal punishment
or mentioned it as one of the challenges experienced in their schools, others
placed the blame for learners’ ill discipline squarely on its abolition.
Feeding change into schools
Informing all change was a whole battery of new policies (RSA, 1995 (e) –
White Paper on Education and Training; RSA, 1996 (c) – Employment of
Educators’ Act; RSA, 1996 (a) – National Educational Policy Act; RSA,
1996f – South African Schools Act; SAQA, 1996 (b) that spelt out what had to
change and how this had to happen. To ensure that all those responsible for the
implementation of change at school level were cognizant with the policies, the
national Department of Education, using donor and government funding,
organized multiple workshops aimed at training teachers as well as education
officials at national, provincial and district/regional levels. Principals, though
not initially required to attend curriculum workshops, were later also roped in.
They were also trained, at principals’ workshops and various managementrelated tertiary programs, to manage change at their schools.
Indications in literature (Earley and Weidling, 2004:161) dealing with the
curriculum change (see § are that training, or re-skilling, is crucial to
the successful implementation and management of curriculum change but that
this does not mean there will be no ‘implementation dips’ (Fullan and
Stiegelbauer, 1991:91). Things tend to get worse before they get better given
the complexity of educational change. However, Fullan and Stiegelbauer
(1991) warn, if these ‘dips’ are not properly managed, the whole system may
well collapse. Principals’ stories suggest indications of temporary and, in some
cases, continuing, and systemic collapse. Their stories tell of teachers who
were ill prepared for the implementation of outcomes-based education,
notwithstanding the training provided by the Department of Education and the
piloting of new programs prior to implementation. The reason, according to
the principals, was that many of the trainers were themselves unfamiliar with
the new curriculum and/or unable to convey their understanding to teachers in
ways that inspired confidence. Consequently education standards, instead of
increasing, have dropped, specifically in the areas of literacy and numeracy.
The effect of educational change on schools
Principals’ stories indicate that schools have been completely changed from
the way they used to be but in different ways. Schools previously falling under
the Department of Education and Training, i.e. black schools, have benefited
from the changes in terms of resource allocation, infra-structure, buildings and
other physical facilities, feeding schemes, exemption from school fees, ‘rightsizing’ (amended teacher/learner ratios) and the provision of subsidized
learner transport. Formerly white schools, apart from having to deal with
bigger class sizes, have also had to open up their schools to other races and, in
the case of formerly Afrikaans-medium schools, to use more than one
language as medium of instruction. It is the latter – medium of instruction –
that has caused teachers and principals most stress since teachers felt
incompetent to teach in English and principals had to ‘force’ them to accept
double teaching loads because dual- and/or parallel medium was not
considered a factor in the determination of teacher/learner ratios. Racial
integration, although initially fraught with conflict and tension, seems to have
been less of a problem, with principals’ stories indicating that learners and
parents have accepted one another and that teachers no longer seem to notice
the skin colour of the children they are teaching.
While things seem to be settling down in urban and peri-urban schools this
does not seem to be the case in farm schools. These schools, irrespective of
their former status as black or white schools, while benefiting from feeding
schemes, resource allocation and other positive elements of change, seem to
have been negatively affected by the determination of teacher/learner ratios
based on learner enrolment numbers. Given their typically small numbers,
most farm schools have between 2 and 4 staff members, principal included,
who have to teach the whole curriculum to all classes. The only way to do this
is for them to combine different grades and for the principal to carry a full
teaching load in addition to his/her administrative duties. Consequently these
schools do not qualify for administrative staff and find it difficult to attend
training workshops since attendance would imply more work for even fewer
The maintenance of discipline in schools also seems to have become
problematic. Some of the reasons given for this are the emphasis that is placed
on group work in the new curriculum, the emphasis that is placed on learners’
human rights and the abolition of corporal punishment. While formerly white
schools pride themselves on their ability to maintain discipline, citing this as
one of the reasons why black parents want to enroll their children in formerly
white schools, former DET (Department of Education and Training) schools
seem to struggle to do so.
One of the principals’ stories in particular,
emphasized the relationship between learners’ lack of commitment to their
schoolwork and the fact that they no longer ‘fear’ punishment. The same
principal also linked the increase in learner pregnancy to the emphasis on
learners’ rights, which protect them from being suspended or expelled from
school when they get pregnant.
