Professional and personal development of school management teams in three rural primary schools
The essential role that school management teams (SMTs) play in managing change has been debated for many years both nationally and internationally. Central to these debates has been the need to understand how to best empower SMTs through a process of continuous professional development. This research aimed to explore SMT members’ experiences of professional and personal development in three rural primary schools in the broad context of educational change in South Africa and specifically in the context of policy implementation. This aim was explored by asking the following research questions: 1. How did educational change in South Africa influence leadership and management in schools? 2. What professional development was experienced by the SMTs as they tried to embrace new roles and responsibilities within a new policy context? 3. What personal development was experienced by the SMTs as they tried to embrace new roles and responsibilities within a new policy context? 4. What are SMT members’ suggestions for enhancement of personal and professional development and support of SMTs in schools in South Africa? The literature review which grounded this study focused on three areas, namely, educational change, leadership and management in schools, and professional and personal development. An integrated theoretical framework was employed and provided the lens through which the data was collected and analysed. Key concepts within the framework included mental maps, reflexivity and authoring which were synthesised within change theory. The change theory employed emphasised the value of engaging with first, second and third orders of change to effect the facilitation of meaningful change on both a personal and professional level. SMTs from three rural primary schools in three different provinces, comprising of six educators each, participated in the study. The researcher conducted three focus groups and 18 individual interviews. The social constructivist -interpretive paradigm that framed this research study is a worldview that understands reality as being constructed when people engage with each other. Congruent with the social constructivist -interpretive paradigm is a qualitative research design, which was employed in this study to collect rich, comprehensive, in-depth data that explored the professional and personal development experiences of SMTs to illuminate the complexity of the issue being studied. The study encompassed three phases of data collection. Firstly, a detailed document analysis was conducted where policy documents, research reports and job descriptions were studied and analysed. Secondly, 18 SMT members were interviewed in three focus groups. Thirdly, the 18 SMT members were individually interviewed. Phases two and three of the data collection process employed semi-structured interviews to generate data. The data analysis employed a qualitative, thematic approach to analyse and interpret the data that emerged. A thematic approach was used to illuminate the professional and personal development experiences and challenges facing the SMTs. The thematic approach generated distinct categories that were used as descriptors to report on the findings of the research. The findings highlight the need for integrated professional and personal development, role clarification, school-based support, policy mediation and outlines implications for the development of SMTs. This research makes a contribution towards educational change in South African schools by providing insights and proposing a model of professional and personal development for SMTs. It illuminates the vital importance of first acknowledging developmental needs and then facilitating personal and professional development to effect practical implementation of change at schools as required by policy. The researcher demonstrates how three orders of change theory with related personal development concepts can be integrated into a single theory to understand and facilitate change at the level of the individual, group and organisation.