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Can Whole School Organisation Development, as an intervention, impact on the quality of life in our communities?

 Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa

Teacher Inservice Project, Didactics Department,
Faculty of Education, University of the Western Cape, RSA

ABSTRACT:

In our work in schools in the townships in the Western Cape, South Africa, we are struck by the impact the urban lifestyle has on the quality of the life of the community and the schools. Children are exposed to drugs, violence, crime and abuse. The breakdown of the home and family life is common.

What can schools do to begin to address these problems? The Teacher Inservice Project (TIP) believes that the broad purpose of education is to contribute towards creating a society which is vibrant, prosperous, and safe, and which holds the underlying respect for the rights of the individual and human dignity. Working out of an action research paradigm, TIP attempts to build the organisational capacity of the school so that it functions more coherently, and through having a strong organisational base, is able to meet the challenges of change and development in order to provide quality, relevant and purposeful education, and thus enhance the quality of life of its community.

This paper will explore the impact whole school organisational development has on the school, and the ways this impacts on quality of life of the broader community. We will look at the constraints that are experienced and tentatively look at ways of broadening this impact.


Can Whole School Organisation Development (WSOD), as an intervention impact on the quality of life in our communities?

What do we mean by quality of life? Fresh, running water? Toilets? Food? A warm, dry safe home? A family? Education? Acceptance by your peers? Self-esteem? Hope for the future? A job that is meaningful? The ability to decide on your future for yourself, to believe in your dreams and to achieve those dreams? In the urban and peri-urban communities which we serve, quality of life means all those things. While the work we do in schools attempts to address, in very small ways, some of the physical resource needs in schools, our key focus, in terms of quality of life lies in the social and emotional realms of life. Quality of life is then seen, in our urban context, as relating to a positive self-esteem and a sense of purpose; control over ones circumstances through a deepened understanding of ones context, as well as ones abilities and potential; an understanding of the relationship between education and life; a sense of hope in the future; the ability to plan for and manage change, and the ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships. We believe that Whole School Organisation Development as an intervention in the schools can help school communities establish this and thus have an improved quality of life.

The Urban School in Context

In most of the communities in which we work, the levels of unemployment are high . Violence, alcoholism, abuse and gangsterism are part of the realities surrounding these communities. One of the stark realities of urbanisation is the break down in the very fabric of society as we have known it. South Africa has become one of the most violent societies in the world. Violent crimes have become common place. Gangs have been and still are a prominent feature of the Cape Flats. Many young people join them because of peer pressure and some out of boredom. Family violence is becoming more prevalent. Incidences of child abuse - physical and sexual - are common. One hears stories of young children who sell their bodies to support the drug habits of older members of their families. In the past month there have been at least two newspaper reports where children have been responsible for the killing of other children - one in the Eastern Cape and one on the Cape flats where ten boys beat a school mate to death. There has also been a report of a boy in Mitchells Plain, on the Cape Flats, who gunned down his parents.

As one drives into the townships, one is struck by the number of men standing at the side of the main roads, waiting for casual work. If they are lucky, someone stops their car and gives them a job for the day. Many of the parents of the learners in the schools are poorly employed - domestic workers, labourers, casual workers - and many are unemployed. Those who are lucky enough to have work, often work long hours, far away from their homes, with poor transport facilities to get to work and few have any job security.

Many of the houses in these communities are dilapidated or worse still there are shacks. In some cases the school is the only permanent building for miles around. There are no recreational facilities for the children, and the schools do not provide them with extra curricular activities. When the bell goes at 2.00 pm, the building closes for the day, and young people are left to their own devices.

The conditions of the school buildings in many of the schools leave a lot to be desired. The buildings are old, and not well taken care of. Many of the schools have pre-fabricated buildings. The desks are old-fashioned and they are not enough for the students. It is not uncommon to find more than two learners sharing a desk. Teaching aids are few, and many times the learners share textbooks.

While there are many dedicated and committed teachers who achieve good results despite their working conditions and who manage to inspire their students, on the whole many of the teachers lack motivation and commitment. Many of them, given another chance would have chosen another career. When they were leaving school, this was one of the very few career options that they had. So they begin their working career doing something that they would rather not be doing. To them teaching is just a job. On top of this their classes are over crowded and the resources they have are very few. In fact, there is very little in their working environment to inspire them.

