Case Study on Leadership and Professional Development

Case Study on Leadership and Professional Development

Case Study on Leadership and Professional Development


Hill Boys High School is a public school located in a middle to high-income neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa. Founded in 1901, the school is one of the oldest English schools in the country. The school accepted only White English students until 1990, when the political landscape of the country began to change. In 2014, the school had 1358 students enrolled from 8th to 12th grade, of which 264 are boarding students.

The student population is comprised of 53 percent White, 35 percent Black and 12 percent Mixed-race, Indian and Asian. Even though the school is public, additional parent fees per year of $4000 for day boys and $7200 for boarders keep the school operating. In 2014, 95 percent of all parent fees were collected compared to 2010 when only 67 percent were collected and the school faced financial difficulties.

National Matriculation (12th grade) results show 100 percent of students passing (with the national pass mark at 40 percent for all six subjects), but only 69 percent of students are eligible for university entrance.

            The school is steeped in tradition and has an ethos of producing gentlemen who are well-rounded in all spheres of life and have incredible manners. Alumni, referred to as “Old Boys”, are heavily involved and invested in the school financially, but also emotionally with many school boys being third or fourth generation Hill boys. The school has an active and supportive Governing Body and Parent Association.

The School buildings are modelled after Eaton College and the school grounds are expansive including two swimming pools, an Astro turf, 10 rugby fields, 8 tennis courts, 4 basketball courts, gym, squash facilities and beautiful gardens.

The most recent principal began his leadership in 2011 after a very gregarious principal of 23 years retired. The new principal had a vision of turning the legacy of Hill School into a Center of teaching and learning excellence that embraced the 21st century.

When he started at Hill School the principal had four main objectives for bringing about change namely better management of school finances, professional development sessions and a performance evaluation system for teachers and lastly technology integration including internet connectivity with ports in all classrooms, two more computer labs and trial smart-boards starting off with one teacher in each department. The principal has a close connection with the leadership executive of the school and administrative staff.

He spent most of his first 3 years at Hill Boys High School focusing on sorting out the finances, managing administrative and executive issues as well as meeting regularly with the Old Boys Association as he regarded them as important stakeholders.  In 2014, the principal began teaching an 8th grade Mathematics class, as he felt disconnected from the teaching element of his school.

All 102 teachers at Hill School claim to be passionate about being at the school with 55 percent of teachers having taught at the school for more than 15 years. The new principal has appointed 24 new teachers of which 90 percent are younger than 30 years old with less than 5 years teaching experience. There is a one day training session for all new staff to acclimatize them to expectations, discipline procedures and school traditions.

Staff turn-over has been relatively high with 17 teachers having left since the new principal started of which only four have retired.  All teachers have to attend morning staff meetings and school assembly. Teachers have six classes per day on average and all have to be involved in extra-mural activities after school for at least three hours.

Teachers meet for Subject Department meetings weekly for 45 minutes. These meetings center on curricula content check-ins and administrative discussions about setting and grading tests. There are strict curriculum deadlines so that all students in a grade can be assessed on the same material.

Experienced teachers confess to no longer preparing for classes as they have accumulated files from which they draw trusted resources for lessons. Some new teachers spend hours preparing for classes the next day, but most new teachers admit to being completely unprepared for lessons. Most teachers (81 percent) have a lecture-based teaching style and only 15 percent use collaborative, group-work activities on a weekly basis. When teachers are assessed by the Head of Department for the new performance evaluation, teachers comment on putting in an extra effort. No other class observations occur throughout the year. The only opportunity for teachers to share resources and discuss content material is between classes or at a once-off planning session at the end of the year.

The professional development sessions (5 weekly one hour sessions per year) are chosen according to teacher interests and are rated as unhelpful to classroom teaching by majority of the teachers (68 percent). Older teachers perceive the principal to be very process-oriented, unapproachable and are generally unsupportive of his initiatives. New teachers also see the principal as an unapproachable man but they regard him as open-minded and focusing on important processes that need restructuring.

The school does not have a learning management system for teachers to easily share resources. Only twenty percent of teachers use the internet in their classrooms for the purposes of teaching and learning, while others only use email. Only four teachers book the computer center regularly to make use of the computers for student learning while others admit to not knowing how to make use of computers in their teaching. Mobile phones and devices are banned during school hours and only one teacher makes use of devices in his class with the permission of the principal.

Review of Relevant Literature

Principals and Leadership

            “The litmus test of all leadership is whether it mobilizes people’s commitment to putting their energy into actions designed to improve things.” (Fullan, 2001, p.9).  Principals have a great deal of responsibility placed on their shoulders as the ultimate role of leadership in a school rests with them. As Fullan (2007) claims that the role of a principal is key in any school change process, however the way in which this role is positioned within a complex system is still unclear. Fullan (2001) asserts that leaders are needed for problems that do not have easy solutions, but are willing to help others confront them nonetheless.

Fullan (2001) proposes a framework for leadership in which complex change is required. The five components required to build positive change are moral purpose, understanding change, relationship building, knowledge creation and sharing and coherence making. Each of these reinforcing factors will be discussed in relation to the leadership of principals within schools.

