School of Education

PhD research explores the role of district leadership in supporting teaching and learning

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Dr Pinkie Mthembu.
Dr Pinkie Mthembu.

The role played by districts in supporting teaching and learning is under-researched in South Africa. Most studies focus on leadership within the school rather than the District Office. This is despite the fact that, district officials lead from the middle and have the potential  to be collective drivers of change as they serve as the connection between the wider education system and schools. Mthembu thus believes that they are well placed to ensure that all schools improve teaching and learning.

Framed by the Open Systems and Adaptive Leadership theories, the findings of this qualitative case study revealed that districts were clear on their philosophy which they communicated to all stakeholders. They shared responsibility and accountability for learner performance with schools, with the District Director and school principals leading this process as enablers. It emerged that regular data-informed accountability and support meetings were held with schools and communities to garner support for improved teaching and learning.

Among the key lessons learnt from this study is that it is essential for the district office to embrace a shared philosophy on how to enhance teaching and learning. However, meaningful strategies need to be developed drawing on that philosophy. Inclusivity in developing and implementing strategies emerged as important.

Furthermore, the study revealed that it is essential to operationalise multi-level structures and systems that inform and are in turn informed by various functions and practices which would harness the district-wide context. It is also crucial that district officials are responsive to different school contexts and help to identify partners that bolster their efforts.

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