Many principals are struggling with their leadership roles. They may be good and experienced teachers, but very few have had the training, or support to develop their leadership and management skills. The role models they had were usually very authoritarian. Teachers react negatively to this, more so in an this new era of democracy. Everyone talks about participation, democracy, openness and transparency, but how do these things actually live in the schools? Not enough time is spent coming to a common understanding of these terms, and therein lies part of the problem. In some schools principals adopt a laissez-faire style of leadership, in order to maintain a level of popularity among colleagues. While this might mean that they are well liked, it is usually detrimental to the school and education as a whole.

Relationships between staff members in many schools are poor and while the staff may not think so, the students notice these things and they affect the way they relate to staff members and to each other. Many times the staff are divided into cliques, and decisions about issues that will affect the whole school are made on the basis of the power one clique wields over the rest. In many staff rooms there are no mechanisms for dealing with conflict. People are afraid to air their differences in a staff meeting because they might be labelled. Their dissatisfaction is spoken about in the corridors, amongst friends and so it builds up. In some schools this has lead to the principal being chased away from the school with the help of the students. Many times, at the heart of these problems are poor lines of communication

In high schools we have students who have come out of a struggle era which was student driven. While the role of students in the struggle against apartheid cannot be highlighted enough, it is also important that society weighs the after effects that are still being felt in the schools today. The whole ethos of this struggle was to challenge authority. Many students responded to things that they wanted changed by damaging school property. After all the school did not belong to them, it belonged to the state which did not care about them. If the school was damaged, it was not the students, or the community which suffered, it was the state which had to repair and replace things. And yet now that the government is legitimate, how does one get people to understand that damaging the school does not only hurt the state, it also hurts the students and the communities in which the schools live. How do we build community ownership of the school?

Many teachers were involved in the struggle against apartheid and that become the driving force in their lives as teachers. Now that the struggle is over, there seems to be an educational vacuum in schools. Teachers need to be awakened to fact that the educational struggle has not yet been won, and is in fact only beginning. The talk of the struggle needs to become the purpose of schools and education.

For many young people who live in these areas, this environment and the attitude of their teachers, their parents, their peers limits their dreams. The school does not allow them to dream of anything better. They do not see what they are doing in school as helping them find work, or create work for themselves. The situation their parents are in discourages them. The expectations that parents and educators have of themselves, and their own abilities to effect change are low and this in turn affects the expectations they have for the children. And yet these children are the future. What can we do to begin to improve the quality of life for all of us, to prepare a future that ensures some kind of sustainable quality for generations to come? How can we move away from this failure identity to a success identity? How can schools function more coherently as organisations and impact more positively on the lives of the teachers, the young people it serves and the surrounding community? This paper explores an initiative which, while it does not claim to be the answer to all these problems, is a humble step, we feel, in the right direction.

Whole School Organisation Development: TIP’s Response

The Teacher Inservice Project (TIP) is a Non-Governmental Educational Organisation (NGEO) based at the Faculty of Education at the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, South Africa. Working out of an action-research paradigm, we accompany schools through a process of holistic school organisational development in an attempt to help the schools take control of their destinations. It is a process that takes into account the fact that organisations are made up of people, and in attempting to improve the conditions in the organisation, one must focus on both structural issues and human agency. It is a process that understands an organisation to be system of interdependent parts located within and influenced by the micro, meso and macro levels of its context. Any school development interventions are based on the perspective of the whole and an understanding of the relationship between the different interdependent part, and between the school and its community. It is a process that believes that each school is unique in its culture, character and context, and therefore one cannot have pre-determined programmes. Each intervention is designed based on the needs of the school at that particular point in time.

If our interpretation of quality of life refers to control over one’s circumstances through a deepened understanding of ones context and ones abilities and potential; the ability to see the link between education and life; the ability to plan for and manages development and change and to establish healthy relationships, how then does our work impact on the quality of life of the school communities?

Taking control over one’s circumstances: developing self understanding

One of the most important understandings that we have arrived at in our work is that

"to the extent that an organisation does not understand itself, ....it is incapacitated. In other words, control over one’s circumstances can only be gained through an acute and penetrating awareness of what those circumstances are. In this way, the school can come to control its own holistic organisation development process only through an increasingly articulate and analytical understanding of its own circumstances, dynamics, constraints and possibilities." 1

Helping a school understand itself and its context is then the starting point of our consultancy work. It involves an initial survey through individual and /or focus interviews with members of the school community; collecting of base line data through observation, photographs and interviews and initial workshop processes with the school community. In this process we help the school community draw a picture of the school in the past, and the school as it is now. We look at the strengths and weaknesses of the school, and various patterns in its growth

In this process schools are then able to identify their areas of strength as well as areas for development. Identifying their strengths reaffirms them, and makes feel less like victims and more in control. It seems to be the culture of many schools to focus on the negative and to lose sight of where they are strong. This is apparent even in the way teachers assess their students. Part of this process then is the beginning of trying to build a culture of affirmation and acknowledgement which is very important in the building of self esteem and confidence. Identifying areas of strength also helps schools realise that they have a foundation from which to build, in dealing with their problems. They are not starting out with nothing.

