Progressive school principals ensure governing structures include parents from diverse backgrounds
There is ample evidence to suggest that a well-governed school tends to function effectively and produces good academic results. Furthermore, such a school creates a professional environment that attracts and retains the best talent in the profession. In a changing country and school context like ours, it is important to have strong governance made up of people drawn from different skills and backgrounds. Not only will it promote equality but it will also create opportunities for creative solutions.
The current reality points to the unfortunate dominance of a single race providing a solitary perspective in diverse cultures. Black parents are often still left out of the mainstream decision-making bodies of many schools where their children attend. Their absence is felt in the policy-making structures of their schools, such as the finance committee and other important school governance structures. As lip service, schools attempting progressiveness would give ceremonial positions to black parents, with curtailed powers.
The unfortunate reality is, while schools cannot be forced to change if they don’t want to, they indirectly perpetuate conservative stereotypes, confirming the governance ineptitude stereotype of one race over the other. A progressive school leadership will encourage as much diversity as possible to permeate throughout its structures, influencing subsequent school divisions to follow suit.
A progressive school principal I once served under deliberately headhunted black professional parents to participate in school governance. He did this out of his convictions as a liberal. He believed that as a change agent in a rapidly changing country, he was obliged to create new opportunities in tandem with unfolding changes. As an educationist, he felt compelled and duty-bound to educate black parents about their rights, duties and responsibilities in the school. He never used parents’ limited exposure and knowledge as the reason to have zero participation from them.
Little room for dissent
An empowered parent body contributes to stability in the school. When parents are fully involved in policy development, school finances and various governance processes, it leaves very little room for dissent. Most black parents who sense they are outcasts in the schools their children attend develop a defence mechanism whereby they only interact with the school as a procedure, rather than with conviction. This situation creates mistrust and increases the chances of discontentment, which sometimes finds its way to court.
What schools can do is to change parents’ meetings from evening meetings during the week to early Saturday to accommodate parents who use public transport. Meetings conducted during weekdays favour parents with private modes of transport, who simply hop into the family car and drive to the meeting, while black parents are at the mercy of inconsistent public transport. As a sign of appreciation and respect, schools can easily re-evaluate the system to suit the capability and socioeconomic status of its parent body.
Attracting good parents
A strong and united parent body has a profound influence on the rest of the school. It is good for morale and the wellbeing of both staff and management. It contributes towards the promotion of democracy and upholding the Constitution. Schools as places of learning have a moral duty to create an environment promoting learning, enlightenment, support and knowledge production. Good governance enhances the school’s management and leadership reputation. It motivates prospective parents to make enquiries about the school. A well-run school markets itself and tends to attract good parents. When good parents become part of the school it creates a long lineage of expertise from which to draw. This endless supply of skilled parents creates consistency that helps to maintain quality across the entire institution.
Learners of the future
A diversified parent body, much like good governance, helps to give the school an extra layer of credibility and professionalism. Such schools contribute towards the promotion of equitable and democratic institutions inspired by our Constitution. Diversity lets the school draw from different perspectives and experiences that allows it to operate at a level ahead of its peers. South Africa is a country of many cultures and identities. A school that embraces diversity, multi-culturalism and non-racialism stands a good chance of producing the learners of the future so desperately needed by our changing society.
Turning strategy into action
School governing body selection is not the competency of the school principal, however, upon selection the principal has an important duty to maintain good relations with the school governors. The principal becomes an important cog in the whole leadership and governance structure because she will provide a practitioner perspective at board level. Principals intercede on behalf of their staff and school community. They help turn strategy into action and their advice to the board is crucial, because their insight into daily operations contribute towards alignment of strategy and implementation.
Leadership requires that those who govern apply not only logic and reason; their emotional intelligence will allow them to understand the psycho-social landscape of those they lead.
Xolani Majola works for Global Teachers Institute