            Moral purpose is described as the intent to make a positive difference in the lives of people in your immediate context (such as teachers and students) as well as surrounding context (such as parents, communities related to a school) (Fullan, 2001). Sergiovanni (2001) cautions principals about traditional ways of identifying goals and objectives and announcing them to the individuals involved. Planning for change should rather be dealt with in a manner that establishes compliance by questioning how to involve people and keep them involved. Traditional planning can lock one into a course of action which might not make sense when it is being carried out.  

            The second component in the leadership framework deals with understanding the change process (Fullan, 2001). Change does not merely involve one event or the introduction of an initiative, but rather involves a process that is complex with many factors and layers. Fullan (2007) suggests that the goal is not to innovate the most, but rather to stay focused on the need of change, to work on clarity of why and how the change is taking place, to deal with the complexities when implementation becomes challenging and to keep focused on reculturing. 

In Leithwood’s study of principals he suggests that “dramatic individual change is possible” as long as principals display a “practice what you preach” model of leadership (as cited in Fullan, 2007, p.165). 

            Thirdly, relationship building refers to the way in which a principal garners support, enthusiasm and commitment towards the change initiative. Sergiovanni (2001) suggests that the success of a principal is known by the quality of the followership that emerges in a school. A new model for authority is proposed where ideas, values and commitments are the highest in the chain of command and leaders are followers and followers are leaders. This speaks to the notion of distributed leadership where leadership practice is purposefully distributed among multiple leaders to have a greater influence on organizational change (Harris & Spillane, 2008).

Leadership is regarded as a practice and not a role.  By building relationships and having distributed leadership, the worth of an individual as a change agent increases as they feel valued and accountable in the change process. 

Knowledge creation and sharing hinges on the previous three components in that people will not share or create knowledge if they do not feel committed to do so and if they do not have a method of social exchange so that this can happen. Hiebert, Gallimore and Stigler (2002) assert that the profession of teaching needs a knowledge base that can grow and improve. Researchers and teachers need to align theory and practice so that only the best teaching and learning can become realities in the classroom.

            Lastly, coherence making refers to the bringing together of the four other components to create a meaningful experience for all involved. According to Fullan (2007), real change is an individual and shared experience in which apprehension and uncertainty, if supported appropriately, can lead to a sense of mastery, accomplishment and professional growth.  A leader who has “energy-enthusiasm-hopefulness constellation” (Fullan, 2001, p.7) of personal characteristics can challenge anyone to tackle the most difficult problems.

Teachers, Professional Development and Learning Communities

The way in which a teacher thinks and behaves has the greatest influence on student learning and ultimately education reform (Fullan, 2007). For this reason, the way in which teachers are trained and developed professionally should be the greatest priority for all schools. Fullan (2007) asserts that teachers should and need to participate in skill-workshops.

Specifically relating to education technology, Wenglinsky (2005) emphasizes that teachers need to be taught not only about how to use a computer but also about the pedagogy that is most productive for computer use. Added to that Fullan (2007) suggests that teachers need opportunities to converse about the meaning of change with each other so that shared values can emerge.

Professional development is often viewed as a once-off event that occurs in isolation of every day classroom practice. Fullan (2007) maintains that truly transforming teachers for the long-term means remodeling the structure and culture of working conditions (Fullan, 2007). Teachers need to be given time daily to be thinking about student learning and teaching – this could mean fewer classes and more time for designing lessons or it could mean relieving teachers of other responsibilities, so that time can be reallocated. Structural supports also include restructuring teacher roles so that interdependence is encouraged, but teacher autonomy is maintained.

A framework for open and honest communication channels needs to be established. In terms of changing the culture of working conditions, every single teacher needs to be learning every day in ways to improve teaching and learning in collaboration with other teachers (Fullan, 2007). This cultural shift regards the teaching profession as one which should be constantly learning and growing like the professions of law and medicine (Hiebert et al., 2002). Teachers should constantly be testing and refining teaching methods. When the intentional use of methods is used in a classroom, a new kind of knowledge base about improving classroom practice will emerge and contribute to a professional knowledge base for teaching and long-term support (Hiebert et al., 2002).

Fullan (2007) finds that the success of a professional development program is strongly related to the extent to which teachers interact with one another. “Collegiality” among teachers measured by the amount of communication, mutual support and help is a good gauge of implementation success (Fullan, 2007, p.138). For this reason Fullan (2007) motivates for the establishment of professional learning communities – not as an innovation to be implemented but as a culture that can be developed. DuFour argues that professional learning communities should foster a collaborative community, focus on learning, commit to action orientation and continuous improvement and lastly encourage a collective inquiry into best practice (as cited in Fullan, 2007, p.151).

Teachers need to do much more learning on the job or in parallel where they can test out, refine, get feedback, connect with other colleagues and ideally learn from them (Fullan, 2007). In this way, performance evaluation of teachers is considered part of the daily culture, in which teachers are deeply focused on making and continuing to make changes in their teaching. Professional learning communities should foster a culture that seeks opportunities for “continuous improvement and career-long learning” (Fullan, 2007, p. 140).