Talking about areas for development helps them to see weaknesses as growth points. Many times issues like the lack of a school vision that is shared by the school community; poor leadership and management; the need for more active parental involvement; lack of teaching materials; the need to improve communication amongst staff members, especially between those in management and those who are not; teacher motivation; discipline issues especially since corporal punishment was banned; social problems that affect the students eg drugs, teenage pregnancies, child abuse, unstable home situations and an inadequate curriculum which does not meet the needs of those students who are not academically orientated are identified as key areas for school development. Problems seem to become more manageable when they are spoken about. Teachers realise that they are not the only ones concerned about these problems and are sometimes surprised at the number of people who actually do think like them. They are then able to come together and begin to deal with them.

In talking about the school issues we help the school community unravel the culture of the school. The culture of a school can be defined as

‘the way we do things around here’. It comprises the values and norms of the school, the unwritten ‘rules’ which determine and establish a certain set of behaviours, a particular way of being, relating, working in the context of the school. It tends to ensure a certain measure of conformity, so that over time , individuals who work there begin to express the culture of the school..... The culture of the school is the most pervasive aspect of school life and touches and affects every other aspect. 2

In other words the culture of the school refers to the values and norms as they are expressed in practice. In many instances one finds that schools do not practice what they claim to believe or hold dear. Unravelling the culture helps members of the school community understand what it is, in their practice, that helps to build the school, and what is counterproductive. One school realised that while they do have good suggestions about dealing with the school problems, their ideas never get implemented because no one is given the responsibility to see them through. "In staff meetings we come up with very good solutions to some of our problems. We expect somebody to follow up ideas, and to implement them. When we have follow-up staff meetings we realise that nobody has done anything! But who is this somebody? The problem is we never actually assign the task to anybody, and very few people are willing to volunteer." Through this process schools are able to begin to think about different ways of doing things. They begin to take responsibility for some of their own failures, and to reflect on changes each member of the school community needs to make in order to contribute to changes in the whole school.

Leadership and management is another major aspect of the school that we deal with. Many times the staff places all the problems in the school squarely in the laps of those in leadership positions. This can be very difficult for these people to deal with. In helping the school handle this problem we explore the meaning of leadership and management as roles in the school. Central to our discussion is our belief that all teachers are leaders and managers in their own classrooms. Issues of delegation and styles of leadership are explored. While the staff may want more responsibility many times they do not embrace this responsibility. In examining this issue, aspects of the school culture are also explored. Roles and responsibilities are also discussed, and people begin to understand what each other are doing. This can have a very positive impact on the school.

It is not enough that the school understands itself, it must also understand itself in its particular context. To help the school come to this understanding, we do an environmental analysis. This involves looking at what has happened in the school, and the community and education in the country (and sometimes the world) in the past ten years; what is happening now; and then given the current trends to predict what could happen in the future. It helps the school understand that it is not only affected by what happens inside it, it is also affected by, and can affect what happens in the community and country. This is very important because some of the frustrations that teachers face come out of situations they have little control over. Take the current situation in South African schools today. As Ben Parker put it,

It is seldom that a national education system undergoes the kind of radical changes planned for South Africa. The funding, governance, administration and management of schools; the curriculum; the rights, responsibilities and working conditions of teachers and learners; and the role of parents and the broader community are all targeted for change.3

It is quite a bewildering picture for schools and it is not surprising that many teachers are feeling very stressed. Any yet drawing the bigger picture, and putting it into the context of the changes in the whole country makes it more understandable, if no less bewildering. In understanding this picture, school communities are then able to ask themselves, "So how are we going to deal with this? What steps are we going to take to make this change manageable? What do we already have in place? And where can we get assistance? What is urgent and what is important?" Doing this puts them back in control. They are able to plan for the changes that they will have to make, and to decide what they will keep.