As regards the extent to which parents are involved in school activities, a crucial
feature of the new education dispensation, all principals indicated that the
existence of functionally operational school governing bodies (SGB) in their
schools. Indications in principals’ stories are that some of them welcome this,
because it places some of the responsibilities associated with the running of
successful schools, especially financial decisions, on someone else’s shoulders;
other principals seem secretly to resent this, since instead of ‘owning’ the
school, they now have to consult and negotiate with parents and other
stakeholders prior to taking decisions and/or actions concerning what they
regard as ‘theirs’.
With regard to the involvement of parents not sitting on the SGB, indications
are that parental involvement in formerly white schools are high, with the
‘new’ (black) parents becoming increasingly active in parents meetings and
extra-mural activities. In formerly black schools this does not seem to be
happening as readily because, as principals tell it, many of the parents are not
cognizant of the role they are supposed to play in their children’s school
education, are not ‘educated’ and/or ‘literate’ enough to feel that they have
something to contribute, have work commitments that prevent them from
getting involved, or are simply ‘not interested’.
Despite principals’ claims that things have changed, there are indications that
this might not be the whole truth. Jansen (2002:199-215), for example, claims
that ‘despite the production of literally thousand of pages of formal policy
documents after apartheid, there is…little change in schools and classroom
practice throughout South Africa’. Could it be that policy implementation did
not neatly follow the route of policy planning, that there is a gap between
policy and practice?
Indications from literature (MacLaughlin, 1997:182-183) are that there are two
broad responses to this question as it relates to educational change in South
Africa during the period 1998 to 2008. The first response is that too many
changes are often introduced at the same time (Rossow and Warner, 2000:273274). This is also evident from my study. Not only did schools have to deal with
curriculum change – twice! – but they also had to deal with continuous and
systemic assessments, racial integration, teacher redeployment, retraining,
human rights, the abolition of corporal punishment, the mainstreaming of
‘special needs’ children, parental involvement in school affairs, and so on.
The second response is that principals are not always able to manage the
changes as they are expected to (Holbeche, 2006:25). In the midst of all the
changes, they are expected to remain calm and balanced, effective and
motivated, a leader as well as a manager, forgetting that they were also caught
unawares by the changes, that they, too, harbour secret fears and hopes, and
that they may not able to act as ‘buffer’ between those in authority and those
they have to lead and ‘manage’ (Fullan and Stiegelbauer, 1991:144).
It would seem, therefore, that while some of the changes initiated by the
Department of Education seemed to lead to school improvement some had the
opposite effect and, instead of being welcomed, were rejected and/or secretly
undermined by those who were expected to support them.
The effect of change on the role of school
Although literature (Beaudan, 2002:261-262; Holbeche, 2006:21, 257-258) on
the position of principals in schools (see § indicate that they are
central figures in respect of changes related to school culture and climate,
effective change is not always the result of their efforts, however the key role
they play in this regard (Fullan and Stiegelbauer, 1991:145). As Ubben and
Hughes (1992:1) point out, ‘leadership doesn’t occur in a vacuum and certain
managerial functions need to be adequately attended to for an orderly and
productive learning environment’ to emerge and be maintained. It would seem
as if the Department of Education in South Africa assumed that principals
would perform these functions without any problem, thereby making them key
agents for change on behalf of the Department itself. It was, so the Department
seemed to assume, up to principals to encourage, motivate and support
teachers to implement curriculum changes; take control of the school finance
activities; manage staff; ensure the safety of the learners; see to it that all
systems required for the implementation and sustainability of change are
operational, and act as accounting officers that saw to it that their schools had
the requisite resources for effecting mandated changes. Other people would
then, so it was assumed, look to them for guidance. In short, the Department of
Education assumed that principals would be at the cutting edge of change in
that they knew, understood and supported the changes initiated at national
Principals’ stories, presented and interpreted in this study showed that
principals were aware of these expectations and, in many cases, pretended to
live up to them. In their ‘secret’ places, though, they often admitted that this
was not the case that things were not working as they should. They then either
blamed others or themselves for their ‘failure’ to implement change as they
were expected to. Regardless of where they placed the blame their ‘failure’
undermined their self-esteem and their confidence in their own ability. Fullan
and Stiegelbauer (1991:144), in empathy with principals’ dilemma, argue that
‘it is time to go beyond the empty phrase that the principal is the gatekeeper of
change’ since often, as is evident in the stories I collected during my inquiry,
principals ‘find themselves in a job which is quite different to that which they
originally chose’. In order to effectively lead and manage change, principals
need to be more than its ‘facilitators, balancers, flag bearers, bridgers and
inquirers’ realizing that ‘although all these forces and constituencies are
resources, the proverbial buck stops with them’ (Rallis and Goldring,
2000:135). My study suggests that not all principals can do this.
