Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
STEYN, GM. A principal's perspective on professional development: a single case study. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2010, vol.50, n.2, pp. 243-260. ISSN 0041-4751.
Schools are currently confronted with enormous challenges emanating from social, economic and technological changes. Ongoing development and the improvement of schools for the sake of greater efficiency are required. Various studies confirm the important role that leadership plays in the development of schools. The role of principals has undergone many rapid changes and principals need to display certain leadership qualities to sustain high-quality schools in complex social environments. Principals have to realise that leadership is a process; they need to develop the necessary skills to promote collaborative action and to ensure an improvement in school effectiveness. Houle (2006:145) writes that the "tension created in shifting views on the principals requires attention to the professional development needs of principals in the light of their new roles". The emphasis on the professional development of principals is also crucial to the delivery of highquality education in schools. The professional development of principals may help them to influence the effectiveness of their schools and to encourage a culture of renewal and change. South African principals face the task of creating an effective teaching and learning environment in schools. Bloch (2008:19) refers to the crisis in South African schools and says that schools are in a "state of disaster". In this article the following research problem is addressed: What are the principal's perceptions of the impact of professional development in the school? The study focuses on the social contructivist theory in an attempt to understand how the principal deals with the challenges in his school in the light of his belief system. Constructivist approaches are taken to operationalise professional development and the following is recognised: (1) The constructed meaning of knowledge and beliefs that is used when an individual discovers new knowledge, skills and approaches, and then personally interprets their significance and meaning; (2) The situated nature of cognition which acknowledges that professional development has to be strongly linked to the actual contexts and situations of the individual school; and (3) The importance of ample time for new developments and change to be implemented. Previous studies have indicated that the primary school principal in this study is an exceptionally information-rich participant, therefore he forms the unit of analysis of this article. Since the researcher's involvement in the school in 1992, the school has shown extraordinary development in various areas. The particular primary school was an inviting school of the International Alliance for Invitational Education and received a prestigious award from the Alliance in 1993. It has since developed and improved even further. The school in the study is an Afrikaans-medium, suburban school. A qualitative research design was selected for the study because it would enable the researcher to understand the principal's perceptions of the impact of professional development. The researcher attempted to grasp the principal's views on his own professional development and the effect of his views on staff and school development. To ensure trustworthiness data were collected through written contributions by the principal, interviews, the researcher's field notes and a DVD of the school. All interviews were transcribed. Tesch's descriptive method of open coding was used to analyse the various sources of evidence. A literature control was done to determine the contribution of the current study to existing literature on the role of the principal and professional development, and to look at the impact of professional development on the school. The following themes emerged from the data analysis: the principal's focus on his own professional development; "don't be good, be the best, B+" the inculcation of a value system; nurturing of winners in the school (the blue and orange card reward system; "Hennops iron badge"; other forms of rewards); "what do we do differently"; and guidelines for effective professional development. It is evident that the example of professional development set by the principal is the point of departure of effective professional development in the school. His enthusiastic leadership and the "fire" in his heart allow the principal to grow professionally and to motivate staff and learners to become involved in their own professional development.
Keywords : professional development; school development; South African schools; qualitative research.