Why and how does context matter? Our view is that leadership doesn’t reside solely inside of an institution, school, classroom or individual but extends into the community and in turn is attentive to and influenced by community members and events. In service of the community, leaders must importantly understand how history and politics, poverty and social exclusion, tradition and culture, shape our relationships with “the community” and also how leaders define and respond to its needs. We spent a lot of time in ELADIN considering “who” and what constituted “our community” and determining what the basis for meaningful and reciprocal relationships would look like under a values-based leadership approach.
The South African Context of Education and Leadership
Although a minority of schools in South Africa can favourably compare with the best in the world, education remains unequally distributed along social class, racial and spatial lines. While a range of post-apartheid policies on every conceivable aspect of education exists, the education system as a whole is not working and remains vastly unequal reflecting the wider inequalities in society[i]. These inequities are largely a result of history and context, but also a complex function of factors, among them poverty, social inequality, and the many choices made by policymakers and government officials without consultation from the education community. The majority of schools do not serve the communities they reside in, nor the students that attend them – they do not have functioning water or toilets, laboratories, or libraries.
South Africa has also not escaped global trends regarding the de-valuing and de-professionalising of educators and their work. Increasingly prescriptive standardised curriculum, a focus on standardised assessment, and a prevailing discourse of educators being framed as ‘unfit’ for their work, have all led to a loss of social status for the profession, along with a crisis of teacher supply and alienation amongst the education workforce. Over this vastly unequal landscape, educators work in schools heavily governed by an unresponsive bureaucracy, with numerous state rules and regulations. This form of top down accountability and managerialism create a bifurcated structure that makes teachers and school leaders responsible for addressing inequities across the system, while a largely absent or unresponsive government hold the the purse strings and power. Through ELADIN we explored the demands and requirements placed on educators, and also discovered the many ways leaders have resisted and even revolutionised their practices to address what their schools need. This document shares what Principal Sume’s leadership defines a “community school” and describes what it should be.