RELIGION, SPIRITUALITY AND FEMALE PRINCIPALS LEADING IN DISADVANTAGED SECONDARY SCHOOL CONTEXTS
South Africa is a secular state. Itpurports to be neutral in matters of religion, and therefore legislates that schools as governmental institutions should neither affiliate, be dominated by nor be influenced by any religion. Although the South African Constitution recognises a limited but significant role for religion in state institutions, the proviso is that observing religion in government institutions, including schools, should be voluntary and equitable.
The aim of this study was to investigate the strategies employed by female principals to effectively lead secondary schools. Whilst there was evidence of multiple strategies employed by the principals to influence teaching and learning, spirituality and religion was found and observed to be the most highlighted and common strategy employed by the principals. The study explored the relationship between religion (which is to a certain extent based on patriarchal values), spirituality and school leadership. This paper probes the importance of spiritual and religious phenomenon in school leadership in disadvantaged education contexts. This has implications for leaders’ views and behaviour. The four female principals that were sampled in this qualitative study lead secondary schools in disadvantaged contexts. The data for the study was generated through semi-structured interviews, observations of the SMT’s (School Management Team’s) meetings, staff meetings and the school assembly and was supplemented by documents analysis. The inductive analysis revealed that in trying to influence the character of learners, principals risked the danger of imposing their values, beliefs and attitudes onto them. It also foregrounded a common thread in the qualities of the female principals in the study. The characteristics identified showed a common and consistent set of values, beliefs and behaviours, which includes compassion, empathy, commitment, passion and respecting clear communication lines. The significance of these findings are that there is a notable relationship between spirituality, religious beliefs and school leadership practices. Research indicates that school leadership is a significant factor in the success and effectiveness of the school and the principals in this research demonstrated that inner strength from a higher being is needed to achieve this goal. The paper concluded by exploring the Marxist assertion that “religion is the opium of the masses”.