Indications from literature (Burke and Cooper, 2006:50; Dunklee, 2000:88) on
school management and leadership (see § 3.2.3) are that educational change
does not just ‘happen’ in a school; it needs somebody who will drive it (Earley
and Weidling, 2004:55), someone who will act as a catalyst, allowing people
to disagree with what is ‘preached’ about change, and to have a say shaping
the way that the school should handle change and/or the direction the school
should take in dealing with it (Sergiovanni, 1991:269).
Many principals do not know exactly what they should do (Duignan, 2007:6),
something also evidenced in the stories told during the course of this inquiry.
Allowing them only to enter the change management process towards the end,
rather than involving them from the start, ‘expecting them to be leaders in the
implementation of changes that they had no hand in developing and may not
understand’ (Fullan and Stiegelbauer, 1991:152) is a recipe for trouble. Should
this be the case, these writers argue, and ‘given the other demands on the role,
it is no wonder that most principals do not approach their change
responsibilities with enthusiasm’.
Participating principals’ experiences of
educational change
As indicated in Chapter Four, principals’ experiences were both similar and
different. What was clear from the narration of their experiences, though, is
that principals found the changes and the responsibilities they had to accept as
change managers difficult. They found changes to their role functions – their
job descriptions – especially challenging. This was most evident in the
accounts of farm school principals who not only had to accept responsibility
for school management and administration but also for classroom instruction
and learner assessment. The fact that they had to manage continuous changes
to the curriculum, to staff deployment, to learner composition, to parent
involvement and to medium of instruction did nothing but aggravate the
position they found themselves in. They felt alone and overwhelmed by it all
hence their attempts to either keep their heads above water or to pretend that
they were doing fine.
Changes to their status as principals, as they perceived it, also had an impact
on their self-esteem and their willingness to support specific changes. Whereas
some of the principals welcomed the move towards transparency and
participatory management of schools, others longed for the days when
principals were ‘in charge’ of their schools. Some understood the need for
principals to be held accountable for what happened in their schools; others
regarded it as an extra burden, one that they accepted reluctantly. What is very
clear from principals’ stories is that they have gone beyond the point of no
return. They are determined to keep their positions, to survive and, in some
instances, even to help others survive. Their stories seem to indicate that what
they do wish, though, is acknowledgement for their efforts and for their
loyalty to the cause, acknowledgement that will only mean something if it
comes from above as well as from below.
Sustainability of change
Indications from literature (Hargreaves, Moore, Fink, Brayman and White,
2003:42; Rossow and Warner, 2000:273) on educational change (see § 3.2.2)
are that, in many cases, change is temporary. The reasons given for this are
many. Sometimes, it is argued, possible obstacles to change are not considered
in the planning stages because ‘policymakers and senior administrators often
underestimate, overlook or are oblivious to the difficulties of implementation
change’ (Hargreaves, Earl, Moore and Manning, 2001:115). At other times,
those who have to implement and manage change are unable to ‘navigate the
waves of change’ because change policy makers introduce changes without
providing the means to ‘identify and confront…situational constraints and
without attempting to understand the values, ideas and experiences’ of those
who are tasked with the implementation of these changes (Fullan and
Stiegelbauer, 1991:96; Samuelson, 1999:22).
When I started with my research, I assumed that educational change is
sustainable because of the good things that have happened in schools and
because of the progress schools have made in many areas since change was
first introduced. It emerged from this study that not all participants in this
study would agree with me. Those who had their doubts about the
sustainability of changes that have already been effected raised concerns about
curriculum implementation and teacher allocation. Even those who claimed
that the changes were sustainable did so because they realized that things
could never go back to the way they were. As a result, they were of the
opinion that change therefore had to be sustained by default. This, these
principals claimed, would only happen, however, if those in power practiced
what they preached in respect of grassroots involvement, that is, if they
consulted those at the chalk face – the teachers who knew what worked and
what did not.
Embracing educational change and the motivation to explore how well change
works in our schools is not enough. According to Hargreaves and Fink (2003),
‘to sustain means to nourish’. If change is, therefore, to be sustained, it needs
to be nourished, cared for, given the support it needs to flourish and grow
(Campell, 1991; Spillane, Haverlson and Drummond, 2001:26; Hargreaves
(2003). Its sustenance or not is the joint responsibility of all those whose lives
are affected by it, but especially by those who act as pacesetters, leading the
charge, so to speak (Fullan, 2005:35; Loehr and Schwartz, 2003:5).
findings of this study seem to suggest that, while all the principals involved in
the study claim that they have accepted this responsibility some of them are
simply saying this to cover up their own inadequacies while others are saying
it to score points. Indications are that even those who claim to support it do so
because they feel they have no other choice, not necessarily because they
believe it is the best thing to do.