Asking what they already have in place is very important. If one listens to everything that is being said about the changes that South African teachers have to make today, one can get a sense that everything they have done in the past has been a waste to time, and that none of the skills they have spent so much time developing are relevant any more. On paying closer attention to things one realises that this is not so. There are a lot of things that teachers have been doing that are good and do not need to change, or can be built upon. What teachers need to do is to reflect on their current skills and abilities and ask how they can use what they have in this new situation. What do they need to learn? What is not going to work in this new and changing context? And sometimes to be able to do this they need some help. At the heart of our consultancy work, then, is the art of asking the right questions at the right time, and helping schools and teachers begin to ask themselves the right question.

 

The link between education and life: positive self-esteem, establishing healthy relationships and having a sense of hope in the future

Having self-esteem and developing the ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships is another aspect of quality of life that we try to address in our work in schools. Broken relationships have become a phenomenon of the 20th century. Apartheid by its very nature bred violence both in the attempts that were made to preserve it, and in the attempts that were made to destroy it. As the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission unfold, one is astounded by the levels of violence and degradation that people in South Africa underwent in their struggle for freedom. It is said that violence breeds violence. Many of the children in the schools come from broken homes, or homes where there is abuse and violence and in many ways what happens in the homes is a reflection of and a response to the violence in the community. It has become a language that we all understand, and that we all use to varying degrees. In the schools, corporal punishment has been one area where violence is the language of disciple.

But one cannot only blame apartheid, because how then would explain what is happening in the rest of the world? The current economic situation in the world, the level of change we are dealing with all contribute to this situation. Margaret Legum states in her paper ‘New Economics’ that unemployment has become a fact of life of the ‘90s because economic ‘growth implies competitive advantage through staff shedding, inevitably faster than growth creates jobs.4 Retrenchments have become a common event. She goes on to say that this economic insecurity leads to short term job contracts, financial instability, ‘emotional stress, family breakdown, domestic violence, child abuse, delinquency and crime’.5 What we see happening in our society today is partly because of the way we are managing our world. If the purpose of education is to ‘contribute to a society which is vibrant, prosperous and safe, and which upholds the underlying respect for the rights of the individual and human dignity6, what then can schools do?

The answer to this question lies in the schools beginning to redefine the purpose of education, the role of the teacher, the student and the parent; to redefine and re-establish an understanding of the role the school plays in the community, and to begin to redefine its relationship with various community structures. In doing so the school is not then seen as being burdened with the problems of the community, or seen by the community as having the answers to all the problem, but it is working together with the community to shape a society which is humane, and where there is hope.

One of the ways in which we address this is by working with the stake holders of the school community to help build a joint vision for the school. In high schools this means working with the staff, the students and the parents. In primary schools we work with the staff and the parents. In developing a vision for the school questions about the role of the school and education are posed, in the context that has been created through a deepened understanding of the school and of the local and global context. Underlying values and assumptions that are expressed in the visions that are developed are explored and a common understanding is developed. Expected roles and responsibilities are spoken about. In this process each stakeholder puts forward the roles and responsibilities they expect of themselves in contributing to the providing a quality education, and the kind of support they expect of the other stakeholders. These things are then discussed in a plenary session. What often emerges is that all the stake holders have similar hopes and expectations; many times the perceptions they have of each others commitment to education are not completely correct. Many times the teachers blame the students and the parents, while the parents blame the students and the teachers and so on for things that go wrong in education. In discussing these issues there is often a realisation that the responsibility of ensuring that young people get a quality education lies with all the stake holders. All have apart to play in making things go wrong or right.

Establishing this kind of rapport is very important because it creates an avenue for dealing with other problems that plague the school and community. Take an issue like parental involvement in school activities. One school found that parents hardly ever came to the school unless there were problems. Many of the parents in this school are domestic workers, farm labourers and so on. They come from a low income bracket, and work long hours. Their homes are far from the school, and their children are bussed in. The teachers sat down and thought again of how they could meet more regularly with parents and they established a ward system. The parent community was divided into wards according to where they lived. General parents meetings are now held in wards, in the community and not at the school. Each ward periodically elects a chairperson, and the chairpersons of these wards then form the parent representative group in the PTA of the school.

This has worked well and parent meetings are better attended. Because the meetings are smaller and within a specific community the parents get to know each other and the are able to deal with both school and community issues. When there is a big function at the school, each ward takes responsibility for something, and complaints about lack of parental support are no longer heard.