This case study was designed to address two issues within Hill Boys High School. Using Fullan’s Leadership Framework (2001), the first issue seeks to explore the five leadership components of the principal in contributing towards positive change initiatives within his school. The second issue focuses on the impact of professional development and the role of professional learning communities in creating meaningful learning opportunities for teachers.

Research is based on observations throughout the school day including one class observation of each teacher and staff morning meetings, every subject department meeting and recess in the staffroom for three weeks. Every staff member was required to answer a questionnaire relating to their activities, perceptions, and opinions of the school. Focus groups were conducted with 8 members of staff that have been at the school for longer than 15 years and a separate focus group was conducted with 8 members of staff who have been at the school for less than 5 years. An interview was also conducted with the principal about his leadership style and change initiatives he has tried to implement at the school.

Discussion and Conclusion

Towards a distributed leadership approach

            The principal at Hill Boys High School has a very complex job in transforming a school of great legacy and tradition into a school that supports 21st century learning. He has many responsibilities to fulfill and although having strategic insight into the needs of the school, has failed in building human capacity to move towards a distributed leadership approach. Looking at the first component of Fullan’s Leadership Framework (2001), the principal believed that he showed his intention to make a positive impact at the school as he was committed in making changes that people could measure and observe. His ability along with the finance department to turn around the financial situation of the school was evidence that he could lead great change initiatives. Unfortunately, in his efforts to establish professional development, performance evaluations and technology integration he communicated an end goal without getting teacher involvement and buy-in.

            The principal was not very conscious of the change process at play especially with regards to older staff understanding his process-oriented leadership style. His desire to implement new processes that were clearly necessary at the school were unwelcomed as teachers did not collectively understand the need for change as initiatives lacked clarity in terms of why they were happening. The complexities of the situation were not dealt with effectively as teachers still felt uncertainty about using technology and seeing the value of professional development and performance evaluation.

In terms of relationship building, the principal was very conscious about building a set of followers among the executive members, but unfortunately did not build capacity in terms of teacher leaders to champion his change initiatives. His appointment of new teachers shows his desire to breathe new life into the school, but unfortunately without mentorship, these teachers become lost in the system. His idea of having one teacher from each department supporting the use of smart boards was a good starting point, but he did not build ideas of worth and value in these teachers to act as further change agents within the school.

Knowledge creation and sharing was not a component that was promoted, as the principal for one did not practice what he preached. There were never discussions held about learning in any of his staff meetings, assemblies or personal interactions. The principal introduced professional development sessions that were once-off and despite having good intentions did not promote a shift in everyday culture. 

Lastly, the change initiatives lacked coherence in that teachers saw professional development, performance evaluations and technology integration as items on the ever-growing check-list and not as meaningful experiences in a changing culture. Teachers felt frustrated and anxious about the situation and the principal’s decision to start teaching showed that he knew that teaching and learning was an area of focus he had not addressed and wanted to throw himself into the teachers’ shoes.

Towards a collaborative learning community with meaningful teacher professional development

            Teachers at Hill Boys High are over-burdened with commitments to school activities and do not have structural mechanisms in place to support professional learning communities. Time needs to be reallocated so that teachers have time to discuss the teaching and learning that happens in their classrooms on a daily basis. There needs to be avenues in which teachers can have interdependence in their teaching roles and have honest and open communication. Currently teachers are operating in isolation and need to interact with one another far more. A learning management system needs to be implemented so that all teachers can draw on one another’s experience. Professional development and performance evaluation is currently viewed as once off events that are not integrated into the everyday culture of the school. Teachers need to be involved in designing these processes so that teachers can champion this cultural shift. Technology integration is currently being under-utilized and should rather be seen as a catalyst to initiate other changes the principal wants to implement. Teachers afraid of using technology need to have basic computer skill training while all teachers need to understand the need for technology integration and how this influences curriculum development and learning. Teachers need to adopt the idea of a learning organization in that collaboration and feedback are part of a normal working day.

Although strategic insight and good ideas are essential in education leadership, principals need to focus on garnering support and finding individuals who can champion change initiatives. By mobilizing individuals who have a shared purpose and value, change initiatives are possible. The principal needs to realize that change takes time and the notion of coherence making is most important for teachers to become motivated and feel invested and committed. As Fullan (2007) suggests, strong leadership supporting a culture of change and capacity building of teachers who learn every day can lead to lasting educational change. 


Fullan, M.  (2001) Leading in a Culture of Change.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press.

Harris, A, & Spillane, J. (2008).Distributed leadership through the looking glass. Management in Education. (22)31. 31-34.

Hiebert, J. Gallimore, R., & Stigler, J.  (2002). A knowledge base for the teaching profession:  What would it look like and how can we get one? Educational Research, 31(5), 3-15.

Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (2001). Getting real about 21st century education. The Journal of Educational Change, 2, 171-176. Retrieved September 9, 2011, from


Sergiovanni, T. J. (2001). The principalship: A reflective practice perspective. Needham Heights, MA: Longman Publishing.

Wenglinsky, H. (2005). Using Technology Wisely. The Keys to Success in Schools. New            

            York: Teachers College Press.

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