Concluding comments
In presenting my research findings and in using them to answer my initial
research questions, I discovered that I was looking at principals’ experiences
through the lens of those theorists who work in an interpretive theoretical
paradigm. In interpreting principals’ stories of change I gained new insights
into the social and professional realities of participating principals’ existence.
Viewing principals’ experiences through their eyes and narrating it in their
words, gave me an empathetic but critical understanding of different
perspectives on and experiences of educational change (DeMarais & Lapan,
2003; Henning et al, 2004:13) in the South African context during the period
1998 to 2008.
What emerged from my growing understanding of the way selected school
principals experienced educational change in South Africa during the period
1998 to 2008 is that the way in which educational change has taken place
during the decade 1998 to 2008 has upset the balance of those school
principals who participated in this study, forcing them to live a ‘split
existence’ in which, although they feel alone and overwhelmed by all the
changes, they pretend that they are doing fine simply keep their heads above
water, to retain their self-esteem and/or to keep their jobs. To this purpose they
use ‘cover’ stories to hide their ‘secrets’ – secret feelings of failure,
inadequacy, disillusionment and despair. While my study was too contextual
to generalize, indications from literature (see Chapter Three) are that these
feelings may well be typical of all principals who are required to manage and
lead change imposed from above. My theoretical propositions regarding the
effect of imposed educational change which has to be managed and led by
school principals who had little or no say in what and how things should
change is that it causes such disequilibrium in their personal and professional
image of themselves that they are forced to go underground, sharing their
deepest fears and feelings only with those who are in the crucible with them,
i.e. other principals. To all others they tell a cover story of their own success at
managing the change. I also propose that, should the imposed change be
‘marketed’ by those in power as something superior, untouchable, the only
way to go, principals are even more inclined to pretend – not only that they
succeed but that they believe in the ‘sacredness’ of this story irrespective of
the destruction that it is wreaking in their lives. I offer the following reasons
for this theoretical proposition:
In balancing the expectations of those in power with those of the
school community, principals become like slaves – not allowed to
express their opinions, merely to serve, to be obedient to the wishes of
others even if this means negating their own.
Principals’ ‘split personalities’ is reflected in their use of cover stories
and secret stories that hide their real feelings about the sacred story.
This was especially in the case of black principals, who seem to
believe that criticisms of the system and/ or of the changes that
occurred during the past ten years would be a betrayal of the liberation
struggle of which the new dispensation is the outcome. Criticizing the
changes would be to admit that the liberation struggle had been either
a waste of time or a lie. They therefore feel morally obliged to
emphasize the positive elements of change – that is the social
upliftment aspects and ignore all else. In the case of white principals
they do so, one could summise, because they do not want to be
accused of racism and/or feelings of superiority.
Furthermore, as regards future research into school principals’ experiences of
educational change, I would, based on the findings of my own study, contend
that it is inadequate to focus simply on principals’ current experiences of
educational change without linking these to their past experiences. What
researchers should do is to investigate the whole of a principal’s professional
life experience, from his/her first dream of becoming a principal, through the
trials and tribulations s/he experienced along the way, noting the way in which
these changed and/or developed them, up to each one’s current experiences. I
propose, therefore, that the use of a journey metaphor rather than an events
management approach, researchers might well obtain a much deeper and
nuanced understanding of what is it like to be a principal in times of radical,
ongoing educational change imposed from above.
In sharing the results of my research with the broader research community I
trust that I have made a contribution to current understandings of the way in
which a particular group of South African school principals experienced and
dealt with educational changes during the period in question. In opening up
the ‘secret and sacred spaces’ inhabited by these principals I suggest many
other principals might identify with the characters in my research study.
Should other researchers replicate my study it is quite possible that similar
patterns and themes might emerge, creating the opportunity for generalization.
In this sense I, too, would have made a contribution to the creation of new
knowledge on educational change and its management at school level.
The outcomes of my inquiry convinced me that the unique position that school
principals occupy in schools means that they do influence the direction change
takes in schools, for better or for worse. Learner performance, teacher success
in curriculum delivery, parental involvement in school matters, and the
improvement or not of schools, are directly proportional to the quality of
leadership and management of the principal and his team. The extent to which
the needs of the school are addressed will depend on the principal’s ability to
motivate the school community to work together towards a better future. The
ability of principals to do this will, in turn, depend on the extent to which the
various departments of education support school principals in the unique work
they are doing.