Discipline is another issue which calls for co-operation between the school and the community. In one interview a teacher said, "It does not matter what discipline measures we try in the school, we get no support from the parents. Some parents come and demand that we use corporal punishment." In dealing with corporal punishment it is important to address the purpose of education. Many teachers, students and learners, claim that the purpose of education is to develop a citizenship that is self-controlled, self-motivated and responsible. A citizenship that can contribute positively to society. When we talk about discipline the most common response we have from teachers is that the students need to be controlled. And this is the justification for the use of the cane. And yet when we talk about the purpose of education in the end we want to see people with self control. How will people develop self control if they are always controlled? Why do the children ‘misbehave’? This question is difficult to answer because it means that the teachers need to reflect on their practice and on the curriculum. And yet beginning to answer this questions gives us answers to the discipline problem that go beyond caning. A child might misbehave because they do not understand the medium of instruction. A child might be hungry. The lesson might be boring, and the teacher ill prepared. The child might have problems at home. A child might not know what the rules are in the class or the school. Part of establishing good discipline is establishing rules that are fair and that are understood by the learners. It also means understanding the child as a person, and sometimes realising that they might just be dealing with other personal problems. The parents too need to understand the discipline measures that are taken in the school, so that they can support the teachers. Some times, when dealing with social problems that are beyond the teacher, the school can should be able to refer the case to a social worker, educational psychologist or even the police.

Establishing relationships with other community structures is anther important step that school communities have to take. The problems that face society are much bigger than the school. The school is only one of the many players in the game. More and more school are looking at ways of linking with the community. One of the high schools I work with evolved out of a primary school that was started by the community. When the high school began to grow, the primary school could no longer house both schools. The high school was moved to the main road in a predominantly white community. This was the first black school in this area. All the children are bussed to school every day because they live in another community. Integrating into this community has been difficult for the school as it is constantly vandalised. Almost all the windows facing the road have been broken, and while members of the community have said that they seen children from the nearby community breaking the windows, no one will identify them. What the principal has done recently was to approach the Mayor of the town and the local newspaper to speak about his plight. He has also gone to the nearby historically ‘white’ school and spoken to the principal and the students. He also asked for members of the community to contribute to the replacing of the windows and a local business man has responded positively. These are the first steps towards building relationships with the community.

Another school has started a work shadow programme where a number of students are assigned to a specific person in a career that they would like to follow. The student then spends a week or so, with this person, observing them at work, and gaining a deeper understanding of what that job entails. It has been a very successful programme especially because students in historically disadvantaged communities rarely get any career guidance. The students are now more aware of the possibilities after they leave school. The parents have been very supportive because they can see the relevance of the education that their children are getting. Some of the teachers have also been energised into finding out what career options are available for young people and what they have to study. It has been a journey of enlightenment for all the people involved.

Conclusion:

Can whole school organisation development, as an intervention, help schools contribute to the quality of life of the communities they serve? By helping them reclaim their power over their situations through a deepened understanding of their situation, and by allowing them to explore possible solutions to their problems, we believe it can. In their recent annual report, the Community Development Resources Association said the following about paradox of power.

"The paradox lies in the fact that the powerless desperately seek redress from the powerful and await shifts in their outer circumstances as a prerequisite for change, whereas these shifts can only come about as a result of the prerequisite change in attitude and expectation on the part of the powerless." 7

Whole school organisation development helps the school community reclaim this power through a changed attitude to their situation. It involves helping the teachers reclaim their professional pride and authority; redefining the meaning of education to both the teachers, students and parents; looking at teachers, non-teaching staff, students, parents and other members of the community as resources and reclaiming the school as a resource for the community. It is not a process that happens over night. It can take three years, and even more, of constant support. It is a capacity building process, and therefore it is more intense in the beginning, becoming less as the capacity of the school community grows. It is an intense process of capacity building and awakening the will. And once the will is awakened, quality of life will undoubtedly improve!

References:

1. Davidoff, S. (1997) Facilitating Organisation development in schools. OD Debate: reflecting on organisations and development Vol 4 no. 3 p. 4

2. Davidoff, S. (1997) The Learning School: an organisation development approach Cape Town: Juta and Co Ltd p. 42

3. Parker, B. (1997) What does outcomes based education mean for a school and its teachers? Unpublished paper

4. Legum, M. (???) Article presented at a South African New Economics Society Seminar, Cape Town, 9 July 1997

5. Legum, M. (Ibid)

6. Teacher Inservice Project Mission statement - 1996/97

7. CDRA Annual Report !996/1997 Paradoxes of Power p.11

 

 

        

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