Educational leadership and leadership learning in South African schools

Posted on September 09, 2015

Mr Eric Eberlein, a Lecturer in the Department of Education Management and Policy Studies at the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Education, is investigating the experiences and perceptions of students in the Faculty's master’s degree programme in educational leadership as part of his PhD studies. His research examines the experiences of master’s students in respect of leadership learning and how that learning has translated into their roles as leaders in South African schools. An extract from the research he has completed to date was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Social Sciences in India under the title ‘Education leadership learning in South Africa: a model for learning in context'.

The concept of educational leadership learning is defined as the broader context of all formal, planned, articulated and relevant learning activities and content that take place in, or are presented as part of, a formal course of study or programme aimed at the expansion of education leaders’ knowledge, capacities and skills in order to increase their effectiveness.

In his PhD study Mr Eberlein considers that it is widely acknowledged that leadership has an impact on both learner and teacher performance and on the effectiveness of schools. Educational leadership learning, particularly the preparation and development of education leaders, is therefore the single most important way in which education systems can improve the effectiveness of school leaders and, by implication, the performance of teachers and learners, as well as the overall effectiveness of schools. His study found that the educational context within which education leaders live and lead has an influence on their experience and perception of their own learning while enrolled for an educational leadership learning programme, and suggests that these contexts, rather than being subjugated within a one-size-fits-all approach to educational leadership learning, should be exploited as a teaching and learning resource through the use of a case study and problem-solving approach to such learning.

Mr Eberlein’s research suggests that it is generally acknowledged that school leaders have an impact on the schools they lead, and that one can even go so far as to say that leadership is second only to classroom teaching in the impact it has on school effectiveness and learner achievement. The impact of school leaders and their leadership has been confirmed by the results of numerous international studies pointing to the fact that school leaders have an influence on both learner achievement and performance, as well as on school effectiveness and school improvement. 

This recognition of the importance of leaders and leadership in education, and the ‘dramatic growth in the importance of the role assigned to school leaders’, has in turn led to a growing interest among academics and policy makers world-wide in the issue of effective education leadership learning. Mr Eberlein’s research points out that the leadership preparation and development that school leaders undergo are a vital part of developing a successful education system, ie one where learners and schools perform well. This interest in the preparation and development of schools, along with the study of the nature and characteristics of the leadership learning required to produce good leaders and promote good leadership, has now turned into an international phenomenon and has become one of the major global issues in education. The preparation and development of school leaders has become one of the pivotal approaches in the quest for educational reform and the improvement of learner performance.

In educational leadership learning, just as in educational leadership, context matters. Mr Eberlein’s research highlights the fact that, in South Africa, the wide variety of educational and leadership contexts necessitates educational leadership learning approaches that not only acknowledge this diversity of context, but in fact use it in the planning and design of educational leadership learning programmes. Instructional applications or teaching and learning strategies, such as case studies and problem-solving approaches to learning, could foreseeably contribute to the contextualisation of learning by not only placing education leaders in different contexts, but also eliciting those contexts as case studies from the leaders themselves. This places their learning in their own ‘real world’ and in the ‘real world’ of others in the country who work and live in different educational contexts.


- Author Myan Subrayan

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