Motivated recommendations
Informed by the outcomes and conclusions of this inquiry I would like to offer
a few suggestions on the management of future change efforts in the Gauteng
North District in particular and, perhaps, South Africa in general.
In the first instance I would recommend that those who believe that
educational change is necessary should consult with those who will have
to implement the changes at school level concerning the changes
envisaged and the ways to implement them. Not only will this convey a
real commitment to power-sharing on the part of those who are in control
but it would convey to school principals that they are regarded as valued
partners in the education enterprise rather than as ‘indentured slaves’.
Principals would then have a sense of ‘ownership’ of the changes
implementation of such changes than is currently the case.
In the second instance I would suggest that school principals, having been
given the responsibility of leading and managing change at school level,
be given ongoing support for their endeavours in this regard rather than be
thrown in at the deep end. This could easily be done by means of ongoing
workshops where they are allowed to voice their concerns without the fear
that they will be accused of incompetence and/or disloyalty to the cause.
In this sense the workshops could serve as a forum for the discussion and
clarification of new roles, processes and procedures rather than as an
information session only. Principals, as heads of institutions, are the last
link between the Education Department and the school communities. It is
therefore crucial that understand and be committed to carrying the
mandate of the Education Department to those involved with their
respective schools.
Regarding the maintenance of school discipline I would suggest that more
effort be put into supporting schools regarding the development and
implementation of alternatives to corporal punishment. Legislation
banning corporal punishment was passed to all school to implement it.
Despite this, many schools are still struggling with the maintenance of
discipline. Legislation on the ban of corporal punishment has to be
continually emphasized during staff gatherings in order to conscientize
educators to the implications of not adhering to it. This can only be
successfully done once schools have developed appropriate alternative
measures to corporal punishment.
Regarding the negative effects of the new curriculum on learners’ reading,
writing and counting skills I would recommend that these be attended to
as a matter of urgency. Schools have been adversely affected due to the
fact that there are still learners who attend school daily but are facing
challenges of reading, writing and counting. Whilst it is acknowledged
that the Education Department has taken the matter seriously and
workshops have been conducted to address the gap, there is a need that
continuous follow-ups are done in schools to check the implementation of
the strategies and the progress done since the workshops were conducted.
The challenge should be treated as priority and therefore speedy measures
have to be in place as the final results of the Grade 12 classes are
negatively affected.
Concerning the specific situation of farm schools, I would recommend
that alternative measures should be considered for ensuring that staff
allocation is sufficient to ensure quality teaching, learning and school
management. Learners attending farm schools are also South African
learners and have to be given the same treatment in as far as curriculum
delivery is concerned as any South African learner. The type of education
that is offered to farm school learners seems to be greatly compromised
by multi-grade teaching and learning which these learners found
themselves facing daily. Even though the Education Department has
started acting on the matter by closing down some of the farm schools and
incorporating learners into the nearby schools, the process seems to be
moving at the speed of a snail. The reason is that whilst long and
bureaucratic procedures and red tape are being followed to close down the
farm schools, in the process the lives of many learners are being adversely
affected. There is therefore a need that the issues of farm schools receive
attention and be treated as a measure of urgency before causing any
further damage than the one already caused.
Concerning the management of learner pregnancy, I note that certain
schools are still grappling with the challenge relating to learner
pregnancy. Legislation regarding learner pregnancy has to be made
known to all stakeholders for implementation. If ever our schools need to
defeat the fight against teenage pregnancy, the school must wage the fight.
Schools need to have a nurse and a social worker who will provide
guidelines on healthy living and organize gatherings with female
educators and girl learners on how best they can assist the girl learners
from falling in to the danger of teenage pregnancy. Many of our learners
become the victims because of peer pressure and lack of knowledge
regarding the issue.
As regards recommendations for further research, I believe that this
research study has added value in terms of the development of a critical
understanding of principals’ experiences of and role in educational change
in South Africa. I also believe that this research study cannot be
concluded because it is not an end in itself; rather, it offers multiple
opportunities for replication, which could result in the generalization of
my research findings to other contexts and situation.
Finally, given the limitations of the study (see Chapter One), the outcomes
of my research also suggest a need to complement the findings of this
inquiry by research that focuses on other aspects of change. One aspect
that comes to mind is a focus on principals’ understanding of and ability
to manage school finances. Another is their understanding of and
willingness to implement changes related to the creation of inclusive
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