EXPLORING THE DEVELOPMENT OF LEARNER LEADERSHIP USING THE CULTURAL HISTORICAL ACTIVITY THEORY (CHAT) AS A FRAMEWORK: “COULD LEARNERS LEARN TO SERVE?”
Rhodes University (SOUTH AFRICA)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2015 Proceedings
Publication year: 2015
Conference name: 8th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 18-20 November, 2015
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:This paper reports on a doctoral study of learner leadership in a black, historically disadvantaged secondary school in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. The researchers were concerned about the reported absence of any meaningful form of leadership development among learners in formerly disadvantaged schools, prompting this extended investigation of how and under what circumstances learner leadership could be developed.
The study draws on critical realism as an underlabourer in an attempt to surface deep-seated causal mechanisms for the current paucity of leadership among learners. In South Africa these mechanisms are inevitably rooted in past social and political inequalities, but the researchers needed a more nuanced interpretive tool, hence adopting Cultural Historical Activity Theory [CHAT] (Engeström, 2000) as a methodological framework. The project took the form of an intervention in the school, sustained over a period of two and a half years.
The intervention took the form of regular workshops – later becoming ‘change laboratory workshops’ (Engeström, 2000) – where a sample of learners were challenged to engage in conversations on leadership, initiative testing and problem-solving activities. These were closely observed and recorded. Interviews conducted with the learners added another layer of data revealing contradictions and tensions which were used as springboards for expansive learning about leadership. This led to, inter alia, the building of personal development models.
The findings suggest that when learners are given a platform from which to act they are able to engage in moral dialogue which can transform their ways of thinking. In the process they are able to develop shared values and an understanding of what leadership could be in a selfless manner. As these learner leaders developed personal understandings of leadership they started to display the attributes of servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1970) recognising in practice a moral obligation to serve others in a selfless manner.
Keywords: Critical Realism, Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), Activity System, Change Laboratory (CL), Secondary Education, Learner Leadership, Servant Leadership, Learning.